Thursday, December 24, 2015

Metra Tower A-2 and Pennsy's Red Eye Positional Signals

(CRJPosition-Light;  3D Satellite, Street View)
NorthAmericanInterlockings:   1983    1928    diagram
Chicago and Northern Indiana Railroad Interlocking Towers (click the marker for more information)

Steven J. Brown posted
RTA E8 #510 (ex-CNW 510, ex-UP 942) heading out the CNW West Line at Western Ave/Tower A2 - March 22, 1988. There was still an active fleet of E's running on the BN commuter trains but less than a handful remained on the former CNW lines in 1988. This unit will be retired one year later in March, 1989.
[Note the tower to the left of the engine. I'm glad Steven took the picture before the engine filled the frame and skunked the tower.]

An overview photo by Steven


Henry Wilhelm Photo from NorthAmericanInterlockings
I shared the above 1928 photo on Facebook with the comment: "I worked on my Metra/Milwaukee Tower A2 notes. Of the new photos I found, this one was of particular interest. The tower is on the left. The view is looking East along the UP/C&NW Geneva Subdivision. The tracks curving in from the right are the Pennsy's Panhandle. The tracks entering from the left, crossing the C&NW tracks, and joining the Panhandle's route to Union Station is Metra/Milwaukee. I wonder if ketchup was made in that Heinz plant on the right."
Jeff Grunewald It might have been pickles at the Heinz plant. Chicago was a big pickle town in the past.
Thad Shumaker No ketchup is made in muscatine iowa.. last I knew pickles were made there.
Jack Fuller PRR all gone now - only UP [CNW] Rockwell Sub remains. https://railfanatlas.com/?x=-87.6863&y=41.8877236&z=16...

RailfanGuides

This junction is where Milwaukee crosses C&NW and joins the Panhandle tracks that curve in from the south. Mike's comment on his video indicates this is one of the few towers left in Chicago that is still staffed. The Panhandle has been abandoned except for NS servicing the ADM flour mill; but, per the discussion below, the joint Milw/Pennsy tracks still use Pennsy's positional signal heads.

(Update: I got photos of the positional signals further east on this route at CP Morgan because PTC will soon cause all of these historic signals to be replaced by boring tri-color heads. The Red Eye was used for absolute stops. Three horizontal yellow lights was still used for permissive stops. More info on Pennsy signals.)

chi.streetsblog.org
chi.streetsblog.org
This 1937 interlocking machine controls Metra's busiest group of turnouts that consists of 20 turnouts in eight tracks. There  are two employess --- one to coordinate the trains and another to operation the controls. "planning document from summer 2015 year said that the commuter rail agency was going to spend $2 million to engineer grade separation." But those plans have changed. Because the turnouts are controlled using compressed air, there is not a hand-thrown option to use if something breaks. Metra is replacing some of the switches each year. The current maze of switches limits the number of trains Metra can run. To improve capacity, a grade separation would be need, but that would cost 100s of millions of dollars. And the improvement is not part of the CREATE program. The engineering study alone would take five years. (chi.streetsblog.org)

Steven J. Brown posted
Metra F40PH 120 meets Metra MP36PH-3S 411 at Tower A2 in Chicago, Illinois - January 14, 2008.
Dennis DeBruler That is a new view for me. Fortunately, the tower still stands so that I can easily look at a satellite image and figure it out. You are standing south of all of the tracks facing northwestish.
Cruz Martinez A2 looks virtually the same,except for the old signals behind the MP36 that have been replaced last year.
Dennis DeBruler Including a lot of double-slip switches. (Satellite images are wonderful. I never noticed that the turnouts were double-slip from the photos I have seen.) From this view point, I see that passenger trains are allowed to go 60 mph through the junction. Considering the number of UP and Metra commuter trains that cross this junction at passenger speeds, that must be an interesting maintenance headache. Since industry in the city has moved away, there should be very few freight trains here. So at least MoW can get big maintenance windows during the night.

Raymond Storey posted
Chicago 1952 .The A-2 Tower. Western Ave.

