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Utility Poles along railroads

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  • Member since
    February 2001
  • From: East Lansing, MI, US
  • 223 posts
Utility Poles along railroads
Posted by GerFust on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 9:09 AM
As I drove to work today I noticed something you don't see very often. Along the railroad was utility poles, each with an amazing number of cross bars carrying several wires each. These used to be more common than they are today.

So, my questions are...

What were/are that plenitude of wires for?
Was it public utilities?
Was it part of the railroad control or communication system?
When did their use start to decline?
When did their use begin?
How is the function they serve/served handled today?

I general, in what period would you model so many wires?

Thank you,
Jer
[ ]===^=====xx o o O O O O o o The Northern-er (info on the layout, http://www.msu.edu/~fust/)
  • Member since
    January 2001
  • From: Guelph, Ont.
  • 1,476 posts
Posted by BR60103 on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 11:40 PM
Hi Jer.
We generally think of those as "telegraph poles". Up until the '60s or '70s the railroads used the telegraph intensively or even exclusively for internal communications and also sold the service to the public. Each wire represented a circuit (the common "ground" was literally the ground). Each station would have an operator who would have to take messages and copy train orders to give to the crews. The number of wires could represent either various combinations of stations or parallel conversations. I think that a lot of train orders went out on a common wire that all the operators could listen to.
I don't know if signals were carried on the same wires or not.
Today, most of the train orders are sent by radio; all the train order operators are gone and the dispatcher dictates the opders directly to the crew.

--David

  • Member since
    August 2003
  • From: Midtown Sacramento
  • 3,302 posts
Posted by Jetrock on Thursday, November 20, 2003 4:07 AM
In most places I've seen, utility poles follow the railroad. They carry communications wires (originally telegraph, later telephone) but also power and data lines for those grade crossings and signals. On electric railways, power lines paralleled the routes carrying high-voltage AC to substations to be converted to DC. The DC trolley wires would have their own arm at trolley-pole level, of course.

Before the common use of radio in trains there would also be telephone stations along the line for use by train crews, adding more lines.

On my Amtrak trips I almost invariably see utility poles out the window of the train, even in high desert and mountains. The utility poles in Colorado along the mountainsides seem like an adventure to reach in themselves--they often jut out of the sharp cliff face at weird angles and a lineman would literally be suspended out in space hundreds of feet off the ground when working on the line!

The telegraph's development was about the same time as railroads--even the earliest railroad lines would have a telegraph pole, most likely just a simple pole with a couple of lines. They'd probably be at their "sproutiest" in the first half of the 20th Century, with underground cable and radio reducing their number in the present day--but they're certainly still around.
  • Member since
    February 2001
  • From: East Lansing, MI, US
  • 223 posts
Posted by GerFust on Thursday, November 20, 2003 12:27 PM
Thank you both, this is very helpful.

-Jer
[ ]===^=====xx o o O O O O o o The Northern-er (info on the layout, http://www.msu.edu/~fust/)
  • Member since
    January 2001
  • From: Guelph, Ont.
  • 1,476 posts
Posted by BR60103 on Thursday, November 20, 2003 10:37 PM
One really sneaky little modelling point, because of induction or something, the wires did not stay in the same position for many poles in a row -- there would be a little exchange of a few wires every half mile (??) or so. This was visible as you passed in the train.
Also, the height of the wires above ground would be low -- just out of reach of teenage boys -- to save money on wood. Across the prairies you could watch the poles and every road or farm access they would rise high enough to clear vehicles and go back to low level.

--David

  • Member since
    March 2002
  • From: Athens, GA
  • 549 posts
Posted by Dough on Saturday, November 22, 2003 1:17 AM
Wow this is a really interesting topic, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Where I grew up, it was hard to even find reminents of these poles. For some reason they were just all gone on the NS line. However since I moved I'm in CSX territory, and they are everywhere. And as was said above, the are half the height of regular telephone poles in many locations. I was just wondering about that today. Of course most of the lines have long since fallen, but the poles are hangin in their in many places.

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