Though we've discussed the trials and tribulations the Pennsylvania Railroad endured sharing the banks of the Susquehanna River, particularly on the Columbia and York Haven lines, I would like to take a chance to celebrate the river itself. The Susquehanna runs approximately 464 miles from the uplands of New York and Western Pennsylvania to create the longest river on the east coast to drain into the Atlantic Ocean. The river's watershed drains some 27,500 square miles encompassing nearly half of the State of Pennsylvania. The broad shallow river winds a wandering course to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at Harve De Grace, Maryland. Through various routes including the mainline, York Haven, Port Road and Northern Central the PRR follows considerable lengths of the Susquehanna. In particular, for this post at least, we celebrate some of the natural beauty of the mighty river in context of Lancaster County and the PRR York Haven and Columbia branch. Enjoy!
Photographs & History
In a strip of land between the former Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad's Columbia branch and the Susquehanna River in modern day Royalton, Pennsylvania lays one of the few remaining clues of another transportation empire that succumbed to the practicality of the railroads. The State owned Mainline of Public Works was completed in 1834 creating a multimodal transportation network to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in direct competition with the Erie Canal. Consisting of over 273 miles of canal and 120 miles of railroad, the system utilized various modes of transport based on geographic necessity. The Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad connected its namesake towns to the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. The Eastern Division ran 43 miles north from Columbia along the east bank of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster and Dauphin Counties. The canal made a northern connection to the Juniata Division Canal at Duncan’s Island and intermediate connections to Harrisburg and the Union Canal in Middletown. The Juniata Division paralelled the Juniata River making connection with the Allegheny Portage Railroad in Hollidaysburg where canal boats were then transported by rail over a series of inclined planes to cross the Allegheny ridge at a summit of 2322 feet above sea level. West of the Allegheny summit the Portage Road made connection to the Western Division Canal in the City of Johnstown following the path of the Conemaugh, Kiskiminetas and Allegheny Rivers westward to Pittsburgh and the Ohio River.
The dangerous and slow inclined planes of the Portage Road along with the canals would prove to be the downfall of the Public Works system limited by capacity and the seasonal nature of operations. The vast and diverse infrastructure needed constant work, many cases in remote areas making the system costly to maintain. By the 1840’s some investors began to look to the railroad as a better transportation solution and in 1846 the charter to build the Pennsylvania Railroad, a privately owned rail route from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh would challenge the Public Works System running almost exactly the same route. While the benefit of rail transportation over the Public Works was quickly realized subsequent expansion east to Philadelphia in 1854 would create the first all rail route across the state, dealing the final blow to the canals and Portage Railroad. The PRR eventually purchased most of the bankrupt Public Works system from the state to improve their mainline, often offering favorable routes alongside of towns rather than the early street running alignments of the original 1846 railroad.
Straddling the towns of Middletown and Royalton in Dauphin County, Royalton interlocking was a strategic point where most freight and passenger traffic separated for the trip east to New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Approximately 10 miles east from State Interlocking the mainline and Columbia branch (today Norfolk Southern's Royalton branch) ran along side each other with the freight operating on tracks furthest to the north. The Columbia branch, which drops south along the Susquehanna diverted freight trains away from the main at Royalton requiring traffic to cross into the path of the busy passenger main. To avoid this potential traffic disruption the PRR applied a proven technique of building a fly-over to allow all tracks/trains to gain proper position without the need to physically cross or intersect the other route.
Prior to the late 1950's Royalton interlocking was controlled by a two story frame tower that sat on the eastern side of the tracks (railroad was oriented north - south here). The early interlocking plant was of an older design using a mechanical armstrong complex to control the switches and signals between the mainline and Columbia branch. The Columbia branch served as a back road connection from the mainline and freight yards in Harrisburg to the low-grade route via Shocks Mill allowing freight from all directions to bypass congestion in Enola when necessary. In the late 1950’s Royalton interlocking was made a remote facility named Roy with control given to the operator at State Tower in Harrisburg. Evidence of this project survives in the form of a single story relay house that rests on the foundation of the former tower. As part of Amtrak’s Keystone Line rehab, Roy was rebuilt once again providing Amtrak with a set of crossovers for operational flexibility (the line is now governed by Rule 261-allowing bi-directional traffic flow) while maintaining the connection to the Royalton branch.
Special thanks to Mr. Don Rittler, who's input on operations at Royalton provided some insight on this relatively obscure facility on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Don worked as a tower operator for the PRR and its successors in the Harrisburg region from 1937-1979.
Chickies Rock is a unique geological feature along the Susquehanna River known as an anticline, an arch of exposed rock arranged in layers that bend in opposite directions from its peak. Chickies is classified as the largest example of its kind on the East Coast. This particular location also played a significant role during the Civil War. As a highpoint along the Susquehanna River, the bluff was a strategic location for the Union Army during the Confederate’s occupation of Wrightsville across from Columbia during the Gettysburg Campaign. Later the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Railway would build a trolley line north from Columbia to the peak of the Rocks where it also constructed an amusement park. The line scaled 1900 feet up the west side of Chickies Hill Road on a 6% grade abruptly turning toward the peak to access the park. Opening in 1893 the line later extended down to Marietta providing both towns access to the popular recreation area. The trolley line and park continued to operate until its abandonment in April of 1932.
