Friday, November 11, 2011

The Rolling Lift Bridge

View towards South Station of all 3 Bridges in the up position
As one approached Boston Terminal (South Station) from the South on the former Old Colony Mainline, all inbound & outbound trains had to cross one of the 3 Rolling Lift Bridges that spanned the South Bay Channel. These bridges, which took 2 years to build carried untold amount of passengers & trains during their 87 year lifetime.


The driving force to build Boston Terminal (South Station's Real Name) back in 1894 required the co-operation & consolidation of 4 Railroads: The New England Railroad (NY&NE), The Boston & Providence Railroad (B&P), the Old Colony Railroad (OCRR), and the Boston & Albany Railroad (B&A) to all share 1 common railroad terminal instead of being spread out all over Boston.  In order to do this, the planners needed to accommodate the approach tracks for these 4 railroads & funnel them all into the South Station yards & platforms.

The site chosen for the new station was approximately where the New York & New England Railroad station was located at the time.  This site was chosen as the best location in terms of passenger flow & most importantly - land to build such a large facility that could handle the traffic from 4 competing railroads. The Old Colony Station which terminated just south of the NY&NE station would be be demolished as the new station yard tracks & approaches would be located where the OCRR station stood.

Consolidating the B&P and the B&A railroad tracks was fairly simple since both railroads met several miles west of the site of the new station (The B&P crossed the B&A main line in Back Bay & then terminated at their station in Park Square). The Boston & Albany tracks continued to their station which was located next door to the OCRR station. Extending the tracks into the new Boston Terminal was easy for these two lines. Each railroad would extend their own tracks parallel to each other until they reached Boston Terminal property where they would merge into the Boston Terminal complex.

Moving the tracks for the OCRR & NY&NE would prove to be a much more difficult affair.  For the NY&NE, the tracks crossed Fort Point Channel from the east where the present Summer St. crosses the same channel. The Old Colony came from the South & crossed Fort Point Channel via a conventional lift bridge.  The tracks for both railroads crossed about a mile to the south so it would be fairly easy to shift the right-of-way for the NY&NE to parallel the Old Colony until it reached the Fort Point Channel. The Old Colony Bridge that crossed the channel was too small to accommodate the increase in traffic from 2 railroads.  Because of the lack of capacity of the OCRR bridge, All traffic for the NY&NE would be shifted to the B&P terminal for the duration of construction.  It was obvious that in order to handle all the forthcoming traffic, a New Bridge would be needed to replace the existing OCRR bridge.

One of the biggest problems facing the the Boston Terminal project is how to allow up to 6 tracks to cross the Fort Point Channel & still have sufficient clearance for shipping to pass safely.  Many bridge designs such as horizontal swing, center-pivot swing, or fixed trunnion bascules were ruled by the railroads to be impractical, did not provide enough lift to clear traffic, or simply took up too much precious real estate to allow the 6 parallel tracks to cross the channel. It was decided that a new bridge type - the Rolling Lift Bridge design provided the best solution to the problem.

Enter William Scherzer & the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge.

William Scherzer created the idea for the Rolling Lift Bridge in 1893. This type of bridge is unique in that each span or half-span of the bridge rolls back upon its curved heel on a track laid in its abutment. The bridge span can be rotated upwards to almost 90 degrees which allows just about any type of traffic to pass under it without ever harming the bridge.

The first Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge was built in 1895 to span the Chicago River at Van Buren Street. The bridge was 115ft long and carried street traffic. Scherzer designed & built 5 more bridges to cross the Chicago river as the design proved extremely successful.

Rear of bridges showing control cab
The contract to design & supervise the construction of the new bridge was awarded to the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company of Chicago. The contract for the superstructure with its approach girders & operating machinery was awarded to the Pennsylvania Steel Co. of Steelton, PA.  The contract for the supporting masonry was awarded to the Holbrook, Cabot & Daly company of Boston Ma.

Plans were drawn-up for 3 Rolling Lift Bridges to cross the Fort Point Channel next to the Old Colony right-of-way. The interchange bridge for the B&P located just west of the OCRR would remain in-place to handle interchange traffic for the B&P & OCRR (this bridge was finally removed in 1910).  Once the new bridges were completed & in-service, the earlier Old Colony Bridge would be dismantled. The lifting spans of the bridges had to be built in the vertical position so their construction would not impede boat traffic.  It took 2 years 1898-1900 to complete all three spans.

The lifting spans of the new bridges 83' 81/4" in length & cross the channel at a 42 degree angle. Each of the 3 bridges could be independently operated as each bridge contained its own machinery to raise or lower the span. The spans are very well balanced - so much that each span only required a 50hp electric motor to allow the bridge to operate. A control room was erected over the center bridge that contained the controls to operate all of the bridges. It takes only 30 seconds to raise or lower the bridges - this includes the time to lock the bridge in-place either up or down.

The plans called for construction of 3 Rolling lift bridges located next to each other to serve the station. Each bridge would carry 2 tracks each - The western most bridge would carry the New York & New England tracks. The middle bridge would carry the Old Colony tracks. The eastern most bridge would provide service to the Suburban Loop track that ran under the station & the East Yard which provided freight service for the mechanical facilities of the new station.


Before the bridges & South Station were completed, the New Haven Railroad leased the B&P, NY&NE, and Old Colony Railroads. The New Haven RR quickly absorbed them all into the New Haven Railroad System. When the station was conceived back in 1895 - there were 4 railroads coming to the new station. By the time it was completed in 1898 - there were only 2 left: The New Haven and the Boston & Albany Railroad.

During the first 20 years the Bridges were operated extensively while also handling anywhere from 500-900 trains per day crossing back and forth across the bridges. At their peak - around 1910 -1918, all three bridges were raised & lowered no less than 24 times per day.

