Third Rail Passenger Operations

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Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby Aireroscoe » Sun Jun 15, 2008 4:39 pm

It always seemed to me that my dad had mentioned PRSL having used third-rail power for some of its trains, but it wasn't clear to me that this was the case. Based upon the remark in the following thread, it apparently was.
http://railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=97&t=42085

Interesting. In addition, I see that on Rich Taylor's page at the PRSLHS, there is a photo of an MU in MIllville that seems to have a trolley pole, while the track upon which it sits apparently has a third-rail, as evidenced by the protective wooden covers.

Did the third rail capability run all of the way from Camden? I'm guessing so. Did any of the railroad's other lines have third-rail? Where did the cars switch to and from overhead lines, which presumably they did based upon the trolley pole that seems to be on the car at Millville?

Would just like to learn more about this subject and perhaps it's in the forum somewhere, but I've missed it.
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby JJMDiMunno » Mon Jun 16, 2008 8:05 am

There was also electrified service from Newfield (coming off the Millville Branch), to Atlantic City...

Also third rail.

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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby louisfols » Mon Jun 16, 2008 9:07 am

The trolley pole was used thru Gloucester City, which had many road crossings. I grew up in Brooklawn, which had a tunnel and
and a overhead bridge for people to cross. The third rail had a wood board to cover it. It was removed about 1949 when RDC's were purchased. Route 130 went under a bridge.
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby Aireroscoe » Mon Jun 16, 2008 2:23 pm

Thanks for the prompt replies...they were really most helpful.

Spent my early years in Millville, but wasn't really old enough to be aware of the railroad until the early 1950s, so missed the third rail operations. As mentioned, it seemed to me my dad had said there'd been a third-rail in town, but with the haze of time, couldn't recall if that was actually what he'd told me.

It seems, then, that the third rail ran from Camden to Millville (no further south from there?), and also from Camden to Atlantic City for the line that cut-off at Newfield and ran through Mays Landing. Had these been the former Reading lines before PRSL was formed in 1933? Or were they former PRR? The maps I've seen suggest Pennsylvania, but I'm not sure.

Wish I'd been more confident of this information about fifteen years ago when I was debating third-rail operations with a nouveau railroad engineering company's representative who was sure that it was impossible to run third-rail through a grade crossing and that it had never been done. Was pretty confident I was right that it had been done (think the LIRR did it too), and in my home town, no less, but wasn't certain.
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby JJMDiMunno » Mon Jun 16, 2008 3:10 pm

Aireroscoe wrote:Thanks for the prompt replies...they were really most helpful.

Spent my early years in Millville, but wasn't really old enough to be aware of the railroad until the early 1950s, so missed the third rail operations. As mentioned, it seemed to me my dad had said there'd been a third-rail in town, but with the haze of time, couldn't recall if that was actually what he'd told me.

It seems, then, that the third rail ran from Camden to Millville (no further south from there?), and also from Camden to Atlantic City for the line that cut-off at Newfield and ran through Mays Landing. Had these been the former Reading lines before PRSL was formed in 1933? Or were they former PRR? The maps I've seen suggest Pennsylvania, but I'm not sure.

Wish I'd been more confident of this information about fifteen years ago when I was debating third-rail operations with a nouveau railroad engineering company's representative who was sure that it was impossible to run third-rail through a grade crossing and that it had never been done. Was pretty confident I was right that it had been done (think the LIRR did it too), and in my home town, no less, but wasn't certain.


You're correct on the routing of third rail operations, concerning Millville and AC. They were both PRR lines before the PRSL merger (they were both WJS trackage).

Generally if I recall, they'd just coast through most of the grade crossings along the route, but since Gloucester City had so many and they were so frequent, they couldn't do this here without the issue of stalling. So...hence the overhead (as mentioned by louisfols.

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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby Aireroscoe » Mon Jun 16, 2008 3:50 pm

Thanks once again...really appreciate it. Haven't been back there in many years...in the Midwest now.

They could make it through short gaps if the train were long enough to have at least one car make contact, of course, but on short trains, coasting would work too. Lots of contemporary third-rail systems operate today, PATH, subways, Lindenwald (I'm pretty sure) and such, and they get through the the gaps at switches just fine.

The point about Gloucester makes good sense, of course. Wonder why they didn't use pantographs instead of trolley poles? You'd think they'd have to stop to move the poles up and down, while pantographs would have been more easily raised and lowered. Perhaps they made the change at station stops, so it wasn't a big deal.

Back in the day, though, people were used to trolleys and their need to put poles up and down, so this probably didn't seem all that unusual.

Amazing how much you can learn on these forums and the help from everyone here has been wonderful. Thanks!!!
Last edited by Aireroscoe on Tue Jun 17, 2008 8:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby Steam man » Mon Jun 16, 2008 11:13 pm

Aireroscoe wrote: Wonder why they didn't use pantographs instead of trolley poles?


Cost and need determimed the use or trolley poles vs. pantographs. Hanging trolley wire is a lot cheaper as it requires much less infrastructure. For the short time the overhead wire was needed the trolley system worked just fine.
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby Aireroscoe » Tue Jun 17, 2008 8:04 am

Makes sense...thanks.

Besides Gloucester, were there trolley wires elsewhere?

And, is it the case that electrification ended at Millville (excluding the Atlantic City line from Newfield to Mays Landing, of course)?
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby Aireroscoe » Tue Jun 17, 2008 9:31 am

Did a bit more digging and although it's probably not news to any of those who've posted here, thought the following link to a discussion on the New York Subway group's site might be worthy of inclusion.

http://talk.nycsubway.org/perl/read?subtalk=163612

From the remarks there it seems the electrification was done in 1906. Apparently, at first, the third rail was not covered at all.

