Abandoned Rails

< Main Page

ACL Signals - The A-Line



The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad installed automatic block signals (ABS) on their double track mainline between Richmond, VA and Rocky Mount, NC in the late 1940's.  This resulted in the replacement of semaphores with the ACL's classic searchlight style signals that were manufactured by Union Switch & Signal.  These installations remained in place until the late 1980's when CSX decided to single track most of the North End Subdivision leaving only fragments of the second main in place as either passing sidings or long stretches of double track.  Crews began working on the project at Reams, near Petersburg, and progressed southward to Rocky Mount.  Fortunately the entire double track mainline between Petersburg and Richmond was left intact.   As a result of the downgrade, most of the ACL's vintage searchlight signals were removed from service.


On average the ACL installed intermediate signals approximately every two miles along the entire route between Richmond and Rocky Mount.  The line was setup for single direction ABS with the current of traffic operating on the right hand track.  This meant that the southbound signals were only installed for the southbound main and vice versa.  When CSX removed the double track, they installed bi-directional signals and upgraded the line to centralized traffic control (CTC). 


Thanks to many generous contributions, we are able to take a look back at many of these signal installations.  If you have any information or photographs that you'd like to contribute, please contact me at jl.hawkins@comcast.net.


Chester, VA (A12.6)


The last set of ACL signals in Virginia were located just south of Richmond in Chester.  Here we see Amtrak 79 splitting the searchlights which were replaced in late summer 2005.  The area to the left of the train has been developed into a retirement community. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (November 6, 2004)



Appomattox River (A23.3)


This southbound SCL manifest is coming off the Appomattox River Bridge in Petersburg just two years after the ACL-SAL merger.  The lead engine is on the bridge spanning the former SAL mainline just west of Commerce Street Station. To the right of the engine is the signal guarding the interlocking where the line goes to single track at the river. 


Photo by Walt Gay (August 1969)



BX Tower (A25.5)


A northbound extra is pulling it's train out of the yard lead at BX Tower which is just out of view behind the locomotives.  The signal protected a set of crossovers that were located here. 


Photo by Walt Gay (August 1969)




Collier Yard (A27.0)


This intermediate signal was located at Collier Yard at the 27 milepost.  The top photo is looking north sometime in the 1950's.  Note the coaling tower visible in the distance behind the signal.  In the image above, a northbound SCL train passes Collier Yard on it's way to Richmond. 


Top: Photo by J.I. Kelly - Old Dominion Chapter NRHS Collection (Date Unknown)


Bottom: Photo by Walt Gay (July 7, 1969)




Rowanty Swamp (A39.2/39.3)


Situated just over two miles south of Carson, Virginia were these intermediate signals.  The 39.2 signal has an additional signal head added due to the fact that the double track was in the process of being removed.  This additional aspect allowed the 39.2 signal to temporarily serve as the distant signal to the north end of double track at the Carson interlocking, just over a mile north of here.


Photos by Vernon Hobbs (Circa late 1980's)



Stony Creek, VA (A43.4)


Vernon Hobbs was in position to capture CSX signal crews removing the A43.4 intermediate signal. 


Photos by Vernon Hobbs (Circa late 1980's)





Stony Creek, VA (A43.5)


Vernon Hobbs, a long-time resident of Stony Creek, captured the above sequence of photos throughout the 1980's of the 43.5 intermediate signal in downtown Stony Creek. 


Photos by Vernon Hobbs (Circa late 1980's)



Jarratt, VA (A53.2)


Situated 53 miles south of Richmond is the Town of Jarratt where the ACL and the Virginian Railway's Norfolk to Roanoke mainline crossed at grade.  The diamond was removed just a few years before this photo was taken when the N&W abandoned the former Virginian between Algren and Abilene in 1986.  The brick structure to the left of the mainline was the Virginian's station in Jarratt.  It was built in the mid-1950's to replace the previous station which was destroyed by fire.  The southbound signal can be seen on the opposite side of the tracks just a bit to the north.  When originally installed, these signals had two heads, both offset to the left side of the pole and would have protected the diamond.  As with the 39.2 signal, the lower aspect on the northbound signal seen in this photo was added during the single tracking project which was in full swing at the time this photo was taken.  As a result, the double track now ends two miles north of Jarratt at the A51 milepost.  The siding in the immediate foreground was the house track for the ACL's passenger station in Jarratt.   


