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Gyralite Use - Gyrating Warning Lights


Gyralite Use



The users of Gyralites mentioned in the foregoing were:

MARC, Caltrain, Metra, and KCS use are also discussed below.





MARC Train Service has Trans-Lite Gyralites (20585) mounted on its 19 GP40WH-2 locomotives. The new order of Kawasaki cab cars will also be equipped with them.

The final rule of the Locomotive Conspicuity regulation preferred the use of a triangle pattern (between the two low mounted ditch lights and the higher mounted headlight) to improve visibility on the railroad. Because we had already contracted for Gyralites, we received a regulatory exception to the triangular pattern. Any new equipment we procure in the future must have the triangle pattern. (Ref. CFR Part 49 Chpt. 229). We may be the last people to install these lights on a new item.

We have Gyralites because the engineer who speced out the GP-40s was a native southern Californian and wanted to do it. Present management prefers ditch lights. The same engineer also speced the F-45 cab for the same reasons. Present management would have speced the present GM wide cab. We have minimum feedback on their utility because neither Amtrak or CSX required their utilization until January of this year (1998) when the Locomotive Conspicuity became manditory.

Steven Zuiderveen
MARC Train Service - Mechanical Inspector


The required conspicuity pattern is relative to Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Sec 229.125 together with Sec. 229.133.

Federal Railroad Administration's Interpretation:

Oscillating headlights such as those used by MARC (20585 Gyralite) meet the requirements of a headlight (in either fixed or oscillating modes). As long as the unit is used in conjunction with 2 other lights to form a triangular pattern as specified in Sec. 229.125, its use will be compliance. There are provisions to cover equipment already in use or equipment which was on order.

MARC was asked if they considered the unit maintenance intense, an if so, what part needed the most service.

They haven't been used enough to wear them out yet.

Hate to sound cynical, but this is the way it is. I would imagine in six years when the GP40s receive thir first major overhaul, they will be removed.

Steven Zuiderveen
MARC Train Service - Mechanical Inspector




Caltrain used the 20585 Gyralite in its 20 F40PH-2 locomotives. The spokesperson said they didn't have the safety or maintenance evaluation on the light available. However, see "An Engineer's Viewpoint" for an evaluation from the cab.

While the trend in most railroads is to use ditch or crossing lights, it seems that there is a consensus that the oscillating lights were the most effective.

Caltrain is currently removing all Gyralites (dual as well as single units) from their fleet. Crossing Lights (Ditch Lights) will now be used exclusively in their fleet (1999).





Metra uses the F40PH-2 and the F40PHM-2 locomotives. Approximately 115 locomotives use the 20585 type light out of about 130 total. The unit uses one red and one clear (white) sealed beam headlamp. The newer ones are mounted horizontally because of the cab design. Metra considers its Gyralite a definite safety asset. It does say, however, that the newer ditch lights may be just as effective. They consider the motor in the Gyralite to require the most maintenance (replacement). To Metra this represents the only real setback of having the Gyralite.

Richard Valdmar
Metra -Mechanical Dept.


Metra like all other railroads in the United States was required to apply ditch lights on all its locomotives, cab control cars and EMUs in order to comply with a Federal Railroad Administration regulation. However, unlike Caltrain, Metra has no intention of removing the Gyralites on cars and locomotives so equipped. These Gyralites will be used as a safety supplement to the ditch lights. (1999)

Richard L. Soukup
Metra -Chief Mechanical Officer


Metra also uses the FG-4509 Gyralite in its cab cars. This single clear beam oscillating unit is located right below a dual horizontally mounted headlight. Comments from engineers have indicated that the proximity of the oscillating light to the headlight seems to mitigate the effect of the oscillating light.





Kansas City Southern Railroad (KCS) stated that at least half of their 450 locomotives are equipped with the 20585 Gyralite. Some of these locomotives have both this Gyralite and ditch lights (with the dual light headlight this is a 6 light system).