James Keats Jr. posted
Today’s [1/4/2021] Amtrak Empire Builder for Seattle snakes it’s way through the A-2 interlocking and out of the Windy (and foggy) city of Chicago. 

Dennis DeBruler commented on Raymond's post
It appears that Google broke its 3D Satellite and Street View features here. But Bing still has a street view.
https://binged.it/2ZMBIAt
If I'm remembering correctly, this is one of the few towers left in the Chicago area that is still staffed.

Mark Llanuza posted
Its 1975 and after many tries it was unsuccessful trying to get this American Freedom train on display at Navy Pier it heads back to 40th street yard crossing over Jct A-2 on the CNW
Steven Kakoczki Clearance problems??
Mark Llanuza no derailment problems it couldn't get over the switches near Canal st

Metra posted
At A2, Chicago's busiest interlocking, switch heaters melt ice and snow dropped by trains passing overhead that may prevent switches from closing properly. Photo: Courtney Aubrecht
[Comments disagree on natural gas vs. propane. Nonetheless, I'm surprised that it is still open flame. Most gas heaters I have seen have a pipe that looks like it creates a series of small gas flames and have a hood over them. Actually, today most have a heater to the side and blow hot air into the points. (Update: these double-slip switches are too complicated and close together to use hoods or ducts. [MetraRail])]
Tim Miedema Hope they’re concrete ties lol
Sean Anthony Beats the days of the kerosene pots.
John Hill Those are pneumatic switches
Mike Tripp Jr. Bet they have issues, heat expand cold retract causes broken rails if not properly looked after. We have switch heaters but it doesn’t produce flames. Neat but there has to be downfalls with that.
Mike Howard It can you get heat failures and you have to lube the points and plates .

Ted Gregory posted
Jeff Lewis There used to be a dozen double slip switches in that interlocking, one at each crossing. Now there are four along the track the camera is lined up with. The rest of the crossings have swing nose frogs. It's all gas fired now, but once upon a time they had to place oil pots along all the rails. That must have been fun to keep up with every day.

Nephtali G Bernal posted
Another photo of A2 Plant, I got this photo from Mark Llanuza some 5 years ago!
 
Screenshot @ -0:13  (source)

Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune from Tracks on Fire from Charles Gerald's share
Fire warms Metra rails as trains go in and out of the Western Avenue station in subzero temperatures in Chicago on Jan. 29, 2019.
[Unfortunately, the Metra spokesperson talked about fixing rail pulls instead of keeping switches free of snow and ice.]
Screenshot @ -0:20
A YouTube copy of the same video
Metra posted
When severe cold and winter weather hits, Metra fights it with fire. Get the inside scoop about our switch heaters here: https://bit.ly/2EObaFc
MetraRail

Original Chicago posted Popular Mechanics Article
Paul Webb shared
Brian Marra: Funny story..every year a new commuter would run up to me as in a panic say "Conductor the tracks are on Fire!!" and I'd have to talk them back from the edge.. well one day I had like 6 people come up to me so I finally got on the P.A. and said, "Lady's and Gentlemen there's no need to worry about the tracks on fire, This is a free service from the railroad so hobos can cook their hot dogs".. the whole train got a laugh."


In the same article as above
Screenshot from a Dan Kress post
Timothy Pitzen There are approximately 300 train moves through this plant every day. We need to make sure everything is working properly. That's why we keep the fires burning, station signal maintainers there 24/7 and inspect the tracks frequently. if this plant fails, it affects 7 of the 11 Metra lines.
Also WISN12
Also CBS
Timoth Pittzen commented on Dan's post
This is what it looks like on the ground. They are natural gas powered flame heaters to help keep snow and ice out of the points and moveable frogs. Photo taken Tuesday [1/29/2018] morning.

