THE SIGNAL BOX

OVERSEAS

US SIGNALLING TOWERS

by Mike Brotzman

3. Winslow.

Winslow Junction is in the middle of the New Jersey Pine Barrens at the far eastern end of Camden County. New Jersey is the most densely populated state, but just 30 miles from a major city is a rural wasteland. On the other side of the Pine Barrens are Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore. In the 19th century and early 20th century Atlantic City was the vacation hot spot for the residents of Philadelphia and 2 rival railroads took advantage of this. The mighty Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and Reading Railroad (RDG) each built competing lines to the shore. Because most of Southern New Jersey used to be a beach the terrain has no hills and is almost flat. From Winslow Jct. to Atlantic City both the PRR and RDG mail lines ran straight side by side. These tracks hosted some of the fastest trains in the world. By the 30's traffic began to decline and the two RR's could no longer compete. In 1934 all lines in S. Jersey were merged into the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines (PRSL). To facilitate the merger new connections were made and new towers like Winslow were built. At Winslow Jct. a connection was made between the PRR and RGD lines. This made it possible to abandon the former RDG main to Atlantic City.

Winslow TowerWinslow tower would switch trains either to Atlantic City or down the track on the right to Ocean City and Cape May. Winslow tower served faithfully as traffic levels continued to slip and as the line was single tracked. In 1982 passenger service was discontinued and the tower was closed. Because Winslow was in a remote location and its trackage was simply abandoned it survived the wrecking ball. In 1989 Amtrak and New Jersey Transit restored service, but traffic control was given to a far away dispatching office. In this view we can see the straight track as it heads off to Atlantic City. The track on the left is the NJT commuter line and the line on the right is the South Jersey RR interchange track. The SRJJ operates the ex-New Jersey Central tracks that pass under the bridge.

 

Winslow Tower, from the other direction, at a different time of yearIn this nice mid-December view gives a good look at the tower. The tower is of the standard PRR style of the time. Unlike Bryn Mawr tower the Winslow tower is all brick. Time has been kind to the tower and it is nearly in mint condition. The roof is still multi colored slate and the bay window is still green. Most of the windows are still have glass. Because of PRR standardization there is an exact copy in York PA. Jersey tower in Delair NJ was also of the same basic design (no bay window) and Cola tower at Columbia PA was the same as Jersey. The late Brown tower win South Camden NJ is also a twin of Winslow. The tower is a 2 story, structural brick building with a 1 story concrete basement/foundation. The tower still has a humble use by housing communications equipment and you can see the wires heading into it. The tower was like a mini-house with self generated hot water heating and a 1/2 bath (you can see the water hammer pipe). The train is a NJT commuter train bound for Atlantic City. The NJT trains are all push-pull and have three cars with a 3000hp, EMD GP-40PH or F-40PH on the Philly end. Max. speed on the line is now about 85mph. The weedy track in the foreground is the SJRR connection. In 1901 the ex-PRR main was one of the first stretches of track in the country to be equipped with automatic block signals. Later the Atlantic City main was equipped with cab signals. In 1968 the line was turned back into manual block operation with Winslow tower given the CTC. Unlike token control the tower operator was like an air traffic controller with verbal instructions being as good as a token. This did reduce linespeed to 45 mph.

 

Wonslow Tower, close viewHere we can see the other side of the tower. It's not obvious, but one of the plywood panels has fallen off the lower right window. I used this open window to get inside and take some great pics. The steel tower in front of the tower is a weather station and the pole behind the tower is a radio antenna. The pipe on the side used to connect to the signals, but now holds only frayed wires.

 

The operator's tableHere we see the operator's table in the top of the tower. As you can see the bay is not just a window. The whole room juts out over the tracks to give a better view. The chair and window shades remain intact and it looks like someone was having a pretty wicked party. Hey, that chair is pretty nice (as well as historic) so I might just go back for it. :) Also note the contoured desk.

