Pennsylvania Railroad

by Mike Brotzman

Track Plan

7 miles from GRUNDY we finally reach another trademark PRR flying junction. MORRIS tower is located in MORRISville Pa, and and has its home signal right at the western end of the long stone arch bridge over the Delaware River and into New Jersey. MORRIS is the point where the Trenton cut off diverges out of the center of the main line. Instead of routing its east-west freight trains south some 40 miles to ZOO for the trek up the Main Line with its curves and grades, the PRR built, sometime in the 1890's, a new freight only line which cut the corner between Morrisville Pa and Downingtown Pa. PRR freight trains would race down the 4 track New York main and then rise up and out of the center, flying over the southbound tracks as it curved into the huge, electrified Morrisville yards.

Morris tower
Photograph by Mike Brotzman, 2002

MORRIS tower was built in 1941 with a 47-lever US&S Model 14 electro- pneumatic machine and replaced a previous brick tower built in 1903 that housed an eletrco-mechanical machine. Part of the PRR's second to last generation of towers were a dull, boxy, utilitarian affair - something one would expect after the end of a nearly decade long depression. Structural brick with a concrete foundation, there is no bay window and no hint of the embellishments that were found on the c1947 towers. Despite its name placard, MORRIS was closed sometime around 1990. As you can see, MORRIS is easily accessible from local streets and is still used as an Amtrak MoW base, parking lot and houses the air compressor equipment for the pneumatic switches that still power MORRIS interlocking. It is also evident from the photos that someone cared enough about MORRIS to install all new replacement windows and new doors.

About 9000 feet to the south of MORRIS is where the 4 track mainline splits in two with the northbound tracks remaining straight, while the southbound tracks bow out to the west to then proceed under the three-track flyover bridge. The three flyover tracks then converge into two tracks as they descend to the level of the four main line tracks, directly in front of MORRIS tower. MORRIS also directly controlled several interlockings around Morrisville yard from its Model 14 machine. These included MY, which was right beyond the flyover at the eastern throat of the yard, MB, NICKLE and COPPER, which were along the sides of the yard, and MA at the western throat of the yard. All five of these interlockings were fairly minor with only a few switches and signals between them.

Morris tower
Photograph by Mike Brotzman, 2002

Here is a northern view of MORRIS in which we can see the new door into the upper floors, two track illumination lights, one on the lever floor, another on the relay floor, and air reservoir equipment for the switches. With two air conditioner units MORRIS is a welcome relief to any MoW worker on a hot summer day. MORRIS still sports its original slate roof, proving once again the superiority of that particular roofing material over asphalt shingles.

After the formation of Conrail in 1976 from a dozen bankrupt north-eastern railroads, a direct line from New York to the PRR main line at Harrisburg was established over former Lehigh Valley, Jersey Central and Reading branches and the freight that had once flowed freely over the PRR and the Trenton Cutoff (by virtue of the PRR having the only direct route to points west of Harrisburg), soon found itself flowing over the new, shorter route on a new unified regional rail system. Except for detour moves, local freight moves and freight destined for delivery on the NEC, MORRIS's job of moving freight trains on and off the NEC slowed to a trickle and by 1990 MORRIS was taken out of service as a manned tower. MORRIS interlocking now mostly handles moves by SEPTA commuter trains from tracks 1 or 2 onto tracks 3 or 4 where they then can terminate at the southbound platform of Trenton Station, right across the river. There existed a Morrisville station in the middle of the interlocking, but by 1964 it hosted only one local train and was closed by the early 1980's. As of this writing, MORRIS is still a pneumatic interlocking.

In a recent development, New Jersey Transit is building a new layover and maintenance facility on portion of what once used to be the Morrisville Yards in an effort to augment the cramped and largely jury-rigged facilities around the Trenton station (FAIR). So once again electric trains will be climbing the flying junction for access to a 12-track electrified yard for MU trains and push-pull trainsets. Projected completion of both project phases is 2006.

About the photographs

Comments about this article should be addressed to Mike Brotzman