The only bridge that was under utilized by railroad traffic was the easternmost span. The original plan called for this span to be used to handle the Suburban Loop which was planned to be electrified using center third rail. During the early 1890s,  this technology was extensively tested on the Nantasket Trolley branch.  However, by the time the Station was finished, newer & much safer technologies for electric trains were invented & center third rail technology was abandoned.  The Suburban loop could not be converted for normal Steam Locomotive traffic as the air blowers installed in the loop were no where near adequate for these types of locomotives. The other problem with the loop was that it lacked sufficient vertical clearance to handle normal passenger cars & locomotives. With the cancellation of electrification & loss of the expected traffic, the easternmost bridge span was only used to bring coal for the station's electric plant & the occasional freight traffic to the terminal.

After WWI, boat traffic navigating the Fort Point Channel declined as the South Bay was slowly being filled in.  Dry Land was far more in demand in Boston - especially for the New Haven Railroad who needed yard trackage to handle the enormous amount of passenger traffic.  By the time WWII rolled around, there was very little traffic navigating the channel. When the City of Boston rebuilt the Dorchester street bridge in 1948, they decided to install a fixed span across the Fort Point Channel instead of a moving bridge. This signaled the end of boat traffic for the Channel. At the same time, Boston Terminal, which operated the bridges, decided to weld the bridge locks to the bridge spans to prevent the bridge from accidentally lifting on its own. The bridges would never move again.

By the early 1950s, the Mechanical Facilities (electric & ice facilities) at the station were shut down as the Boston Terminal Company could simply buy electricity from local sources which was cheaper than operating their own plant. With the expansion of mechanical air conditioning for passenger cars, the Ice plant was no longer needed. Since the easternmost span was used to service these facilities, this span was retired & the tracks removed at the same time the mechanical facilities were shut down.

With the end of passenger service on the Old Colony division in 1959, the center span was taken out of service as it too was no-longer needed.   By the time of the end of the New Haven Railroad in 1968, passenger service was so bad that only 1 bridge (carrying 2 tracks) was in-service.

The End of the Bridges.

Although all three bridges remained in-place, only one remained in-service; quietly soldering on  carrying Amtrak passengers for many years. When Boston Terminal was renovated from 1984-1988, the bridges were finally removed completely & replaced with a fixed structure.  This structure still spanned the remains of the Fort Point Channel.   The trackage that crossed this bridge were expanded to 4 tracks in anticipation of traffic from the to be restored Old Colony commuter service - the same service that was abandoned back in 1959. Ironically, with the new fixed span bridge, the old bridge that once carried interchange service from the Boston & Providence Railroad to the Old Colony Railroad was restored in pretty much the same location where it was removed in 1910. What was once old is new again.

The Future.

With rail service on the MBTA expanding every year, South Station is once again approaching service levels it had not seen since its heyday back in the early 20th century. The current plans - as of 2011 call for the U.S. Post Office to  leave the facilities that were built over station tracks 21 - 28 back in 1934. These buildings will be torn-down to make way for expansion of South Station from the current 13 tracks up to 21 tracks: just 7 shy of the original construction. Service on the final Old Colony branches - the New Bedford Branch & the Fall River Branch are scheduled to be restored in 2016. Service to Providence & T.F. Green airport are scheduled to be expanded as more people are moving to riding the rails instead of fighting traffic on the local highways.

All that is left of the 3 Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridges
When the bridges were torn-down the 1980s, plans were created to preserve the memory of the bridges that kept traffic moving for over 85 years. If you are coming to South Station on any of the Old Colony tracks, look to the right as the train is crossing the remains of Fort Point Channel.  There you will see, painted bright red is a piece of the original bridge - still watching passengers cross the channel.


There is an excellent series of photographs of the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridges spanning the Fort Point Channel courtesy of the Library of Congress. These photographs were taken in 1983 just before the bridges were demolished. You can find the photos here: Fort Point Channel lift Bridges

Data for the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridges.

This is a scan of the 1900 Engineering News article that describes the Bridges, history, and a set of detailed plans of the bridges.These are digitized copies of the original article I found though a dealer.

Link to download: Construction Drawings

Friday, September 30, 2011

Summer is over.

In case you haven't noticed, the postings lately have been a tad on the light-side so-to-speak. In case you were wondering, I did take a little time off enjoying summer.

I know it is blasphemy for a true model railroader to dare venture out of doors when there are perfectly good things to be done like building more boxcars, building/laying track, etc.

To me, summer is a time where it is better spent outdoors in the clean fresh air & sunshine. I know this concept might be a little hard to understand for those who live in places where the temperature never dips below 60 degrees but up here in New England, we are generously allowed 3 months of good warm weather to do silly things, like oh say... enjoy it.

Once summer ends, we are blessed with 2 months of cool, mostly wet weather. Starting in November,  nature is done playing with us she unmercifully plunges everything into the Arctic deep-freeze for a seasonal helping of snow, cold, & darkness for 4 very long months. If this were not punishment enough, we are given a reprieve from the the worst & rewarded with a follow-on of 2 more months of cool rainy weather. Mind you, during this time, the snow & cold can return at any moment just to tease you with a foot-or-more of wet snow that I swear each shovel full contains a microscopic Black Hole.

Those of you who are keeping count on both hands (and a foot),  yes, I did leave out 1 month. The one month that tosses everything weather-wise into the air is: May.  For those who live in the Bay State, May is a very odd month indeed. It has been known to snow, freeze, or for those of you who enjoy torment - be 90 degrees one day with freezing rain the next. Of course, the only saving grace with May is that during all the turmoil the world does come back to life for us. The bleak grayness is replaced by the technicolor of spring. With May, we grin & bear the curve balls nature throws at us because we know that soon, summer is right there waiting to save us from its grasp.

What does this blathering have to do with Model trains you ask? I'll get to it in a moment.  Bear with me for a little bit longer while I  make a lame excuse for lack of posting  tell you what I have been up to for the last 3 months.

Summer means that I need to take care of outside of the house just like the rest of you. This includes care of all the plants, lawn, house & yard repairs, and of course, whatever the significant other declares needs to be done RIGHT NOW. Failure to comply ensures swift justice on her part & eternal misery on my part.