Photo by Vernon Hobbs (Circa late 1980's)



Emporia, VA (A62.6)


In downtown Emporia the ACL encountered another crossing at grade with a railroad.  Here it was the Norfolk, Franklin, and Danville Railroad as seen in this view looking north from the E. Atlantic Avenue grade crossing.  The diamond is visible in the distance adjacent to the interlocking tower.  The southbound main (to the left) is now the single-track mainline through town.  Also note the northbound signal is lined clear for a northbound movement.  Today the diamond sees train of CSX and Norfolk Southern cross here while the tower has been demolished.  To see another view of the tower, diamond, and signal, click here


Photo by Vernon Hobbs (Circa late 1980's)



Trego, VA (A66.6)


The infamous "666" signal just north of Trego. 


Photo by Vernon Hobbs (Circa late 1980's)



Garysburg, NC (A79.9)


A side profile of the southbound signal for #1 track at Garysburg. 


Photo by Vernon Hobbs (Circa late 1980's)



Garysburg, NC (A80.0)


Looking north at the Garysburg crossovers.  This interlocking was located just north of the Oak Street grade crossing in Garysburg and was removed when the line was single tracked.  Today's Garysburg interlocking is located just over a mile north of this location and is the north end of the double track between Garysburg and North Weldon. 


Photo by Vernon Hobbs (Circa late 1980's)



Weldon, NC (A83.6)


Just south of the Roanoke River Bridge in Weldon was an interlocking tower of similar design to those at FA and Emporia (BX was of different architecture).  The speeder was used by the lead signal maintainer who also happened to be the mayor of Weldon. 


Photo by John Jones - Bobby Hamill Collection (Circa 1979)



YD (A123.2)


At the south end of Rocky Mount Yard was the interlocking of YD.  To the best of my knowledge and that of other ACL experts, YD was the telegraph code for Yard.  In addition to a pair of mainline crossovers, YD also controlled two switching leads that joined into the northbound main track.  Each set of mainline signals were located on signal bridges while the signals for the switching leads were mounted on poles with three searchlight heads a piece.  All the signals at YD were replaced in mid-August 2012. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (October 8, 2005)



Elm City (A128.2)


While not physically located in the Town of Elm City, this signal bridge was always referred to as such by train crews.  This installation stood one mile north of town approximately 200' north of the US 301 overpass.  Note how the signal heads are mounted below the bottom horizontal beam to allow approaching trains to see the aspects below the highway bridge on which the photographer is standing.  When this structure was erected in the 1940's, the overpass didn't exist.  It was constructed years later in conjunction with the realignment of US 301 to bypass downtown Elm City.  Prior to the new road being built, there was a grade crossing just beyond the signal bridge approximately where the defect detector is seen in the distance.  Ultimately CSX replaced this installation in 2007 with a pair of bi-directional Safetrans pole signals.


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (September 13, 2002)



South Elm City (A130.5)


Just over a mile south of Elm City was the interlocking of South Elm City which consisted of a pair of crossovers, a configuration that dates back to the late 1940's.  The northbound signal bridge (seen above) was removed from service in mid-August 2012.  There used to be another signal bridge at the opposite end of the interlocking on which the southbound signals were mounted.  That structure was the casualty of a derailment in the late 1980's and was replaced with pole signals with searchlight heads which still stand. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 13, 2012)




Wilson-NS (A136.5)


