Thursday, July 24, 2008

Locomotive Lights

Southern Pacific 3455, GP9, McMinnville, Oregon, June 1966. It has been said that no other railroad in recorded history carried such an array of locomotive headlamps than the Southern Pacific!

Sporting her Ben Dedek inspired “black widow” paint job, we look closely at the lamp array on this GP9. From top to bottom – single red oscillating lamp, dual sealed beam headlamps, and dual oscillating headlamps and a bullet classification lamp off to the side.

A variation substituted the “beer barrel” light in place of a dual seal beamed luminary - shown here on SD9 5354.

Oscillating luminaries had two common patterns; the figure “8” or the “0” oval pattern, each designed to catch the attention of motorists, and separate the locomotive, often moving at considerable speed, from “background” lights, especially at night. I understand that a "W" pattern oscillating lamp was briefly available.

So called “ditch lights” showed up on diesel electrics while we lived up in Prince Rupert in 1957 – 1959. They were not a factory option from GMD. They were, in fact, an attempt by train crews to give them a fighting chance against the dangers of rock falls; mud slides, downed trees, and undercut roadbeds, which plagued the rugged mountains and canyons of British Columbia.

The beams were optimized to give train crews a look-see around curves. But even with this lighting system, crews still came to grief, and still do to this day!

This accident occurred in a permanent slow order – 15 mph – stretch of track! According to a newspaper interview with the engineer, ground fog off the Skeena River obscured the offending rock pile!

Once upon a time, another type of lamp shone brightly from the front of the locomotive; the so-called “classification” lights, augmented with similar colored flags. Although the CNR 9060 has a burned out classification lamp on the fireman's side, they are operating during daylight hours, and only 45 miles from home - running under the protection of the white flags.

From the 1909 Grand Trunk Railway Operating Rules, we find this explanation of the white classification lamp and white flag. This announces the fact that this train is operating “off the timetable.” It is an extra, whose movement is governed by the dispatcher.

Green flags and lamps indicate additional or “second” or more sections of the original proceeding train, time tabled or extra.

And the red indicator signaled the rear of a movement or helper engine. Or in this example, Santa Clause coming to town!

With the advent of Centralized Train Control and other operational systems, the classification lamps have gone the way of the train orders or flimsies, and an era when train crews had to really understand their movement across their subdivisions is history!

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