When I am not toiling in mortal servitude to the dear woman, I enjoy another hobby that is almost as dear to me as model railroading: that hobby would be sailing. One advantage to living 1 mile from the ocean is that you typically have access to 2 things: boats & water - lots of water. This dovetails nicely with my sailing hobby as it fulfills 2 of the most needed requirements to enjoy this hobby.  Of course, boats can be very expensive to own & operate. If I owned a sailboat, I would be pouring money into it rather than pouring money into the layout - a major no-no for model railroading. With this in-mind, I do the next best thing: I crew on a sailboat.

A 30ft Racing Yacht to be exact.

We spend the season from June through September on the racing circuit here in Buzzard's Bay Massachusetts competing with other boats in our class. As this is a summertime passion for many people in the area, there are many-many races to compete & test our skills against. Typically, we have at least 1 race per week.  In many instances, we have 1 race during the week & another on the weekend. Between this & keeping the little woman happy with completed chores, I have very little time for other endeavors so something has to give. Dare i say it ? Prepare yourself but........

The trains go into the closet.

Yes, with such a busy schedule, I dialed-back the model railroading to the point where I did not accomplish anything for weeks-at-a-time. Did I give it up completely during the summer ? Well, no. Not completely. During the summer, I did accomplish the following:

Conducted research in downtown Boston on South Station @ several locations.
Built a #8 Double-slip switch with movable center frogs. 
Received new electrical components for the layout including the DCC system.
Received more digital drawings for South Station. 
Found Original drawings of the South Station lift Bridges.
Aerial photographs of downtown Boston along the B&A & New Haven Railroads.
Interior shot of the South Station ticket counter during the 1940s.
Found some articles online from 1899 discussing the Station & its magnificence.
Discovered 50 Photographs of the Construction of South Station - including the train shed.

 As you can see from the above list, the project did not stand still. I did manage to get a lot accomplished even with the summer distractions. What I didn't get accomplished is writing the articles that go with all the activity here on the blog. I will try to muck through them as fast as I can since  I have a considerable amount of new data to share with you all.

Now that the racing season & summer are both over, it is time once-again to get back indoors where all us New Englanders go when the days get shorter & the leaves begin to turn.

Back to Model Railroading.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Building the 14 Degree Crossings for the center diamond - Part 1

4 Completed Crossings

In the previous post, we discussed how the center diamond is the starting point & key the rest of the layout. So it was logical to start with building the 14 degree crossings. I needed to build 4 of them to form the diamond. As you can see above, I have built 4 of them.

Before I could build the crossings, I needed to gain some experience using the fast tracks jigs. In a previous post: And so it begins..... I describe building the #8 turnouts which were the first production pieces I built for the layout. In all, I built 5ea #8 Turnouts. For each one I built, I gained experience with switch construction & the challenges that go with it. If I had to do this totally from scratch, I would likely have never attempted someone of this scale. I would have simply ordered pre-built switches and worked at trying to modify them.

With the experience of the #8 turnouts behind me, it was time to build the crossings. The first thing I did was read the instructions for build crossings using the fast tracks instructions :


I am very familiar with the excellent instruction set (and video!) that came with #8 Turnout.  However, I was very disappointed with the instruction manaul for the Crossings. The instructions were short (6 pages) and not very well done. The instructions did not go into any real detail on how to build the crossing other than the basics.

(Note: I did speak to Tim Warris @ Fast Tracks about the instructions (or lack of) for the crossings. He did admit it was weak on content. He is working on revising the all of the instructions to make them better to understand & more detailed.)

Note: the crossings jigs do not come in a kit form like the turnouts. You need to buy the fixture & point grinding tool separately. I find this kind of odd as it would be very difficult to make the crossings without the point tool. Also, the point tool is unique for the crossing you are building. There is no "generic" point tool for the crossings.

I built the 1st crossing using the Fast Tracks instructions. I always use the first-built piece to study where I possibly went wrong & how I can improve construction. I have to say, the first crossing I built was a mess as I tried to follow the instructions to the letter. My lack of experience & weak instructions made for a bad build. Until the instructions improve I would not want this to be my very first attempt @ building any Fast Tracks product. If you are new to Fast Tracks & have never built any of their kits, I would highly recommend you start with a turnout or at-least read the turnout instructions & watch the video. I wish Fast Tracks would have a video of every one of their kits. Watching someone build what you are trying to build for the very first time is much easier in my opinion.

After looking @ the mess I built for the 1st crossing, I  carefully re-examined what I did wrong, and figured out a much better approach to build the next 4 crossings.

The first thing I learned is that the jig did have some burrs; especially in spots where the rail grooves bisected the tie grooves. I first noticed this when I had trouble getting the rail to seat properly when I placed them into their respective slots. I took a fine file and went through the entire jig cleaning all the grooves. I think the reason why there were burrs in the first place is likely that the cutting tools Fast Tracks used were probably worn-out when they made my jig (my #8 turnout was clean as a whistle). I did notify Fast Tracks of the issue I found so they would be aware of it happening.

Note: I have 4 jigs from Fast Tracks & this was the only jig that had any burrs. The other 3 were clean & very well tooled.

The second thing I learned about the crossing assembly, you do not need to insert the ties before you start construction. You can build the entire thing without the ties in-place.Of course, sooner-or-later you need to solder the rail to the ties but it is not essential to the structural integrity unlike some of the other jigs . I found it to be much easier to get all the rails in-place & soldered to each other as sub-assemblies then Solder the ties last. It helps keep the rails in-place much easier than sitting them on-top of the ties. It also greatly reduces the chance of accidentally rolling the rail.

As I said above, after the 1st crossing disaster, I never looked @ the instructions again. I simply created my own instructions which worked just as well - at least for me.