The company doesn't have any direct data on how the use of this Gyralite has averted accidents. KCS claimed that during the day, ditch lights are perhaps the more effective; but at night, the Gyralite is definitely the winner. The rotating beam as an attention getter is beyond question.

KCS is satisfied with the 20585 Gyralite. They claim it provides good visibility and warning. They also state that they have had no mechanical problems with this unit. KCS says they will continue the use of this Gyralite.

KCS's newly delivered AC4400CW's are without the 20585 Gyralite. A KCS spokesperson informed me that Doug Sizemore, KCS's Chief Mechanical Officer, stated that KCS will continue to use this light on the equipment on which it is installed but any new locomotives will be without them (having ditch lights only).




Willamette & Pacific and Portland & Western Railroads:
The oscillating lights used are the 20585 Gyralite together with the 17570 (or 17550) Gyralite. (1999)

The following locomotives in service on Willamette & Pacific and Portland & Western Railroads are equipped with oscillating lights:
WPRR 1501, an ex-SP SD7, still wearing SP scarlet and gray (faded).
WPRR 1801, an ex-SP GP9, painted in SP black widow scheme.
WPRR 1851, an ex SP SD9, still wearing SP scarlet and gray (faded).
WPRR 1852, an ex SP SD9, still in SP scarlet and gray.
WPRR 1853, originally an SP SD7 upgraded to SD9 with chopped nose, painted in Genesee & Wyoming orange, yellow and black, and lettered for Portland & Western.
LLW 4364 and 4433, ex-SP SD9s in scarlet and gray, privately owned by Lavacot Locomotive Works, Independence, Oregon, and leased on a day-to-day basis by W&P.

Of 34 locomotives in service here those above are the only ones equipped with oscillating lights in lieu of ditch lights.

P&W relies upon W&P for motive power. At least two W&P units are lettered for P&W, but they officially are carried on our roster as WPRR units.

Bob Melbo - President of W&P Railroad

WP/PNW/LLW Gyralites




The following excerpt is by
Bill Kaufman

Known Gyralite Users:

* See D&H Section Below


Case Study: The Delaware and Hudson's Use of Gyralites:

One user of the 20585 Gyralite was the Delaware and Hudson. Starting with the General Electric U23Bs delivered in 1968 (2301 - 2316, ne 301 - 316,) the D&H started applying the Red/White Gyralite to its locomotive fleet. Although the U23Bs were delivered with them, the U30Cs and U33Cs were not. As well, the lights were applied mainly to the General Electric locomotives. Throughout the early 1970s, as these locomotives came in for major overhaul, the Gyralite was applied. Since the U30Cs (701 - 712, blt 1967) were all due for major overhauls during this period, most received lights.

In 1970, General Electric delivered U33Cs (754 - 762) with the box in the nose for the light, but the light was only installed in three of the original nine (757, 760 and 761.) 757 and 760 received the lights during rebuilding in 1974 at Morrison Knudson, (757 : fire damage and 760 : wreck repairs). It is unclear why 761 received one as it was too new for a "planned" overhaul and it was not involved in any reported mishap(s) during this period.

In 1970, the D&H traded it's three roster unique SD45's (801 - 803) for three Erie Lackawanna U33C's (3301 - 3303). Since both railroads were held by Dereco, a N&W holding company, this was merely a paper swap. When the three U33C's arrived they were immediately renumbered 751 - 753. Of the new arrivals 751 and 753 received the lights. For some unknown reason, 752 never received a light. The lights were left in the units when they were returned to the EL in December 1975, prior to inclusion in Conrail. The lights were eventually removed by Conrail. (Believe it our not, Conrail had 6 locomotives equipped with Gyralites, the ex-EL units and the four U36B's (2971 - 2974) built for Auto Train but never delivered.)

The famous PAs came from the Santa Fe in 1967 with their SF rotating lights intact (these were the units with a rotating plate on which a 2 bulbs were mounted, one of which had a red lens over it). When they were shipped to Morrison Knudsen in 1974 -75, the SF rotating lights were replaced with Trans-Lite 20585 Gyralites. These were mounted on a steel plate that was hinged so the light could be swung inside the nose for servicing.

