LIRR Train Orders

All research/notes/photos depicted are from the archive of Dave Keller, unless noted otherwise.

Train orders were of two types: "31's," which had to be signed for by the addressed "Conductor and Engineer" (C&E), and "19's," which did not. The former were employed when the dispatcher needed to know that the affected train actually had the order, while the latter were used when he did not.

The block operator signing on the line containing each C&E's signature served as a witness to their having received their copies of the orders and the correct copies at that!

It was gradually noticed that delivery of  Form 19  was no less reliable than the delivery of 31 orders. There was, however, one other matter that had to be considered. When a conductor came to the block/train order office, it was easy to make sure of the identification of his train, so that the orders were delivered to the correct train. This was not possible with 19 orders. Also, the train had to pass a train order signal at stop when receiving 19 orders. The clearance card was already in use to allow a train to pass the signal at stop. It showed the train identification, and a list of the order numbers to be delivered to the train ("I have ___ orders for your train.") The engineman and conductor could check the clearance card to ensure that they had the correct orders for their train.

The setting up of meets between opposing trains had required 31 orders. At least one 31 order was always required, and between extras, two. To overcome this inconvenience, the dispatcher was permitted to use 19 orders to set up the meet, provided that he first sent a 19 order to the operator at the station where the trains were to meet. This meant that the order signal at the meeting station would prevent either train from proceeding if either of the 19 orders failed to be delivered. This proved an excellent idea, since it protected against train crews' forgetting orders, and other contingencies, as well as non-delivery of orders. The order sent to the operator at the meeting point was called a "middle order."

As evidence for the reliability of order delivery built up, it became evident that there was really no need for the 31 order at all. Those few cases where signatures were required could be handled simply by taking the signatures on the 19 form. Some companies abolished the 31 order completely, going back to the generic train order of the distant past (but with different rules). Others kept the 31 form, but allowed the free use of the 19 order in most cases.

Perhaps the LIRR realized along with many other roads that these orders really weren’t all that necessary after all because they discontinued their use sometime after 1926.  The below page from the 1925 Book of Rules states the rule to display the red train order flag (for 31 orders) was annulled in 1939, however I've not seen a 31 order written after 1926. . . It doesn't mean they didn't write them . . I just haven't see any.  Then again, the LIRR could've just not gotten around to annul that red signal flag rule until someone brought it to someone's attention that "Hey . . we haven't used these things since 1926.  Why don't we officially annul the rule?" Archive/Research: Dave Keller  

FORM 19 Additional Form 19 History
Form-19-Glen Cove-1896.jpg (166549 bytes)
Form 19 - Glen Cove 9/25/1896
Form-19-Glen Cove-1897.jpg (147095 bytes)
Form 19 - Glen Cove 4/08/1897
Form-19-GV-Glen Cove-1898.jpg (154053 bytes)
Form 19 - Glen Cove 6/08/1898
Form-19-GV-Glen Cove-1899.jpg (87827 bytes)
Form 19 - "GV" Glen Cove 6/01/1899
Form-19-LI City-1906.jpg (201132 bytes)
Form 19 - LI City - 8/25/1906
Form-19-Mineola-Oct-1929 (LIRR Form).jpg (142094 bytes)
Form 19 - Mineola 10/22/1929
Note 1
Form-19-PD-Patchogue-Oct-1929 (PRR Form).jpg (160848 bytes)
Form 19 - "PD" Tower 10/24/1929 (PRR Form)
Form 19-PD Tower-Loco  35 - 02-19-30 (Keller).jpg (135367 bytes)
Form 19 - "PD" Tower Loco #35 2/19/1930
Note 1:  1929 train order from Mineola ("MT" tower) addressed to extra 141 (freight locomotive) and motor 1349 (MU car) that the locomotive portion is address to "C & E" and the MU portion to "C & M".  Conductor & Engineer vs. Conductor & Motorman.
Train_Order_Signal-Bridgehampton-View_E_c.1905_Huneke.jpg (104920 bytes)
Train Order Signal - Bridgehampton View E  c.1905 Archive: Art Huneke


