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Double Barreled: 1910

Detroit circa 1910. "Approach to the Michigan Central Railroad tunnel." Another view of the electrified tracks going under the Detroit River. 8x10 inch glass negative. View full size.

Detroit circa 1910. "Approach to the Michigan Central Railroad tunnel." Another view of the electrified tracks going under the Detroit River. 8x10 inch glass negative. View full size.


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Lowdown on raised rails

Steamcrane's description is largely correct -- save for the chronology (the tendency was away from "Darwinian" uncovered rails, not toward them) -- but the ones shown here were peculiar to the New York Central (the Michigan Central was a NYC property); they were developed in connection with the Grand Central Terminal electrification, where they provided an extra margin of safety in the congested and dark underground trackwork.

Early Safety Feature

Follow up on Notcom's comment. Yes, my chronology is a bit shaky. I was thinking of B+O Howard Street Tunnel, which switched from overhead conduit to overrunning 3rd rail with halfhearted wood protection in 1903, slightly before Grand Central was electrified with covered underrunning, Wilgus patented 1908. There are at present a lot of miles of Darwinian exposed 3rd rail on metro and subway systems, notably in Chicago and the London area. Used to be entertaining to pace trains along the Dan Ryan at night.
- - - - -
The third rails which supply power to the electric locomotives are "under running". The contact face of the third rail faces downward, with an inverted "U" shaped insulating wooden cover over the top of the rail. The locomotive contact shoes slide on the underside of the rail, held up against it with springs. This theoretically makes it harder for people or animals to accidentally touch the rail. Note that the diverging part of the rail at the far right angles up slightly, to allow the approaching contact shoes to slip under the rail rather than stubbing against the side of it. Tolerances to make all this work were tight, so the beams that held the third rail shoes were mounted to move with the axles, rather than the sprung part of the truck.

Alternatively, third rail electrified railroads used an exposed "overrunning" third rail, with the contact shoes riding on top of it. An intermediate safety step was an overrunning rail, but with a small wooden roof above it. Some metro systems went full Darwin, overrunning with no cover, to separate the careless.

There was an old story about a trainman that slipped and touched the 3rd rail. Turns out he was a good Conductor.

Electrified 2

Those conduits next to the track? I think not. You need a smoother surface to carry the current collectors. Thos conduits probably carry signal cabling.

[You are misinformed! See above. And below. - Dave]

Tunnel Portal Location

From the Bagley Street overpass you can see the tunnel portal on the right side of the photo. Looking East along Bagley there are buildings visible in downtown Detroit. If you check out the nearby neighbourhood of Corktown on Google street view you will find an area of well maintained heritage homes.

Afraid of the dark.

In the late 50s, early 60s, i went through these tunnels many times. My parents would put me on a CNR train at the beautiful station in Detroit (yes, the one that has been derelict for many years) and send me to London, Ont. or Toronto to visit family we had there. Both my parents were from Canada.

I remember entering the tunnels and it was pitch black, or so it seemed to me. I don't recall any light inside the coaches, but I assume there were some for night travel. They probably didn't get turned on for the short trip through the tunnel, but I didn't think it was so short.

Locomotive Wheel Arrangement

Can't quite determine the Whyte Notation for the locomotive. Appears to be a very short engine.

Leave the Tunnel Immediately!

I recommend you skip to about 2:50. You can see the notches they put in the left tunnel to clear autoracks.
Industrial History blog:

The wrong side of the tracks

Dammit man, I knew we needed to be on the other side to catch the 10:45!


What carries the current here?

[Those giant conduits next to the rails. - Dave]

Lettuce have some

Royal Salad Dressing.

Original Smoke

At least this smoke looks as if it is not retouched.

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