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January 1997


Double-Deck Coaches Approved for VRE

The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission has approved spending $23-million for 13 double-deck commuter cars for Virginia Railway Express for 1999 delivery.


BNSF Begins Interchange Traffic with CSXT at New Orleans

Burlington Northern Santa Fe began interchanging traffic with CSXT at New Orleans December 18 over trackage rights acquired as a result of the UP/SP merger.


CSXT Inaugurates Appalachian Service Lane

CSXT's Appalachian Service Lane was implemented December 19. It extends from Etowah, Tennessee, to just south of Cincinnati, and includes the former Blue Ridge Division.


West Hump Operator Positions Abolished

Five months after they were established, the round-the-clock operator positions at CSXT's West Hump yard office in Cumberland, Maryland, were eliminated. Their last full day was December 18. The positions had been created by the closing of Mexico Tower on July 25 with the Mexico operators transferring directly to the West Hump office. Yard power switches are now controlled by the dispatcher in Jacksonville, and administrative duties are performed by the West Hump yardmaster. Viaduct Junction Tower, at the west end of Cumberland yard, is slated to close this month.


Charlottesville, Virginia, Depot to be Renovated

Union Station at Charlottesville, Virginia, will be renovated in a project to begin this spring. A developer has received approval from the city for the project which will involve converting the station to entertainment and retail use. Amtrak will occupy the former baggage and express building to the east of the main building.


North Carolina Chip Mill to Generate CSXT Traffic

Williamette Industries has begun construction on a chip mill at Union Mills, North Carolina, which is expected to produce about 200,000 tons of wood chips annually for shipment by CSXT to Hawesville, Kentucky, and Marlboro Mills, South Carolina.


In Support of the Texas "Eagle"

It appeared in the Washington Post, so it must be accurate! It seems a couple from Dallas wrote a letter to Vice President Gore expressing concern for the plight of Amtrak's Texas Eagle. "The train has been our mainstay for visiting family in Chicago," they wrote, adding that they now have grandchildren and need the train to make visits to both coasts. The letter was written during the Democratic National Convention, and the couple noted that the President had traveled to it by train. "What can you do to save our Eagle instead of spending so much money to keep yourselves in a paid position?" they added. Here is Mr. Gore's reply, as quoted by the Washington Post ("In the Loop," by Al Kamen, Dec. 6, 1996):

"Thank you for your letter regarding the protection of the Texas eagle. I appreciate hearing from you.

"I share your view that the urgent problem of species extinction and the conservation of biological diversity should be addressed. The first step in saving any plant or animal from extinction is to become aware of and respect the fragile ecosystems that make up our environment... I look forward to working with you for the future of our planet."


Tower B-12 and the End of an Era

[By Thomas K. Kraemer .. a feature article] ... The commencement of new railroad operations is always welcome news for supporters and followers of the industry. However, progress may bring casualties as well. Chicago Metra's new North Central commuter service on the Wisconsin Central fits this scenario... With the addition of connecting tracks and a new signal system installed at Franklin Park, Illinois (junction between the WC and Milwaukee Road West line where the new commuter route swings north), the industry lost yet another holdout of the few remaining "armstrong" mechanical towers. The closing of Tower B-12 at Franklin Park on July 8, 1996, brought the number of surviving mechanical interlockings down to [about] ten.

A wise operator (at a mechanical tower, of course) once made the following observation: "There are more living Siamese twins in America than there are mechanical interlocking towers."

The past few years have been particularly hard on mechanical towers. Into the 90's we lost examples such as: BK and Shenango towers on the Erie; NS in Lima, Ohio; and UN Tower on the B&O at New Castle Junction, Pennsylvania. A "true" mechanical tower, by the way, is one that retains its mechanical pipeline that directly controls switches. Some towers have had their pipelines removed, but the mechanical levers in the tower itself have been reconfigured to operate electric switch mechanisms and signals. Fortunately, the interiors of these towers hardly reflect changes resulting from the removal of their pipelines, and the physical operation of the levers remains the same (but requires less muscle!). Approximately eight of this type remain open: examples include IHB's Calumet Tower in East Chicago, and CP's Spring Hill Tower near Terre Haute, Indiana.

Anyhow, back to our subject of B-12. It was a city tower. One controlling a busy junction frequented by commuter trains, transfer runs, and through freights. The exterior had been re-sided, probably in the last 70's, but its interior retained its Victorian-era woodwork, polished oak cabinets and cast iron radiators. Not all the levers remained in operation (some had been pulled out altogether), but, right up until the end, a few were still connected to that ancient mechanical pipeline that threw a couple of switches on the Wisconsin Central line. Now, all movements at the junction are controlled by Metra's downtown dispatching center.

The end of the tower era can be related to the end of the steam era: Just as steam followers headed for Roanoke in the late 50's, those with an interest in mechanical towers must now travel to Chicago or West Virginia to find the survivors. . . . [Statistical assistance for this article was provided by Eric Schmelz.]