Looking to the north from Chickies Rock one can see the PRR York Haven line, the former alignment of the Columbia branch and the town of Marietta. The rail lines converge at the base of the rocks to squeeze south (railroad east) on a narrow flat along side the Susquehanna River. It was at this location during the construction of the low-grade that the PRR decided it would build the York Haven line out on a fill to avoid the curving profile of the older alignment between here and Columbia. As a result Kerbaugh Lake, named after one of the biggest contractors on the low-grade project was created. Though referred to as a lake the area was really a low laying swamp with poor drainage that separated the two alignments. In 1936 the flood prone Susquehanna rose to levels that consumed the new fill destroying the vital low-grade, flooding Kerbaugh Lake and the Columbia branch along the shore. The devastation required months to rebuild the York Haven line and forced the decision to abandon the older Columbia branch alignment. During this period the PRR also filled in Kerbaugh Lake and improved drainage in the area by installing several culverts between the lake and Susquehanna under the right of way. Today most of this area is part of the Chickies Rock Park operated by the Lancaster County Parks Department and provides some beautiful views along various trails following the former Columbia branch between Marietta and old Kerbaugh Lake in addition to park high above on Chickies Rock itself.
Continuing East on the York Haven line from Shocks Mill Bridge, we encounter more history on the fabled low-grade project of Alexander Cassatt. The east bank of the Susquehanna River was host to two major modes of transportation by the mid 1800’s, the Public Works Canal and the Columbia Branch of the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad. By the time plans came for the new low-grade the canals had been largely abandoned for some time, however the Columbia Branch became a vital link to the original Philadelphia and Columbia as well as the Columbia & Port Deposit Railroad providing connections to the mainline via Royalton. While designing the new low-grade the Columbia branch was the choice line to connect the Northern Central via the new Shocks Mills bridge, the old alignment would require revisions to fit the requirements of the new line. By the turn of the century Cassatt’s low-grade project would bring big changes to the local railroad scene. With the consolidation and construction of the new freight network many of the older track alignments were abandoned in favor of a separate right of way to avoid pedestrian and street traffic. Common to many locations on the PRR, these abandoned segments were either sold off or utilized as stub end tracks to serve industries still active near the town centers.
In the village of Rowenna, just east of the Shocks Mill Bridge, a segment of the old Harrisburg and Lancaster drops off the embankment where the Royalton - Columbia branch and the York Haven line meet at an interlocking simply known as Shocks. This spur continued parallel to the mainline for several miles accessing agricultural industries and a military transfer depot constructed during World War II. Sill in service today, this branch serves the former Military installation, now an industrial park as well as a feed trans-load facility off Vinegar Ferry Road.
Just a few miles further east we enter the Borough of Marietta. Established in 1812, Marietta once boasted many river, rail and canal dependent industries. On the south end of town remnants of the old Columbia Branch surface in an isolated area bound by Chiques Creek and Furnace Road. This area, which the creek and a local iron furnace are named after (albeit different spellings) derives from the Native American word Chiquesalunga, or crayfish. In different eras it has been spelled Chickies, Chikis and Chiques but all refer to this common meaning. The Chickies Furnace #1 opened in 1845 with production thriving until the late 1890’s closing due to better, more efficient facilities, most likely in nearby Steelton.
Among the foundations and rubble that remains of the former Chickies Furnace #1, the Columbia branch can be found along the old canal bed. You can spot telltale signs of PRR construction methods, the most immediate is the use of the ubiquitous 3 pipe railings on a bridge over a sluice between the canal and creek. Piers also remain from a deck bridge that carried the branch over the creek prior to the 1936 flood while the former roadbed of cinder ballast provides reference of where the line entered the area from the west. Just down stream on Chiques Creek, the York Haven line crosses the outlet to the Susquehanna on a W. H. Brown trademark 3 arch stone bridge well above high water. The history of when the Columbia branch was abandoned ties into not only the construction of the low-grade but also the great flood of 1936, subject of next week’s post!
Perhaps the bane of Chief Engineer William H. Brown's existence, the Shocks Mill Bridge is of significant note among the countless stone arch bridges, overpasses and culverts constructed on the PRR during his tenure. Opened in 1903 the Shocks Mills bridge was a part of the low-grade freight only line being constructed to connect Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Situated roughly 8 miles railroad west of Columbia the strategic bridge and accompanying line linked the Northern Central in Wago with existing lines in Columbia and ultimately the new Atglen and Susquehanna further down river. The 28 arch stone bridge was over 2200 feet long spanning the Susquehanna River with trains riding approximately 60 feet above low water. A smaller sister to the beautiful Rockville Bridge further upstream, initial construction cost the PRR $1 million dollars to build the bridge and long fill on the eastern approach. However problems with the bridge developed when piers began to settling in 1904 resulting in more money and time spent to reinforce the compromised areas of the span. After this additional work the bridge endured decades of heavy use and the additional of catenary during the later electrification phase of freight lines in 1937-38.
