Detroit's Delray Tower closed

Control of CSX interlocking passed to dispatcher in Florida following modernization project
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Control of the interlocking at Detroit's Delray Tower was passed to a CSX dispatcher in Jacksonville, Fla, on Monday.
Jonathan Quinley

DETROIT — One of the few remaining manned towers in the United States, and one of just two remaining in Michigan, was idled Monday, as CSX Transportation’s Delray Tower in Detroit — said to be the last tower to use strong-arm levers — was switched over to control of the CSX RN Dispatcher in Jacksonville, Fla.

The busiest interlocking in Michigan, the tower is located on the city’s south side. The project to modernize the interlocking has long been planned, but last year, work began to upgrade the track, signals and interlocking plant. The project involving CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Conrail Shared Assets, all of whom own trackage at the tower site; Canadian Pacific and Canadian National also operate through the interlocking with trackage rights.

Conrail played a key role in the upgrade, receiving a $10.5 million grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation as part of its Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal project. That project also involved removing two diamonds, and adding a third track along Conrail’s Detroit Line between CP Delray and CP Waterman.

Norfolk Southern's Lehigh Valley heritage unit leads a train past the tower. Five railroads operate through the location.
Jonathan Quinley
A Conrail track diagram of the tower location.
Courtesy Jon Roma

Delray Tower was built in 1945 by the Pere Marquette Railroad to replace a wooden tower from the late 1800s, with ownership subsequently passing via merger to Chesapeake & Ohio and then CSX. Its lever operation was eventually replaced with computer screens. Many of the signals guarding the junction were also relics of its predecessor railroads; the old searchlights were also cut over on Monday.

At its wartime peak, the tower saw some 240 daily movements. During the Conrail era, 60 to 80 movements a day were commonplace; today, the normal average is 32 to 38, still enough to make the area a choke point. A current normal weekday will see several CSX intermodal trains and a pair of Norfolk Southern intermodal trains in and out of Livernois Yard, just north of the tower;  a few yard jobs out the east end of CSX Rougemere Yard, just west of the tower; a NS yard job to work the Boat Yard area to the tower’s east; NS moves to wye power for Oakwood Yard, to the southwest; NS trains to and from Sterling Yard, on Conrail to the north; Conrail locals that work nearby industries as needed; several CP run-throughs to and from Canada (intermodal, racks, oil, and mixed freight); a pair of CP locals to and from Canada’s Windsor Yard in Canada, to interchange with CSX and NS; and several CN mixed freights (and occasional sand and empty rack trains). 

An operator is being kept in the tower for a few days while the bugs of the cut-over are worked out; after that, the empty tower will await its turn to be torn down unless someone mounts a preservation effort.

— Updated Nov. 18 to correct build date of tower to 1945.

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