LIRR Signal History

Patchogue Signal History
LIRR Signal Photos
Train Orders
Block Limit Signals                                 

Signals just south of Skillman Ave. at the Montauk Cutoff turnout view N. toward City Storage Bldg.

Train Order (T.O.) Signals

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Standard T.O. Signal Aspects annulled via General Order #31  09/19/1939 Archive: Art Huneke

This was the format for a block office to advise a train crew during day or night hours of operation that the operator had a train order for them to pick up. 

The yellow designated a Form 19 order which was caught on the fly and the red designated a Form 31 order, meaning the train had to stop and the Conductor and Engineer had to sign the bottom showing receipt of said order.

What's interesting is that the LIRR stopped using Form 31 orders around 1926 yet the official order to annul their use and their respective signalling appears to have not been done until 1939!  Info:  Courtesy of Dave Keller

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Central Islip Station c.1885 Train Order Signal (T.O.) Archive: Dave Keller  

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Central Islip Station - Agent Frank Kelly c.1910 Train Order Signal has been removed, but the T.O. box is not yet installed. Archive: Dave Keller

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Form 31 09/06/1909 
Archive: Art Huneke
It must've been some Labor D
ay weekend out east back in 1909 as this Form 31 train order indicates.  Four locomotives are going to be pulling FOUR sections of train #23 west to handle all the crowds.  As the Form 31 train order had to be signed for by both engineer and conductor, you'll notice that there are two sets of signatures on this specific order . . . .conductor Phillips and engineer Murray of the 1st section of train #23 and conductor Ohn and engineer Sylvester Doxsey of the 2nd section of train #23.  Both were countersigned by block operator Schmidt.  No idea why the C and E of the other two sections did not sign, but they will definitely have to sign once they arrive at "PG" ( Patchogue block office as "PD" tower [1912] was not yet constructed). Info: Dave Keller

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Block Operator Norman Mason Central Islip Station c.1928 The stenciled date on the top portion of the window frame of the ticket bay shows that the depot was last painted in November, 1925 as painters would stencil the last date of painting; the same on bridges. Archive/Info:  Dave Keller  

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The banner or order boards were hung in this box during daytime hours and the lanterns for night operations or foggy, stormy conditions.


Semaphore Signals
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Bedford Junction 06/14/1879 The Long Island Rail Road's first interlocking plant and tower were installed on Atlantic Avenue just west of Franklin Avenue. Rather than having the home signal's aspects indicate the position of switches after being displayed for trains, there were separate semaphore switch signals and color home signals. Archive: Art Huneke LIRR Book of Rules (special Time Table) Atlantic Division 15-G 06/20/1880 Archive: Art Huneke
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Mineola Station Cutoff to Hempstead Branch c.1890 Archive/Info: Dave Keller

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East Moriches semaphore view SW 1959 Photo: Art Huneke

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Emery map East Moriches MP67-68 5/1958 semaphore location: Archive: Dave Keller

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Tower #45: 2 c.1905 Brick tower in service 1890, south of mainline east end of wooden station platform; E of Mineola Blvd. Renamed "MT" 1907 Archive/Info: Dave Keller

Smithtown - Semaphore DS. & SI***  MP46.5 Last month of a semaphore in service 12/1963 View NE
Photo/Archive: Art Huneke

Emery - Smithtown MP46-47 9/1957 Archive: Dave Keller 

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PD Tower 03/18/1930 (James V. Osborne - Dave Keller)

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PARK Tower at Floral Park semaphore -PL Signals view SW 10/12/51 (Faxon-Keller)

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Semaphore no.154 last 
automatic signal PARK Tower 
Photo: Art Huneke

H16-44_1501_semaphore_east-of-Smithtown_summer-1962_MP48.5_viewE_Huneke_gone-9-18-63.jpg (199579 bytes)LIRR H16-44 #1501 westbound train east of Smithtown. One of the last semaphore signals standing Summer 1962 Archive: Art Huneke

Signals were located between MP 48-49, just west of the 25A bridge.  The semaphore signal was a DS & SI*, located on the north side of the tracks and new in 1937.  The shorter DSWI**, south of the tracks, was new in 1950.  According to an Emery note penciled in at a later date, the semaphore signal was removed on 9/18/63.  *Distant Switch and Signal Indicator. **DSWI is Distant Switch Indicator

* Distant signal indicators (DSI) let the engineer know that there's a signal ahead.
** Distant switch indicators (DSWI) let the engineer know that there's a switch approaching and whether it's set with him or against him, so he can prepare to stop if need be.

*** Distant switch and signal indicators (DS & SI) would let the engineer know that there's both a signal approaching and a switch.

