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Wednesday, September 25

Interlocking Walkthrough: QUEENS

QUEENS interlocking, located across Queens and Nassau Counties on the Mainline is a key interlocking on the Mainline.  QUEENS interlocking marks the beginning of four-track territory on the mainline.  QUEENS interlocking is also the official breaking off point for the Hempstead Branch, which runs parallel to the mainline for a distance before turning south after Floral Park.

To start us off, here's the diagram of QUEENS interlocking:

As you can see the interlocking is quite expansive, it comes in just short of a mile in total length (running inbetween MP's 13 and 14).   This interlocking lies inbetween Bellerose and Queens Village stations.  Here's a bird's eye view of the location..

For the purposes of this interlocking tour, I'm going to explain QUEENS in terms of various routes through the interlocking.  There are two main routes that trains take through the interlocking, the mainline route (trains going to or coming off the two-track mainline) and the Hempstead Branch route (trains going to or coming off the two-track Hepmstead Branch).

We'll start with the Mainline, the routes that eastbound and westbound trains typically take through the interlocking is indicated in red:

The focus on this route goes to the very eastern end of QUEENS interlocking, right next to Bellerose station.  At this point, right after the interlocking begins, there is a pair of switches from the northern two tracks to the center tracks.  The switches are almost right next to each other.

The main purpose of these two switches is to take trains from the two mainline tracks and bring them to the two center (express) tracks going towards Jamaica.  The idea is that since 99% of trains (all but one) from the Mainline and the Oyster Bay, Port Jefferson, and Central Branches don't make stops at Queens Village and Hollis, then the majority of trains would be unaffected by being moved to the middle tracks.  This, meantime, opens up room on the outer two (local) tracks for Hempstead Branch trains.

The northernmost of these two switches was the switch which malfunctioned during the morning rush two Wednesday's ago and caused havoc on the Mainline.

Setups like this are not all that uncommon on rail systems across the region, but since the LIRR has very few stretches of quadruple tracking (the Mainline between QUEENS and HAROLD being the only practical example), we don't see all that many examples of these situations on the LIRR in particular.

Photo of the western part of QUEENS interlocking.
While most trains follow the pattern of the red lines above, there are many that do not.  In the morning rush, when the Mainline needs the added capacity and the Hempstead Branch does not, the LIRR will send quite a few trains down track three (the westbound local track).  In particular, train 1501 (the 7:26am East Williston rail polisher and mainline superlocal) and all trains that need to stop at Hillside will not shift over to the middle tracks at this point.  They will continue westward on track 3.  There are many other cases where a train will stay going west on track 3 and not switch over, but these trains will always stay on 3 track.

The converse of this can be true as well.  Sometimes the dispatcher might send trains down track 4 (the eastbound local) if that's the way things line up.  Eastbound trains to Huntington, Ronkonkoma, and the like that make a stop at Hillside will always use this track, for example.  Mainline trains that wish to continue east on the Mainline must switch up two tracks (which can be quite clumsy) either using the switch immediately to the east of the station or the last switch towards the very eastern end of the interlocking.  (the purple line that cuts its way north shows the very last possible path that mainline trains can take to not get inadvertently sent down the wrong track).

The next pair of routings through QUEENS involves routes that Hempstead Branch trains would take.  These are a little more exciting as westbound Hempstead Branch trains need to crossover two mainline tracks in order to continue serving Queens Village and Hollis:

While all of the Mainline's action happens at the east end of QUEENS, the Hempstead Branch gets most use out of the crossovers at the west end of the interlocking.

For eastbound trains, the routing doesn't get much simpler.  A train going east from Queens Village has a straight shot on track 4 to the eastbound track at Bellerose.

Westbound trains have it much harder, though.  An eastbound train leaving Bellerose will be coming off of the eastbound Hempstead Branch track (which is the third track down).  To get to the Queens Village westbound platform the train has to crossover all the way to the northernmost track.

Furthermore, trains coming from or going to Belmont Park have to use QUEENS interlocking in some form or fashion.  

A couple years back the layout of QUEENS interlocking was significantly improved, and higher speed switches and more smooth movements were installed so it doesn't seem all that painful now, but back in the old days, a westbound Hemsptead Branch train did quite a bit of lurching from side to side in QUEENS (in fact, all movements through QUEENS were a bit rough).

Below is a photo from LIRRhistroy.com depicting the messy layout of QUEENS interlocking:
(Photo credit: LIRRHistory.com)
After embarking on a summer-long project to completely revamp the interlocking (which also included flying signal gantries!), the LIRR shut down service completely through the area for a whole weekend while they cutover the new signals and switches.

Today the switch alignments through QUEENS are much more fluid and easily navigable.  M7 windows have basically toughened the ability to get a proper front-end photo of the interlocking, but as you can probably figure from the above diagrams, things are much better today.

QUEENS Tower (taken from a moving train, it doesn't
really look slanted like that!)
These days QUEENS is much simpler and much more fluid, allowing a higher rate of trains to pass through it.  QUEENS isn't all that much of a bottleneck on the railroad considering the Mainline is severely constrained at a number of points with only two tracks east of here.  Despite the whole funneling four tracks into two-thing going on here, it doesn't seem to be much of a problem.  There is enough breathing room in the schedule to allow all of the trains to make their way through the interlocking peacefully without bumping into each other.

The busy QUEENS interlocking is watched over at QUEENS tower.  The tower, which stands on the north side of the tracks towards the western limits of the interlocking, has authority over everything that goes down in QUEENS, as well as HOLLIS and GARDEN interlockings.  QUEENS also has control over the movements into and out of Belmont Park and the whole Hempstead Branch.

The nearest interlocking to the west of the station is either the skimpy HOLLIS interlocking or the mighty HALL interlocking, depending on what track you're on.  East of here, you can either come across NASSAU interlocking if you continue on the Mainline or GARDEN interlocking if you veer off on the Hempstead Branch.

That just about wraps up this week's interlocking walkthrough.  We visit ROCKY interlocking next week, which is another interlocking which has a misleading name!


  1. very interesting, thanks

  2. An excellent and very informative post! Thanks for pulling this explanation together.

    For the historical evolution of QUEENS interlocking in the context of the Queens Village station (for which it's actually named), see Art Huneke's article here: http://arrts-arrchives.com/BRUSHVILLE.html

  3. Hard to believe that with the Pennsy's propensity for flyovers that they did this at grade when it went to four tracks.


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