Station-Southampton-View E at Train time - 06-20-55 (Faxon-Keller).jpg (91875 bytes)
Southampton station at train time - View E - 06/20/1955

Note the T box (telephone box) at the far right hanging on the wall of the station building.  A conductor would use the phone in this box to report clear after his train had taken the passing siding across from the depot and has cleared the main track for an oncoming train.  (Will Faxon, Jr. photo, Dave Keller archive and data)

Station-Southampton-Close-up-Ticket Bay-Train Order Signal Board - 06-20-55 (Faxon-Keller).jpg (106619 bytes)
Southampton Station - Ticket bay and train order flag and lantern signal board Close-up 6/20/1955 (Will Faxon, Jr. photo / Dave Keller archive)  

Station-Ronkonkoma-Train Order Signal Displayed-View E - 01-07-44 (Weber-Morrison).jpg (131051 bytes)
Train order signal flag displayed for eastbound train on first platform light pole. 
Ronkonkoma Station - View E 1/07/1944 (Weber-Morrison)

Station-Central Islip-Train Order Lantern Board-c. 1928.jpg (63049 bytes)
Train order flag and lantern board - Central Islip c. 1928 (George. G. Ayling photo, Dave Keller archive)
When a train order was sent by the dispatcher to a specific block office, the block operator stationed at that office had to deliver the train order to the specific train to whom the order was addressed.  His means of communication for this was to place a yellow-painted metal and wood signal flag out for the train crew to see, so they could slow down to catch the train order "on the fly" by means of a train order hoop.  At night, a yellow-globed kerosene lantern (hand lamp) was used for this purpose.  These signal flags and signal lanterns were hung in a special bracket assembly which hung on the wall of the block office.  The brackets were made of wood and contained a divider between the two sides, so that the lit lantern at night could ONLY be seen by the train going in the proper direction for the train order, to avoid any confusion as to which train was to pick up the orders.  During the day, this problem was solved by the signal flag being painted yellow on the "business" side and black with a line through it on the other side.  An eastbound and a westbound flag, painted on opposite sides made up the matching set and either one would be placed in the lower metal bracket seen in this close-up image of the assembly on the exterior wall of the Central Islip station building ticket bay window.  The numbers visible atop the windows designated the fact that the depot was last painted in November, 1925.  (George G. Ayling photo, Dave Keller archive and data)

PD - Train Order Signal - 1971.jpg (74426 bytes)For many years prior to flashing color train order signals located on the position light mast, train crews were notified of train orders to be picked up by a system of metal order boards and colored globe lanterns.

Each block station had a bracket lagged into the frame of the tower and/or depot building/block office.  Into this bracket would be inserted a yellow train order metal board which was painted yellow on the side facing the train for which orders were to be picked up and black with a white stripe on the other side, signifying for trains approaching in that direction that the order board was not set out for them.

In earlier years (prior to 1927) a red board was used to indicate form 31 orders were to be picked up and, as they needed to be signed for by the conductor and engineer, they had to be distinctly different in aspect.  The last year of form 31 orders was 1926.  After that, only yellow boards were in use for form 19 orders.

The order flag or order board was used in daylight applications and at night, the board was hung with a lantern with matching globe (yellow for form 19 orders and red for form 31 orders).

This image shows a yellow train order board with lantern hung out at PD tower in 1971.  As it was a very gray, dreary, icy, wintry day, the board AND the lantern were hung to further catch the attention of the engineer/conductor of the approaching westbound train and notify them that they had orders to pick up.

The days of kerosene lanterns had long passed, so the train order lanterns were wired for use with a yellow electric light bulb. 

