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Author Topic: What do US railroad signals mean?  (Read 12499 times)

Geezer

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What do US railroad signals mean?
« on: 25/01/2011 17:53:42 »
I'm familiar with railway signals in the UK and Europe, and they seem reasonably intuitive to understand, but I've never been able to figure out what all the various combinations of lights mean in the US. Not only that, but they seem to turn them off so that no lights are showing at all!

Any experts out there, or informative web sites?

Paul_1966

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What do US railroad signals mean?
« Reply #1 on: 25/01/2011 21:28:57 »
Many U.S. railroads adopted a system known as speed signaling, rather than the route signaling which is the norm in Britain. 

Where there is a single signal head, as on long stretches of open track with no turnouts, the red, yellow & green indications mirror the equivalent British indications, except for the names, which are stop, approach, and clear respectively. 

Once diverging routes come into the picture, the norm is for the signal to indicate the speed at which the train may travel for the route selected by a combination of two or more lights.  The top head indicates the conditions for the full permissible speed of the line.  The second head, below, then indicates the condition for medium speed.  The definition for the latter can vary from one railroad to another, but typically limits speed to around 30 mph. 

The signal will show green for whichever speed route is set and clear.  So green over red indicates that it's clear to proceed at the maximum line speed.  Red over green indicates that the full-speed route is impassable, but that the medium-speed route is clear.  The indication is called medium clear

Yellow then comes into play as an approach warning (the "caution" indication of U.K. signals) for each speed route.  Yellow over red thus indicates approach for the full-speed route, just as for a yellow light alone.  Red over yellow is medium approach, meaning that the full-speed route is impassable, but that the train may proceed at medium speed, expecting the next signal to be at stop. 

It's possible for more than one light to be something other than red at a time.  Yellow over green is called approach medium, meaning that the full-speed route will be red at the next signal, but that the medium-speed route is clear for at least two blocks ahead.  In other words, the engineer may continue at full speed past this signal, but must slow to no greater than medium speed by the next signal.

A third signal head can be added at the bottom, which is used to indicate a route at which slow speed must not be exceeded.  Again, the actual speed can vary, but is typically 15 mph.   So green over red over red is clear; red over green over red is medium clear; red over red over green is slow clear.  In other words, the top light shows the condition for full speed, the middle light for medium speed, and the bottom light for slow speed.

Again, a yellow light with the others red indicates approach, medium approach, or slow approach, expecting all red at the next signal.  Yellow & green in combination indicates the speed at which an approach may be made to the next signal and the speed of the route which will be taken at that signal.  So yellow over green over red is approach medium (the red indicating that no slow route is available).  Red over yellow over green would be medium approach slow, meaning that the train may continue at medium speed past this signal, but must be down to slow speed for the next signal.

All lights red means stop, of course, since no route (full, medium, or slow speed) is clear. 

Those are the basics of speed signaling.  There are many extensions, such as lunar white to signal restricted speed, and flashing green or yellow for limited speed, which is higher than medium but below full speed. 

Some U.S. railroads did adopt route signaling, which operates in a similar way to U.K. signaling, the top light indicating the main line, the next light down the diverging route, and so on.  And some railroads adopted their own unique signals, like the position light signals of the old Pennsylvania R.R. or the position plus auxiliary lights of the B&O, which resemble no others.

Geezer

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What do US railroad signals mean?
« Reply #2 on: 25/01/2011 23:23:25 »
Thanks Paul! Sheesh, no wonder I couldn't figure it out  :D.

I'll have to read that a few more times to get the hang of it.

Paul_1966

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What do US railroad signals mean?
« Reply #3 on: 26/01/2011 08:42:10 »
Here you go, this might help to explain it a little better:

http://www.alkrug.vcn.com/rrfacts/signals/signals.htm

Don_1

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What do US railroad signals mean?
« Reply #4 on: 26/01/2011 09:20:24 »
Well now Geezer, are you a step closer to realising your boyhood dream of becoming a train driver?

Wooooo, wooooooo------ chuff chuff, chuff chuff, puff puff, clackety clack

Dear oh dear, the things you have to do for kids eh? Huh!

Geezer

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What do US railroad signals mean?
« Reply #5 on: 26/01/2011 20:51:49 »
Well now Geezer, are you a step closer to realising your boyhood dream of becoming a train driver?

Wooooo, wooooooo------ chuff chuff, chuff chuff, puff puff, clackety clack

Dear oh dear, the things you have to do for kids eh? Huh!

At least I'll still be able to run my engine on wood when all the oil and coal runs out! So there! Neener neener neener!

(Insert offensive raspberry sound here.)

Geezer

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What do US railroad signals mean?
« Reply #6 on: 26/01/2011 20:56:39 »
Here you go, this might help to explain it a little better:

http://www.alkrug.vcn.com/rrfacts/signals/signals.htm


Great link Paul! Many thanks. (Pay no attention to Don. He's having another of his funny turns.)

imatfaal

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What do US railroad signals mean?
« Reply #7 on: 27/01/2011 12:14:15 »
I thinks Don's turns are when he is suddenly eminently sensible and coherent for a few posts - then normality returns and the little yellow men make a come back!

syhprum

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Re: What do US railroad signals mean?
« Reply #8 on: 02/03/2013 01:12:26 »
I stay in Indianapolis most springs close to a railway line and at night I am delighted by the sound of wailing sirens and visualise mighty wood fired locomotives complete with cow catcher trundling across the prairie although they are probably small diesels.
« Last Edit: 02/03/2013 01:15:18 by syhprum »

Wilfog

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Re: What do US railroad signals mean?
« Reply #9 on: 01/04/2013 02:24:05 »
Railroads sometimes have the power for illuminating the wayside signals turn off if there are no trains in a block or section of track.  This saves on maintenance because of ware and tear on the filaments for the aspects and also saves on commercial power costs when the aspects are lit all the time. Not sure this is an important application as signal companies are using LEDS for the aspects and there is no ware and tear as LEDS have no filaments.......but having them off for unoccupied blocks or sections could save power and maintenance even for these newer LED aspects.

CliffordK

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Re: What do US railroad signals mean?
« Reply #10 on: 01/04/2013 05:25:32 »
A "blue flag" means do not go there (or something like that).

A job that I was at had a railroad siding.  When workers were filling the cars, they would always have a blue flag up so that the RR would not come in and bump cars while people were climbing on them.

If there was a scheduled pull in the evening, and someone forgot to remove the blue flag, the engine would have to stop and wait for a supervisor from our company to come and take down the flag.

 

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