Frank Robert Kmiec commented on Dan's post
Ground view of the duce at night
[Looking Northwest. Note the tower beyond the brick building on the right.]
New York and Chicago Railroad posted a CityLab article
En fuego! A Metra train negotiates a rails-on-fire situation in Chicago. Kiichiro Sato/AP
“To keep switches operational, Metra uses hot air blowers (kind of like hair dryers), electrified metal (like a curling iron) and gas flames (which look like a gas stovetop)”
Waldolf Ursine Once again the media gets it wrong. At tower A2 where this happens all the time, these flames are natural gas powered. There are gas pipes next to the switch points and when needed in the cold, are lit. A2 is a very busy and completed junction and there is no room for a hot air drier there. No snakes, no oily rags burning, nothing as dramatic as the press is making this sound. This is a normal thing.

Dan Faust commented on     Marshal W. Beecher's famous photo. (Caution: RailPictures.Net is not a well behaved web site, don't leave it open in a window over night.) His comment is a summary of some of the comments on the RailPictures photo:
In the quietest moments of a winter storm, fire and ice converge in the tangled trackwork at Metra's busiest interlocking in the Chicagoland area.
The flames are from switch heaters which were once individual units consisting of small tanks with a filler lid and a wick assembly plus a handle on top. These were individually placed by MofW (maintenance-of-way) workers or switch tenders under the rails of turnouts and the oil they contained was ignited manually. After the threat of ice/snow was past they would be removed and stored.
These old types were almost universally replaced with propane or natural gas fired stationary units that were manually or automatically ignited. These often had steel shields parallel to and outside of the rail to protect the flame and passersby. Many of these have been replaced by electric, natural gas or propane units installed lineside with ducts and a fan to deliver hot air to the rails.
I commented: "How many places in the country do you see a B&O color positional signal head (B&OCT) next to a Pennsy positional signal head (Panhandle) on the same signal bridge?" Dan Sorce commented:
Both of those are Pennsy PLs - these ones have received the "red eye" conversion for STOP. 
To the left, on the same bridge, are the backs of CNW-style searchlight signals with oval targets. As well, on the bridge in the distance, are CNW-style horizontal 3 light signals.
Maxim asked why it is on fire and Kurt Wayne responded:
Maxim, a Chicago railroad page I found said these were propane fired heaters which would keep the switches from freezing. It said that passing trains had to run at no faster than 30 miles per hour else the fires would be extinguished, and that this switch (at least in the early 1990s) still had propane-fired equipment as opposed to (more boring to the railroad fan) electric warmers installed elsewhere in Chicago rails. I'm wondering if the propane-flame heaters still exist here, even as the very busy railroad interchange surely does. 

Mark Llanuza posted
Metra Jct -2
Dennis DeBruler When was this taken? The PRR signal heads with Metra means this was the route that both Milwuakee and the PRR Panhandle used to access the north side of Union Station. And since it is elevated and the tracks are crossing the UP/C&NW, I assume you took this with a long telephoto lens from a little south of Western Ave station (https://www.google.com/.../data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4...) But I can't find the power lines on a current satellite image.
Dennis DeBruler I switched from a satellite view to a street view on Oakley, and I was able to confirm the power lines. I also found more PRR positional signal headshttps://www.google.com/.../data=!3m6!1e1!3m4...
Dennis DeBruler Your daytime shot allows me to understand where Marshall took his "tracks on fire" photo: http://railpictures.net/photo/468663/