In this case, the smaller, eastbound DSI is advising that the switch to the passing siding at 
St. James is approaching. The eastbound DS & SI semaphore signal is advising that the switch to the passing siding at Smithtown is approaching as well as the "ST" block signals at the station. Info: Dave Keller

Position Light Signals 
The Pennsylvania Railroad started experimenting with a radically new signal design in 1915.  This signal consisted of rows of yellow lights, in an attempt to simulate the position nature of semaphore signals. The decision to find a new signal followed the start of electrification in 1913, once they found it was difficult to see semaphores thru the catenary wires.
First use of position light signals in lieu of semaphore signals on a LIRR branch was at automatic block signal R143 on track 2 east of Hammel, Rockaway Beach branch. G.O. #109-11. Eff:5/15/29 in ETT #109, Eff: 10/17/28 Info: Dave Keller
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PD Tower 5/1943 Fred Weber photo.
 Dave Keller archive


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PD Tower c. late 1970's as Train Order Signal added after renovation 1971. 
Photo: Chris Allen
Rule 290 RESTRICTED signal indication means to proceed at Restricted Speed prepared to stop short of train, obstruction or switch not properly lined and looking out for broken rail, not exceeding 15 MPH.

A signal's background helps provide contrast so that an engineman can discern the signal from other lights at speed and at a
distance. A position light is large and hence the backgrounds are big, heavy, and cost money.

For the most part, the bottom units/bottom heads (PRR term: bottom arm) of position light signals (also termed: lower head with a partial or cut-off background) were only viewed by trains traveling at slow speed, hence the signal indication could be easily discerned without a background. 

This is the case illustrated here in this PRR signal standard diagram: PRR Signal Standards S-400-E and as seen above.

Aspects 3 and 5 in the diagram ("Slow Approach" and "Restricting", respectively) would both be approached at a reduced speed indication on the previous signal.  However, aspects 6 and 8 ("Medium Clear" and "Approach Medium", respectively), would be approached at between 30 mph and track speed. Hence, Note 3 in the diagram requires the partial background (part number 4012) behind the vertical lights that would be displayed as part of this aspect. This is why the signals have the background for the vertical lights, but not the diagonals.

Over time, this morphed. A bunch of aspects were added to the fairly straightforward original system, among them flashing indications for limited speed, and the diagonal over diagonal "Approach Slow". The standards for backgrounds morphed along with these, and you'll see these encompassed in the later standards diagram at: PRR Signal Standards S-400-G 

This document shows the new "mostly full" lower background (part number 4013) that was introduced along the way as these new aspects came into play.

Once the PRR Paoli Line experiment of using a detached backing was abandoned the setup involved only the Approach Medium Speed (Rule 282) vertical getting a backing because the Approach Slow (Rule 284) and Restricting (Rule 290) positions on the lower head would only be approached at slow speeds, therefore the PRR decided that crews had ample time to sight the unbacked positions.  Full lower backings (unverified) came about after Medium Approach (Rule 283a) was adopted in 1956 resulting in higher speeds approaching a lit lower right hand diagonal "flashing" signal.


Information on the backgrounds may come from an A.H. Rudd article in the July 1921 issue of Railway Signal Engineer.  There he indicates that a background was only applied to the vertical row of lights in the lower arm since those aspects are approached at speed (Approach Medium and Medium Clear, using their current names).  The diagonal and single marker slow speed aspects (Slow Approach, Restricting, and Stop and Proceed, using their current names) did not need a background since long range sighting was unnecessary.  The reduced size of the background and wind pressure area allowed the use of standard sized signal masts (weight and wind were issues with the early four-light position signals on masts).

With the introduction of Approach Slow in the late 1940's and Medium Approach in 1955 and 1956, there were lower arm aspects that would be approached at higher speeds.  I suspect this was the driving force behind full backgrounds for the lower arm.  I have no specific references, but it does seem that those full backgrounds seemed to become much more common starting in the later 1950's.  Info: Dave Morrison

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PD Tower 11/05/2000
Photo: Chris Allen
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PD Tower 4/29/2006
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PD Tower Signal  c. 8/2006
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Smashboard and eastbound Signal #006 view SE at Dutch Kills swing bridge 06/1981 Photo: S. Goldstein
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 LIRR shortest block? Ocean Ave, Patchogue view W 4/29/2006 Photo: Paul Strubeck
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Cover of the Long Island Railroader April 1953 monthly magazine showing a training class on signals for the engineers. Notice on the left you have a high and dwarf PL signal and on the right a pedestal signal. 
Section Break Signals 
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Bayside station and section break (SB) signal looking
 east -  1/22/79 (Jeff Erlitz photo, Dave Keller archive)

A Section Break Signal, which also served as an automatic block signal was located at a break in the third rail section. They were designated by the letters "SB" below the signal head and were listed in the Timetable's Special Instructions. Third rail power past the signal could be de-energized. When it was, for an emergency purpose for example, the signal would display Stop aspect. A Section Break Signal displaying Stop could not be passed, as an automatic signal (whose most restrictive aspect was Stop and Proceed) could be. 