Step 1: Create the center diamond guardrails

Center Diamond guardrails complete

This is the hardest part of building the crossing. You need to cut, file, & shape 4 pieces of rail exactly the same in order for them to fit properly. It takes a lot of work to get everything to line-up properly. I ruined a couple of pieces of rail trying to get the fit correct (never throw mistakes or small pieces of rail away: you can always use the mistakes to make other pieces in other projects). Once you get everything all lined-up, solder it together . I did this by soldering the point frogs first for one half, then I built & soldered the other half.  I would slowly nip & file the rail until the middle (obtuse) angles matches.

One thing I should note about the point forming jig for this kit: there are 2 types of frog points available - The acute point & the obtuse point. What's the difference ? The acute point is the sharp angles on the left/right sides  where as the obtuse angle is the shallow angles on the top/bottom of the crossing.

Step 2: Create the end frogs:

End Frogs Completed

This is a fairly easy step to cut and form the end frogs. Use the acute point part of your point grinding tool to form the frogs.  This step goes pretty quick if you have the point grinding tool. Make two of them - one for each side.

(NOTE: When you cut the stock rail for the fogs, be sure to use either the 14 degree crossing template from Fast Tracks or purchase the QuickSticks Laser Cut Ties kit to measure the rail. Like all of the Fast Tracks jigs, the crossing jig is smaller than the finished product.)

Step 3: Create the Wing Rails:

Wing Rails Completed.

The wing rails are much more difficult to build than the frogs. The Fast Tracks instructions recommended that you build these out of individual parts & solder them together. This would mean you would have to cut & shape 3 pieces of rail per wing rail. After building the first wing rail, I quickly learned that I set the frog point too shallow in the jig. This left a wide gap in the center of the crossing which could become a problem when used operationally. I used my trusty NMRA track Gauge to find where the points should be properly meeting in the jig.

Guard rail points

I found that the point should go to the edge the inside of the innermost tie in the jig. This makes the center frogs nice & tight as well as within the tolerances of the NMRA gauge. Once I found the right spot, it made it much easier to cut the rail & file to the proper length.

After you make the points, you need to form the wing rail. Instead of cutting, fitting & trimming the rail, I took a cue from the turnout instructions by nipping the bottom web of the rail & bending instead of making a separate piece. As I was trying to figure out exactly where to bend the rail, I noticed that Fast Tracks forgot to include the guide mark on my jig so you know exactly where to either cut or bend the rail. I placed the center guardrail & frog back into the jig so I could once again use my trusty NMRA gauge to figure out where the cut/bend point should be.

Notch in Wing Rail

Once I found the bend/cut point on the jig, I made a mark using a Sharpie pen so I would have no trouble making the rest of the sets. I then nipped the rail & bent it to follow the groove. After bending I trimmed the rail to length & bent the end so that it fit completely in the jig as you can see in the above photo. I then placed the outer guard rail back its slot & soldered the points together. Once the solder cooled, I popped it out of the jig, flipped it over and put it back into the jig on the opposite side. I made another mark with a Sharpie pen so I would know where to bend the rail for this side of the jig.

Using the same technique for the first wing rail, I proceeded to make 3 more just like it. As the wing rails are exactly the same for all 4 sides, it was a simple task of cutting 8 pieces of stock rail for to the proper length to make the 4 wing rails.  I cut all of these plus 2 more pieces to act as master patterns for the other 3 crossings I need to make for this project.

Guard Rails bent & filed

Once the 4 wing rails are finished, be sure to gently file the top-inside ends of each end of the wing rails so that it helps guide the wheels into the onto the rail & not on top of the rail - that would be bad.

Step 4: Building the outer stock rails:

Outer Stock Rails

The last assembly (and the easiest of this project) is to make the outer stock rails. All you need to do is cut the rails to the proper length, file one end using the obtuse frog on the point grinding tool & solder the 2 ends together to form a single piece. (You could also make this by using the notch & bend method as well.) 

(NOTE: When you cut the stock rail for the fogs, be sure to use either the 14 degree crossing template from Fast Tracks or purchase the QuickSticks Laser Cut Ties kit to measure the rail. Like all of the Fast Tracks jigs, the crossing jig is smaller than the finished product.)

Step 5 Installing the ties:

Remove all of the finished rail from the jig. Cut the PC board ties to fit the slots. You might need to sand the ties on the edge to make the fit easier. Be sure to file notches on the top of each tie so the Copper Cladding on the ties does not cause a short on the finished crossing.

Once the ties are in-place, it is time to solder them to the rails. It is best to work from the middle out to the end of the jig. Be sure to note that wherever you solder, you will leave a slight raised area of solder. It is best to solder in areas where the rail is not too close together as the solder will interfere with securing the rail & keeping the entire assembly flat.

Start with the center diamond. Solder the inside of the diamond to the ties. 

Next, insert the 4 wing rails into the jig. Solder the inside of the wing rails to the ties.

Finally, insert & solder the outside stock rails. This time your solder points are on the outside instead of the inside of the assembly. 

Once everything is soldered together, pop the completed crossing out of the jig. Turn it over & solder underneath the frog points in order to re-enforce the points & prevent them from popping-up. 

Now that everything is complete, take a wire brush & clean the crossing. Gently brush the rails & solder points back & forth removing  all the grime, solder flux, & leftover filings from the completed crossing.

Step 6 Final Assembly:

The last 2 steps for finishing the crossing is to cut the electrical gaps in the rails & glue the Twistties to the crossing. For now, I have omitted these last 2 steps because I need to modify each of the crossings so that I can make this:

This is the HO scale drawing of the center diamond. The track centers are scaled out to be 1.75 inches apart. Why 1.75 inches you ask ? Because South Station didn't have the real-estate to make them any further apart. As the tracks transition into & through the yard, the spacing because tighter & tighter with the narrowest point through the #8 Double-slips & Center Diamond.

The ends of each crossing will need to be modified so that I can carry the 1.75 inch spacing through the center diamond & into the #8 Double-slip switches. Once I print-out & insert the #8 Double-slip drawings, I will know exactly where to cut for electrical isolation of the frogs & the transition to the next piece of track/switch.  For now, I will keep all 4 crossings stored-away until I build the benchwork for the layout. 

