The Reading Railroad was built to service the anthracite coal fields north of the city and deliver the goods down the river to Philadelphia. However as coal diminished in importance for household heating, Reading focused on other markets including its east-west corridor connecting New York with points west that bypassed the PRR/NYC duopoly in that market. Also, by the 1950's, dieselization meant that east-west through freights did not need to stop for servicing in the Reading terminal area, but the coal age layout was adding unnecessary delays to an increasingly important source of traffic. The solution was a new single track "low grade" line that linked the junction of the Reading Belt Line and Main Line (Belt Jct) north of Reading with the original East Penn line to Allentown at Blandon. Not only did the new track bypass the congested terminal, it did, as the name implies, decrease the ruling grade from 1.1% to 0.6%. The old route, now called the Hill Track, declined in importance and was ultimately ripped out in 1989.
The Low Grade line went along with a state of the art signaling scheme provided by General Railway Signal. Minor interlockings in the Reading area were put under the remote control of two towers, OLEY and VALLEY JCT. Of course both of those towers were eventually remote controlled themselves around 1990 and then most of the territory they controlled were re-signaled in the waning years of Conrail. However, the short stretch of Low Grade Line between CP-BELT and CP-BLANDON remained untouched until today. Here we see a clear signal indication for the Main track at CP-WEST LAUREL, which marks the end of a short siding between here and CP-BELT. The signals are GRS originals from the 1950's as is the poured concrete relay hut.
The signal was for an eastbound doublestack intermodal train that I caught at the Tuckerton Rd crossing within the limits of CP-LAUREL just about a mile east of CP-WEST LAUREL. That train was led by a trio of NS C44-9W's including #9276, #9612 and #8916.
CP-LAUREL is the home of the former Reading Temple Station, which is the once and future terminus of the Reading and Northern's Berks County passenger service. Today the station area hosts an R&N SW8 switcher as well as a number of former Reading RR coaches purchased from SEPTA including former Reading MU car #9103..
Soon after an Approach Limited signal popped up on the eastbound 330L signal, which was soon followed by a TOFC intermodal train hauled by NS C44-9W #9826, C44-10W #7654 and SD70ACe #1154.
You can really tell this interlocking is original 1950's equipment by looking at the concrete relay hut with above ground, cotton insulated cabling strung out to the remote locations. If you look at the signal charts the switches and signals are still numbered in accordance to the old interlocking machine OLEY tower.
Here we see NS SD60E #7006 passing the 330R signal with a westbound merchandise freight.
Three back in the lashup was UP SD70M #3895.
The 330R signal immediately displayed an Approach indication, but nothing was forthcoming and I decided to move on. Note the Reading style sideways mounted bottom head used for restricting indications. Also, there exists a short 1 mile signal block between CP-LAUREL and CP-WEST LAUREL immediately after a long descending grade. This is one of those locations that keeps crews on their toes.
CP-BLANDON is the junction where the east end of the low grade line split off from the Hill Track. With coal region traffic pretty much dead by the 1980's Conrail developed a plan to re-organize the east-west traffic patterns for eastbound trains to use the Low Grade Line and westbounds the Hill Track. Of course this would force traffic to cross at both ends of the route as well as clearance improvements through the Reading yard complex so ultimately Conrail accepted the single track bottleneck on the Low Grade route and took the Hill Track out of service in 1983. Ironically, the route was temporarily returned to service in early 1984 when part of the Low Grade line fell into a quarry south of CP-WEST LAUREL, however by 1989 determined that the excess capacity was no longer needed and lifted the rails. Here we can see another pair of NS C44-9W's, #9528 and #9068, hauling an eastbound merchandise freight and if you look carefully you can still see where the Hill Track right of way diverged.
Reading vintage signaling was replaced at CP-BLANDON around 1998 in part to provide a 40mph Limited Speed diverging route onto the double track section of the Reading Line.
Eastbound trains like this autorack hauled by NS C44-9W #9571 and SD70ACe #1136 and SD70M-2 #2692 rarely have to slow down as they battle up the Low Grade Line's low grade.
A telltale sign of Rule 251 territory is a dwarf signal governing reverse direction movements. As is typical the high mast signal for normal flow of traffic movements is displaying a Clear indication for a train that failed to materialize. Because of the short signal block I mentioned earlier, both the old and new signals will be able to display Approach Medium (or Medium Approach Medium) to get the speed down for an Approach at CP-LAUREL.
About 6 miles east of Blandon is the town of Lyons. Railroad wise Lyons is the site of a temporary block station and hand operated trailing point crossover, although the former looks a little worse for wear. Sometimes used for emergency single track operations, more often the crossover is used by local freights to both serve industry on either track and crossover to return to base with the established flow of traffic. One advantage of ABS is that a train does not necessarily need to involve the dispatcher with changing from one track to the other. After shunting a track circuit and waiting a set period of time, the local can cross over and work industries on the other track. In this case that would mean East Penn Industries. One of the largest battery producers in North America.
Conrail vintage small target searchlight ABS signals, like the 131W mast seen here, were scattered about the rest of the line. To make things more annoying they were offset from eachother which then required more stops.
The 221W signal was equipped with a decidedly non-Conrail standard large target. Not sure if this was a Reading original or just something CR found in the parts bin.
New signals had also appeared at CP-ALBURTIS, despite the fact that the existing signals had been installed only back in 2002. Basically no matter how new the existing interlocking hardware it will be cheaper to build a replacement and test it in parallel before just throwing the old stuff away.
One very pleasant change was the Alburtis Tavern that replaced a former railroad theme dive bar across from CP-ALBURTIS. The new tavern was filled with railroad stuff and every time a train passed they spun a wheel that would award free drinks at the bar. If you are anywhere in the area I highly recommend stopping by.
Next week tune in for an overdose of Amtrak as I hang out with Chuchubob trackside at Holmesburg Jct.