J. Alex Lang

Trip Report – Position Light Signals

It’s been awhile since I’ve sent any sort of trip report, as it’s been awhile since I’ve been on any sort of trip.  With baby Allison now at 7 weeks, my wife was ready to get me out of the house.  I greased the wheels by cooking some good food, and making sure my wife got to sleep in Saturday morning, and then I was able to head out to Keith Latimer’s Bridgeview B&B Saturday night for an early rise Sunday.  The plan was to try for activity on the Buffalo Line where many PRR position light signals remain – but traffic levels are often low on Sunday.

Modernization of railroad infrastructure has eliminated most evidence of railroading’s history.  Years ago, manned control towers were located every few miles, custom signage, signals, architecture, etc. all served to identify one railroad company’s character over another.  Deregulation in the early 1980s rejuvenated the ailing rail industry – but the resulting modernization has obliterated much of the “personality” of the railroads of the past.  The goal of this trip was to document the unique “Position Light” signals made popular by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the first half of the 20th century.  Many still remain – but many are slated to be replaced or eliminated in favor of modern signal systems mandated by the governmental Positive Train Control system which is intended to improve safety for rail passengers.

The Position Light signals are unique in that they use pairs of lights (sometimes in addition to color) to convey meaning.  The additional lights result in a larger signal, very unique looking – very much unlike the typical “traffic light” signals of today.  (For more information, see http://mysite.du.edu/~jcalvert/railway/prraspec.htm)

On to the trip: I started out with coffee at 5am, and headed for Middletown on Amtrak’s Harrisburg-Philadelphia line.  ROY interlocking is visible – connecting the parallel Amtrak line with NS’s Royalton Branch.

A deer and a clear at CP-Roy

I wanted to see some freight under the catenary, but it was not meant to be this day.  I did get to see a deer crossing the tracks, and later, Amtrak Keystone Service train 660 come east at 7:30 with AEM-7 928 leading the way.

Passengers await the arrival of Keystone Service train 660 east to Philadelphia Amtrak 928 AEM7 leads Keystone Service train 660 east to Philadelphia

Catenary detail

ATCS indicated that a northbound was coming up the Port Road but not for the Royalton Branch, so I set out to Goldsboro (on the opposite shore of the Susquehanna River from Middletown) for the NS 37A.

NS 9776 C40-9W leading NS 37A north on the Port Road Branch at GoldsboroAt this point, I was hungry for McBreakfast and needed more caffeine, so I started north back towards Harrisburg.  ATCS indicated a possible northbound Buffalo Line move shaping up so I headed for the east wye at Rockville.  No sooner was I there and the NS 633 was lined out of Enola, giving me the opportunity to photograph one of the US&S PL-5 “domino” signals at CP-ROCKVILLE.

US&S PL-4 position light signal at CP-WyeIMG_9471With the sun out and a train on the move, I gave chase! Brian Plant met up with me at North Miller where we watched the NS 9647 hustling 99 coal empties north.

NS 9647 C40-9W leading NS 633 (Enola-Newberry) coal empties northboundAnd here’s me, having a blast! (Thanks BP)

Me at North Miller along PA147We continued north, intercepting the 11R south at S. Boyles and then at S. Miller, and awaited an NS 933 Herzog train that had been in the hole at S. Miller:

NS 7668 ES40DC leading NS 11R soutboundNS 7668 ES40DC leading NS 11R soutbound NS 6338 SD40E leading NS 933 Herzog ballast train southbound NS 7668 ES40DC leading NS 11R soutbound

We then did some exploring of position light signals around Sunbury & Northumberland.  The next sequence is CP-SF, junction with the former Reading Shamokin branch:
Junction with the Shamokin Valley RR, former Reading
Junction with the Shamokin Valley RR, former Reading
This is former Reading trackage that once continued west across the Susquehanna towards Newberry Yard:

Ex-RDG Signal Bridge at CP-SFThen, I showed Brian some very unusual position light signals at CP-NORRY in Northumberland.  This location is difficult to access.

Unusual position light signals guarding the south end of CP-Norry.  These signals combine what would be two signal heads into one element, in order to aid in visibility from the Northumberland bridge. Unusual position light signals guarding the south end of CP-Norry.  These signals combine what would be two signal heads into one element, in order to aid in visibility from the Northumberland bridge.

While we scouted around Newberry/Williamsport, to find that our NS 633 was already tied down, we’d gotten word of the NS 64R with the Monongahela & Lackawanna Heritage units.

NS 633 power (NS 9647 C40-9W) tied down at Newberry along with NSHR 2004 GP38-2

On our way to Johnstown, we stopped at Milesburg on the Bald Eagle branch (somewhat near I-99) to see the abandoned signal bridge there.

Disused PRR signal bridge at Milesburg, NBER Bald Eagle BranchThe last sequence is of the NS 64R crude oil train, at Johnstown, Lilly, and then Sankertown (near Cresson), ending with the helpers on the 64R passing the PA Route 53 overpass between Cresson and Gallitzin.

NS 64R

NS 64R at Lilly

Here at Lilly we ran into the infamous Dan Valentine and his wife Donna. They were very friendly & cordial, advising us to head to Sankertown for some side light:


And here’s the helper power:
NS 6327 SD40E shoving NS 64R at PA 53

After Cresson it was time to drive home – a pretty long day (and about 670 miles in 30 hours), I was glad to get home for dinner and a bourbon.  I hope you enjoyed the images!