Use of Telephones on the Pennsylvania Railroad

Written following a presentation by J. C. Johnson, Superintendent of Telegraph, Pennsylvania Railroad at the annual meeting of the Association of Telegraph Superintendents at St. Louis, Mo, May 20, 1912.

The first use of the telephone for despatching of trains on the Pennsylvania was in 1897 on the South Fork branch, 32 miles long. At that time the number of trains was four a day, but in the last ten years the average movement is eighty trains a day, and there has been no accident due to any misunderstanding of orders. The Pennsylvania now uses 17,000 telephones; most of them owned and others leased.

In preparation for this paper, there was secured information from 35 prominent roads (not including the Pennsylvania) operating 115,000 miles of line, and the statistics obtained from these different companies is summarized. Much of the information given is of the same character as that recently published by the Interstate Commerce Commission. Other facts of interest are as follows:

Average number of train orders sent per day over each despatcher's circuit by telephone, 7.2; average on telegraph circuits, 56.6; number of cases of trouble per month per 100 instruments on telephone lines, 8; number of cases of trouble on telegraph lines per 100 instruments, 9. Reporting as to the efficiency of lines, the average efficiency is 94.3 on telephone lines and 72.8 on telegraph lines; this being taken as evidence of the well understood fact that telephone lines are less troubled than the telegraph by bad weather. The 35 companies report about 1,000 portable telephones in use, as follows: On freight trains, 268; on wrecking and work trains, 386; on passenger trains, 150; in the hands of track foremen, 20; miscellaneous, 168. The number of telephones in boxes or booths at sidings is given as 5,255; number at automatic signals, 206.

On the Pennsylvania, Mr. Johnson's inquiries show the following averages: Average cost of a way station installation, $128; average number of train orders per despatcher's circuit per day on single track lines, 32. The efficiency of telephone lines is impaired by bad weather, 17 percent. The number of portable telephones on wreck and work trains, 107; on passenger trains, 4; in the hands of track foremen, 138; miscellaneous, 47. Mr. Johnson estimates that the efficiency of wrecking trains is increased by the use of the telephone 45 per cent.; of work trains, 40 percent; of passenger trains, 45 per cent, and of track foreman, 45 percent. The number of telephones in boxes or booths at sidings is 2,081; number at automatic block signals, 312 and at intermediate points along the road not previously included, 931.

On nine out of twenty-three divisions of the Pennsylvania, the telegraph is kept in service for emergency use, after the telephone is installed. There has been no reduction in the number of telegraph operators at small stations. Explaining an apparently higher cost of installations on the Pennsylvania as compared with other roads, it is stated that emergency equipment is maintained at most or all of the stations; test panels are also freely installed, so as to facilitate patching of wires when necessary. The small number of orders issued by the despatchers of the Pennsylvania is explained as probably due to the extensive use of automatic block signals. Telephones at outlying points along the road have been found of great value. A standard shelter box has been devised, the door of which, hinged at the top serves, when open, to protect the user of the telephone from rain or snow.

A special wall telephone has been developed for installation in the shelter boxes and booths which is expected to give excellent results. It is equipped with an insulated transmitter and all exposed metal parts are insulated, including the generator crank, switch hook and transmitter. The receiver has concealed binding posts. The windings of the received, induction coil, ringer and generator-armature and cords are given a special moisture-proof treatment. Exposed metal parts which are ordinarily nickeled will be finished in a dull black.

Mr. Johnson says that on the Pennsylvania, as on other roads, an accurate estimate of the saving made by the introduction of telephones is difficult to get at, although the importance of the saving is universally recognized. The Great Northern reports that the acceleration of train movements since the use of the telephone has produced a saving of $85,100 a year.

Mr. Johnson thinks that there has now been sufficient experience with telephone apparatus to warrant action looking at standardization of equipment. Concerning loud speaking receivers he says: "We have conducted some experiments with loud speaking receivers with a view to relieving the despatcher of the burdensome head receiver and providing him with a substitute to use during lightening storms. The snapping or cracking noises of static discharges during these storms become very annoying with the standard head equipment, and while it may not be altogether dangerous, it is at least objectionable. It is possible that some of the despatchers have expected too much from the use of the loud speaking receiver, and have thought that it should be readily heard when they are some distance from it, instead of arranging the receiver to be heard at a distance of about 6 in. or a foot from the ear when the operator is directly in line with it. There is quite a field for development in this particular part of the apparatus, and we are confident that something will eventually be developed along this line which will be the solution.

The Pennsylvania is considering the installation of underground cables for emergency use. With such a cable looped into every station and signal station the road could cope with any adverse weather conditions. In station offices arms or brackets to hold the telephones are found of great value. The cost of maintenance of cords is reduced, the telephone is less disturbed by local noises, telephones do not get knocked off the desk, and with a head receiver the operator is free to use both hands for other work. The Pennsylvania has telephones on some of its limited trans, and also on its private cars, for use while lying at large terminal stations.

At certain points along the road give-pair emergency cables 1,000 ft. long are kept ready, on special reels, to be used in making quick temporary repairs in case of damage by storms or blasting operations, etc. Mr. Johnson has in mind the construction and equipment of an emergency car equipped with a switchboard apparatus, emergency cable, selector equipment, etc. with which a temporary despatcher's office could be set up at any point.

Mr. Johnson discussed one of the principal objections to the use of the telephone, that an operator at a station does not know the location of approaching trains as he does when he has the Morse telegraph, by which he can hear what is going on among other offices while attending to his office work. With a head receiver so connected that he could move around the office, or with a loud speaking receiver, the operator could perhaps get this information from a telephone line; it is a question, however, whether operators ought to burden themselves with this information, a large portion of which is of no value to them. The constant wearing of a head receiver for eight hours is objectionable, as sometimes the pressure produces painful sensations. On divisions of light traffic a signal circuit provides to that way stations can call the despatcher with a buzzer, and he need not wear the receiver at all times. Some despatchers are nervous during thunder storms but some of the oldest have found no trouble wearing the receiver through all kinds of storms. Rubber ear cushions are worn by some despatchers, but these are objectionable, as they cause excessive perspiration. The loud speaking receiver would be the best remedy for troubles doe to thunderstorms. Most of the oldest despatchers have worn the head receivers in all kinds of storms and have never received any injury. The snapping and crackling sensation disturbs the timid.

The benefits derived from the use of the telephone, as summed up by Mr. Johnson are set forth in about the same way has has been done by other superintendents in the past. Using a telephone for a period of one or two months is sufficient to train an operator, as compared with six months to a year where the Morse telegraph is used. the saving in the time of sending and completing orders is estimated at about 40 per cent. With the telephone there is no chance that an operator will leave the train wire open Many operators have said that it would be a hardship to go back to the telegraph key, as has had to happen in case of trouble on the telephone selectors. Many have suffered from paralysis of the fingers or others have been enabled their positions. Dispatcher errors have been prevented; Mr. Johnson, however, gives an instance  where a trackman discovered a broken flange and the train endangered by the break was stopped just before going down a steep grade.

The conclusion of th paper is that as the use of the telephone is constantly being extended, it is not rash to predict that it will eventually supersede the telegraph entirely, not only for despatching, but for the transmissions of messages also.