Re: [thegreatthirdrail] Digest Number 313
- Thomas, Glen, and Group;
I think you are correct. I base this on this type of signal being located at road crossings that didn't have automatic gates with flashers. You see, (and I base this on my own railroading experience, years later with BNSF), crossing flashers have two small lenses on each side of the flashing units. These light when the red flasher unit lights alternately. In this case as Thomas had mentioned, the motorman approaching the crossing could tell if the automatic protection is operating by observing the flashing lights operating aimed at his line of vision. If the lights were not flashing, he would take appropriate action. According to current GCOR,(General Code of Operating Rules), if a grade crossing installation is not operating correctly, any train, car, locomotive, etc, is to approach the crossing prepared to make a complete stop before occupying the crossing. A flagman is then to alight from the train, walk up to the crossing, stop all highway and
pedestrian traffic and flag train across crossing before getting back on the train and proceeding. They also need to report crossing out of service at their earliest convienence.
Most of the CA&E crossings, both manned with gateman, and automatic in operation had gates only. In downtown Wheaton for example, there were four quadrant gates, two on each side of the street with a single flasher unit mounted on a pole in the middle of the intersection on a small concrete island. I am not sure if the flasher unit has the small lights on each side that the regular flashers do. So without flasher units on the crossing signs, the motorman would not know whether the crossing protection was correctly operating or not. I am assuming if a train approached a gate protected crossing, that the gates didn't drop upon the approach of the train, that would generally assume at least to me, the protection is not operating correctly and the crossing would have to be protected as outlined above. Also at a manned crossing and the gates didn't drop I would assume the crews would check on the gatemen to make sure they were ok. I know at President Street
in Wheaton, there was a small bard with Twelve lights/six on each side of the crossing to tell the crossing watchman which track on both the CNW and the CA&E, the train was coming. This board was on the west side of the shanty, which at President Street was on the west side of the street. After a train passed the watchman would call either the dispatcher or the next crossing to tell him the train had passed. Since I don't have a topographical map of DuPage County handy, these signals may of been installed on crossings that had limited field of vision, (track curved in such a manner the motorman wouldn't get a clear view until almost on the crossing, hence this additional protection. Now the CA&E did have flashers on some crossings, mainly on the Elgin, Batavia, and Aurora legs and these had the small lights on the flasher units so the additional signal probably wasn't required.
Since we are talking on signals and grade crossings, in today's world, if you notice when ralfanning, relay cases and instrument sheds have a "power on" indicator located, in plain view of the tracks. This signifies that the commercial power is on and the crossing is not operating on battery power. Battery power was generally only good for 18 continous hours with no commercial power. For those not informed, the crossing installation has a circuit that allows the crossing to operate on 120 volts AC commercial power normally. The 120 volts AC, is stepped down to a lower voltage inside the relay case to operate the equipment usually 30 volts or so. In normal operation, the crossing equipment operates off the commercial power and the batteries are "trickle charged to keep them charged. Crossing gates today have a default operation that if the gates are not operating correctly, the crossing arms drop to block the crossing. If we as trainmen and enginemen
approached a crossing with the power light out, we were to immediately call the train dispatcher on the radio to report the crossing location so the dispatcher could send a signal maintainer out to rectify the situation. Also in the course of normal maintainence, the signal maintainers would check the batteries in the battery well at each crossing and add battery acid and water as needed. Just like we used to add water to our car batteries if they got low in the olden days. In the days of the CA&E, I am assuming the train crews in observing non-operational crossing and block signals would either use the telephone boxes along the tracks to call the dispatcher at Wheaton, or tell the nearest station agent at the nearest station, if the phone box was not present.
Also, grade crossings in areas that had alot of switching could be put on manual operation so the crossing protection wouldn't operate so the crews could do their switching without the gates going up
and down constantly. But if a gate was put on manual, a crew member would have to be stationed at the relay case and was not released until the crossing protection was back in automatic operation and the control box relocked with the padlock provided. Grade crossings no longer have that manual option as most installations now have a system with motion detectors, where the train speed is checked and if after a predescribed period of time the crossing is not occupied the gates will go up. As the train approaches the gates will go down again. Also the manual operation was removed by federal mandate after a serious accident downstate in Illinois on the former GM&O, now UP, at McLean Illinois at State Highway 136, where a UP signal maintainer took the crossing protection off line to maintain the crossing, and forgot to reactiviate the equipment and left the crossing unprotected. A family was killed when their car was struck by a high speed Amtrak passenger
train. The railroad alledged the railroad should not be totally liable as the driver didn't look both ways and just assumed the way was clear. The ruling stated the railroad was liable because the maintainer didn't perform all his duties correctly by leaving the scene without signal reactivation. The signal maintainer ws later charged with vehicular homicide and subsequently lost his job.
I am sure even though train radio, which was in it's infancy in 1946, was not available or used by the CA&E due to the railroad's precarious financial situation. But then maybe I could be wrong. I wonder what kind of vehicles the maintainers used to perform their duties. Because comapany oened vehicles were unheard of then, perhaps the railroad gave the maintainers an allowance or stipend provided by the railroad, to use their privately owned vehicles to cover wear and tear, fuel, and other essentials in the course of their dutues.
I realize this covered more than the original question, but I wanted to share with everyone what is involved as it will make you more aware how all this fits together in the scope of crossiing protection both manual and automatic operation, both in the days of the CA&E and in today's modern world.
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