In June of 1972, Hurricane Agnes would batter the East Coast causing record floods throughout the area resulting in over 3 billion dollars in damage and causing over 128 fatalities. Cash starved Penn Central was hit hard having multiple washouts throughout the system but one of more significant would be the loss at Shocks Mill. On July 2nd, 1972 a train crew noticed problems with the center piers of the bridge as flood waters raged below during one of the worst natural disasters in American history. Soon after, six piers toward the center of the stone bridge would collapse rendering the low-grade line useless until the damage could be assessed and rebuilding could take place. Becuase the PC was under bankruptcy protection court permission was sought to rebuild the vital link. Started late in the third quarter of 1972 the new construction was completed by August of 1973 utilizing nine new concrete piers supporting deck girder spans to bridge the void. Until settling compromised a pier on the Rockville bridge in 1997 this would be the only major failure on record of the proven and sturdy construction methods Brown used during his 25 year tenure as Chief Engineer.
During the construction of the low-grade, surveyors encountered several obstacles in the form of creeks and rivers. At approximately milepost 47 on the York Haven Line, Chief Engineer, William H. Brown handled Codorus Creek like many others around the system utilizing the standard cut stone masonry arch bridge, this one consisting of five arches. The Codorus bridge curves to the east on a high fill as the mainline climbs toward the Shocks Mill Bridge over the Susquehanna River, less than a mile to the east.
Leaving the greater Harrisburg / Enola area from the west bank of the Susquehanna, the PRR's York Haven Line drops down river toward Columbia, PA. This line was a key component of PRR president Alexander J. Cassatt’s plan to build a low-grade freight bypass diverting traffic off the mainline from the Philadelphia area. Existing lines and new construction in the early 1900’s provided access to Baltimore by way of both the Northern Central via York and the Columbia and Port Deposit Branch via mainline connection at Perryville, Philadelphia via the new Atglen & Susquehanna and Lancaster via the original Philadelphia & Columbia. Running a distance of 15 miles east from Enola Yard along the former Northern Central alignment, this “branch” was actually one of the busiest electrified freight arteries in the east. Alongside the Susquehanna River in the town of Cly, the railroad maintained an interlocking here connecting the York Haven Line to the Northern Central. These lines would run parallel to Wago Junco where the NC drops southwest toward the city of York.
Cly tower was constructed in 1906; one of the few PRR interlockings utilizing an Armstrong plant of mechanical levers to control switches over the later US&S electro-mechanical installations. Constructed of brick the two-story tower was a contrast to neighboring installations built in the late 1930’s like Cola to the east, which controlled long stretches of line utilizing a Centralized Traffic Control installation. Though an important junction the Northern Central to York was never a preferred freight route in later days of the PRR hosting passenger trains and local freight. During the Penn Central years the route suffered heavy damage as a result of Hurricane Agnes. In a dire financial situation, Penn Central opted not to rebuild the route and Cly’s importance as an interlocking diminished resulting in the eventual closing of the tower in the early 1980’s under Conrail. Today there is little left here as Norfolk Southern works to modernize this line, the catenary poles have been cut down and position light signals replaced with modern installations. While connection is still made to the branch to York in a simplified interlocking at Wago the modern Cly is a mere curve and grade crossing at milepost 54 of the Enola Branch.
Continuing approximately 7 miles east from Steelton the mainline and Columbia branch arrive at historic Middletown, Pennsylvania. Skipping over Highspire, featured last year in the post, Industry Along The Line,Middletown, originally known as Portsmouth and was a significant place in early transportation history. Founded in 1755 and incorporated in 1828, Middletown is the oldest incorporated community in Dauphin County. Situated in a broad flat plain the Middletown- Royalton area was the eastern end of the Pennsylvania Canal System - part of the mainline of Public Works, the southern end of the Union Canal, and confluence of the Swatara Creek and Susquehanna River. Here many industries including boat building, lumber mills and iron works thrived in early years. The railroads arrived in the 1830's, served by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad via the Lebanon Railway and the Pennsylvania Railroad via the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy & Lancaster. Soon after the railroad arrived in Middletown, the region's significance as a canal hub diminished as railroads triumphed over the inferior system. Both the Reading and PRR served the area for many years to come, but the PRR had a much larger presence with the mainline cutting right through town.
Today both lines survive, and the town is served by three railroads: Amtrak, Norfolk Southern (both PRR) and the short line Middletown and Hummelston (former RDG) which serves a few remaining industries in addition to operating tourist excursions along Swatara Creek. While Amtrak and NS appear to be on a shared mainline, two tracks are actually Amtrak's Keystone Line while the southernmost track is NS's Royalton branch. Though this segment is part of a expansive interlocking starting in the Middletown area we will discuss this railroad location in greater detail when we reach Royalton.