My next projects will be to begin construction of the #8 Double-slip Switches & Benchwork. I already have the #8 Double-slip switch jig from Fast Tracks. I am going to attempt to build the #8 Double-slips using a few new techniques. More on that in another posting similar to this one. The layout benchwork will begin as soon as I conjure-up some cash to by power tools so I can actually build the darn thing. 

More to come......

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Eye of the Storm

The approach & yard trackage for South Station is quite complicated as it allows a train  on any of the 10 approach tracks to stop at any of the 28 platforms in the station. In order to do this amazing feat, the yard has to have a bewildering array of crossings, crossovers, wye's, & slip switches. etc.

In the very center of this puzzle is center diamond. The center diamond consists of 4 - 14 degree crossings arranged in a diamond pattern as you can see in the above photo. This diamond allowed trains to cross from one side of the yard to the other. The crossing also effectively split the yard in two; with platforms 1-14 serving one side of the yard, and the other side serving platforms 15-28.

When creating the track design for South Station, it was logical to start at the diamond as the spacing between the tracks were at their closest to point to each other.It also sets how the 28 double-slip switches that radiate from the diamond will be placed. From there, everything else falls into place.

This is the drawing I used to design the track plan for South Station. The drawing is the original 1898 plan of the yard trackage.

If you look at the drawing, you will notice that everything radiates from the center diamonds. I scaled the drawing to the correct size (this drawing scale is way off) as I already had the plan of the track platforms to scale from another drawing. From there it was easy to determine scale as I had a known measurement (the platforms). In HO scale, the Yard, buildings, & streets translate to roughly to a scale plan of 11ft x 30ft in HO Scale.

I re-created the entire plan above using 3rd Planit Railroad Track Planning software. I needed to draw a plan so that I could determine not only scale, but how many of what types of trunouts, double slips, crossings, etc. I would need to either build or buy.  Here is a shopping list of the switches I will need in order to complete the project:

#6 Turnouts - 43ea.
#8 Turnouts - 24ea
#8 Double-slips - 30ea.
#6 Double Slips - 4ea.
19 degree crossings - 1ea
14 Degree crossings - 4ea
#10 Curved turnouts (various radius) - 10ea
#8 Curved turnouts (various radius) - 4ea
#6 Curved turnouts (various radius) - 6ea
#8 WYEs - 2ea
#6 WYEs - 2ea
#6 3-way Turnout - 1ea

Total number of switches I will need to build or buy - 131

Large amounts of switches, such as the #6 turnouts, #8 Double-slips, #8 turnouts I am building using Fast Tracks. The rest will be handbuilt,Fast Tracks,, or Shinohara  code 83 track. All of the connecting pieces, curves, etc will be either hand-laid (again using Fast Tracks) or Atlas Code 83 flex track.

Not only  is there a scary amount of switches, but the amount of switch machines & Digitrax DS64 I will need to buy. Your #8 Double Slip requires 4 Switch Machines to operate. Your DS64 controls 4 Switch Machines. So, lets do the math:

34 Double Slips (#6 & #8s) = 136 Tortoise Switch Machines & 34 DS64s.
82 Turnouts = 82 Tortoise Switch Machines & 21 DS64s.
1 3-Way Turnout = 2 Tortoise Switch Machines & 1 DS64.

Grand total = 220 Tortoise Switch Machines & 56 DS64s.

As of today, I have exactly 44 Tortoise Switch Machines & 0 DS64s.

OTOH, Rome wasn't built in a day & neither will this layout. As I am still in the planning & designing phase, I am slowly stockpiling material to begin construction. I have been buying flextrack, bulk rail, & Tortoise Switch Machines when I have the time & Budget. Currently, Fast Tracks is eating the budget as I needed to buy the following construction jigs to get me moving:

14 Degree Crossing - Part # AF-HO-X-14-ME83
#8 Double Slip - Part # AK-HO-S-8-ME83
#8 Turnout - Part # AK-HO-T-8-ME83
#6 Turnout - Part # AK-HO-T-6-ME83

So far I have purchased all of these jigs complete with the exception of the #6 Pointform Filing jig. When I purchased the #6 Turnout jig, I only bought the jig as I wanted to see if had the talent to actually build a turnout from scratch. It turns out that I actually enjoy building switches using Fast Tracks so I went ahead with the more expensive purchases. As the layout progresses, I will no doubt be buying more Fast Tracks jigs.

Of course, there is the problem of trying to work (or play) on a layout that is 11 feet wide. The average arm reach is 3 feet so that leaves me with how to be able to reach the center of the yard without having to be suspended from wires above the yard. The work-around for this will be to construct the layout so that the buildings & street that surround the edge of the yard will be able to be removed & moved away from the tracks. In other words, the parts of the layout such as the head house, baggage, express & power buildings will be able moved complete with the substructure. If I plan correctly, I can reduce the reach from 11 feet down to 6 feet. But, in order to do this, I will need to build the benchwork so that it is removable along with the structures on top of it.

Fortunately, a good friend of mine is a furniture maker who's shop is right over my layout space. He has agreed to help me work out the logistics of making the structures & benchwork removable in such a way as to not damage anything.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Shorpy Comes through again

Fort Point Bridge 1910

Shorpy (always something interesting) has this photo (above) in their archives. What's so interesting about a bridge you ask ? Well, has to do with this image:

South Station Yard Tracks 1904

This image of South Station, which is my inspiration for building my layout was taken from the top of the bridges in the first photo. So, if you were in the position of the photographer looking at the Station, all you need to do is turn around 180 degrees and you will be looking down the tracks on the 3 bridges in the first photo. The time difference is 6 years between the two photos but everything was still the same.

The Bridges carried traffic from the New Haven Railroad's Old Colony line to South Station. They were designed to lift in order to allow boats to reach docks in South Bay Boston. Most of the docks in South Bay were used to offload Sugar & Fruits from points south. Domino & Paul Revere Sugar were located in this area.