Mention is also made of there having originally been trolley wire in the Millville-Vineland area (later replaced by third rail), perhaps even before it having been installed in the Gloucester area.

It's also reported that the trolley poles were raised and lowered on the fly.

Great leads on all of this from those here...thanks again.
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby Gerry6309 » Tue Jun 17, 2008 11:11 am

Nowhere today is there more third rail operation through Grade Crossings than on the Chicago system. The outer ends of the Evanston, Ravenswood and Douglas lines are all at grade and cross numerous city streets. All crossings are protected fully with gates and signals, and trains operate at speed, with cars gapping out as they cross the streets. I believe ther is a sort of barrier raised when the gates are up to keep pedestrians (and vehicles) away from the 3rd rail. (and I am not talking about the Lionel Moderator! :) ).

The Subway in New York avoided grade crossings in third rail territory, but had one for many years at 105th St. on the L in Brooklyn. Boston and Philadelphia never allowed such crossings under any circumstances. The Long Island RR has such crossings but not at the frequency found in Chicago. I am unsure whether Metro North has any.

The North Shore Line on its Skokie Valley run featured some fancy footwork by the conductors who would raise or lower the pole at speed and then throw the changeover knife switch (often at the other end of the car) UNDER LOAD! (Hope he had sunglasses) There was about a mile of track with both power sources for this purpose, and hefty retrievers on the ropes to prevent too much damage if the pole was still up when the wire ended.
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby Aireroscoe » Wed Jun 18, 2008 3:05 pm

Wow! I had no idea there were a lot of third rail grade crossings still in use today. Will have to look for some pictures. Thanks so very much!
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby philipmartin » Sun Jul 13, 2008 5:39 pm

I was on the Camden riverfront a couple of years ago, near the battleship New Jersey, and I saw a display somewhere, with a photo of a fairly large PRR passenger terminal in Camden with third rail MP54 MUs. The whole thing was a complete surprise for this former Pennsy employee: third rail MP54s, large terminal, and where did they go? I've gotten some answers here, now.
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby chuchubob » Tue Sep 02, 2008 7:34 pm

Aireroscoe wrote:Wow! I had no idea there were a lot of third rail grade crossings still in use today. Will have to look for some pictures. Thanks so very much!

The Pink Line has several grade crossings near its terminal in Cicero.
The PRSL electric mu service was terminated abruptly when wooden passenger cars were outlawed. The mu's were replaced by steam briefly until the Budd RDC's arrived in 1950.
Express trains coasted through Gloucester without raising the trolley pole, but on the locals the conductor had to raise the pole while the train was moving, which wasn't easy.

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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby mojavejack » Sun May 08, 2011 3:57 pm

"The Subway in New York avoided grade crossings in third rail territory, but had one for many years at 105th St. on the L in Brooklyn. Boston and Philadelphia never allowed such crossings under any circumstances. The Long Island RR has such crossings but not at the frequency found in Chicago. I am unsure whether Metro North has any."

I recall riding out to the end of the line to see that grade crossing in Brooklyn. Back in those days it was the LL.

I fanned the former NYC Metro North lines quite a bit in the late '70s/early '80s. The only grade crossing I vaguely recall in electrified territory was a bit south of Croton-Harmon station on the Hudson Line. It was a rarely used road to some town land I think. There may have been one at North Croton at the south throat of the yard by the old depot on a RR access road. Don't recall if the 3rd rail went quite that far.

Back in those days, the 3rd rail ended at North White Plains on the Harlem Line. The territory north of there to Brewster had several grade crossings. Haven't been back since they extended the 3rd rail to Brewster so I don't know how they dealt with those.
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Re: Third Rail Passenger Operations

Postby edbear » Sun May 08, 2011 10:13 pm

New York State Railways, a subsidiary of the New York Central for some years, operated 3rd rail electric service on the New York Central's, very under utilized West Shore Route between Utica and Syracuse, NY, over 50 miles. Electrics provided all passenger service, but steam freight and milk trains also operated over the route. It was all double track and at some locations a third main track was added. There were crossings. Utica and Syracuse terminals were on street trackage and between the terminals and West Shore tracks, the electrics used trolley wire. Up until auto competition forced schedule reductions by the 1920s, there were hourly express schedules throughout the daytime hours and hourly locals up until about midnight. Expresses ran through. Locals left the West Shore at one side of Oneida, raised the shoes and raised the poles, operated on street trackage in Oneida and then dropped the shoes and poles and went back onto the West Shore upon completing the Oneida loop. NYS Rys. was spun off by the Central in late 1920s and abandoned the 3rd rail about 1930. Operation lasted about 20 years. Sacramento Northern was 3rd rail north of Sacramento and pantograph between Oakland and Sacramento. This was a heavy duty interurban that handled standard railroad freight cars with electric locomotives; passenger service was performed by interuban cars, usually with several cars per train. In the 3rd rail district, where there was street running the equipment used the pantograph on wire. The Bridge Railway, which operated over the train (lower) & truck deck of the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge was equipped with both overhead (1200 v) wire for SP's Interurban Electric Ry and 3rd rail (600 v) for Key System Transit Lines and Sacramento Northern Ry. While there apparently were not any public crossings on this state of the art line, Key and SN equipment did not have to stop to drop pantographs. A trackside device struck a rod on pantograph equipped equipment and caused the pantograph to lower automatically at speed (which wasn't all that high on the Bridge Ry).
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