On the south end of the Harrisburg Passenger Station, tucked away in a two-story addition dating back to the final phase of electrification in 1937 two significant PRR facilities operated around the clock. State Interlocking Tower is on the far south end of the station building and originally controlled the east end operations of the passenger terminal, access to the Cumberland Valley line to Hagerstown and the Northern Central via Lemoyne Junction on the West side of the Cumberland Valley Bridge. In addition to these important mainline connections State also controlled the Columbia branch that comes up from Royalton as well as access to both PRR and Railway Express Agency warehouses that handled local express traffic off the passenger trains.
Opening in 1937 as part of the terminal electrification, State Tower contained a standard Model 14, Union Switch and Signal unit, customary in most PRR interlocking towers. The interlocking was operated in conjunction with Harris to coordinate the combining and splitting of passenger trains in the station while also facilitating engine changes and yard moves needed to maintain passenger operations. While State still operates as a local block and interlocking tower, the physical plant is not nearly as intricate as it once was. Since traffic no longer operates on and off the Cumberland Valley Bridge and Norfolk Southern makes no connection from the Columbia Branch at the passenger station, most operations focus on Amtrak trains arriving and departing for Philadelphia. Occasionally a bad order coach or cab car will be switched out here or turned on the wye but typically operation is pretty straightforward. Several responsibilities were added to State’s territory after Roy and Harris were decommissioned, giving State the remaining control of the NS connector at Capitol Interlocking (just west of Harris) and Roy interlocking where the NS Columbia branch diverges off the mainline further east in Royalton.
Also part of the 1937 construction, the Harrisburg Power Dispatcher’s Office was constructed to monitor and control electrical supply and loads on all electrified territory from Harrisburg and Enola east to Thorndale on the main and low-grade routes and south to Perryville. This facility survives as an incredible symbol of the strides the PRR made in electric traction technology and remains intact although not in use. The facility is still occupied by Amtrak’s power dispatcher who now works from a computer terminal in the center control atrium of the original installation. When visiting the facility last fall there was discussion of this location closing with completion of Amtrak’s new CNOC pending, but to my knowledge the facility is maintained to date. The Harrisburg facility was one of three such installations on the PRR with the other two at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and the Service Plant building of Penn Station in New York City, neither of which are still intact.
Moving railroad east from Rockville on the mainline we enter the capitol city of Harrisburg. Beginning in 1836 the city has been host to railroads including the Pennsylvania Railroad, Philadelphia & Reading, Northern Central (NC), Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster and the Cumberland Valley (CV), the later three eventually absorbed by the PRR in an effort to expand service under J. Edgar Thompson. Though there were numerous stations built in the general vicinity of the current Harrisburg station, the terminal complex was in constant flux through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, growing and changing with needs of this important terminal.
During the late 1920’s the City of Harrisburg sought to expand the Market Street Subway crossing under the terminal, while a State project commenced to build a grand new bridge over the PRR at State Street; both projects necessitated a major reconfiguring of the terminal on the west end of the passenger station. With this construction the PRR saw an opportunity to replace several older mechanical switch towers that controlled various parts of the terminal with one state of the art facility utilizing an electro-pneumatic Union Switch and Signal interlocking plant. Opening for service in April of 1930, Harris Tower operated 82 signals and 74 switches with additional controls for the train director to set up directional flow of traffic through the six bi-directional station platform tracks for operational flexibility. All these operations were controlled by a new US&S Model 14 interlocking machine from one centrally located building. The operating territory of the new facility spanned a length of 3,250 feet and would regularly handle over 100 scheduled passenger trains, approximately 25 freights, and scores of switch and light power moves.
Operations at Harris and the train station itself were unique in that it was a place where various sections of westbound passenger traffic from both DC and New York were combined, with the opposite occurring for eastbound movements. Equipment moves including mail, express parcel, baggage and even dining cars were switched here by a number of yard crews through out a 24-hour cycle. While the engine changes were common in the early years, the location became far more significant when Harris became the western end of electrified service in 1938, becoming a place where electric motors, steam and later diesels co-mingled on a regular basis. Though Harris continued to play an important role in passenger operations after World War II the terminal and station complex would begin to fall victim to declining traffic as a result of the widespread popularity of the automobile and airlines. Through the turbulent transition of the ill-fated Penn Central merger and its subsequent bankruptcy, passenger service suffered critical blows eventually leading to the creation of Amtrak and later Conrail. Operations at Harris began to shrink as Conrail began to migrate away from using electric locomotives and Amtrak’s Philadelphia – Harrisburg line slowly became a stub end line with only one or two round trips continuing further west to Pittsburgh. During Conrail’s effort to separate themselves from Amtrak operations, piecing together an independent freight mainline, the Reading Company branch from Rutherford was rebuilt to link the PRR mainline and yards west of Harris with the Lurgan and Lebanon Lines. Part of the 9 million dollar Capitol interlocking reconfiguration the remaining responsibilities of Amtrak’s Harris Tower were eventually moved to neighboring State interlocking in 1991 making the historic facility surplus after 61 years of continual service.