Train order flag and lantern displayed at "PD" tower, Patchogue - 1972 (Dave Keller photo and archive)

Form 31 order red flag and lantern - 1925 PRR Book of Rules Archive: Art Huneke

The first initial installation of semaphore signaling, I found, is from an 1880 ETT description of Bedford Junction, opened in 1879. Research: Art Huneke   

Form 19 order yellow flag and lantern  - 1925 PRR Book of Rules
Archive: Art Huneke

1925 PRR Book of Rules in use on the LIRR.  A handwritten note states that the red flag and lantern were discontinued by general order, effective September 19, 1939.  The last use of Form 31 orders was in 1926 and thus red was discontinued.  It appears that it took 13 years for the railroad to scratch this signal indication from their rule books. According to the book of rules, the yellow order board was notched out at the bottom, while the red order board was square; most probably to catch the eye and not have any confusion over flags. 


Form 31 train orders were issued at a block office and had to be signed by the receiving engineer and conductor.  Like Form 19s, they gave instructions for the operation of the trains indicated. Also, their use was discontinued around 1926 or a bit later.

The unattended block station signals, later block limit signals, were put in place by the PRR in 1928 . . . AFTER the form 31s were no longer in use.  They were used in conjunction with the PRR's "K" clearance cards, although train orders were still issued (Form 19s).

Form-31-Train-Order-WC-11-3-17.jpg (158567 bytes)

This is a form 31 train order issued at "WC" cabin at Upton Junction on November 3, 1917.  Form 31 orders had to be signed for upon receipt by the conductor and engineer of a train.  They were not caught "on the fly" as were form 19 orders.  "WC" cabin was the former, unused "CP" cabin at Central Islip, shown here in service at Upton Junction.  An interesting note about the instructions in this order:  see the reference to "Y" and "PT" cabins which were on the Montauk branch at Sayville and Eastport, respectively, but "WC" cabin was on the Main Line.  During the operation of Camp Upton in WWI, trains to and from the camp were routed in a one-direction circle.  Trains were dispatched eastbound into the camp and, in leaving the camp were sent further eastbound to Manorville, where they then headed towards Eastport ("PT" cabin), then westward back to the  west end of Long Island, so as to not interfere with trains headed for the camp. 

For more information: "READING A TRAIN ORDER FORM 31"

Form-31-TrainOrder-AG-9-6-09.jpg (127346 bytes)

It must've been some Labor Day 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).



Form 31 9/06/1909 Archive: Art Huneke

Form31-TrainOrder-Medford-1909.jpg (122626 bytes)

A form 31 train order issued at the Dispatcher’s Office “X” in Long Island City and copied at the Medford train order office on September 9, 1909. A form 31 order differed from a form 19 order in that a form 19 order was caught on the fly by the train crew from train order hoops or sticks held up to the moving train by the operator. A form 31 order had to be signed by both the conductor and engineer at the train order office. This order was copied by operator E. C. Wright and signed by engineer Sylvester P. Doxsey . . .a well-know LIRR veteran. There was no conductor’s signature on this order as engineer Doxsey was operating 4-4-0 locomotive #97 light westbound through Medford. No conductor present in the cab . . . . only his fireman. Note the order was not addressed in its customary manner to “C&E No. ___” but, rather to “Engr. Eng 97.”



Form 31 9/09/1909 


Here we have the Train Order Signal mounted right side on the LIRR position light signal. 
Photo: LIRR  F-7A #622 HEP unit at "PD" Tower crossing over to the North Siding  for the westbound move. View E c.1992  Photo: Ebay

RULE 294: Train Order
NOTE - By day the yellow lamp not displayed.
When displayed in the direction of an approaching train or trains, must not be passed by any such train on any track except as provided by Rule 221.

RULE 221:  Movement by Train Orders
Unless otherwise provided on the time-table or by train order, a fixed signal must be used at each train order office which shall indicate Stop when there is an operator on duty, except when changed to Proceed to allow a train to pass after receiving train orders or for which there are no orders. A train must not pass the signal while Stop is indicated.* 

*Note: Rule 221 abridged by Steven A. Lynch

OCTOBER 28, 1956


lirrsignals_pd04-29-2006new.jpg (58046 bytes)
Position light signal on the left of track as there is no room for it on the right side of the track. Ocean Ave, Patchogue view W 4/29/2006   Train Order signal  mounted left side.
Photo: Paul Strubeck
Nassau-Tower ViewE_4-12-2001.jpg (80878 bytes)
Nassau Tower - Mineola  View E 4/12/01
Photo: Brian Weinberg

Left Train Order Signal mounted on mast and the right Train Order Signal on the signal face. Both inward toward trackside for visibility.