This protected the third rail outage past the signal. If a train passed the signal with the power off, the train would "bridge" power from the live rail feeding it onto the de-energized rail and liven it. 

Section Break signals were discontinued in the 1970's or 1980's when remote supervision (and control) of third rail power became available. With that improvement, the section of rail prior to the one desired is always de-energized also. This prevents a train from "bridging" power into a de-energized section of track.  Info: Dave Keller

Per retired LIRR block operator Art Huneke:

As long as the power was on, a train passing would put the signal to stop and proceed. With power off, signal would go to "STOP AND STAY" and remain so until power was restored.  

Per Jeff Erlitz:

Rule 297: Trains, the consist of which include any Multiple Unit cars, will not pass these signals displaying STOP indication without verbal instructions from train dispatcher. Other trains not affected. Turns out that position light signals started getting these "SB" number plates (in lieu of their regular number plates) as early as 2/10/1933 (S179 & S180), according to my signal database. These third rail section break signals were not controlled from anywhere. They were just plain old automatic block signals that also conveyed the status of the third rail power. 

Brief PRR Position Light Signal History
1840’s The semaphore was patented by John James Stevens.
1871 - Pennsylvania RR absorbs the Camden & Amboy, and block signal installation was completed between Jersey City and Philadelphia.
1882 - The Pennsy installs its first electro-pneumatic lower quadrant semaphores. 
1884 - The Pennsy is the first to install an automatic block network utilizing electro-pneumatic lower quadrant semaphores between East Liberty and Wilkensburg PA - by the end of 1884, 65 were in service. 
1906 - The first of the three aspect upper quadrant semaphores was installed on the Pennsylvania RR between W Philadelphia and Elwyn PA. 
1906-1908 - Research by Corning into lenses and colors, and they came up with the current green-yellow-red, replacing white-green-red.
1913 - The Pennsylvania RR starts electrification.
1914 - Perfection of a concentrated-filament lamp to provide color light signals a satisfactory sighting distance.
1918 - The PRR simplifies the design of their PL signals, eliminating one of the four "heads" for each aspect.
1921 - Pennsy's PL's started taking the shape and configuration were are accustomed to today.

Temporary Manual Block Signals (MBS)

LIRR MP15 #154,  GP38-2 #271 eastbound at temporary
Manual Block Signal (MBS) stop signal  - View N
Blissville-LI City 6/20/1997 Photo/Archive: Jeff Erlitz

Bliss Tower, YPD 131 (Yard Passenger Diesel 131) Jamaica
storage yard diesel crews turning the engines.  The 154 has circle M logo and ditch lights (the vast majority of the fleet got them in 1997 ahead of the mandate) and the 271 still has not yet received its Diesel Dan horn mod, which happened before it had ditch lights added in 1997.

I remember seeing a pair up in the old STM office in Jamaica. Usually someone went out prior to them going in service and laid out a buried extension cord, control cable and pipes to accommodate the size of the pipe the sigs were mounted on. They were simply a basic traffic light, 1 red and 1 green light, and they were used for special projects like golf events at SH College (or a temporary station built for the golf event and then removed), Bliss or places like the Oyster Bay. They would take one track out for a period of time, and then the other track would be designated a secondary track for wrong railing and they would have these at some half way point, such as near Glen Head station where they would space out the trains.

All of this was done by General Notice and a temporary block station was established at the location. They had pipes in the ground permanently at Bliss, and I'd bring a tent stake to dig out the plastic pellets from when Allied/Triplex was still getting serviced, as that stuff was all over the place.

They would route the LI City/Hunterspoint diesels via the Lower Montauk (before the NYA picked it up) to lessen the traffic over the Mainline during big trackwork projects or Amtrak disruptions. Having this saved the crews the headache of trying to get a S-Card, we'd just turn on the green light for Westbounds, and then the red when it was time to go East. A simple switch and that was it. If they were used in the old manual block territory, then you could call them temporary MB signals. Can't think of them being used in the past 10 years, and honestly can't think of an occasion where they would be used again, except in something where you have a big stretch of 251, like the OYB, or Babylon-Y for a big trackwork blitz. Info: "krispy"

EOB/MBS location Blissville-LI City - Google map 2022
of the Jeff Erlitz photo above.

EOB board, and a temporary MBS signal displaying “stop signal”
for westbound moves as an eastbound YPD 131 enters the double track lower Montauk Branch   Info: Joe Vila

Temporary Manual Block Signal (MBS) at Hampton Bays per Train Order.  LIRR #273 consist with the red stripe parlor for the US Open at Bridgehampton 6/15/1986  Photo/Archive/Info: Art Huneke


West Hempstead manual block signal - Mechanic Department's Mark Sullivan retirement Archive: Kelly&Kelly