CSX Heavy Highball – A Guide to Signalling

Written by: TrainSim-James

There are many intricate systems that railroad engineers have to master before being qualified to run out on the main, and none are more important than signalling.

In principal, signalling exists as a system used to regulate and direct traffic along the railroad, ensuring that trains are kept clear of each other at all times. The first timetables were a key step into the world of regulated rail travel, and as numbers grew for both passengers and freight, a plethora of varying systems were developed around the world, and today’s complex signalling makes trains one of the safest and most reliable methods of public transport to date.

CSX-operated subdivisions tend to have 1 of 3 main signalling systems, derived from the fallen flag predecessors of the nation, and also feature newer, standardised installations post-merger. Crawling through the Alleghenies of Maryland and Pennsylvania, the Sand Patch Grade route, as featured in Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul, has seen most of it’s ex. B&O-type colour light signalling replaced with a much more modern, ‘vader’ style hooded head type.

Unlike signalling in the UK, which is predominately route-based, US signalling systems are typically speed-based, where different signal aspects instruct the engineer to pass at a specified speed, expect an upcoming reduction in speed, or of course, stop completely.

To be able to understand Sand Patch Grade’s signalling aspects and procedures, we’re going to need to run through a bit of terminology first. In the real world, exactly citing key phrases over the radio is an essential for a safe and reliable railroad, so do try your best to learn these off by heart for the most authentic results.

  • Maximum Authorised Speed – The highest speed permitted for any train on a subdivision or portion of a subdivision
  • Normal Speed – A speed between 46 mph and 79 mph, any speed above 79 mph requires in-cab signalling to be present
  • Limited Speed – A speed not exceeding 45 mph
  • Medium Speed – A speed not exceeding 30 mph
  • Slow Speed – A speed not exceeding 15 mph
  • Restricted Speed – A speed that will permit stopping within one-half the range of vision. It will also permit stopping sort of a train, a car, an obstruction, a stop signal, a derail, or an improperly lined switch. It must permit looking out for a broken rail. It will not exceed 15 mph.
  • Controlled Speed – A Speed that will permit stopping within one-half the range of vision. It will also permit stopping short of a train, a car, an obstruction, on-track equipment, or a stop signal.

Note: these definitions are specific to CSX, other railroad operators will often have their own terms and definitions. Make sure you get to know the right ones, as written above, for Sand Patch Grade!

While it might not be initially clear as to how these help you learn the signalling system, just be patient. Many of the signalling aspects take these terms into account, so it’ll be important to know what kind of aspect you are approaching and how you need to act next.

In addition to various aspects, there are also different signal types; standard signals come in a few shapes and sizes and are found on the main line, easily visible from the cab of a locomotive. Dwarf signals are typically found in yards, nestled between tracks where there is no space for a main signal installation.

So, without further ado, let’s run through the most common aspects you may find shining ahead of you while railroading in CSX Heavy Haul. You may right click on the diagram below to open an enlarged version in a new tab or window.

Note: a signal head with radiating lines indicates a flashing aspect.

  1. Clear – Proceed
  2. Approach Limited – Proceed, approaching next signal not exceeding Limited speed.
  3. Limited Clear – Limited speed through turnouts, crossovers, sidings, and over power-operated switches; then proceed at posted speed.
  4. Limited Approach – Limited speed through turnouts, crossovers, sidings, and over power-operated switches; then proceed, prepare to stop at next signal.
  5. Approach Medium – Proceed, approaching next signal not exceeding Medium speed.
  6. Advance Approach – Proceed, prepare to stop at second signal.
  7. Medium Clear – Medium speed through turnouts, crossovers, sidings, and over power-operated switches; then proceed at posted speed.
  8. Medium Approach Medium – Medium speed through turnouts, crossovers, sidings, and over power-operated switches; then proceed, approaching next signal not exceeding Medium speed.
  9. Medium Approach Slow – Medium Speed through turnouts, crossovers, sidings, and over power-operated switches; then proceed, approaching next signal not exceeding Slow speed.
  10. Medium Advance Approach – Medium speed through turnouts, crossovers, sidings, and over power-operated switches; then proceed, prepare to stop at second signal.
  11. Approach Slow – Proceed, approaching next signal not exceeding Slow speed.
  12. Approach – Proceed prepared to stop at the next signal. Trains exceeding Medium speed must immediately begin reduction to Medium speed as soon as the engine passes the Approach Signal.
  13. Medium Approach – Medium speed through turnouts, crossovers, sidings, and over power-operated switches; then proceed, prepare to stop at next signal.
  14. Slow Clear – Slow speed through turnouts and crossovers, sidings, and over power-operated switches; then proceed at posted speed.
  15. Slow Approach Slow – Slow speed through turnouts, crossovers, sidings, and over power-operated switches; then proceed approaching next signal not exceeding Slow speed.
  16. Slow Approach – Slow speed through turnouts and crossovers, sidings, and over power-operated switches; then proceed, prepare to stop at next signal.
  17. Restricting – Proceed at Restricted speed.
  18. Restricted Proceed – Proceed at Restricted speed.
  19. Stop – Stop before passing the signal.

