Palmer, Massachusetts, ‘CP83’ on Friday evening, May 31, 2013.

 

The “C” Light is Lit.

CP83 Palmer MA
This entire five image sequence was exposed with a Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

Going back to at least the 1980s, a group of us would convene in Palmer on Friday evenings. It used to be that after closing Tucker’s Hobbies on Fridays, Bob Buck would come down for dinner along with customers and friends from the store. Afterwards, we’d head over to ‘the station’ to watch the railroad.

I recall seeing Central Vermont’s old Alco RS-11s on sultry summer evenings, belching clouds of exhaust and sparks, while we waiting for the parade of westward Conrail trailvans (intermodal piggy-back trains); TV-5, TV-13, and etc. Back in the day, I’d make night shots with my Leica 3A. That seems like a long time ago.

This past Friday, a group of us convened at the usual spot; Doug and Janet Moore, Bill Keay, Rich Reed and myself. After a few trains, Doug and Janet were the ‘heroes’ as Bob would have called them; they headed home and a little while later the signals at CP83 lit up. To my astonishment, the ‘C’ light was flashing (the small lunar-white light between the main signal heads). I rushed for my cameras . . .

 Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

The signals at CP83 are approach-lit. So, when the signals light, it means that something (usually a train) has shunted the circuit.  Among other things, CSX’s CP83 governs the switch at the west end of a controlled siding that begins at CP79 (about four miles to the east). When the signals light with a high green, it means a westward train has been cleared to continue past CP83.

Conrail installed the present signaling system back in 1986 when it converted the Boston & Albany route from directional double track under Automatic Block Signal rule 251 ( ‘signal indication will be the authority for trains to operate with the current of traffic’) to a largely single main track system with controlled sidings and governed by Centralized Traffic Control-style signals with cab signaling.

As a result there are now only wayside signals at dispatcher control points such as CP83. CSX assumed operations from Conrail 14 years ago.

It’s rare, but occasionally a locomotive suffers a cab-signal failure, or a locomotive that isn’t cab signal equipped leads a train. There is a provision with the signal system using the ‘C’ light, to allow a dispatcher to authorize a train to proceed without operative cab signal.

Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

CSX rule CR-1280A names the ‘C’ light aspect as ‘Clear to Next Interlocking’. This gives the train permission to proceed the full distance to the next block ‘approaching next home signal prepared to stop’.

Why am I going into such specific operational details? Because, I’m fascinated by signals, but also in the 27 years since Conrail installed this signal system I’ve only witnessed a ‘C’ light lit, three times. And, I’d never before seen the C-light lit at CP83. I’ve been to CP83 more times that I can count, so for me, that is a really unusual event. (I saw a shooting star that night too, but those are common by comparison!)

Fortunately, I had cameras handy, and, perhaps more to the point, I had my dad’s Gitzo tripod, which made this sequence of images possible. (Other wise I would have trying to balance the camera with stacks of coins on the roof of my Golf, but, we’ll save that for another event . . .)

I just wish that Bob Buck could have been there with us to watch the train pass. He would have enjoyed that.

Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

All images exposed with a Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

To learn more about railroad signals, check out my book Railroad Signaling  available from Voyageur Press.

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