N&W Train Order Signals - 19's/31's

nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Sat Sep 16 20:42:13 EDT 2006

Harry Bundy wrote:


Yes, Gary, the "31" order does restrict the rights of a superior trains, but the
conductor did not always stop and sign it on the old NS. In many instances,
the dispatcher would authorize the operator to sign the conductor's name and
hand the order up on the fly. It worked pretty good . . . . .most of the time.

H. & Co. :

The more you study history, the more you learn that there are very few hard-and-fast rules.

In the early days (by which I mean 1880s and prior,) there were no "19" and "31" orders. There were just "telegraphic train orders," and like the later 31's, they had to be endorsed by the conductor or engineman or both (the practices depending on which railroad and what time period.)

Sometime in the very late 1880s, the Standard Code of the ARA went to "19" and "31" orders. From what I've seen of the history, 31's were used to restrict superiority (e.g. "has right over..." or "wait at") and 19's were used for other purposes ("run extra" or "run late.") The advantage of the 19, of course, is that it could be delivered on the fly, without stopping a train.

As I'm sure you know, both a 31 and a 19 could be involved in the same situation. Example: On single track, First Class train No 4 is being restricted to "give time" to Ex 742 West. The train order says "No 4 Eng 286 wait at Boanerges until 315PM for Ex 742 West." The restricting order goes to No 4 on a Form 31, and No 4 has to stop and sign for it. But Ex 742 West gets the same order on a Form 19 on the fly, and doesn't have to stop forhis copy.

By what mechanism was this set up? By a very simple clue that the dispatcher gave when he signaled the various telegraph offices that he had an order for them. To the station copying the order restricting No 4, he said "31 east, copy 3." But to the station copying the order for Ex 742 West, he said "19 west, copy 3." By that verbal clue, everyone knew what was happening and how to proceed. (Some roads required that the signature of the conductor on No 4 be obtained and transmitted to the dispatcher before the 19 to Ex 742 West could be made complete.)

As a generalization, it appears that railroads dropped the 31 order in territories where Automatic Block Signals were installed. Meets were made by 19 orders, but protected by automatic block signals.

It would be an interesting exercise to determine what was the last railroad using the Form 31 train order.

And wasn't it the Nickel Plate that also had a Form 17 train order, used for speed restrictions only? I think I saw one once, and it was green in color.

-- abram burnett

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