I remember a "Trains" article a few years back showing the PAs in Mexico. One shot showed the front end of one of the units with the Gyralite removed and the plate swung halfway into the nose.

As for their current state, none of them have been scrapped as of yet. Nos. 17 and 19 were rebuilt to operating condition. One of these (19?) is stored in a museum in Mexico. I am not sure if 17 is still running. The hulks of 16 and 18 were supposed to be returned to the US, one to be rebuilt to operating condition and the other cosmetically restored for the Smithsonian.

There was fire damage to No. 16 in 1985. Both No. 16 and No. 18 are in pitiful shape.
"Trains" Magazine - July 1999:

In April 1999, arrangements were still being worked out to ship these 2 carbody hulks back to the US where they will be rebuilt by (or under the direction of ) the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. One of the photos shows one unit still has its Gyralite. The plate that was used to mount the light is laying inside the nose and the Gyralite case is still mounted in it.

As for the other Alcos and EMD, none of these units received lights.


General Electric Changes Their Designs For Gyralite Installation:

Starting with the U25 Series, GE used a rectangular headlight housing with fabricated bulb mounting rings. If a customer requested a numberboard mounted Gyralite, a special mounting bracket was welded over the headlight housing. With all of these modifications, it is no wonder many pre-1972 U-Boats received the Gyralite in the nose even though Translite recommends the Gyralite be mounted as high as possible.

In 1972, GE improved the U-Boat line with the XR Series (eXtra Reliability). One improvement was the adoption of a rounded headlight housing between the number boards. This housing was designed so the Gyralite could be bolted in without further modification. If the customer did not want one, a fabricated, bolt-on headlight assembly was installed. This assembly used the same hinged mounting ring which required access from behind to change the bulb.

After this change was implemented few U-boats and few if any Dash 7s were built with the dual beam Gyralite in the nose.

Towards the end of 1974, the AAR Clean Cab was adopted by both GE and EMD. One mandate was to cover all sharp objects and edges to minimize injury to the crew. One result was the elimination of the number/headlight access doors from the inside of the cab. All access to the bulbs was now from the outside. For GE, this change is evident by the use of the standard Translite Dual Beam Headlight fixture (EMD used their variant on most models since the late 1950s.) This fixture allows the bulbs to be changed from the outside. The number boards were mounted in hinged frames that swung out towards the center to allow bulb replacement. These changes carried over to the Dash 7 line and some older U-Boats had the headlight replaced with the newer Translite fixture by the railroads (namely CSX).

With the Dash 7 line, other changes were made to facilitate Gyralite installation. The upper headlight housing remained the same but the optional nose mounting box was made standard. Three options were available for this box:

  1. Standard Headlight (Examples: L&N, SP)
  2. Dual Beam Gyralite (20585)
  3. Single Beam Gyralite (17540) (Example: Frisco)

This box remained standard until the early 80s when railroads stopped specifying the Gyralite installation. The early 80s were riddled with recession, and cost conscious railroads started removing the high maintenance Gyralite. With its motor and other moving parts covered in grease and located so close to the sandbox filler it became a collection point for sand. Sand and mechanical parts do not mix! Although it is a matter of disconnecting two connectors and two bolts to remove the mechanism, this still involves expensive man- hours that could be doing other things.


Regional Use:

The Gyralite seemed to have regional success. While many western and south-eastern railroads adopted the Gyralite, most north-eastern railroads did not. The Gyralite was designed to be effective in urban areas where its beam of light bouncing off nearby buildings and trees would attract attention. However, the financial condition of the eastern railroads probably played a larger part in the decision not to adopt the Gyralite. During the late 60s and 70s when many railroads were applying the Gyralite, the north-eastern railroads were riddled with financial instability and therefore they spent only the bare minimum.