Amazingly enough, this would not be the demise of Harris Tower, as several visionary people with the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society would rally to not only save Harris, but resurrect it as a hands on learning experience for generations to come. Led by dedicated chapter members the Harris Tower project included a full structural and architectural renovation bringing the building back to its original design and appearance. Even more significant, the interlocking machine and model board was fully restored, unlocking seized levers and restoring the model board to reflect the terminal at its peak operations during the height of World War II. Restoration also included development of a computer system that interacts with the interlocking machine to recreate the full experience of a working interlocking tower, giving visitors a hands on experience of being a lever man in Harris Tower, lining simulated routes and signals based on operating schedules from the period. Like many other towers, Harris is no longer responsible for directing traffic over the PRR system, but today it serves as a living history museum to many of us who never had the opportunity to experience a piece of railroading once so common in America.
Following up from the last post on Lemoyne Junction we arrive at the Cumberland Valley Bridge. This strategic bridge provided the PRR with connections to the Cumberland Valley Line to Hagerstown, the York Haven Line, the mainline and Harrisburg passenger terminal. The existing bridge is the last of five such spans at this location dating as far back as 1839. The current bridge was completed in 1916 and comprised of 45 reinforced concrete arch spans carrying two main tracks over the Susquehanna between the Harrisburg passenger terminal at State interlocking and Lemoyne Junction. As part of the final phase of PRR electrification the bridge received catenary primarily for freight moves as most passenger trains operating over the bridge were coming off the non-electrified Northern Central from Baltimore. This bridge also acted as a relief valve in the event that problems developed at Rockville Bridge or Shocks Mill further south on the freight only Low Grade. The bridge survives but without train service, having had all trackage across the bridge removed after Conrail rerouted all trains over the neighboring Reading Company bridge to the south.
Lemoyne was a significant location in the Harrisburg Terminal as early as the 1830s. Site of a strategic junction between the Northern Central and Cumberland Valley Railroad, the facility was located on the eastern edge of the small borough directly west and across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg. Located approximately 2.5 miles south of Day Tower and Enola Yard, the original junction at Lemoyne was a physical crossing of the two railroads protected by an interlocking tower know as J (later Lemo). When the PRR assumed control of the two lines in late 1800's connecting tracks in the northwest, southwest and southeast quadrants were added to allow movements in a number of directions on and off the Northern Central, Cumberland Valley and into Harrisburg Station via the Cumberland Valley Bridge.
During the Cassatt Administration construction of the Atglen and Susquehanna, a rebuilding of the Northern Central and construction of the Enola Yard brought significant changes to the Junction at Lemoyne. With an effort to maintain lines that were free of interruption particularly at grade crossings with other busy railroads, the York Haven Line between Wago Junction and Enola was built closer to the river at a lower elevation, bypassing the intersecting lines and passing beneath the Cumberland Valley Bridge. In 1937-38 electrification brought about more changes at the junction with the Low Grade, Cumberland Valley Bridge and original NC alignment receiving catenary. What evolved from the years of change was a junction equipped with a kind of local and express lanes. The junction utilizing the quadrant tracks at the original location to move trains off the Cumberland Valley to Enola, Columbia and Harrisburg while the low grade routed trains around the junction all-together.
With the demise of passenger service on the Cumberland Valley in 1961, Lemoyne saw mostly freight activity with the exception of passenger trains off the Northern Central from Baltimore and Washington. These were often combined at Harrisburg with trains on the mainline from Philadelphia and New York City to head west, a practice that occurred into the Penn Central Era to a limited degree. In 1972 Hurricane Agnes pummeled the Northeast washing out a number of Penn Central properties including the Northern Central route between Wago and Baltimore. Since the line was primarily used for passenger and local freight traffic, it was deemed surplus and not rebuilt by the cash starved PC ending any regular passenger traffic through the junction at Lemoyne. Further loss took place under Conrail with the consolidation of Reading and PRR mainlines to Hagerstown. Compounded by the separation of Amtrak and Conrail operations and Conrail’s rebuilding of the Reading line to Harrisburg the existing Reading branch to Shippensburg provided an ideal connection for the project. The Cumbeland Valley route would be cut back to Carlisle with other segments incorporated into the new route that Conrail would later transfer to Norfolk Southern in 1999. Though not a through route, the old Cumberland Valley is a very busy operation today servicing a number of major industries between Lemoyne and Mechanicsburg with a yard and local crew base operating in Shiremanstown. All that remains at the junction at Lemoyne is the northwest connector to the CV and a few lone catenary poles with all Norfolk Southern traffic utilizing the low grade to the East.