LIRR Train Order Signals - Book of Rules - Eff 03-14-54 (Keller).jpg (65788 bytes)
LIRR Train Order Signals - Book of Rules - Effective 3/14/1954

Tower-BK-StonyBrook-1972.jpg (66283 bytes)
"BK" Tower - Stony Brook 1972  - Block Signals with Train Order signals  mounted right
Tower-MS-Mastic-Shirley-1970.jpg (44494 bytes)
"MS" Tower Mastic Shirley 1970 - Block Signals with Train Order signals both mounted track side for visibility.


LIRR's Book of Rules eff. 07/01/66 for Block Signals and Block Limit Signals Definitions

Unattended Block Station Signals - ETT 110 Eff 06-16-29 (Keller).jpg (221574 bytes)BLOCK SIGNAL:  A fixed signal, or hand signal in the absence of a fixed signal, at the entrance of a block to govern trains and engines in entering and using that block.

BLOCK-LIMIT SIGNAL:  A fixed signal indicating the limit of a block, the use of which by trains is prescribed by Manual Block Signal rules.

UNATTENDED BLOCK STATION SIGNAL:  (See actual attached page (left) from the LIRR's ETT #110, eff. 06/16/1929.  These went into effect on the LIRR the year prior (1928). 

Unattended block station signals were used when the manned block office was closed FOR THE DAY. Unattended block station signals were mast-mounted lights that were turned on by the operator when he shut the office down for the day. Not all block offices were open 24/7. Only the busy towers had 3 tricks.  (Dave Keller scan and data)

Cabin-Y-E of Sayville-c. 1925.jpg (75789 bytes)
Typical cabin-style block office found all along the LIRR system for many years: 

"Y" Cabin with semaphore block signal - east of Sayville (end of double track) View E c. 1925 (James V. Osborne photo, Dave Keller archive)

Station-Stony Brook (View NE) - 1937 (Votava-Keller).jpg (116825 bytes)
"BK" block station in the Stony Brook depot (View NE) 1937 Photo/Archive: (George E. Votava photo, Dave Keller archive)  

Cabin-BAY-WB M1 Train-E. of Bayside-View E - 04-12-78 (Madden-Keller).JPG (106748 bytes)
BAY temporary block office. Westbound M1 east of Bayside View E 4/12/78 (Madden-Keller)

Tower-PARK-Floral Park-Semaphore-PL Signals-View SW-10-12-51 (Faxon-Keller).jpg (152714 bytes)
PARK Tower  - Floral Park Semaphore and Position Light Signals View SW 10/12/1951 (Will V. Faxon photo, Dave Keller archive)
Signal-BH Block Limit-Bridgehampton-View E - 04-1970 (Keller-Keller).jpg (135420 bytes)
Bridgehampton "BH" Block Limit Signal View E 4/1970 Photo/Archive: Dave Keller

These signals originally began as manned semaphore signals at manned block offices.  Then in 1928, when the PRR "K" card system went into effect on the LIRR, they became "unattended block station" signals for which went into operation when the block  operator was manually off duty and the block office closed for the day. 

When the block offices were eliminated these signals became "block limit signals" and were controlled remotely by manned block offices that were still in existence, such as "MS" (Mastic-Shirley) and "PD" on the Montauk branch and "KO" (Ronkonkoma) on the Main Line.

As examples, unmanned signals along the Montauk branch in the 1970s and 80s were BO, MO, PT, SK, WH, SN, BH, AG and MY.  MS and PD were manned at that time.