Carl Venzke posted
Amtrak passenger train no. 9, the North Coast Hiawatha, with Milwaukee Road lead unit no. 30A at Ashland Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, on April 1, 1972. Photograph by John F. Bjorklund, © Center for Railroad Photography and Art.
[This is where the Milwaukee tracks go down to grade level before Racine and the C&NW tracks curve north.]
Scott Williams posted
A tower! AND, it's a manned tower!
We were just nine minutes into our 2,255-mile trip on Amtrak's Empire Builder from Chicago, Illinois to Portland, Oregon on Tuesday June 20, 2017 when we passed one of the last manned interlocking towers in the U.S. This is Metra's A-2 Tower at Western Avenue Yard on the west side of Chicago. It was built in 1907 and switches 358 movements in a 24-hour period! I took this looking out of the open vestibule of the private car that we were making the trip in, Iowa Pacific's full-length dome "Scenic View." Note the operator giving us a roll-by from the bay window! Very cool!
6-20-17
NBC Video
Jack Schneider I did not think, there where any manned towers, left. Sometimes the marvels of the 21st Century or is it 20th or 19th Century?Jon Roma There are not a lot, but towers are not completely dead yet.
There are at least 6 in the Chicago area.
Mike Heiligstedt As long as there is pneumatic switches at that interlocking, the tower will be manned 24/7 .Scott Williams Was this a CNW or PRR tower?Mike Heiligstedt Milwaukee Road [now Metra]. The CNW has a coach yard next door, and the pan handle ( PRR ) also ran through there to service industries down towards canal street.Scott Williams Mike Heiligstedt I do remember being on the PRR when we left the station and then we crossed all the way over at A2Jon Roma You are not on the PRR when you ride through A-2. That trackage was Chicago Union Station property, though the PRR made their imprint on the station and on the signaling.