Of course it goes without say that Lemoyne Junction was protected by one of many interlocking towers along the PRR system. Built in 1885, J tower (later named Lemo) was situated in between the Cumberland Valley and Northern Central to protect the at grade crossing of the two lines in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania. The tower originally controlled switches and signals using a 35 lever mechanical machine (armstrong levers) linked to cranks and pulleys that moved the switches out on the line, subsequent upgrades modernized the interlocking plant using the standard Union Switch and Signal Model 14 electro-pnuematic plant. One of only two surviving examples of the early PRR standard design wood frame interlocking towers (the other variation being Shore Tower on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor) this tower was functioning up until the early 1980s under Conrail when the tower was removed from service. A group of volunteers with the Lancaster Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society saved the building, disassembling the structure and securing a location at the Strasburg Railroad where it would be reassembled and restored to its original appearance. In addition to the building's exterior restoration the interior would be reconstructed to its original operating configuration including the armstrong mechanical plant, parts of which were graciously supplied by Amtrak from Brill Tower in Southwest Philadelphia. Today people young and old can tour the building to gain a unique perspective of a facet of railroading that has largely disappeared in the computer age.
Here is a great little photo essay on Lemo Tower by photographer Jim Bradley
Enola's South End
Situated at the southern end of the Enola Yards, Day Tower was responsible for movements in and out of the sprawling facility, handling traffic off the Atglen and Susquehanna, Columbia and Port Deposit, Columbia Branch, Northern Central, and Cumberland Valley Division. At one time the tower controlled four electrified running tracks that fanned out to the Westbound Relay and Receiving Yards, and the departure end of the Eastbound Hump and Relay Yard. Located in the West Fairview area along the Susquehanna River the tower was situated on the northern side of the State Route 11/15 overpass between the number 2 and 3 tracks into the yard. The eastern most tracks into the terminal, sometimes referred to as the Northern Central or Baltimore Old Line (tracks 3 and 4) were part of the original NC alignment prior to the 1905 opening of Enola and actually provided a bypass along the eastern side of the yard to Rockville West in Marysville. The western tracks (1 and 2) were built as part of the original construction of the Enola facility.
Day Tower, responsible for both yard moves, westbound arrivals and eastbound departures utilized electro-mechanical, electro-pneumatic and and mechanical (armstrong) machines to control switches and signals in the interlocking. To the south (railroad east) the four tracks narrowed to two in order to cross the Conodoguinet Creek until 1964 when a third span was added to relieve the bottleneck in the busy area. South of the creek the railroad enters the town of Lemoyne where the railroad once again split into multiple tracks under the control of Lemo Tower (previously known as J tower). Today this location, referred to as Stell interlocking marks the end of yard limits and beginning of the Enola Branch which is controlled by the NS Harrisburg dispatchers.
While at the time of this post it is unclear how and when Day met it's demise, today all that remains is the foundation north of footings for the 11/15 overpass. Various sources report conflicting information stating it was closed and demolished in the 1970's while other images clearly show the facility still active in the mid-1980's. One report mentioned it was destroyed while in service as a result of a derailment sometime in late 1986/early 1987, which is not hard to believe considering the location of the structure. Today the interlocking has been removed with all tracks under the jurisdiction of the Enola yardmaster utilizing hand operated switches north of Stell Interlocking. Though not as busy as it was in the PRR era, the area still sees coal traffic to PP&L's large Brunner Island Generating Station and a fleet of nocturnal north and southbound trains heading to Baltimore via the C&PD and Northeast Corridor in Perryville MD.
Part of the 1902 mainline improvements project the Enola Terminal served as a western anchor for President A. J. Cassatt’s low grade freight line to funnel freight from the west to the eastern ports of New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Situated at the eastern end of the original mainline, Enola channeled traffic from all directions and at one time was the largest such facility in the Country. Constructed on the former Northern Central directly across from Harrisburg, the facility came on line in 1905 with construction continuing for several years. Oriented north-south on a large parcel of land along the west bank of the Susquehanna the facility stretches over 3 miles in length and once contained 145 miles of track and 476 switches. As typical freight sorting yards are designed, Enola was built with two receiving yards to handle arriving traffic from the east and west, two separate hump yards to sort traffic and construct outbound trains, and relay tracks for trains staying intact like coal or other mineral traffic that require staging or crew/ motive power changes. In the center of the complex were extensive engine facilities for both electric, steam and later diesels included a running repair shop, two turntables, and a 54 stall roundhouse. In addition the facility also had a full car repair and fabrication shop which prior to the 1956 opening of the Sam Rea Shops in Hollidaysburg was a major facility for constructing steel freight cars for the PRR. Later alterations included addition of a diesel shop in the late 1940’s and a container yard for containerized less than car-load service (LCL) service.
As the western anchor of the Atglen and Susquehanna Low Grade, Columbia Branch and Columbia & Port Deposit, electric traction handled freight from the east upon completion of the landmark electrification project in 1938. The entire westbound receiving yard was under catenary allowing entire electric powered trains to arrive without assistance from yard crews. In contrast, the eastbound relay and hump tracks were only wired on the far-east end to facilitate departures utilizing electric locomotives.
