The past decade in Boston transit has seen a massive increase in the number of CCTV cameras deployed around the MBTA system.  Several are seen in most rapid transit stations, newer buses have several apiece (and a video monitor showing you what's being recorded), and the monitoring stations are consciously placed in places like the South Station subway concourse where the general public can see them.  "Sure, Big Brother is watching you," the T says, "but it's for your own safety."

This rubs me the wrong way.

Meanwhile, across the pond, I also read the reports of the British Rail Accident Investigation Branch.  These are fascinating from an engineering point of view because they try to explain and analyse, in plain English, what actually happened and could be improved: maybe a lorry backed into a bridge pushing the 150-year-old brickwork on to the tracks, which a train hit 10 minutes later, but why didn't 999 contact the signaler to have them stop the train, and why was the damaged train allowed to continue at 100 mph after the accident cleanup?

The RAIB reports are also good for including pictures of relevant parts of an incident: here's a picture of the pin assembly on an intermodal flat car, here's what it would look like if it was hanging off the edge of the train, here's the picture of the train platform said pin assembly hit at 60 mph.  Depending on the incident, many of the pictures come from CCTV imagery, including pictures from remotely manually controlled level crossings and station platforms.

This use of CCTV imagery I'm very okay with; but it does actually depend on having cameras in a lot of places so that you can collect together a photographic history of the train.  "We're watching our infrastructure and our trains to make an already safe system safer" seems like a positive message; much better than "we're watching you".
(0) They removed the signal behind the Market Basket, and changed the area between Sherman St. and Alewife Brook Parkway to no longer be a signaled junction, which affects what the signal at Porter can show.

(1) Old signals showed red, unless the track was running in this direction.  New signals show a normal block signal aspect unless the track is running in the opposite direction.  (Or else, new control system makes it harder to set default "trains run on the right" routes and forget about it; but I'm pretty sure I've seen the old signals show red in both directions before.)

(2) The new signals take quite a while to reset to red when a train passes, like 10 seconds or so.  (It is possible that the train needs to completely pass the signal, but I don't think it actually works that way from watching two trains go by, and it would be odd for a new installation at this location anyways.)

This in combination means that the new default is yellow-over-red (approach) on both tracks; red-over-red (stop), probably on the left-hand track, means a train is coming from North Station; yellow-over-green (approach medium), probably on the right-hand track, means a train is going to North Station; and green-over-red (or -over-green, clear), for wonderfully geeky reasons, means a train has a route set all the way into a platform at North Station.  The outbound signals only show red/yellow/green; I have not yet observed whether these (or other new installations, like on the Lowell line) show flashing-yellow (advance approach) (rumor from the Internet is that they don't).

New York City of course has two major train stations these days. Pennsylvania Station handles all Amtrak service in and out of New York, plus New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Railroad; Grand Central Terminal, historically the stomping grounds of the New York Central and New York, New Haven, and Hartford railroads, is the Manhattan end of Metro-North trains. Of these the Metro-North commuters by far get the better deal.

Grand Central has an outpost of the New York transit museum (more a gift shop with a small exhibit space) and I took some time there to look around. My first thought was that it could reasonably compete in the "Classy European Railway Stations" competition: several concourses filled with little shops, a small grocery, lots of granite and marble, pleasantly art-deco ticket windows, and so on. There's a downstairs level with lots of fast food options, and a restaurant on the main concourse. I did eventually find the transit museum outpost, which was worth the visit if not huge.

I then bopped over on the Ⓢ train to Times Square (very strong signs that there used to be a 4-track connection between the Times Square shuttle and the 7th Avenue IRT line) and took a ① to Penn Station. You might notice peering at my Flickr that there are no pictures of Penn Station. From the concourse this is basically three stations. The NJ Transit area is somewhat nice but has few amenities. The Amtrak station seemed to redecorate aiming for "sterile" and got "vaguely oppressive". The Long Island Railroad section is dark, and crowded, and generally not a place you really feel like hanging out. (And it's a good demonstration that just because you put shops and restaurants in a place it doesn't mean it's attractive.)

Because I could, I took LIRR out to Queens. The trains were quite comfortable, and felt oddly larger than typical MBTA stock. Seeing real position-light signals in action was a little strange, but (after some deciphering) there they were and they seemed to be showing reasonable things. It was a pretty fast, pretty smooth ride out, not a bad way to go if that's what your commute winds up being...just with that horrible station at the inbound end.

On the off chance that there are other rail signal geeks in Boston that actually read this, the bridge on Broadway over the commuter rail near Ball Square has long been one of my favorite signal spots, since from there there's pretty good visibility outbound and you can see the interlocking signals protecting North Somerville Junction. A month or two ago they turned on new bidirectional signals north of here on the Lowell line, which means trains can run both directions on either track. I'm not sure why but they're pretty actively using it and I've definitely seen approach medium displayed on both tracks (sometimes at the same time even).

(I thought I had seen medium approach medium displayed here driving past once but I wasn't 100% sure. It'd be exotic but not inconsistent with the B&M lines' use of "approch medium" to mean "advance approach"; any confirmation? That would be red, yellow, green reading top-to-bottom on one signal, the other would necessarily be red, red, red.)

Danbury's other attraction is the Danbury Railway Museum, located in a former New York, New Haven, and Hartford yard at the end of a Metro-North commuter line. This was a worthwhile afternoon in my book (apologies to [ profile] narya may be in order though). A little less than half of what they have is New Haven equipment, but much of it is in very good shape. Several Budd RDCs, which the staff claimed actually ran; a B&M 2-6-0 that clearly didn't.

One interesting thing was that a lot of their equipment was open. You could walk through a CN caboose, for instance. (Which seemed to very comfortably seat eight bilingual railroaders; were that many people ever necessary?) The one RDC that was open had a very nice interior, though not apparently its original one.

Definitely the most interesting thing there though was a retired Sperry Rail Service car. A lot of the interior was crew quarters, with bunk beds, a small kitchen, and a common room. All of the exciting electronics seemed to be at the back of the car but there wasn't a whole lot of indication of what you could get from a bunch of gauges and a rack of electronics.

So a nice train setup, but quite a hike; probably a little far to go just for the rail museum (we spent a couple of hours there including an excursion around the yard and had pretty much seen the whole thing) but worth seeing if you're in the area anyways.

(For the record, note that when I say "Danbury's other attraction" there are no coffee shops at all in the downtown area. There are two Starbucks with Danbury addresses if you happen to be in need of such a thing, but bring a GPS to try to find them.)

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