When station agencies were still open all the way out to Montauk, there were more signals such as VN at Brookhaven, KH at Shinnecock Hills, WN at Wainscott, WR at Watermill and HA at East Hampton. These call letters are all listed in the front of employee timetables (ETTs).

For example, see below for the evolution of the "MD" signal system at Medford:  1910 shows the mast and semaphore signals.  1932 shows the unattended block signal lamps added lower down on the mast.  1940 shows the mast truncated, doing away with the semaphore signals and only the unattended block signal lamps in use.  This specific signal, by the way, was eliminated after the grade elimination later in that year.  Archive/Research: Dave Keller  

Station-Medford-Blk Signal-1910.jpg (79856 bytes)
Medford Station semaphore block signal 1910 (Dave Keller archive)
Station-Medford-MD Block Signal - 11-10-32.jpg (114473 bytes)
Medford Station "MD" Block Signal 11/10/1932

"MD" (Medford) block signal (semaphore blades) and unattended block station signal (lamps lower on the mast above the call letters) with connecting linkage into the block office to allow the block operator to throw the signals.  (Art Huneke archive)  

Lower-Quadrant-Semaphore-Signals-diagram.jpg (102841 bytes)
Lower Quadrant Semaphore Signals diagram details pipe and wire operated types
Station-Medford-MD BLS-4-1940.jpg (92997 bytes)
Medford Station "MD" Block Limit Signal (upper portion of signal mast removed)  4/1940  (Albert Bayles photo, Dave Keller archive)

Form-K_10-21-82.jpg (56848 bytes)Also, along with these signals, "K" cards issued by manned block offices gave the trains addressed permission to pass these unattended block station (and later, block limit) signals "as though clear block signal were displayed."

When train orders and "K" clearance cards were issued advising the conductor and engineer of a train that it was going to meet, the conductor of the train taking the siding to clear the main track would have to call in to the block operator who issued the order and report being "in the clear" so the train in the opposing direction could pass safely.  "K" cards had a spot on them that said to "report clear at_____."



Form K  ("K" card) 10/21/1982 Archive:  John Volpi

Clearance Card-Eastport-1906.jpg (114812 bytes)
Clearance Card - Form C - Eastport 4/18/1906

K Card_1-2000_PaulStrubeck.jpg (62070 bytes)
Card used in replacement of block signals in dark/manual block territory. 
Archive: Paul Strubeck
Form-K-Clearance Card-PD-Patchogue-Nov-1929 (LIRR Form).jpg (95998 bytes)
Form K - Clearance Card 11/14/1929
Above left:  H10s class locomotive #102 pulling freight L-107 westbound is told to proceed at "BP" (Bayport) as though a clear signal was displayed and is NOT required to report clear at any specific location.  The train MAY get a requirement to report clear elsewhere along its route, however, as it receives subsequent orders.


Tower-MO-BlockLimitSignal-CtrMoriches-1970.jpg (97119 bytes)
"MO" Block Limit Signal 
Centre Moriches 1970
Tower-PT-BlockLimitsignal-Eastport-1970.jpg (26004 bytes)
"PT" Block Limit Signal Eastport 1970
Signal-SK-Speonk-View W-04-70 (Keller-Keller).jpg (153700 bytes)
"SK" Block Limit Signal
Speonk  - T-Box View W 4/1970
Tower-YA-BlockLimitSignal-Yaphank-1968.jpg (63184 bytes)
"YA" Block Limit Signal Yaphank 1968
Tower-GY-BlockLimitSignal-Greenport-7-01.jpg (78792 bytes)
"GY" Block Limit Signal Greenport 7/2001
Tower-ND-BlockLimitSig-NYA-268-HmptnBays-7-01.jpg (60368 bytes)
"ND" Block Limit Signal NYA #268 Hampton Bays 7/2001
Tower-R-BlockLimitSignal-Jamesport-7-01.jpg (47647 bytes)
"R" Block Limit Signal Jamesport 7/2001
Tower-SD-BlockLimitSignal-Southold-7-01.jpg (30345 bytes)
"SD" Block Limit Signal Southold 7/2001