The PRR Panhandle main actually begins at A-2. I believe the transition from Union Station track to Milwaukee track took place at the westernmost signal bridge east of the crossings.
Mark Hinsdale posted
"Homeward Bound"
On a warm June, 1977 Friday afternoon in Chicago, an early rush hour northbound Milwaukee Road suburban train passes Tower A2 and prepares to make its Western Avenue station stop. The train is destined to Fox Lake and loaded with commuters anxious to get home and start another summer weekend of activities. Photo by Mark Hinsdale
John Heid And that engine is preserved at IRM and hungry for funds!
Chicago & North Western Historical Society posted
We are in Chicago looking east along the C&NW west line in November 1905 when the railroad is working on elevating the right of way at the insistence of the City of Chicago. The street crossing in the foreground is Western Avenue! Note the Milwaukee Road trackage splitting off from the C&NW rails. For you Milwaukee Road fans, "Tower A-2" will be built at the lower left of this photo. What a smokey city!
Dennis DeBruler Look at the line of watchmen towers along the left, one per street.
Steve McCollum Read "The Devil in the White City" for some good background on the times. Grade level crossings were killing one person a day on average. And the smoke? Locomotives, plus coal-fired boilers for heat and power. Remember that the Chicago tunnel system was built to deliver coal and haul away ashes.
Dennis DeBruler Coal smoke was so bad that a (big) report was written in 1915 concluding that the railroads should electrify their city tracks. This is why the IC electrified its passenger tracks. (Diesel was invented before they had to electrify their freight tracks. And then their freight traffic to downtown went away and coal heating got replaced by natural gas.) I use this report for its detailed maps of the railroads in 1915. https://archive.org/details/smokeabatementel00chicuoft
Steven J. Brown posted
Tower A2/Western Avenue in Chicago - March 22, 1988. A couple off odd things here: There is an ex-CNW Gallery bi-level cab car on that Amtrak Hiawatha. I didn't live trackside but I saw a lot of Hiawathas go by and this was the only time I saw one on that train. (I also thought they were off the roster by 1988?) The other odd thing is that Milwaukee line commuter on the far right. It is backwards! Cab car on the outbound side of the train. I assume it is the scheduled equipment for the first inbound train the next morning. They did that so if it snowed overnight, the loco would be on the leading end to buck the snow clear.
Michael Riha shared the Grève des trains - USA - 1946. album. This is the 29th photo.
David Daruszka C&NW California Ave. Coach Yard. Milwaukee Road tracks and yard to the left. C&NW's Rockwell Branch is above the Coach Yard.
Dennis DeBruler So Rockwell was the name of the segment that got C&NW to their Potato Yard, http://industrialscenery.blogspot.com/.../c-wood-street... That yard is now part of Global 1.
David Daruszka Yes.
Harvey Kahler Both Rockwell and Panhandle (PCCC&StL) head off top right (south).
David Daruszka This was also the route, for a brief time, for the B&O passenger trains when they left Grand Central and moved to the C&NW's Madison Street Terminal.
Doug Smith That yard in the legs of the wye is South Yard. The tracks on this side of the main are still called North Yard, but South Yard is long gone.
Dennis DeBruler So the South Yard was part of C&NW's California Yard and not a Pennsy/Panhandle yard?
David Daruszka As best I can tell from the Sanborn maps the yard north of the C&NW main was the California Ave. Coach Yard. the tracks south of the mains were the Panhandle Yards. The Milwaukee Road had a freight yard north of the coach yard. I only see passenger coaches in the Cal. Ave. yard. I think any passenger trains on the Panhandle line did not run this route but went south out of Union Station. The Panhandle may have operated trains out of the north end of the old Union Station. Some Pennsy expert might know the scoop on that.
Dennis DeBruler This part of the Panhandle was originally built by the Chicago & Great Eastern Railway (C&GE), http://industrialscenery.blogspot.com/.../prrs-chicago... . Their passenger trains did come up here and joined the Milwaukee tracks after Milw crossed the C&NW tracks by Tower A2 to share access with Milw to the north side of Union Station. But when the Pennsylvania bought the Panhandle, they built the Bernice Cuttoff (South Chicago & Southern (SC&S)) so that the Panhandle passenger trains could go up to Pennsy's Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago route into Chicago to avoid the painfully slow C&GE route because of all the railroads it had to cross on its way north to the Milwaukee tracks. (The SC&S was also built to tap the industrial traffic on the south side of Chicago.) So it makes sense that in the 1800s this was a passenger yard, but by WWII the Bernice Cutoff would have been built so this yard was converted to freight. In fact, when the Panhandle was abandoned, maybe C&NW bought the yard, and it became the South Yard. But that would have been after this WWII photo. The problem with studying history is that things change, and we have to be careful about the dates.
Dennis DeBruler Bernice Cutoff: http://industrialscenery.blogspot.com/.../prrs-south...
Mark Hinsdale posted
"Fancy Footwork"
An afternoon outbound Milwaukee Road North Line (Fox Lake) commuter train picks its way through the complicated trackwork at "Tower A2" on Chicago's Near West Side in July, 1977. The junction, originally involving key Milwaukee Road, Chicago & North Western and Pennsylvania Railroad arteries, has always been one of Chicago's busiest, and is still operated from the same, continuously staffed interlocking tower today. Photo by Mark Hinsdale
Cruz Martinez A-2 is Still one of the busiest,and maybe the only one still manned in the whole chicagoland area.
Mark Hinsdale Manned locations in Chicagoland besides A2 include "CY" (Clybourn) (UP), 16th Street (Metra RI Dist-CN), "JB" (West Chicago) (CN-UP), Blue Island (Vermont St) (Metra RI Dist), and (I think) Calumet Bridge (NS) (Ex NKP). Downstate, Lenox (UP-KCS-NS) and Willows (TRRA-KCS-NS-CSX) continue in service, but likely not for long. My best shot. Corrections and updates welcomed.
Scott H. Brown Lake Street, UP?
Chuck Zeiler 1979
Chuck Zeiler 1979
Either the E-unit was ailing or this is an equipment move, double-headers were unusual on C&NW Scoots.
[A train on the former Milwaukee tracks is in the right background.]
Robby Gragg 2019 Flickr
Milwaukee Heritage
Metra's MILW heritage unit pushes a inbound deadhead past the Milwaukee signals and tower at A-2 in Chicago, IL.

Robert Jordan posted
Dome's Eye View of A-2. 11/21/12. Hiawatha Service EB at A-2.
Brad Martyna My dad and I walked up to the tower and knocked on the door sometime in the early 90s while railfaning. The operator answered the door scared and panicked. When we said we wanted to look around the tower he was relieved we didn’t want to rob him. It was hilarious.


Marty Bernard posted three 1982 pictures on Facebook of Amtrak trains that catches some intricate trackwork and the variety of signals used by the different railroads in this corridor.

Marty shared three photos of an Amtrak Hiawatha service train crossing the C&NW tracks in 1989.

