Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

Moderators: JamesT4, metraRI

  by doepack
Pretty cool pic of the switch heaters at work within A2 interlocking, flames and all...
  by justalurker66
Agreed ... that picture is cool - as well as being hot. :)
  by F40CFan
Nice, I always loved the way that looks.

The new switch heaters like they have around B17 are no fun; no flames.
  by jogden
I like the look of the flaming switch heaters, although honestly I think I might be nervous about running a train over them, particularly one carrying hazardous materials! I realize that few to none of those would operate on the pictured piece of track though.

Does anyone know why the flaming switch heaters are used, as opposed to the "flameless?" Are there any major benefits to the flames, or is it just a matter of them being the only thing available for the more complex track work, like that pictured?
  by Milwaukee_F40C
I have only witnessed this sight once, riding a train.

One advantage might be that the burners only require the pressurized gas to keep working once lit, while a ducted heater probably requires a power supply and blower to be functioning. Another advantage might be that the direct heat from the flame right on the rail keeps everything warmer. Disadvantage is probably efficiency.
  by EricL
I would suspect that the reason they are that way is simply that the interlocking plant dates to the pre-WWII era. Of course modifications have been made to the interlocking over time, but so far as switch heaters go, what A-2 has is basically a big set of "automatic tallow pots". Piped-in gas that has to be lit by hand, with a torch, at each outlet. With as situation like this, it's difficult to imagine that the heating system has been substantially updated since installation? I of course defer to any ferroequinologists who may be able to provide better details.

There are several more modern varieties of switch heaters available today. The typical expected installation is on a simple control point, with one heater per switch; but with a little creative custom engineering, most any of the modern stuff could be made to work on a complex plant like A-2. The real crux of the issue is: what would the point be to lay out all that money to make such a changeover? The only real difference with the modern stuff is that the operator/dispatcher can turn the heaters on/off with the push of a button. At A2, this isn't much of a concern, since you're pretty much always going to want a full-time maintainer there anyway (to quickly take care of ANY problems that crop up). Reliability certainly isn't 100% on the modern heaters, either. They still suffer common pitfalls like blown-out pilot lights, faulty thermostats, failed ignitors, failed blower fans, code-line failure, etc. etc....

I certainly advocate for the elimination of the A2 crossing in favor of a flyover. This was not my previous opinion, but however, in just the past year, it has become very apparent to me just how long-in-the-tooth that this operation has become. I have been going over A2 as either a passenger or employee for almost ten years now, and I can NEVER remember the place being as maintenance-intensive (and therefore: delay-filled) as it has been this past year. And I mean - YEAR - not just the current/past winter.

With reference to Mr. Jogden's concern : while it is rare indeed that ANY freight movement goes across A-2; there are no special equipment restrictions in place solely account of the switch heating "devices". Really, too, no matter what kind of car it is - the flames produced by the heaters will almost never reach as high as the level of the top of a wheel. While a good deal of freight used to move through this interlocking "back in the day" - mostly boxcars bound for the downtown freight houses - today, there are only two movements which are commonplace: the occasional switch of the Blommer Chocolate Co. by UPRR, and the 5-per-week switch of ADM-Ogden Ave by the NS (descendants of the PRR, which surely once held the contract for same). The only tank cars going across A-2 are the occasional cars of corn syrup.