RAILROAD SIGNALS of the U.S.

 

GRADE CROSSING PROTECTION


Flashing Only Installations
Standard Crossing Gates
Wig-Wigs
Rotating Banner
Other
 

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This section briefly touches on grade crossing protection of all sorts, and is by no means comprehensive.  It combines all of the separate pages I previously had on these signals, sorry for it's size, (and it may get bigger).

For pedestrian crossing gates, click here.


Simple Flashing Only Installations


Near Union Bridge MD

This unused crossing signal is on the former Western Maryland line between Reisterstown and Hagerstown MD


 


Standard Crossing Gates

This section contains what we have come to expect as the standard grade crossing - crossing gate in the U.S.

Simple installations consist of just the crossing gates themselves.  More elaborate installations will often add a cantilever type signal bridge with  one or more pairs of flashing lights, as many newer installations are.

A excellent picture resource on American grade crossings can be found at: http://www.rxrsignals.net


Clifton VA - on the ex Southern Rwy (NS)

Located halfway between Fairfax and Manassas VA, is this quaint little spot called Clifton, contains a set of standard US&S crossing gates.  The left picture is the gate on the south side of the tracks, the other two are of the signal on the north side.

   


Ashland VA

This crossing gate is on the former Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Rwy (now CSX).  Notice the signal also has a "no left turn" light on it.

     


Timonium MD

In the middle of 2005, the Maryland MTA was in the middle of double tracking the light rail on the northside of the system, from the shops northward.  This crossing is at Timonium Road when they were in the middle of replacing track.  If you notice, the sign says "3 tracks".  Back in the old Pennsy through Conrail days, there used to be three tracks here because of a siding that used to go Saco Lumber.


Wig-Wags

Wig-Wag signals were an early form of grade crossing protection for automobiles wishing to cross a railroad right-of-way.  In the early 1900's, as traffic volumes increased with both the railroads and automobiles, the number of grade crossing accidents rose, along with casualties.  The railroads attempted to produce some sort of signal that would alert drivers to the presence of an oncoming train.  The familiar "stop, look, and listen" signs were no longer effective once car manufacturers enclosed the car compartment, and hearing an approaching train became difficult.


History

According to Wikipedia, one of the earliest attempts to make a moving mechanical signal was by Pacific Electric of Los Angeles.  They reasoned that the familiar grade crossing attendant, making a swinging motion with his lamp to alert motorists, was a good choice, and developed a machine that would simulate that motion.  The first version used gears and was made in house, and was difficult to maintain.  They eventually decided to use two electro-magnets to pull the banner back and forth, which also allowed the banner to sit "in the middle" when at rest.

Wig-Wags were made by a number of manufacturers: WRRS (Western Railroad Supply), Magnetic Signal Company, and US&S.

Someone in L.A. probably saw the signals on the PE, and decided to capitalize on the "success" of the design.  My guess is that the Pacific Electric, being a transit company, probably wasn't overly concerned with filing a patent on their creation.  (Don't quote me on this, it's only conjecture).  So, the Magnetic Flagman company was originally based in Los Angeles.  After WWII, the company was bought by the Griswold Company of Minneapolis.  Models made in Minneapolis are rare today.

There are three predominant styles of wig-wags: 1) upper quadrant, 2) lower quadrant, and 3) enclosed.  Enclosed wig-wags were also called "banjo's".  With upper quadrant wig-wags, the banner sat above the motor housing, and required the use of a counter weight below the motor to bring the banner to rest in the middle.  A lower quadrant wig-wag had the banner hanging from the motor housing, and as such, did not require the use of a counter weight to hang in the middle when at rest.  "Enclosed" wig-wags were top-of-mast style signals, where the motor was supported by a "harp".

 
(L) An "enclosed" WRRS wig-wag in my backyard signal graveyard.
(R) A lower quadrant Magnetic Signal wig-wag in Ashland Oregon, photo by Robert Ashworth

Most wig-wags were single units, a few double wig-wags did exist however.  The last one I know of was in Roseburg Indiana, as shown below.  Photo by Aaron Border, and was taken around the time I stopped thru town chasing the GP-30's of the Central of Indiana RR.  Roseburg is east of Kokomo.