Starting around the early 1920's Boston & the New Haven Railroad began to fill-in South Bay in order to create more land to build on as Boston was expanding quite rapidly. The New haven Railroad constructed a huge rail yard to handle passenger cars layed-over between assignments. Companies built Warehouses, Power Stations, & factories on the filled-in area.

Eventually, the Bridges no longer need to be raised as there was no longer need for boat traffic to pass under them. In the top photo, the leftmost bridge was mostly used to carry coal to the power plant @ the Station. It was also supposed to be used for approaches to the never-used loop track under the station.

When the Power Plant was shut-down in the early 1950s, the tracks over the rightmost bridge were removed as there was no need for them as they serviced nothing.

The Center Bridge & the Leftmost Bridge were used right up until the late 1990s when they were removed as part of the big dig project. The bridges were replaced with concrete deck bridges as part of the renewal.

You can see a few parts of the bridge displayed in a small park located next to where they used to be located today.

The image for South Station can be found here:
The Image for the Bridge can be found here:

Always interestng....

Thursday, April 28, 2011

And so it begins......

My first 2 Fast Tracks #8 switches!

Monday, April 25th. Marks the day that I started actual work on the physical model of the South Station Layout. 

What you are looking at here is the first 2 #8 Switches I have built for the layout. #1 is on the left while #2 is on the right. I built these switches using the Fast Tracks #8 switch building jig. The first switch took me 2.5 hours to build; mostly due to the fact that I kept referencing the instructions & videos on how to build switches. The 2nd switch took me 1.5 hours to build. 

Not bad for someone who has never built a hand-laid switch in their life.

Fast Tracks takes the mystery out of building switches, crossovers, etc. by providing a jig cut out of Aluminum that allows you to not worry about keeping everything in-place while soldering & making sure the track is in-gauge. As long as you follow the instructions, it is nearly impossible to screw up the process. 

Using the first switch as a test bed for construction techniques, I honed my skills on perfecting soldering techniques as well as how to properly file, cut, & shape the rail. Yes, before you ask, I made quite a few mistakes; in fact I had to de-solder 2 rails because I forgot to file the rail web off the bottom of the first one , or in the second instance - tried to re-bend the rail after I soldered it in-place with disastrous results. I used this golden opportunity to learn how to correct mistakes during construction. Although I did, in the end make the switch work properly, I doubt I will ever use it in on the layout due to the fact that the soldering is, shall we say, less than spec - in fact it is downright dreadful.

The second switch, however is a keeper. It turned out quite well and operates smoothly.  Since I perfected my soldering, it looks much cleaner.

This is one of the beauties of Fast Tracks - If you totally screw it up, you can simply try again. All you've invested is the rail (which can be cut-up and reused) and the PC Board ties. Fortunately for me, when I bought this kit, I did remember to purchase extra PC board ties & stock rail because I knew I was going to need them at some point.  The only task remaining is cutting the gaps into the rails so that we can electrically isolate the rails.

Now I'm sure some of you are asking  why I am going through the trouble of building my own switches when I can simply buy them off the shelf ? 

One reason was the fact that the Trackage for South Station is not stock-off-the-shelf AT ALL. Since the station yard was built in a relatively small area, the switches & double-slips are very close together. For the most part - one switch transitions directly into the next one. To build this would require me to take off-the-shelf switches and heavily modify them. I  figured that since I need to do this, I might as well hand-build them so I can modify them during construction.

The other, more important reason is cost. The average cost for a #8 switch is about $30.00. I need to build around 25 of these. That would cost me $750.00 if I were to buy them. Mind you, I still have to modify them to make them fit on the layout. The Fast Tracks kit cost me $262.00 (including shipping)  which yields 5 finished switches. To make more , each one will cost me around $14.00 to make. In the end, this comes out to around 50% cheaper than if I had to buy them. Factor in that I have to modify the switches, even with labor, it still comes in much cheaper.

Finally, These switches look simply beautiful when completed. They look like a real switch that has been hand-laid from scratch. 

My next task is to build one of the 5ea 14 degree crossovers I need on the layout. I had to buy this jig  because of the fact that although I only need 5 of them, no one commercially makes a 14 degree crossover. These crossovers will come out to costing me $48.00 each. - Expensive yes, but I cannot build the main crossing diamond without them.

One note about Fast Tracks - The company is out of Canada (eh?) so if you opt for the free shipping, It is going to take a long time for your package to arrive. My 14 Degree Crossover took 21 days to arrive from the time it left Fast Tracks to my house. If you choose the 3 day shipping, you will get your stuff in 3 days. I've since chosen to pay the 3 day rate simply because it took only 3 days plus the fact that the package is insured against loss if it never appears on your doorstep.

I will be posting a separate update to show you the completed 14 degree crossover.

Right now, I have the infamous #8 Double-slip Switch on-order as-we-speak. Why infamous you ask ? Well, suffice to say, it is a very complex & tough switch to build.

I need to build 34 of them.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tower 1 - A History

Tower 1 @ South Station Terminal
When South Station was designed & built back in 1897 the purpose of the terminal was to consolidate 5 different railroads with their traffic, into 1 single facility. To do this required an enormous amount of planning & engineering that needs to take railroad traffic from 10 individual approach tracks and guide them to any one of the 28 station platforms safely & quickly. To accomplish this task, great care was taken to design the station's interlocking plant to be able to handle the enormous amount of trains that were expected to arrive & depart every day. For a train to be able to reach the proper track when arriving or departing, a bewildering system of switches was built in order to move trains to the proper track without crashing into each other.

Railroads use a system called Interlocking to control train movements through switches.  Interlocking is an arrangement of signal apparatus that prevents conflicting movements through an arrangement of tracks such as junctions or crossings. The signaling appliances and tracks are sometimes collectively referred to as an interlocking plant. An interlocking is designed so that it is impossible to give clear signals to trains unless the route to be used is proved to be safe.

