IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - March/April 2015 - 80

signaling techniques. In the late 19th century, inductive coupling between wayside
and train-borne coils had been explored
for communication with trains in motion.
Railroad safety made the transmission of
signal indications to the engineers of moving trains a goal, and "cab" signals that
displayed indications to the engineers of
trains in motion were also explored. One
such concept was tested in 1915 by the
Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company on the
then new Fourth Avenue (Brooklyn)-Sea
Beach subway route. That effort required
the use of physical contacts under the
car and was abandoned after two years
of experiments. Within a decade, innovation in electronics made possible cab
signals that required only inductive coupling between track circuits and vehicle
receivers. Such were adopted by mainline
railroads and were subsequently federally mandated on interstate operations
where trains exceeded certain designated
speeds. Some rapid transit lines adopted
similar systems, most notably the Key
System of San Francisco. By contrast,
most rapid transit systems employed
conventional wayside signals in which
stop indications were enforced by trackmounted automatic stop mechanisms that
initiated an "emergency" brake application should a "stop" signal be violated.
Research and development in the
railroad signal field continued; two major developments were centralized track
control (CTC) and automated switching
and braking in freight yards. CTC allowed the consolidation of signal towers
to permit vastly increased efficiency in
traffic management, while yard automation facilitated car sorting in classification yards with greater efficiency and
reduced expense. After World War II,
continued development in electronics,
especially the use of two-way radio,
introduced new practices and further
improved operation. The next logical
step, remote control of train operation,
was explored, initially in terms of yardswitching locomotives to move freight
cars and then to automate the routing of
rapid transit trains.
The Union Switch & Signal Company
(US&S), a subsidiary of the Westinghouse
Air Brake Company with roots deep in the
80

ieee power & energy magazine

figure 1. Charles L. Patterson,
NYCTA chairman, circa 1955 (photo
from the collection of David M.
Rosenthal).

history of American railroads, perfected a
system known as IDeNTRA (IDeNtifcation of Trains and Routing Automatically).
IDeNTRA was an ingenious advancement
in state-of-the-art electronics. A passive
coil known as a "train-describer loop" was
mounted on the lead car, with the inductive
value selected by a switch on the coil. The
switch selected the inductive value that was
assigned to a particular route. Mounted
along the wayside were receivers consisting of an oscillator that energized a flat
plate, which were mounted such that the
train's coil would sweep within a few inches of the plate as the train passed. Inductive
coupling between the passive train coil and
the wayside receiver modulated the oscillator signal to a selected frequency in the
85-156 khz range, which actuated the
tuned circuit that aligned the desired route.
IDeNTRA was installed on rapid
transit properties in the United States
and elsewhere. In New York City, it was
installed on the Flushing (#7) route of
the IRT Division of the NYCTA. First
operated in 1956 to route rush-hour
express trains, two years later it was
placed in continuous 24-hour operation.
IDeNTRA also illuminated passenger
information signs and provided dispatchers with real-time check-in and
check-out of trains.

Remote Control Operation
Parallel to the successful development of
IDeNTRA, US&S continued to explore

similar principles to advance automatic
rail vehicle operation. It embarked on a
test in conjunction with the New York,
New haven and hartford Railroad in
1955. Code signals were transmitted
over the rails to an on-board receiver
that initiated train control functions. On
Thursday, 1 December 1955, railroad
President Patrick B. McGinnis operated
self-propelled electric car #4467 from a
control stand on the platform at Larchmont, New York.
McGinnis started the car at New Rochelle, New York, and ran it to Larchmont, where a contingent of 75 invited
reporters and industry officials boarded.
he then restarted it and ran it to Rye,
New York, from the control stand at
Larchmont. It was stopped at Rye and
then manually returned to Larchmont
by an on-board engineer. With news
and trade publication reporters on the
car, the event made headlines across the
nation. George W. Baughman, president
of US&S, cautioned that it was merely
a demonstration and that any automation would likely be restricted to freight
yard operation in the foreseeable future.
Still, he closed with the cryptic comment "We are not overlooking the New
York Subway."

An Executive Open
to New Methods
It happened that the NYCTA had been
reorganized in July 1955 with a new
chairman, the position to be filled by
a career railroad man at the specific
requirement of then New York City
Mayor Robert Wagner. Charles L. Patterson, a career railroad man with more
than 30 years of experience in mainline, commuter, and ore transport lines
was selected (see Figure 1). Patterson
espoused new technology eagerly once
it proved itself; his railroad experience
included the dieselization of steam lines,
the adoption of CTC signal systems, the
introduction of high-capacity freight
cars, and new maintenance and data
management practices. Upon taking
office in New York, he accelerated the
modernization of rolling stock, signals,
stations, yards, shops, and the expansion
of existing facilities.
march/april 2015



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IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - March/April 2015 - Cover3
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