July 2014 Union Strike

A tentative deal between the MTA and LIRR Unions to avert a July Strike has been reached. See this post for more information.

Friday, August 30

The Leaning Tower of Patchogue

(Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
In Wednesday's Interlocking Walkthrough of PD interlocking, I briefly mentioned PD tower, a signal tower that stood on the grounds of PD interlocking from the early 1910's until 2006.  Today's post will go more into PD tower and some of the interesting things about it towards the end of its life.  This map shows the former location of PD tower.

During its peak, PD tower controlled movements through Y, PD, MS, and SK interlockings.  The tower also had authority over the whole Montauk Branch east of Speonk, which was (and still is) Manual Block Territory.

(Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
PD tower was originally constructed in the 1910's near the Ocean Avenue grade crossing to protect LIRR trains and Suffolk Traction Company streetcars from colliding into each other at this point where they intersected.  PD tower also served as the control center for the entire Suffolk Traction Company when it was in service.

The Suffolk Traction Company had a small streetcar line that ran from Patchouge (more specifically, Patchogue Dock from which the tower gets its name) to Holtsville.  There was also a smaller branch that connected Patchogue with places like Bayport, Blue Point, and Sayville.
(Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)

The trolly service had aspirations of going all the way to Port Jefferson, however financial troubles caused the company to cease operations in 1919.  Much of the ROW was left abandoned and has since been sold off to different developers.

The former route of the Suffolk Traction Company would make an ideal light rail line thees days (as north-south intra-island travel is badly lacking).  A Patchouge-Holtsville-(McCarthur Airport)-Stony Brook/Port Jefferson link of some sort would do wonders for the economy of Suffolk County.  But that's a topic for another day.

PD Tower in 1943 (Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
Today's topic of discussion is PD tower.  The tower first went into service on May 29, 1912.  When it was only a few years old the tower's mechanisms were updated.

When the Suffolk Traction Company went out of service in 1919 the tower was retained for LIRR use.  It stayed pretty much the same into the 1970's when the LIRR did some updating of the controls and such of the tower.  The LIRR replaced the former 20-lever Saxby & Farmer switch machine with an electrical control panel in 1991.

PD Tower, next to the famed Cannonball in 1972.
(Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
However, towards the end of the structure's 94-year life, PD tower developed some structural issues.  Particularly, the tower leaned a little bit to the south.  The lean wasn't all that large, but it was noticeable.  I am not sure if the tower's structural condition posed an immediate risk to anyone, I don't think it did
since the LIRR continued to use the tower for many years after the lean developed.

The tower was dubbed "The Leaning Tower of Patchogue" to personify the tower's structural tilt.  Since the tower leaned away from the tracks, if it randomly toppled over one day it wouldn't squash more than a few cars.

PD tower was also one of the very last towers in North America that regularly "hooped" up train orders to engineers.  Basically, if the tower had special instructions to the engineer, they would be written down and placed in this hoop.  When the train would pass the tower, the tower operator would stick out the hoop and the engineer or conductor would reach out of the window and grab the orders off the hoop.

It gave a new definition to "keep all hands inside the train at all times."  I'm not exactly sure what would happen if the engineer missed the hoop and couldn't snatch the papers.  I guess the conductor would be leaning out standing by to serve as a backup if nescescary.

While hooping was once a widespread practice all over North America, over time railroads had phased the operation out in favor of more practical methods of delivering train orders.

While not taken at PD tower, the below video shows what hooping train orders up really looks like:

(Video Credit: You Tube User Jersey Mike's Rail Videos)

But PD's days were numbered.  In 2006 the interlocking was completely renewed.  All of the signals and switches were completely replaced.  The age-old position light signals gave way to new tri-color light signals.

PD tower with its new and old signals
during the signal replacement program.
(Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
And as the railroad tried to begin to centralize its operations, the prospect of perhaps fixing the lean and other structural issues that existed with PD tower grew dimmer by the day.  It just wasn't worth it to fix PD tower when we could just close it and do everything from BABYLON.

Not only would the railroad be relieved of the burden of operating and maintaining a structurally deficient tower, but it also wouldn't have to pay another tower operator.

So in early 2006 the LIRR went ahead with the decision to close PD tower.

On May 8, 2006--just short of its 94th birthday, PD Tower was taken out of service.  Control over Y, PD, MS, and SK interlockings was handed over to BABYLON tower.

And on August 22, 2006, PD tower met its end.  The tower was razed and replaced with a bunch of flowers.  Below are some photos from demolition day courtesy of Patchogue Ticket Agent Terry Peluso, Dave Morrison (the former Branch Line Manager) and Trains Are Fun.com.

PD Tower a week before demolition (Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
(Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
(Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
(Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
What remained of PD Tower. (Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
The former site of PD Tower. (Photo credit: Trains Are Fun.com)
It's always sad when railroad infrastructure gets demolished because in these days there is very little, if any, chance of getting it back.

Unfortunately, most of the LIRR's remaining towers will go the way PD did over the coming decades.  There was once a day when the LIRR relied on its towers to run the railroad.  These days, more and more things on the railroad can be done with a few clicks of a mouse that is miles and miles away.

Centralization of the railroad is either a good or bad thing.  Each person has their own views on weather or not the entire railroad should be controlled from one place or not.  Is redundancy a good thing or a waste of money?  Is it wise to put all of our eggs in one basket or is it more efficient that way?  This will be an ongoing debate that will take place over the next years as the LIRR continues to renovate and update interlockings.


  1. A copy of the train orders would go to the engineer and conductor (so there are 2 copies). If the engineer missed it, he'd have to stop the train and pick them up. If the conductor missed it, he'd just read the engineer's copy. In the video, he's handing the conductor his copy (I'm guessing because he's so close) and he's holding 2 forks/hoops.

  2. I was an Op, Train dispatcher and Chief for the LIRR. You talked about hooping orders and PD was not a big issue because most trains stopped and the operator could walk down and give it to the engr or the ones that didn't stop weren't going too fast. Now B Tower, that was a fun hoop. Trains would be going 30-40 mph and you had to stand on a platform in the middle of the switch to the central branch. Lord help you if you accidentally reversed that switch as the signal aspect was the same for Main line or central. You would have to dive for cover in that case.

  3. Oops thought the first didn't take, Sorry


Stay updated with The LIRR Today on Social Media!