When South Station was designed, the railroads were fully aware of the amount of traffic they were expecting to handle once the station was put in full operation. In the first year of operation, the station handled 737 trains daily.  By 1913 the station handled 38 million passengers annually which was 16 million more that Grand Central Station in New York. In addition to scheduled trains, deadhead movements, car cleaning, etc. this involved about 2,500 movements through the terminal's interlocking plant daily in order to service this many passengers & trains.

Track under control of South Station Terminal Interlocking Plant 1899

To solve the problem of moving upwards of  90 trains per hour, the South Station Terminal needed a large tower to be able handle the enormous traffic load. When the Terminal opened in 1899, there were actually 3 towers that handled all the traffic - Tower 1 (shown here) which controlled the main trackage, and tower 2 which handled the suburban lower loop trackage & interlocking. (Tower 2 was never put into full service as it only handled the underground loop -which was only used only once officially.) Tower 3 was located on the curve just past the Fort Point Channel Bridges. This Tower handled switches at the yard limit for both the NYC and NH approaches.

At the time of the station's construction, the primary method of controlling the movement of the switches was through the use of mechanical levers. This involved a person, located in the tower, to physically pull a large lever mounted to the floor. The lever was attached to system of mechanical linkages to a pipe that ran from the tower to the switch that needed to be thrown. It was all very complex  to operate & maintain since all the mechanical linkages tended to jam or would freeze-up during cold weather.  It also required a large crew of very strong men to be able to push & pull the levers day-after-day.
Mechanical Levers for throwing switches
If a Mechanical  Interlocking plant were to be installed at South Station, it would require a tower 160ft long with 360 levers & 45 feet of space on each side of the tower to accommodate the load out piping that ran from the tower to each switch - all 130 of them. Space being a premium where the station was being built, another solution needed to be found.

After much consideration, the engineers selected the Westinghouse electro-pneumatic interlocking system that was recently invented.  It was a very logical choice as it required 1/3rd the amount of levers, fewer men to maintain & operate, and most importantly, a smaller tower which could be located in the middle of the station trackage for the best view of the switches & signals.

The system to be used at South Station was manufactured by Union Switch & Signal of Swissville PA. while all switches & frogs were manufactured by Ramapo Iron works. The system was installed under the supervision of George B. Francis South Station's Resident Engineer for the project (information on Design & Construction of South Station written by Mr. Francis himself can be found here: Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers Volume XLIII )

The entire system was not operational when the station opened in December 1898 so a temporary shack was built until Tower 1 was completed. On May 7, 1899 Tower 1 & its Model 14 Electro-Pneumatic machine became fully operational.

Tower 1
Tower 1 is a 3-story brick structure with a Slate roof and sits in the middle of the track complex. On the first floor of the structure are switch relay cases. The second floor contains the Tower's generating system that converts AC power to DC for use by the machine. The third floor is encircled by windows allowaing a clear view of all track approaches. The Switch machine itself has 143 levers - 130 operational & 13 spares. These in-turn operated 91 High Home Signals, 36 Cautionary Signals, 21 Dwarf Signals, 31 Double Slip Switches, 31 Movable frogs, & 40 Single turnouts. All together this means the switch machine can handle 148 Signals & the equivalent of 233 switches. The levers that control Switches are painted blue, the signal levers are painted red, and the spare levers are painted white.

Interlocking levers & locking bed
Above the machine is a model board operated by minuture mechanical linkages which are mounted on the rear of the board & driven from connections to the switch levers. There are miniature working Semaphores at the top of the model board. A leverman could move a lever, see the actual Semaphore in the Yard change position, and then see the arm of the model Semaphore move to reflect the new position. At the North end (Head end) of the Tower are other indicators which show signal positions.

Tower 2 was built to control switches & signals on the Suburban loop track. This tower (a small 1-story structure located at the tunnel opening to the underground loop) contained a switch machine with a 11-lever Electo-Pneumatic machine operating 8 dwarf Signals, 4 double-slip switches,  4 pairs of movable frogs, and 28 single switches. 

Tower 3 was located at the far end of the yard just beyond the Fort Point Channel bridges. This Tower also had 11 levers that controlled the approaches to the Loop Track as well as the main line approach tracks to South Station for the New Haven & New York Central Railroads.

Semaphores mounted on Signal Bridge
To provide information to the locomotive engineers, the yard used 9 signal bridges to hold the various Semaphores which in-turn displayed if the switches were properly aligned by the Tower.  The Semaphore blades & lights adopted were in accordance with the system used by the New Haven Railroad. The New Haven having recently adopted a standardized system of colors used by the Signaling system: Red for Stop, Yellow for Caution, and Green for Proceed. (replacing white for proceed). This color code was adopted for use in the station's signals. Air cylinders were usd to move the signal arms  & switches with Magnetic valves controlled by wires which extended to contacts of the interlocking machine. Two Ingersoll-Sargent air compressors in the power plant supplied the compressed  air for the operation. One compressor always being held in-reserve as a relay to the other. The air mains were duplicated so that failure in one line with not prevent immediate operation of the switches and signals through the other line.

In the beginning of operations, oil lamps  were used for the signal lights at the station with the exception of one signal bridge, where electric lights were tried on an experimental basis. Why experimental you ask ? because railroads were very conservative operations and something like electric lighting was still young in the minds of many in the railroading business. The "experiment" was likely as pretty good experiment in that by 1904, 182 electric signal lamps were in-use at the terminal.

Model Board with position Indicators
Rail circuits on the station tracks controlled the cautionary signals governing the approach of trains to the station and indicators within Tower 1. A set of 28 indicators (one for each station track) were activated by the rail circuits & showed the presence or absence of trains on the station tracks.

As built, the Tower was directed by a Interlocking Supervisor who, in-turn had an operating force consisting of: a directing dispatcher and his assistant, a telephone attendant, a telegraph operator, and 3 levermen all working on a 2-day shift. During the nighttime, the operating crew consisted of a dispatcher and 2 levermen. Mind you that on a typical operating day the huge amount of traffic generated approximately 28,450 lever movements per day.

