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Philly NRHS - Railfan Pictures of the Week


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The Philadelphia Chapter of the

National Railway Historical Society

Established in 1936


Railfan Pictures of the Week - 10/07/2007

SEPTA Lansdale Station Lansdale PA October 2007


Since the first train ran from Philadelphia to Doylestown on the new North Pennsylvania Railroad on October 7 1856, there has been a crossing guard at Lansdale Station. Actually, there were crossing guards at just about every heavily trafficked railroad/road crossing back then. The gates were manually raised and lowered by men and women who were there to protect the general public from the "iron horses" that were fairly new to most. For shelter, the crossing guards would either stay in a nearby station, general store or other building, but for many there was only a small shack to keep out the rain and cold.

As technology advanced, automated crossing equipment replaced almost all the crossing guards. However, the complexity of some crossings defied the designers and builders, and thus retained the human touch. The crossing at Broad Street and Main Street in Lansdale Borough was one of those. Through the North Pennsylvania days, into the Reading Railroad, Conrail and SEPTA, someone has been watching over the crossing, controlling the gates. It has been reported that the manually controlled crossing at Lansdale was one of only two left in the country, and the last east of the Mississippi. But technology has finally caught up and this weekend the functionality of the watchman was been replaced with circuits and switches.

Friday October 5 2007 started out foggy as the trains roll through as they have for 151 years.
But the winds of change are blowing away the mist and the watchbox, as C&S maintainers work on the new signaling and switches for the cutover later that night.
For years, the watchbox operator had control over the raising and lowering of the gates at both the Main Street (pictured) and Broad Street (to the south) crossings, but earlier this year the raising portion was totally automated and lowering automated for northbound trains, leaving the operator with just the job of lowering the gates for southbound trains departing Lansdale Station. The watchbox operator was also in communication with the trains, and in rare instances would stop a train to allow emergency vehicles to pass as in this clip on Youtube.
Now on Saturday, even that has been taken over by the machines as one of the last operators, Christopher Melcher, pushes the button that would have lowered the gates for Train 1539, which is sitting on Doylestown Track 2 in the station. Instead, the engineer of 1539 will now allow the train to creep up to trip a circuit just short of the signal, activating the gates. Only after the gates have completely lowered would the signal for 1539 to proceed be given.
By Sunday afternoon, southbound trains were now using the newly installed crossover from Station Track 1 to Main Line Track 1 between Main Street and Broad Street. Train 2543 was the third train to use this new route, which will allow movement of two trains at the same time through Dale Interlocking.
Even though its function has been usurped, the watchbox and operator will remain for the time being, prepared to flag the crossings as the inevitable teething problems arise. How long, that is anyone's guess.

All pictures October 2007 Copyright © 2007 John P. Almeida

Photographs for personal use only. All rights reserved by original owner of image. Reproduction or redistribution in any form without express written permission is prohibited.

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Last Updated October 7, 2007

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