A typical stopping procedure, which you will encounter should another train be occupying the track ahead of you, is Clear, Approach Medium, Approach & Stop. This simple sequence of aspects ensures that you are able to safely reach Medium speed before approaching the final Stop aspect; long manifest, autorack or coal trains carry with them a lot of momentum, and it can take miles to come to a safe stop, especially on a down grade!

To help you learn just that little bit quicker, here a few basic pointers on CSX Signalling.

  • If a signal isn’t all red, it isn’t red at all
  • Where signals have more than one head, subsequent heads define the speedband they are signalling, on their aspect, by the least restrictive colour. The bottom head will be a slow aspect, the middle head a medium or limited speed and the top head will represent line speed.
  • There are two signal types present on the Sand Patch Grade route, those with ID Plates present, and those without. Signals without ID Plates are called ‘absolute signals’, these control an interlocking and cannot be passed without permission from the signaller if red. ‘Permissive’ signals are denoted by an ID Plate, and can be passed when red if they remain so for a given time and the signaller is contacted.

In Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul, the HUD is able to provide as little or as much information about the signalling as you desire. As you begin learning the ropes, it might be handy for you to know when you’ll be passing the next signal, and what general aspect it will be. As you advance your understanding of the signalling, you could decide to only see where the signals are, but have no indication of what the upcoming aspect is.

Once you’re a master of not only the signalling, but have gained route knowledge as well, you can even decide to drop all indications of the signalling from the HUD; you have to know where each signal is, and keep in memory what the previous aspect was and what to expect next. Further details can be found in the screenshots and captions below.

That’s everything you need to begin learning the signalling used on the CSX Keystone Subdivision, more famously known as Sand Patch Grade. Here are a couple of suggestions for the best Scenarios and Services that will help you hone your newly-found skills!

Scenarios: A Helping Hand, Powering America (Part 2)
Services: (SD40-2) U876-C – Coal – Shaw Mine to Yoder Siding

Let us know how you get on by commenting below, do you have any tips or tricks for learning signalling systems? You can see below a few examples of the signals found on the Sand Patch Grade route, which is authentically recreated in and ready for service in Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul, find out more here 

DigitalDraftsman shared some additional information with us that might also be useful:

CSX Signalling Cheat Sheet
CSX Operating Rules

Using either the settings menu, or keyboard shortcut keys, you can adjust the HUD to your own liking. With Ctrl+3, you can toggle the visual indication on the track, and with Ctrl+4, you have control over the side information (Above). Additionally, if you toggle ‘Next Signal Aspect’ in the settings menu, you will be able to have the previous controls active, without them showing what the aspect itself is (below).

Two examples of main line signals on the Sand Patch Grade route, one near Hyndman, which is a ‘permissive’ type displaying an Approach aspect (above) and Rockwood, where Q116 is cleared to proceed by an ‘absolute’ installation (below).

Another signal present on the Sand Patch Grade route is the stop marker. Found near manual junction sidings and rip tracks, the stop marker does not display an aspect, but does generate an on-screen message advising the player if the route ahead is clear or not as it is approached. One location where a stop marker can be found is at the siding just north of Hyndman.

We’re always happy to receive your comments below but please ensure they are related to the subject of the article, we’ll remove any that appear to be unrelated.