 

The interlocking machine
This is the US&S Electro-pneumatic interlocking machine that once ran the interlocking. Instead of pulling heavy levers all you'd have to do is turn a little handle. This then would operate relays and switches that in turn operate pneumatic switches and electric signals. All the handles have been taken off, but most of the machine remains intact. There were tow rows of handles, one in the red band and the other in the semi-circles above it. The handles moved back and forth. The double rows of lights tell what position the switches are in. With the merger 1934 4 new towers were built: Brown, Winslow, Atlantic (Atlantic City) and Allen (Camden). They all had the same equipment and the same basic design with Allen and Atlantic being about twice the size. For example, while this machine has two cabinets, the one at Atlantic had eight. The things on top of the machine and the white cabinet at the lower right are part of the NJT radio repeater. The repeater can be dialed into by the engine crews using a touch tone system on their radios. The repeater then connects the crew with a dispatcher, often hundreds of miles away, who controls the line. If you wait around, the repeater's radio scanner spouts out all the local NJT radio traffic. Because of the repeater, the tower top is still heated by electric space heaters. The tower is also the home of the fuse box that runs SJRR's water well.

 

The track diagramHere we have a cockeyed view of the billboard style track diagram. A partition wall was built between the interlocking machine and the board. There is a foot wide gap at the top so only the diagram of the Atlantic City line is visible. This wall might have been put in when control of the other lines was discontinued or it was put in with the radio repeater. Either way it is an inconvenience and I had to shoot around it. The line at the bottom is the ex. RDG line now Conrail's Beesley's Point Sec. and the twin line on top is the Atlantic City line. You can also make out the taped off CNJ trackage. All the electrical tape on the board gives you a feeling of just how complex this junction was. When a line was taken out of service tape was put on the board to avoid confusion. The diagram is fully lighted and at the very bottom you can see one of the support pipes and at the top you can see the attic access.

 

The track diagram, viewed over the partitionHere we can see the top of the board and that dammed partition. The board notes the signals and block segments. The visible part shows the Atlantic City line, the two connecting tracks that lead to the Ocean City branch and the AC line siding.

 

The mechanism of the interlocking machineHere you can see the inside of the interlocking machine. When you turn one of the levers they toggle the relays at the top and also turn the vertical spindles. These spindles do the interlocking by altering signals in relation to other signals. This is the zenith analog technology. Today these relays and spindles would be replaces by just a few silicon chips. However, this machine is much better than a manual lever rack. At the bottom of the photo you can see all the tower's old repair records that have been just dumped in a heap.

 

Wiring loomsHere you can see into the front of the machine. All the relays and spindles connect to hundreds of wires arranged in little bundles. You can also see the double row of lights that signaled the position of each handle.

 

More spagetti - on the first floor
Now we are on the first floor directly under the interlocking machine. Here the thousands of wires and little bundles flow out of this tower and out to about 50 relay boxes spread all over the jct. I would hate to be the guy on the spot to fix this when the machine just went down and the next train is only 10 minutes away. Copper hunters have cut out most of the wires. You can see the structural brick and the I-beams that hold up the second floor. Aside from all the wires we must not forget that this is a pneumatic interlocking with a compressor in the basement and miles of pipes and hoses that operate the switches.

 

South Wins "Tower"
No tour of the tower would be complete without seeing its replacement. The new "tower" is a 5' square, sheet metal box. This really gives new meaning to the term signalbox. This is a top of the line sheet metal box with both heating and cooling. 99% of all US interlocking are controlled by something like this. Far away is some office building sits the NJT dispatcher who sits in a dark room filled with TV monitors. Simply by touching his screen he can contact a train by radio, throw a switch or change a signal. You can also see an example of the new US standard signal. It consists of 1, 2 or 3 aspects each with 1(R), 2(R/Y) or 3(R/Y/G) separate lights. If you noticed that the signal is not lit don't panic the signals are approach lit and only light up when a train comes to save on electricity and light bulbs. Also the entire Atlantic City line has continuous cab signaling and no train without cab signals is permitted to travel on it. SOUTH WINS now controls the 2 switches and 2 signals that work south end of the Winslow controlled siding and the interchange between NJT and the SJRR.


All photographs are copyright © Mike Brotzman

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