Carlton Holls Flickr Photo that has at least seven commuter trains in the frame and a bunch of the "puzzle switches."

Carl Venzke posted a Marty Bernard photo with the comment: "FD40PHs AMTK 307 and RTA 124 at Tower A-2 in Chicago, IL on August 18, 1982. Photo by Marty Bernard."

Bob Lalich Flickr 1981 Photo with a view of the double-slip switches and some PLS with red snake eyes.

Another video of a commuter coming across the flaming tracks. This time during an active snow storm. (source)
Duane D. Parfel About twenty years ago after a period of freezing rain and snow Conrail maintenance did this to all the switches... 911 dispatcher got 20-30 calls of rails on fire.... Several men pouring flammable liquid on the fire....Got a response of an engine/ and tanker with several pissed off Sheriffs....!!

Marty Bernard Flickr 1982 Photo not only caught two commuter trains, but he got a fascinating angle on the trackwork.

Chicago Tribune safe_image
The online version has a good photo gallery
Metra wants to build a flyover that would take the UP tracks over the Milwaukee tracks. More than 350 trains run through the 31 air-powered switches of this 1932 interlocking. The junction is at capacity during rush hours. This capacity limit prohibits increasing service on UP West to Elburn and adding a new station for the gentrifying Fulton Market area. After the flyover is built, they can close the tower and remove the maintenance intensive switches. The flyover would cost about a half-billion dollars. Commuter trains have a lot of horsepower so that they can quickly accelerate from stations so they have no problem climbing the hill of a flyover. A flyover was completed in 2014 to take Rock Island District trains over Norfolk Southern freight trains.
Dyadya Abdul: "Union Switch & Signal's Model 14 electro-pneumatic machine."
Dennis DeBruler shared
Mitchell Horn Correct caption as follows:
Jeff Eggert, the C&NW Historical Society board member tasked with keeping the archives volunteers well organized, said that this 1933 A. W. Johnson photo of the mass of trackage looking west at Western Avenue in Chicago would be a good one to post. The Milwaukee Road's Tower A-2 is just past the building on the right. The back of the photo says "... Penn R.R. seen diverging to left, C&NW Galena divn. continuing straight, CM&St. P crossing over and diverging to the right.
Courtesy of CNWHS Facebook page
I don't remember seeing a "looking west" view of the A-2 Junction before. Plus this is back when it had all of its tracks, including industrial spurs.
David Daruszka The Panhandle route at A2 was used by passenger trains to access the north end of the old Union Station. When the Pennsy built a better route (Bernice Cut-off) the trains used the south end. I believe it was also used briefly by the B&O when they moved to the C&NW Madison Street Station.
Brandon McShane I don't think PC was involved in the B&O-C&O reroute, as there was a B&OCT-C&NW connection at Ogden Junction.
David Daruszka The Panhandle paralleled the C&NW from Ogden Jct. to Rockwell Jct., so yes the B&O used C&NW tracks to reach the B&OCT connection at Ogden Jct. From that point the B&OCT paralleled the Panhandle to Beverly Jct. where it then paralleled the Rock Island tracks to Gresham Jct.
Dennis DeBruler I don't think the B&OCT paralleled the Rock Island, I believe it joined the Rock at Beverly Junction.
https://industrialscenery.blogspot.com/.../beverly...
Bob Lalich Dennis DeBruler is correct. B&O passenger trains used B&OCT to the Rock Island at Beverly Jct, then used trackage rights on the Rock Island Suburban Branch to Brainerd Jct, the South Chicago Branch through Gresham Jct to Rock Island Jct in South Chicago, and a connection to the original B&O line.
Dennis commented on his share
The two industrial buildings still exist. As expected, the fire protection water tower has been removed from the left building. But it still has its chimney.
https://www.google.com/.../@41.8882123,-87.../data=!3m1!1e3

safe_image for Marty Bernard Flickr
RTA Cab Car 8740 in Western Avenue Interlocking (Tower A2), Chicago on August 21, 1989


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