TrainSim-James

22 Comments

  • I know that railroad signaling is a confusing and complex topic, so I’d like to offer a few o ther clarifications and corrections:
    “Unlike signalling in the UK, which is predominately route-based, US signalling systems are typically speed-based, where different signal aspects instruct the engineer to pass at a specified speed, expect an upcoming reduction in speed, or of course, stop completely.”
    By geographic area, most railroad signaling in the United States is Route signaling. East of the Mississippi River tends to be heavy on “Speed” signaling, and west of that river is almost entirely “Route” signaling. The only difference between Speed signaling and Route signaling is how movements at junctions are handled. With Speed signaling, the signals indicate a definite maximum speed for movement over switches and such. With Route signaling, the signals indicate which path is to be taken, and the driver (engineer) must know the safe maximum speed for switches and such of the indicated path. Most railroads’ signal rules stipulate safe speeds when a later speed reduction or stop is going to be required to ensure safe train handling, so these stipulations do not really qualify as “Speed” signaling.

    “Normal Speed – A speed between 46 mph and 79 mph, any speed above 79 mph requires in-cab signalling to be present”
    Normal speed is the speed limit of the track at a given point. It could be anywhere between 10 and 120 miles per hour. These speed limits are permanent, and always apply to the same track at the same location for the same type of train. Signals impose transient speed limits, which can vary based on track conditions at different times. Normal speed is the speed allowed in absence of any transient speed restrictions. You won’t, for example, encounter track switches designed for Limited Speed (45 MPH) movement in a zone where the maximum speed is only 35 MPH. It would be a waste of money. The speed limit of the train at any given moment is the lesser of all permanent (signed), transient (signaled) and temporary (track bulletin) speed limits in force anywhere from the beginning to the end of the train.

    “Restricted Speed – A speed that will permit stopping within one-half the range of vision. It will also permit stopping sort of a train, a car, an obstruction, a stop signal, a derail, or an improperly lined switch. It must permit looking out for a broken rail. It will not exceed 15 mph.”
    Stopping SHORT of a train or car or obstruction…. Restricted Speed is usually called Driving On Sight in Europe. It means the driver (engineer) is entirely responsible if he hits something or passes a Danger signal or traverses a broken rail, etc.

    “A typical stopping procedure, which you will encounter should another train be occupying the track ahead of you, is Clear, Approach Medium, Approach & Stop.”
    This depends on the predecessor railroad and the exact signaling in place. For the former Baltimore & Ohio “Color-Position-Light” signals (with the black disks with two lights in the signal aspects), that is correct. For the more modern CSX colorlight signals, Clear→ Advance Approach → Approach→ Stop is more likely. This actually is the same sequence you would see on UK colorlight signals, just with different names (Green→ Double Yellow→ Yellow→ Red). But the signaling is tailored to the needs of trains and track at a particular location, so more elaborate sequences can be encountered in real life if even more advance warning is needed.

    “Restricting – Proceed at Restricted speed; Restricted Proceed – Proceed at Restricted speed.”
    It is probably not obvious why both of these exist. The circumstances are different and I will try to explain. As mentioned in the article, there are Absolute signals and Permissive signals, and the visual difference is that only Permissive signals have number plates. Absolute signals are used at junctions or holding points, and are always at Danger unless authorized otherwise by the train dispatcher. Permissive signals divide the track between junctions (and Absolute signals) into signal blocks which manage train flow between junctions. Permissive signals guard entry into adjacent signal blocks (though most Absolute signals also act as block signals for the following signal block). Permissive signals cannot show Stop. Their “danger” indication is called “Restricted Proceed” (or Stop then Proceed, on some railroads) which allows trains to keep moving, albeit slowly, at Restricted speed. A Restricted Proceed signal practically guarantees that the track ahead is occupied (or unfit, such as a switch being open) but the train is allowed to continue until it must stop. Contrast that with the “Restricting” aspect, which can appear on an Absolute or a Permissive signal, but it is most common on Absolute signals. It means that the junction (if applicable) is clear, but that track occupancy beyond the signal is otherwise unknown. This can happen when the train leaves signaled territory (such as entering a yard or service area). It can also happen if the train dispatcher does a “call on” to allow the train to proceed ahead past an absolute signal which avoids the safety problems of the dispatcher authorizing the train to train pass the signal at Danger (“Stop”). In all cases, Restricted speed applies, and the driver must be prepared to need to stop at any moment.