Mexico ordered some of its locomotives with the lights from the various builders. They did not use them consistantly but some of the GE and MLW units came with 20585s. Why they specified them on some orders and not others is beyond me. I suspect it probably had to do with who was writing the specifications and how much money was available.

Bill Kaufman


The Western Pacific used nose-mounted dual red & white Gyralites on GP40s 3517-3544. GP40-2s 3550-3559 were not delivered with Gyralites but did have them added after delivery, and several older GP40s also had them added when overhauled by Morrison-Knudson in 1980. Their U30Bs had horizontal white & red Gyralites.

Jim Eager


Seaboard Air Line...their E unit fleet used the clear/red Gyralite in the upper headlite casing. Their SDP-35 fleet also had clear/red Gyralites in the numberboard lights, and plain headlights in the nose position. They did not fit Gyralites to their freight engines.

ACL used Gyralights extensively - all road power had them.

Craig Zeni



Other Users:


Atlantic Coast Line had red/white Gyralites mounted in the nose on some U25C's


Auto-Train had red/white Gyralites mounted in the nose on some U36B's


Denver & Rio Grande Western had dual white Gyralites fitted into the noses of their new SD50's by Mid America Car, Kansas City, MO (Fall of 1984). (see Mars Lights page)


Northern Pacific had the single red Gyralite on the nose of some U25C's (these became BN units)


Reserve Mining had the single red Gyralite on the high nose of some SD9's


Soo Line had red/white Gyralites mounted on the high nose of some GP9's


Texas & Pacific had red/white (and some dual white) Gyralites mounted up high on some GP18's (these became MoPac units)


Alaska RR was already listed, but Western Pacific had red/white Gyralites in the nose of some U30B's


Griff Hamilton








Amtrak purchased (new) its SDP40F with Red/Clear Gyralites. These were the only "Purchased new" locomotives that had them. However, many of the older locomotives they inherited from the previous railroads may have had Gyralites or MARS.


Bill Kaufman




Union Pacific

The book: The History of Western Railroads by Jane Eliot shows a photo of UP No. 912 on page 162 with 20585 in the nose. (the latch is seen in the middle).

The unit is a former Western Pacific GP40-2. Western Pacific was a large user of Gyralites. Units equipped were carried over to the UP after the 1982 merger. Some units were repainted UP with the Gyralite intact.

Bill Kaufman




Missouri Pacific (also see Mars Lights page):

This thread off a list was forwarded to me by Bill Kaufman. The word "gyralight" may have been used in the following for both dual Gyralites and dual Mars units.

A friend recently sent me a picture of GATX 902. The unit was still in UP colors with the lettering painted out. What seemed odd was that the unit had an open headlight receptacle in the nose, as though it once had a gyralight. I don't normally think of MP as a railroad that used gyralights. Did these particular units have them?

Evan Werkema


One of the fellows on the list uploaded photos of GATX 902. It definitely is a dual clear MARS unit. If you look in the photo, the lenses were painted over and it appears the mechanism is long gone.

        MP 3214 no nose light

        MP 3216 no nose light

        MP 3221 has a nose light

        MP 3222-3 no nose lights

        MP 6002 has a nose light

        MP 6004 has a nose light

        MP 6008 had a nose light-but was blanked over

        MP 6009 has a nose light
Above from slides on file

Ken Ardinger


Some of the MP "coal" SD40-2's did have gyralights. The 1977-80 BN Annual shows MP units in a coal pool with BN. Photos show at least 3219, 3227 and a renumbered 6001 with gyralights on the nose. 3219 and 6001 are the same unit. BTW, the photo shows 6001 with BN style numbers under the radiator grills instead of the more common MP numbers centered under the DB blister and the caption says that the unit was renumbered by BN at Alliance on 12/26/78.

Bill Maltby


I was told after the device that wobbles the head lites wore out MP decided to weld the device up to where they didn't move at all. I remember only one went to UP that actually wobbled. MP didn't even replace the bulbs as they burned out near the merger with UP. After several lawsuits with RR's that had headlights (warning devices) that were burned out,, many RR's painted or blanked them out.