The purpose of the signals at the Wilson-NS interlocking were to protect the diamond where the ACL crossed the Norfolk Southern Railway at grade.  When the ACL signals fell on August 12, 2003, the northbound signal bridge was not replaced.  Instead the new northbound signals at South Wilson will now control northbound movements across the diamond as the two interlockings have been combined into one.  The cantilever signal bridge was replaced by a pair of pole signals.  It should also be noted that the cantilever signal bridge itself a replacement.  When the ACL originally installed searchlight signals through here in the 1940's, the southbound signals were mounted on a signal bridge. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 26, 2013)  (April 16, 2005)




South Wilson (A137.1)


The signals governing movement at South Wilson were strictly northbound in orientation.  The aspects on the old signal bridge applied to the No. 1 mainline track and the yard lead.  A separate pole signal for the No. 2 mainline was located on the north side of the US 301 overpass.  The signal bridge was replaced by a cantilever signal that controls both mainline tracks.  The ACL signals at South Wilson were removed from service on August 12, 2013 and all of the new signals have been incorporated into the newly created Wilson interlocking, designated as A136.9. 


Both photos by Jeff Hawkins (April 26, 2013)





Contentnea (A139.0)


Named for Contentnea Creek which passes under the mainline between the signal bridges, Contentnea was one of the most photographed locations on the South End Subdivision.  Between 1885 and 1892 the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad constructed the Fayetteville Cutoff between Wilson, NC and Pee Dee, SC.  Contentnea was the northern junction of the cutoff and the original mainline to Wilmington, NC.  The Fayetteville Cutoff was constructed in three phases: Contentnea to Fayetteville (1885-1886), Pee Dee, SC to Rowland, NC (1886-1888) and Fayetteville to Rowland (1892). Today the cutoff route is CSX's mainline between Rocky Mount, NC and Florence, SC. 


The old mainline remains active with the tracks in place as far south as Wallace, NC.  The line between Contentnea and Wallace is known as the CSX W&W Subdivision, a nod to the railroad that constructed the line in 1840, the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad.  When completed, the W&W was the longest railroad in the world at 161.5 miles in length.  The W&W was merged into the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad on April 21, 1900. 


Both signals bridges were removed from service on August 12, 2013.  The pole signal that governed northbound movements off the W&W Subdivision was also replaced.  In fact, the aspects for the W&W Sub along with both mainline tracks have all been incorporated into the new northbound cantilever signal bridge.  During the steam era a pair of water tanks were located on the east side of the mainline just north of Contentnea Creek. 


It should be noted that Contentnea, along with the other signal bridges between here and Rocky Mount, retained their smoke shields until the very end.  The shields are the large panels mounted beneath the structure above each track.


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (Top photo - April 27, 2013, middle and bottom photos - April 13, 2012)




South Contentnea (A141.0)


In 1961 the ACL began removing sections of double track between Rocky Mount, NC and Savannah, GA.  The first segment to be lifted was a nearly six mile stretch south of Wilson.  The new interlocking at the north end of the single track was located at milepost 141 and was named South Contentnea.  September 22, 2013 marked the end of service for the ACL signals here.


Both photos by Jeff Hawkins (July 5, 2003)



Kirby Hill (A148.8/148.9)


The area where NC 581 crosses the former ACL mainline several miles north of Kenly has been known as both Boyette and Kirby's Crossing dating back to the early 20th Century.  Both names are derived from prominent local families.  There was once a small town built around the railroad crossing that was named Boyette.  It is interesting to note that the area was spelled Boyette in ACL track charts and labeled as Boyett on topographical maps for many decades.  During the early 1900's Mr. Ranson Pitts Kirby owned and operated a lumber mill and cotton gin here.  A small siding was once located on the west side of the mainline to accommodate the local businesses.  It is unknown whether a passenger and/or freight station was ever located here.   