The facility was revised and expanded as traffic warranted with a World War II capacity of the east and west facilities each handling 5000 cars per day utilizing state of the art Union Switch and Signal car retarder systems helping to control and automate freight car sorting requiring less people while improving efficiency. Pre-War traffic averaged less than 10,000 freight cars a day, but at the peak of WWII traffic in 1942, Enola Terminal processed up to 20,661 cars in a 24 hour period!
After the war, traffic levels decreased and the revision and expansion of the PRR facility in Conway just west of Pittsburgh was completed. Enola began to loose work in a system wide effort to reduce car handling and cut costs. Since then Enola has survived several service reductions and closures under PRR predecessors Conrail an Norfolk Southern. The facility was reborn in a smaller capacity in 2003 when Norfolk Southern began utilizing hump switching for mixed freight once again. Though not quite the facility it used to be, the engine terminal is still responsible for running repairs and inspections for the NS diesel fleet, being one of only three such locations in the Northeast region to carry out these tasks. Today Enola continues to provide many jobs to the local economy as both a crew change point for run through and originating traffic for five general road and yard crew pools.
Gateway from the West and North
Though Rockville Bridge is a well noted landmark on the Pennsylvania Railroad, the entire facility associated with that name deserves a close examination. The junction, simply know as Rockville was a complex interlocking that was essentially shaped like a large "H" on both the east and west Side of the Susquehanna River, the bridge spanning the river in between. From the west on the mainline, Banks Tower in Marysville, would set up traffic to Rockville for a number of different scenarios. The two most common, freight arriving or leaving Enola Yard, or traffic to and from the bridge and Harrisburg. At Banks the complex junction began with running tracks dropping below grade between the mainline, essentially "ducking under" the route to Harrisburg so as not to interrupt traffic flow at the west end of Rockville Bridge. This simple concept that we now take for granted in highway construction was something that the PRR developed to keep passenger and freight traffic fluid while sharing the same track system.
Rockville West as it was sometimes referred to, was the more complex and remote part of the junction, providing connection with the massive Enola Yard complex, at one time the largest on the PRR system. The mainline and yard leads to Enola essentially run North - South here along the west bank. At Rockville West the mainline comes up and over the yard leads and turns left onto the beautiful Rockville Bridge, the third bridge built here by the PRR. Much of this infrastructure including the early Enola Yard, flying junction, and the Rockville Bridge itself, comes from a landmark improvements project under the leadership of PRR President Alexander Cassatt, and Chief Engineer William H Brown. The trademark cut masonry retaining walls, bridges and brick lined tunnels are beautiful examples of Brown's preference of these materials, and have become a case study for his belief that this construction style would last a very long time.
Opened in 1902, W H Brown's Rockville Bridge is the longest masonry arch railroad viaduct in the world. Taking three years to complete the 3820′ long span is made of 48 seventy foot arched spans over the Susquehanna River. At the base of the west abutment the "B Track" was added in 1939 to allow Enola traffic access east to the Harrisburg Yard and more importantly the Northern Division by way of the line to Northumberland.
On the east bank of the River there was a uni-directional crossover from the Eastbound #1 Track to Westbound #4 Track, and connection to the north leg of a wye that provided access to the line to Williamsport. Continuing to the East the other side of the cross-over from the Williamsport lead across to #1 track allowed traffic on and off the Williamsport Line from the East. Inside the area of this junction sometimes referred to Rockville East stood the interlocking tower. Originally built in 1898, it was the third in this general location, originally utilizing a mechanical plant to control switches and signals. In 1942 the interlocking complex was rebuilt with a standard Model 14 Union Switch and Signal 43 lever elecro-pneumatic interlocking plant. The tower lasted into the Conrail era until 1986 when it met its demise with Conrail's efforts to close towers and implement Centralized Traffic Control on the former PRR lines.
Today this bridge and a scaled down version of the Rockville Interlocking still faithfully serves the Norfolk Southern Corporation seeing heavy freight traffic and a round trip of daily Amtrak NYC-Pittsburgh service. While the track layout has been altered over the years, changing from the original 4 track system, to three, to the current two track layout, the approach infrastructure and the bridge’s appearance is still just as impressive.
Dating back to the original charter of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1846, Harrisburg has long been host to the Standard Railroad of the World, beginning with the original mainline from the State Capitol, west to the city of Pittsburgh. Under the leadership of J. Edgar Thompson the PRR expanded South to Baltimore and North to Williamsport via control of the Northern Central Railway. East to Philadelphia with connections to New York City via the failed State owned Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad and Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad Company, and finally southwest by way of the Cumberland Valley Railroad.