    Unfortunately I have not gotten TSW to work on my computer, which I figure is related to my antiquated video card. but I look forward to seeing the Sand Patch signals in action soon!

  • I’d like to point out that referring to “vader” or “darth vader” style signals is always pejorative. This is a term invented by railfans who live with the notion that all new signals are evil and solely exist to punish and wipe out the signals that have given rail lines and railroads their long-standing personalities. The truth is these signals are of the colorlight variety, usually “stacked” or “vertical,” and they sport snow hoods to make them easier to see against the sun at a distance. The current era of falling signals can be attributed to the governmental regulations around PTC, and not to some evil mode of modern-styled signals or even evil corporation.

    As the author of the signal guide now linked at the bottom of this article, I’d like to offer a helpful guide as to how US and Canadian signal aspects work. Unfortunately I haven’t had the time to write it. When it does become available, it will be linked on my main signal rules page which has a variety of railroad signalings that can be studied: http://signals.jovet.net/rules/index.html
    In the meantime, Al Krug’s great signaling pages aimed with a similar purpose may be gone, but it still lives on in the archives. It’s a great read for anyone confused or intrigued by US/Canadian signaling: http://web.archive.org/web/20160313144451/http://alkrug.vcn.com/rrfacts/signals/signals.htm

  • Very nice and useful article! I hope to see more of these in the future, also for TS!

  • and where are the multiplayer?

    I bought this for multiplayer only.

    • Multiplayer is still deep in development Chris, I don’t have any details for you right now.

  • steam workshop ??? scenario edıtor next update ?
    good luck

    • The tools that will allow you to create scenarios and other content are still deep in development woll, I don’t have any details for you right now.

  • What is the progress on the next test build or update?

    • I have no details for you right now Joel, I’m sure we’ll have an update soon

  • I will say, this is the kind of information that should be in the manual. But there are a lot of things that should be in the manual (and tutorials) that are not, for that matter.

  • Will these signal aspects and definitions be added to the manual on steam?

  • Thank you, James & DigitalDrafteman! I’m going to print a copy of the signal guide and, well, let’s be honest: get around to reading that 192 page rule book a bit at a time. These are exactly what we’ve all needed.

  • Thank and, please, more articles as this.

  • Thanks for putting this together; It’s a nice overview of the signalling on Sand Patch. I find train simming much more fulfilling when I have learned enough about a route and its operations to drive it successfully HUD free. Taking the time to learn a loco/route/signalling and then applying that knowledge also helps to keep the mind sharp, much more so than many other genres of video games and it’s much more entertaining than other acuity enhancing methods like Sudoku!

    I found a nice “cheat sheet” of CSX signalling, which I printed off and laminated, it can be found here: http://signals.jovet.net/rules/CSX%20Signal%20Rules.pdf

    I also found CSX’s operating rules, which are an interesting read for people who would like a more comprehensive look at the railroad’s operations: http://0924.utu.org/Files/%5B3100%5D2014%20CSX%20Rule%20Book.pdf

    • Thanks for sharing these DigitalDraftsman, I’ll get these added to the article above

    • Digitaldraftsman- Im totally the same way when it comes to Train Simulation, learn the route, signals, crossings, grades and speed limits just as they must do in the real world!

  • Great guide, congratulations

  • Excellent article! I was wondering what aspects CSX used for this line. Its amazing how detailed TSW is with both the CPL and CLS signals. Maybe we could see more articles like these in the future? Maybe an article about how to correctly control a train up/downhills, bunch braking, etc?

    • Thanks Major Dunbar, I’ve added your article ideas into our planning list to look into.

      • Now i know the next Train sim world woudn t be for at least 5 years and this is also a suggestion that next train sim world takes place in Croatia. We have seen all the other countries and i don t want anyone to think this is a other but at least think about it. The line from Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor to Vinkovci that would be amazing. Remember don t rush everything.

        • We currently don’t have a licence to reproduce Croatian trains, Croatia Ralfan

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