Anyway back to GATX/ex MP loco. Please note that MP had moved the air tanks forward to clear for fuel fillers on the rear of their fuel tanks. This was done to many GE's and EMD units. Also note that all the MP 6000's with nose lites originally had beacons. As years went by they were removed but the bracket was left atop the cab.

There was one or two MP6000's that had regular sealed beam hdlhts replacing the Gyra/Mars lite.



One of the early assignments of the MP SD40-2 coal units was on a coal train that ran from Cameo, CO on the DRGW to Moss Point, MS -- via the ICG and MSE. The gyralights were put on the first two orders of coal units (3216-3235/6000-6019) to make the Rio Grande happy, but latter MP DB units didn't have these. I guess the MP didn't want to make the Rio Grande too happy.

Michael M Palmieri




Santa Fe's Use:

The FP45's on the Santa Fe (ATSF #100 was the first one) all had Gyralites, not Mars lights; these units were pretty well documented. I have no idea what controls were used, but if EMD has any FP45 records at all, they would be for the ATSF units as all but 5 of them were on the Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe (AT&SF) didn't go in for oscillating setups like the other roads, probably because of the "wide open spaces." I can't think of any hood units that even had signal lights, and unlike the FP45's, the similar F45's they ordered didn't have any. As for other passenger units, there were covered wagons with them, but I have no idea what they used, other than a suspicion that they were single-lamp signal lights.

Griff Hamilton



I looked up the use of the white and red lights in the 1959 Operating Department rules. Rule 17 includes the following:

"On engines equipped with gyrating lights, the white beam will be displayed by night in addition to the headlight. When a train, with engine so equipped, is stopped suddenly, the red beam must be immediately displayed and trains on adjacent tracks observing red beam must stop and not proceed until it is known that their track is clear."

The same portion of rule 17 in 1966 is slightly different:

"The white gyrating light on engines so equipped must be displayed by night, and will also be displayed by day during heavy fog, snow, dust storms or other weather conditions which impair vision. Should train be stopped suddenly, the red beam must be displayed immediately. Trains on adjacent tracks observing red beam must stop, and not proceed until it is known that their track is clear."

Gary Green



Canadian Pacific's "Mountain Lights"

The oscillating light units used on the CP FP7As & FP9As were mounted on the roof of the locomotive, at an estimated 20 back from the nose, and inclined upwards at an angle of 45. The light unit consisted of 2 side-by-side bulbs mounted in a case.

I was sent this photo of a CP FP7A having this light unit. (photo by Ted Ellis)

Attached is a photo of the Mars light on a FP9A unit. I found it on the web but don't have a record of who's photo it is.

The light points up 45 degrees and I seem to remember riding the forward dome car on the Dominion and the Canadian during the night and seeing the beam sweep in a figure 8 pattern, visible only when foggy, raining, snowing, dusty, etc. In the canyons of British Columbia the light bounced off the rock walls. This would be back before 1967.



There are many out there who think that this light was a "figure 8" Mars unit. Horizontal mounting was seen in some locomotives (ALCO). The vertical motion would have to be set to achieve the headlight position (parallel the tracks) and a symmetrical pattern on both sides of the track centerline. It is possible to obtain an "8" pattern with this light. (setting of the linkages and coincident settings of wheel settings to achieve a symmetrical "8" pattern)

From the photo, it looks like the depth of the unit in relation to the front would identify this as a Horiz. 20585 Gyralite. I wonder if the forward motion of the train combined with the angle of inclination of 45, in using a Horiz. 20585, gave people the impression that the pattern was a "figure 8".

The consensus at Trans-Lite - based on the above photo was that it appeared to be a Horiz. 20585 Gyralite. Trans-Lite did not sell CP the bracket for this light, so it is speculated that these were made up in their shops.