While this early hub of activity was growing, expansion would soon be needed to alleviate traffic through the busy terminal. Enter Alexander J. Cassatt and his landmark 1898-1902 system improvements carried out by Chief Engineer William H Brown. These improvements introduced standardization of the physical plant, the expansion to the trademark four track “Broadway” mainline, grade separation projects and construction of sophisticated junctions allowing continuous freight and passenger movements with minimal interruption. New terminals were also built to better suit the modern needs of a growing nation. When complete, Cassatt and Brown effectively re-engineered the PRR to carry the company through the future.
Later upgrades under PRR President Martin M. Clement completed electrification of both passenger and freight lines to Harrisburg in 1938, helping to increase travel times, capacity and reduce labor costs. At its peak, Harrisburg was a crossroads of four operating divisions the Williamsport, Middle, Philadelphia and Maryland Divisions, creating a hub where all destinations on the system could be accessed via various routing through the terminal area.
The Harrisburg area flourished through WWII with the Enola Freight Terminal processing an all time record of 20,660 freight cars in one day in June of 1943! Post war traffic levels declined and the railroads were left with battered track, worn out equipment and new found competition from airlines and the tractor-trailer. As railroads tried to recover and rebuild, the downward slide continued, and on that fateful day of February 1st 1968 two long time rivals, the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central merged. Through continued financial problems, government regulations, and one massive incompatible system that was to big for the current rail market, the PC spiraled downward, and in 1970 made the record books, being the largest corporate bankruptcy case in U.S. history. This bankruptcy was the final step in spurring the effort of government intervention to save a struggling national passenger rail network, thus Amtrak was created removing the burden of passenger trains from the freight carriers. Finally while operating under bankruptcy protection the PC was organized into merger with six other bankrupt railroads to liquidate excess properties and form one solvent rail transportation network in the region. Beginning operations on April 1st 1976, Conrail rose from the ashes with a less than ideal start, but eventually became a successful private company serving the Northeast region with connections to Canada, the South, Detroit, Chicago and St Louis.
During the early 1980's several events took place that forever changed the relationship of Conrail and Amtrak operating on the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak’s tragic collision with a Conrail locomotive at speed in Chase MD caused fall out nobody could have expected and accelerated the push for the separation of freight and passenger traffic in many regions where they would once routinely share the road. Conrail shifted remaining traffic from New York and Philadelphia off the PRR mainline (now Amtrak’s Harrisburg Line) and the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch to the former Lehigh Valley and Reading Company mainlines. Electrified freight service was discontinued and a major consolidation of facilities took place. While the Reading main became the choice line to Harrisburg, Enola Yard survived as the railroad's primary terminal in the area. Conrail later focused on redeveloping the Harrisburg Yard for intermodal trains and run through re-crew and refueling facilities. Tracks were stripped from the Cumberland Valley Bridge favoring the neighboring Reading viaduct over the Susquehanna River and the remains of the PRR Hagerstown Line became a branch ending near Carlisle PA, with a new connection to the Reading Lurgan Sub in Camp Hill. Though the Columbia and Port Deposit still funnels freight to Baltimore via the Amtrak connection at Perryville, Maryland freight activity is limited to a night time window to avoid passenger traffic on the line.
Today after the Conrail split between eastern giants Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation, the dust settled and NS prevailed on the former PRR / Reading properties in Harrisburg. Enola has been rebuilt and is used for blocking and classification of freights while the Harrisburg yard and the former Rutherford Facilities (Reading) are used for intermodal and crew changes. Amtrak has just completed a major rebuild of the Keystone Corridor to Philadelphia and for the first time in 20 years the electric traction system is used regularly for hourly service with Amtrak’s venerable AEM-7s and tubular Amfleet cars, capped with rebuilt Metroliner cab cars for push pull operation. The beautiful Harrisburg train station still retains its herringbone brick platforms and original 1887 train shed serving as the western anchor for the New York - Harrisburg service and the daily round trip of the Pennsylvanian, the last remaining passenger train to make the trek over the former PRR mainline west to Pittsburgh.
Next time we will begin to explore the key points and facilities in the Harrisburg area, to understand how the PRR managed traffic through this busy area and how facilities function today in Norfolk Southern's transportation network.
Over the next few months, we will be following the mainline of the former Pennsylvania Railroad on a tour moving east from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, exploring the landscape, physical plant and facilities along the line. In addition to the mainline, we will follow the Atglen and Susquehanna Low Grade, Enola Branch, Royalton Branch and some of the Columbia and Port Deposit line too. This work represents the past year of collaboration with Amtrak and was a sizable piece of railroad to cover in such a short time. For this segment there are currently over 250 photographs, and there will be more to come while I work to fill in a few gaps.
Beginning this Friday our first series of posts will cover the Harrisburg Terminal area. This historic and pivotal location on the PRR was significant as the origin of the initial construction to Pittsburgh in 1852 later continuing to grow and thrive with the company's development. Serving Amtrak and Norfolk Southern today, the Capitol City of the Commonwealth has been host to countless freight and passenger trains over the past 160 years.