Day in and day out, railroad signals provide routing and guide countless trains across the tracks safely.
Unique designs - position lights, searchlights, semaphores, and more - dot the landscape, each shining different colours and arrangements as they show trains just where and how fast they can safely go.
Railroad signals that have stood the test of time for countless decades, guiding untold thousands of trains, are being quickly taken down and replaced by modern signals at an alarming rate. These pieces of history will all be gone before we know it, making their documentation more important than ever before.
These are the vintage signals, unique industrial architecture, that continue to shine the way ahead every day - if they haven't been taken apart already.
US&S R2 & P5 Signals - "Traffic Light" Style
Shaped like your standard traffic light, the R and P series signals are some of the most famous types of signals out there. Their numbers have dwindled to a few isolated holdouts along, such as portions of the old Illinois Central (P5) and the CSX Big Sandy subdivision (R2). Modern signals - SafeTrans and "Vaders" are still based on these today, though they lack the style of their old Union Switch & Signal parents.
US&S Color Position Lights (N&W & PRR-style)
Almost identical to the Pennsylvania Railroad's famous Position Lights, the Norfolk & Western's Color Position Lights (CPL) are functionally identical, with the exception of the lights colours - the PRR used only yellow, N&W used red, green, and yellow! These signals have been torn down in many former N&W territories, with their last major holdout being the Shenandoah Valley between Front Royal and Roanoke, VA - but even these are being taken apart as we speak. Before long, the N&W CPL will be little more than a memory in museums and private collections.
US&S/GRS Color Position Lights (B&O)
Regarded as "the most complete signal system" and one of the most well known, the B&O was the sole host of the original Color Position Light (CPL) signal. Formerly manufactured by GRS and later US&S, the CPLs are some of the most complex, having four colours (red, yellow, green, and even white! [known as Lunar]) and multiple marker lamps that extend up, down, left, and right of the signal head. The B&O CPL has become a rarity thanks to CSX, but many exist on the CSX Toledo and Indiana subdivisions - for now, as the latter is quickly set to become a target for replacement.
US&S H5 Searchlights
Arguably the most popular and familiar signal was the Searchlight, of which many variations existed but all shared the same characteristics - each head displayed one light at a time, with an internal mechanism to change those colours (which included all four: red, yellow, green, and white/lunar!). Stacked as high as 3 heads on 20ft masts and as low as single headed tiny 2ft dwarfs, the searchlight could be found in all corners of the nation - and even across the border! They are the most numerous vintage signal left anywhere, though the H5-type (the largest and heaviest) is the rarest - only some former Wabash territory, notably the NS Bloomington District, remain home for these mammoth signals.
If ever there was a most famous signal type, it was the semaphore. Most widely known for its use in the era of steam, the semaphore is a heavily mechanical signal, with a painted arm that moves up and down to different positions to signify its meaning. The motor and moving parts were the downfall of the semaphore, however, as their failure was expensive, thus the semaphore was replaced by color-light signals early in the 20th century. However, though most were replaced by the 1950s, a handful of holdouts remain today - but their numbers are exceptionally few. With the last division to still roster them currently seeing the signals be replaced, it is likely there are less than twenty of them in active service nationwide.