A device using this concept was designed by Jeremiah D. Kennelly (Mars Signal Light Co.) US Pat. 2,442,569. This is not the unit used on the CPs as it has only has one bulb pointed upwards. There is an explanation in the patent that stated that the light unit was particularly suited for the warning of an advancing locomotive traveling through valleys and highly irregular country. The beam sweep on this unit was side to side (lateral). I have never seen this unit or any photos of it so I could not say if it was even produced.

Page 24 of Canadian Pacific in the Rockies Volume 5 by D.M.Bain published by Calgary group of BRMNA. " On the roof of the leading locomotive (1411) between the now removed icicle breakers (removed because of lack of clearance in CN station in Winnipeg), the outline of the Mars light can be seen. This was a high intensity oscillating light which pointed obliquely into the sky and swept back and forth drawing attention to approaching trains at night. However, it cannot have been successful as they were removed during the early 1970s. Only A units were equipped with this feature." Items in parentheses have been added by me.

David Othen


I was stationed in the Kamloops Shop staff during 1975-1976 and saw the units referred to many times. I wouldn't know a Mars Light from a Millers Light but I can tell you that the contraption on top of the "A" units did indeed point up at a forty-five degree angle and had two sealed beam lights side by side that rotated, though I don't recall them making a figure-8 pattern. I well remember one late night in Kamloops when No. 2 arrived on schedule just after midnight with the roof lights working. It was a night when the air seemed full of dust and the progress of the train westbound through Kamloops yard could be followed by the weird beam of light from the rotating gizmo. I shall never forget being able to see only the very top of the passenger train over the standing cars with this goofy light casting a rotating beam upwards in the darkness. We were told that the lights were put on engines to publicize the presence of the "Canadian". They served no practical purpose so far as I was ever able to learn.

Joe Smuin


For sure, the lights were double lights, and I'm pretty sure they rotated in a clockwise circle.

Joe Smuin


I asked Joe if he might know any characteristics of the light that might verify it being a Mars Light or Gyralite.

My CPR contact talked to some of his old buddies and they all agree that the light was a Gyralite that operated in a figure 8 pattern. I don't remember the figure 8 pattern, but these guys actually worked on the lights, so I'd go with that.

Joe Smuin


I talked to Joe again, stating that the Gyralite did not have a "figure 8" pattern. I think is was the inclination and motion of the train that gave the impression of a of this.

I received an email which suggested a "second story" for the function of the "Mountain Lights": "The lights were located in front of the ice breakers and point at an angle on the roof to allow the train crew so see ice that many not have been "busted" by the breakers, the crew could take action." I asked Joe for his comments:

I have my doubts about the second story, though, and I think the main line boys will back me up on this: the roof lights wouldn't have been any help to crews on the matter of detecting hanging ice, because at the speeds the train passed through tunnels, they wouldn't have been able to stop in time. Main line tunnel clearances were not all that high and the light was positioned at much too steep an angle to be of much use to a crew for that purpose, unless the train was literally crawling. I'm not aware that there were slow orders because of hanging icicles, certainly not during my time at Kamloops, anyway. Admittedly, anything is possible, but I think this story is most unlikely.

Joe Smuin




I have a copy of the book, Canadian Pacific Diesel Locomotives, by Murray W. Dean and David B. Hanna, a Railfare book. It was published 1981.


The only reference I can find to the roof lights, is on page 61. It shows a CP 1401 headed west @ Guelph Junction on the Galt sub. Photo April 1960. The roof light is referred to as the following..."highway grade crossing safety headlight"


Timothy Organ



In summary, based on input to date, it appears that the "Mountain Lights" were Horiz. 20585 Gyralites, with a bracket made possibly in CP's shop(s) and that the pattern being stated as "figure 8" may have been due to the inclination of the light and motion of the train. The function of the light was to warn of the oncoming train using sky-effect as well as light hitting the mountains and other terrain.

Update: January 2001

A high resolution scan of the slide which is the source of the photo above (CP FP7A No. 1416 by Ted Ellis) revealed the light to be a Horiz. 20585 Gyralite.



European Use:

From the photos I have seen and through correspondence from European countries, it appears that the oscillating lights were used mainly in the US.