The arrangement of trackage allowed for one side to be used for incoming trains while the other side would handle outgoing trains. The weakest part of entire interlocking was the 4 sets of crossover tracks in the middle that allowed trains to access any station track from any direction. If a locomotive or worse, and entire train derailed in the middle of any of the crossovers, it could put anywhere from 50%-100% of the entire interlocking out of service until the tracks were cleared and declared fit for use.

Semaphore Models above machine
The Interlocking plant saw little change from the time it was built until the 1929-1931 upgrade of the station. After the train shed was removed, the number of active use tracks were reduced from 28 to 17 with the decline of traffic during the great depression. In 1934, the new U.S. Post Office was constructed over tracks 21 - 28 which were being used as storage tracks by this time. Also by 1934, with tracks 18-28 not in active service, the Semaphores were removed as they were no longer needed and the Signal bridges were cut back in order to reflect the cutback in service. Signal Bridges 1 & 3 were removed completely, Signal bridge 2 was reduced in size, & Signal bridge 5 was cut in-half.

After the Boston Terminal Company (The operators of South Station) came out of bankruptcy in 1952 the operating plant consisted of 17 out of the 28 original platform tracks, the Loop track & half of the inside yard tracks either removed or out of service. The biggest blow to come to the terminal was when Commuter service was terminated on the New Haven in July 1959. These trains alone, made-up one-half  of the volume of South Station. At this point, tracks 1-9 were declared out of service due to lack of  trains to fill them.  After 1959, Tower 2 was removed, never actually used in active service. The U.S. Post office removed tracks 21 - 28 in order to expand their operation & facilities. The power plant & gas works were declared obsolete and demolished during this period.

By the 1970s, only tracks 8 - 17 were in-service. In 1974, the Railway Express building was demolished & the express tracks removed. The U.S. Post office built several new buildings which permanently removed tracks 18-21. The New Haven (now Penn Central) removed 2 of the 6 approach tracks as they were no longer in-use.

By 1977, only 57 of the Interlocking machine's original 143 levers were working, controlling 55 signals, 17 single switches, 18 double-slip switches, and 9 movable frogs.  55 of the unused levers were removed from the machine while others were reserved as spares.

In addition to the original machine, a 7-lever Electro-Pneumatic machine built in 1939 was added to the tower in the late 1970s  when Tower S.S. 237 (Tower 3) was demolished and the switches were now remotely controlled from Tower 1. A new model board was installed next to the original one inside the tower to indicate track occupancy. By the end of the 1970s, the Interlocking plant served 144 scheduled trains in & out of South Station. This traffic included 24 amtrak trains & 130 Commuter trains.

When South Station was completely rebuilt starting in 1984, Tower 1 was finally demolished as the station, platforms, and trackage were completely rebuilt by the MBTA. Today, there are 13 platform tracks currently in operation with the interlocking controlled remotely from inside South Station in the CETC (Centralized Electric & Traffic Control) Center.

Images of Tower 1 from the late 1970s outside & inside.

Interlocking Machine looking North

Interlocking Machine looking South
Indicators @ North end of Tower

Relay Cabinet on 1st floor
Signal bridges on approach

Thursday, January 27, 2011

First Piece of HO Scale Hardware has arrived.

The first piece of hardware for the South Station project has arrived. What is it you ask ?

It is this:

#8 Fast Tracks Turnout Jig

The South Station Yard Tracks are very complex. You have 10 approach tracks that need to be able to get to 28 station platforms. In order to do this, you need an incredible amount of switches, crossovers, etc. to get train A to platform B. For South Station,  there are 5 14 degree crossovers, 34 #8 Double-Slip switches, 22 #8 Turnouts, and numerous Turnout Switches that will need be custom-made in order to fit in the yard. See for yourself in this image:

Complex dontcha think ?

I could have gone with commercially-made switches (shinohara, etc) which would have made building this project incredibly expensive. Think of it, If I purchased 34 #8 Double-slip switches from Walthers @ $85.00 per switch, that would cost me $2890.00 just for the slip switches! We won't even get into the costs of the other switches; I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation one night and the amount was staggering. Mind you, this cost is for switches alone. (Need we add-in other stuff like tortoise switch machines, DCC controls , etc. ? )

So, in my usual wreckless manner of thinking, I decided that in order to keep costs down, I would use the Fast Tracks Switch jigs.  I would buy the jigs and build them myself. Simple Right ?

Well, sort of.

John, Have I ever build a hand-laid switch before ? Well, not really. I have hand-spiked track before which was not too difficult to do once you got the hang of it. How hard could it be to advance to making hand-laid switches ?

You can stop laughing now.

If there is one thing I am pretty good at is learning something completely new. Even though my real job is computer network engineering, I managed to teach myself how to design structures, ships, etc using 3D CAD software just because I found it interesting. I have learned if something really interests me, I tend to pick it up pretty quick.

The folks at Fast Tracks took most of the hard work out of making hand-laid switches but creating jigs that you lay the rail and ties into. Then you solder the parts toegther to complete the switch. The end result is a nice-looking piece of track that you built at a very low cost. So, instead of paying $85.00 for the Double-slip switch, The cost is reduced down to about $15.00 plus your sweat equity. The incentive of reducing the cost of making all 34 switches from $2890.00 down to $510.00 is a huge incentive for me to learn how to build switches using the Fast Tracks Jigs.

O.K. John, then why did you buy the #8 Turnout before you buy the #8 Double Slip?

Well, building a #8 Turnout is considerably easier than building a #8 Double Slip switch. I need to learn technique on how these things go together and, most importantly, if I have the skill required to build these switches. Might as well start out easy, gain experience, then tackle the more difficult switches. By the time I build the stock switches, turnouts,etc, I should have enough experince in making hand-laid turnouts to be able to build a genuine custom-made switch.

Well soon find out.