North of Collier Yard...was it an interlocking? : LUSENET : ACL and SAL Railroads Historical Society : One Thread

A bit north of Collier Yard, there is a spot where (looking north) the CSX main curves gently to the left, and what appears to be a one-time ROW continues straight towards (I assume) the direction of the downtown area of Petersburg. At this location, there is a small, dilapidated structure and what appear to be concrete signal bases. Was this an interlocking? Perhaps passenger trains were diverted along that old ROW to a station in downtown Petersburg? I have a feeling that perhaps I am guessing correctly, but I'll enlist the assistance of more knowledgeable folks for the definitive answer.

-- Nick Mckinley Jr. (, December 22, 1999


As a follow up to the responses from fellow society members concerning your question.

The track along the ROW just north of BX Tower was removed in 1992. It was the original ROW of the Petersburg RR, later to become the Atlantic Coast Line. This ROW traverse through downtown Petersburg, crossing the N&W in the lower part of the city. Here the N&W passenger station was located and jointly used by the N&W and ACL railroads. After crossing the N&W, the ROW crossed a bridge over the old channel of the Appomattox River. This bridge was removed and the old river channel filled in after it was relocated around the turn of the 20th century. The ROW proceeded into Pocahontas Yard, formerly the southern terminus of the Richmond & Petersburg RR. Leaving Pocahontas the ROW then crossed a bridge over the new channel of the Appomattox River. This bridge has been removed but the concrete piling remain. The ROW continued northward two miles to Dunlop and the junction with the "belt line". Today all that remains is the ballast along portions of the ROW.

Dunlop Tower was located 2 miles north of Petersburg at the junction of the "belt line" and the original ACL main line into downtown Petersburg. It was situated on the east side of the tracks at the north leg of the wye. In addition to the tower and the wye, there were 3 or 4 yard tracks and a scale track located at Dunlop. None of these facilities exist today, except the tower, it was taken out of service, perhaps in the early 1940's. Then it became a residence when it was relocated to a nearby site at the end of Orange Avenue in Colonial Heights, where it stands today.

On June 27, 1903, a famous train wreck occurred at Dunlop, when the morning N&W Ry Cannon Ball passenger train, enroute from Richmond to Norfolk, collided head on with a northbound ACL RR freight train standing in the blind curve on the "belt line". The freight train had picked up some cars at Dunlop and returned to its train. In doing so, it fouled the interlocking plant, thus the operator at Dunlop Tower was unable to line the switch for the track into Petersburg, the intended route of the Cannon Ball. The engineer of the Cannon Ball jumped from the engine and was killed. The fireman, who was the engineer's nephew, was killed in the collision. The ACL engineer was not injured, but his fireman broke a leg when he jumped off the engine before the collision. The Cannon Ball's conductor and 25 passenger sustained injuries. Both engines were badly damaged including several freight cars and the mail car on the passenger train. An investigation of the accident had difficulty clarifying whether certain block signals were working. It was unknown if the Cannon Ball's engineer ran by a stop signal, so the blame was placed on the ACL in not using due diligence in having the line clear for the Cannon Ball. Unknown if any employees were terminated as a result of the accident.

There have been other train wrecks in the vicnity of Dunlop over the years, but at the time this one was newsworthy, photographed, and a story often told in later years by old railroad men.

Herman Wilkins

-- Herman Wilkins (, December 28, 1999.

Before its demise, the "BX" operator controlled over 11 miles of CTC -- 8.8 miles Dunlop to Collier across the single track Appomattox River plus 2.6 miles on the Petersburg Branch (the former old main line via N&W's Appomattox Station and Pocahontas Yard).

-- Harry Bundy (, December 27, 1999.

BX Tower (and it is still standing, albeit with the windows broken out and the door bashed in) sits almost under the I-85 overpass on the opposite side of the double tracked ACL main line from Halifax Road, where the "newer" beltline around Petersburg divered from the old ACL main, which ran right down the middle of Washington Street. The northern end of the dual ACL lines in the Petersburg area was at Dunlop, MP A-20. The old wooden tower sat on the bank of Swift Creek. Unlike BX, Dunlop had a wye. There was a small yard north of BX called Mt. Airy, and a small yard south of Dunlop called Pocahontas--adjacent to the N&W's Petersburg station. There was a switch at the station called "Cannonball Crossover", named for the connection trains run jointly by ACL and N&W from Broad Street Station in Richmond and the N&W station in Petersburg (as detailed nicely in a previous issue of Lines South). Southbound ACL trains had to be assisted up out of the station toward Washinton Street, and once, one slipped back down after an over zealous operator had already restored the switch. The train derailed and tore down the tower, according to society member Herman Wilkins, who was at one time an ACL operator in the area.

-- Doug Riddell (, December 22, 1999.

You're right, this is a retired interlocking dating back about 100 years. Our ACL experts will be able to tell you more, but I can give you some highlights to get you started. In the ACL years, the road had two lines through Petersburg. The first was the double-tracked main line through Collier, across the Appomattox and through Ettrick (the current CSX line), and the second connected with the main just north of Collier (at the spot you mentioned) and meandered through downtown. This line was the original ACL main through Petersburg, and interchanged with the N&W near the middle of downtown. It crossed the Appomattox on a low bridge east of the old N&W station (still standing). The old bridge piers and the old right-of-way are still visible, especially during winter time. The "new" mainline was built from the interlocking you mentioned to get past the congestion, grades, and slow running on the old downtown line. The "new" main line connected again with the old line just north of the river. There's no doubt another retired interlocking there too. I think the double-tracked main was built in the teens or twenties as an "ACL Belt Line", similar to the N&W Belt Line which runs north around Petersburg (and interchanges with ACL/SCL/CSX at south Collier). I don't know the name of the interlocking and don't have my library available to look it up. I believe there was a wood interlocking tower there in the old days, which was later replaced by a brick structure in the 1940s or 50s. For most of the passenger train years, N&W passenger trains used this junction to get to Richmond, using ACL tracks to get in and out of Broad Street Station. To a lesser extent, the two roads also used this connection to interchange freight traffic. For many years, ACL also used the N&W yard downtown and also shared the N&W roundhouse (again, near the old N&W station).

-- John Golden (, December 22, 1999.

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