Diesel class lights?

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Tue Sep 13 09:00:38 EDT 2016

Mr. Stephen Rineair - 

Simple answer to your question: Front end only. 

More full explanation: 

The explanation which follows addresses CLASSICAL railroading. I give not fig for how the weenies are doing things today. 

Generically, lamps and flags displayed upon the front of an engine are called "Classification Signals." By day, classification signals consist of flags of the proper color. By night, classification signals consist of both flags and lamps of the proper color. 

A train running on a Time Table schedule does not display any classification signals. 

If a train is operated Extra, i.e. without a schedule, a Train Order is required for its operation, and WHITE classification signals are displayed. These signals serve as a notice to all persons and other trains along the line that the train is not representing a schedule in the Time Table. 

If a train is operated in sections (e.g. First, Second and Third No. 3,) all sections except the last display GREEN signals. This is to call the attention to all other trains on the road that another section is following. 

Jack Fields, the Road Foreman of Engines on the Shenandoah Division in the 1960s, and a 1920s-hire, told me that he had seen No. 84 operated in as many a NINE sections over the Pocahontas Division ! The New York Central regularly ran it's flagship Twentieth Century Limited, No's 24 and 25, in eight and nine sections. 

Around 1953 (IIRC,) the N&W issued a Time Table Special Instruction stating that the display of classification signals was no longer required in double track territory where Automatic Block Signal Rules were in effect on both tracks. (The tracks involved did not have to be operated under CTC [Centralized Traffic Control] rules - they just had to have Automatic Block Signal Rules in effect.) This meant you saw the coal and empty train extras running without white flags on the east-west main stem of the N&W. This also followed the logic double track territory signaled for movement in one direction, Rule 251, which stated, "On tracks so designated in the Time Table, trains will proceed on signal indication for movements with the current of traffic" (various roads tweaked the language just a bit.) 

I can remember in the mid-1950s, when No. 3 and No. 4 were operated in two sections due to heavy Christmas traffic, seeing First No. 3 and First No. 4 "carrying green" (i.e. displaying green classification signals,) even in double track Automatic Block territory. I believe it was around 1960, or shortly therebefore, when the display of green signals was dispensed with in double track Automatic Block territory, but I do not recall how the T.T. Special Instruction was worded. 

The Punkin' Vine was operated by this classic "Time Table / Train Order" method of operation into the 1970s, when CTC was installed. In CTC territory, train schedules really count for nothing, as all trains just "proceed on signal indication." Which is to say that the signal indications give them the authority to use the main line, not a Time Table schedule. 

Let's take the case of the Punkin Vine, since that was probably the last place on the [old, real] N&W where trains were operated on the classic TT/TO principles. At both ends of the road (Roanoke and North Winston) were located "Train Registers." The Conductor of a train was required to "register" his train when he left his initial terminal and when he arrived at his final terminal, and one column in the Train Register book was headed "Signals Displayed." In that column he wrote either White, Green or None. Conductors of all other trains were required to check the Train Register and be aware of whether or not "all overdue superior trains have arrived or left." In the very old days, I suspect there was also a Train Register at Price, NC, as that was considered a "terminal" at one time and probably the most important point mid-divsion, sporting a 24-hour a day telegraph and Train Order office. The operators at places where Train Registers were located were required to "transmit the Train Register to the Train Dispatcher" (i.e. transmit information on trains which have registered in and out of terminals.) On this territory, the Conductor always delivered to his engineman a small form called "Conductor's Check of Train Register," stating whether or not "overdue superior trains have arrived or left." 

When I hired on the Radford Division in 1964, when a Conductor handed the Engineman his Train Orders and Clearance Card, he would also hand him a Conductor's Check of the Train Register. How a Conductor at "DO" West Roanoke, or at East Bluefield, knew whether or not "overdue superior trains" had arrived or left, is a question for another time. 

Continuing with the case of the Punkin Vine, a question now comes to my mind. Extra trains were regularly put on duty in the middle of the territory, at Payne (the Martinsville Shifter, the First and Second Bassett Switchers, and work extras,) and there was no Train Register at Payne. These trains received only Train Orders and a Clearance Card before departing Payne. By rights, the Train Dispatcher should have informed these extras about the status of "regular" (i.e. scheduled) trains operating over the territory, but he did not. He could have done this in one of two ways: (1) By a Train Order stating "All overdue trains have arrived or left Payne as of XX.XX AM/PM," or by a message giving the same information. In retrospect, it strikes me as curious that this was not done. But retrospect also teaches me that the N&W took a lot of short-cuts. Sometimes they got away with it for years without incident, and sometimes they did not. 

One of the questions which arose over the years was this: When an assisting engine is coupled ahead to assist a train, are the classification signals to be moved ahead from the road engine to the assisting engine? The AAR Train Rules Committee never issued an binding ruling on this, but said something like, "They should be, but the display of classification signals on any of the engines will have the same meaning." This was probably a moot question for the N&W, except perhaps for some instances on the Pokey where helpers coupled ahead. 

Once CTC signaling (or "TC," as the N&W preferred to call it) was installed on a territory, classification signals became a dead issue, as all trains simply "proceeded on signal indication" without regard to the schedule (if any) of opposing or following trains. And thus railroading went from a fine art form to a trite and mundane procedure. 

Here endeth the disquisition. Here endeth the rant. 

-- abram burnett 
old order curmudgeon on-the-loose 

Sent to You from my Telegraph Key 
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