Prior to the double track being removed in 1961 there were intermediate signals located a half mile to the north and south of the crossing.  It was at this time the signal bridge was erected to govern traffic over the reconfigured double track between Aycock and Kenly.  Aycock was named for Mr. Charles Aycock, the former North Carolina Governor (1901-05) who was born in nearby Fremont.  The new signal installation was named Kirby Hill in homage of the aforementioned Kirby family.  The hill aspect of the name comes from the fact that a half mile north of the signal bridge is the crest of a long grade for trains in both directions.  The climb to Kirby Hill for both north and southbound trains is approximately four miles long. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 13, 2012)



Kenly (A151.0)


Kenly is a small town located in northern Johnston County and is named for John Reese Kenly, an employee of the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad.  Mr. Kenly spent a great deal of time in the area when the W&W was laying track through Johnston County in 1886.  Because of his tenure here, Mr. Kenly had become a well respected by the locals.  When the town was incorporated in 1887, the decision was made to name it Kenly in honor of the man who helped bring prosperity to the area.  Today Kenly marks the south end of the double track that extends northward to Aycock.  The ACL signals were installed in 1961 and removed from service on September 22, 2013.  The photo above shows Kenly prior to the removal of the code line poles.  Today the trees along the east side of the mainline have grown taller than the signal bridge.  Note the signal bridge at Kirby Hill visible at the top of the grade over two miles away.    


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 5, 2003)



South Micro (A157.9)


South Micro is the north end of a six and a half mile stretch of double track that extends south to North Smithfield (A164.4).  The northbound signal bridge and southbound pole signal were replaced on January 20, 2014. 


Top photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 28, 2013)

Bottom photo by Jeff Hawkins (July 5, 2003)



North Selma (A160.0)


The North Selma interlocking was created in 1961 when the ACL was removing sections of double track and reconfiguring existing sections.  North Selma fell under the latter when double crossovers were installed here.  The crossovers are utilized extensively Amtrak trains 79 and 80.  Both signals bridges fell on January 20, 2014. 


Photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 16, 2005)




Selma & Selma Connection (A160.9)


There are two separate interlockings at Selma where the ACL crossed the Southern Railway at grade.  Just north of the passenger station is Selma Connection which facilitates the movement of four Amtrak trains daily between CSX and Norfolk Southern rails.  Trains 79, 80, 91 and 92 only operate west to Raleigh and north to Richmond from Selma, which itself is a schedule stop for all of the aforementioned trains.  Amtrak service to Selma was established on October 31, 1982 when the Palmetto began calling here.  On the CSX side of the connection a trio of SCL tri-light signals governed train movement until being replaced by Safetrans hardware on January 20, 2014. 


Visible in the bottom photo is the northbound cantilever signal bridge that stood until it was replaced sometime between February and July 2008.  The southbound signals were replaced in 1999 by the Safetrans cantilever signal bridge seen in the above photo.  Prior to that the southbound signal configuration was comprised of a single track cantilever signal for Track 2 and a unique cantilever signal for Track 1 that was mounted atop the station platform.  Click here for a photo.  This same structure had semaphores mounted on it prior to the searchlight signals being installed in the late 1940's. 


It should be noted that the passenger station was built in 1924 as a joint construction project by the Atlantic Coast Line and Southern.  The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 24, 1982.  In 2002 a $3.2-million renovation was completed on the structure.  To see a 2001 view of the station and general area prior to the renovation, click here


The white building seen in the left side of the top photo is the Atlantic Coast Line freight station.  I do not know it's exact build date, however I have seen a photo of it from the 1930's.   



Top photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 14, 2012)

Bottom photo by Jeff Hawkins (April 16, 2005)




North Smithfield (A164.4) - South Godwin (A194.6)


Signals between and including North Smithfield and South Godwin were deactivated on Monday, June 9, 2014.  The signal suspension began at 0800 hours.  Included Four Oaks, South Four Oaks, Alaska, North Dunn, South Dunn and Kay. 




Copyright 2002- | Jeff Hawkins

All copyrights are the property of their respective owners.