  A rare double lower-quadrant wig-wag in Roseburg IN

If you look hard, you may still be able to find one still in operation, but they are becoming increasingly rare, and can usually only be found on less used tracks.

The N&W used to have hundreds of wig-wags in use, most apparently from WRRS.  Most were gone by the late 70's, with a few surviving in the early 80's.  The last one may have been in Copenhaver (from a thread on N&W wig-wags).

One very interesting use for wig-wag signals is contained below in the link to the Santa Fe Historical Society's page on wig-wag's used on that railroad to communicate to the engineer a highball condition or a stop condition, check it out!  This was before the days of radio.


For more information, and pictures, check out these resources:
Dan's Wig-Wag site: 
http://www.trainweb.org/dansrailpix/WIG_WAG_PAGE1c.htm
Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wigwag_(railroad)

The South Bay Historical Railroad Society's wig-wag: http://www.sbhrs.org/museum/Artifacts/Wigwag/wigwag.html
The Santa Fe's Historical Society's page on wig-wags used on cabooses: http://www.atsfrr.net/resources/Sandifer/WigWag/Index.htm
N&W Historical Society thread on wig-wags: http://list.nwhs.org/pipermail/nw-mailing-list/Week-of-Mon-20060904/004971.html
A wig-wag in Ashland OR, and other stuff by Robert Ashworth: http://www.theslowlane.com/04trip/wigwag.html


WRRS Wig-Wag, on display in Durand Michigan in the railroad park.

   
           
          

CLICK HERE for my railfan guide to Durand.


WRRS Magnetic Autoflag Wig-Wag in my backyard

           

This signal came off the CNW in Wisconsin, and was purchased from a railroad museum in western Wisconsin in 2000.

For more pix of WRRS wig-wags, check out Dan's page at: http://www.trainweb.org/dansrailpix/WIG_WAG_wrrs1.htm


At the Chattanooga Choo-Choo in Chattanooga TN

     


Rotating Banners

Rotating Banner signals combined standard flashing lights with crossbucks and a rotating stop sign.  Upon activation, the flashing lights would come on, and the stop sign, which was at right angles to the roadway, to turn 90 degrees so that it was visible to oncoming traffic.

These signals were very popular in the Minneapolis area because they were manufactured by Griswold which was based there.  They were also popular on some of the Midwest and Western roads such as the CNW, the Soo Line, the NP, and the Minneapolis and St Louis.

WRRS also made a version of the Rotating Banner, known as the Model 6, and was used on roads such as the CRIP, the CGW, and the CB&Q.

The Griswolds can still be found on the less used lines around Minneapolis, especially those used by the Minnesota Commercial on the line between St Paul and Northtown Yard south of Fridley.  None of the ones I saw however had the stop signs left on them.  There are also a few left on the abandoned Soo R-O-W heading south out of Minneapolis, where I found the one below.


Burnsville MN area

Grade crossing at 155th St W and Kenwood Trail.... 1/2mi north of 162nd St W, which is exit 86 off of interstate 35.  The old station is still standing (or should I more correctly say "shelter").

         

     

 


Misc Grade Crossing Protection Devices


Elliston VA

This grade crossing signal protects a private grade crossing on the Norfolk Southern (ex N&W), between Salem and Christiansburg VA.  As the sign says, the lamp goes dark when a train is approaching.  Salem is to the left (to the north), and Christiansburg to the right.  The signal heads are PL heads off of a standard Pennsy/N&W style PL signal.

A lot of good action shots of NS coal freights can be had in this great railfanning area!  My daughter went to Virginia Tech, and it provided me the opportunity for a lot of good opportunities.  This signal can be found on my Salem to Christiansburg VA chase map, located here, which is part of my Roanoke railfan guide series, check it out!



 


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NEW 10-22-2006
Last Modified 20-Feb-2014