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In General

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Fire and Police



In General

Columbia is a midway point between Harrisburg PA and Perryville MD.  It is conveniently located off US30 in between York PA and Lancaster PA.

Located here are the old Pennsy COLA tower, a small MOW yard, the branch coming over from Lancaster, and old freight shed, and a few signals - at least the one for the branch is still position lights (for now).

Columbia is the largest town on the Port Road and is located at Milepost EP38.4.  There is quite a bit of railroad “stuff” in and around COLA interlocking, including an MOW yard and office, COLA tower (vacant, but still standing), and the connection to the Columbia Secondary, which runs to Lancaster.  There is also a small shortline railroad in town, the Columbia & Reading Railway.

Since Amtrak still doesn't like Norfolk Southern trains on the corridor during daylight hours, you will not get the chance to see to much moving during the daytime.  Sometimes you can find a number of people at the Perryville station in the evenings waiting for Port Road traffic to start coming down from Harrisburg, and continuing on to Baltimore.

Other guides for southern central Pennsylvania are:
     Marysville and the Rockville Bridge
     New Freedom

More pictures are here

More info is here and here

I typically don't let pictures and maps "hang off" the right side of the page, but I made exceptions so you could see the detail in them without downloading them.  They also haven't been reduced in size so that the detail is still there....


The above map in PDF format is available here

The map below is courtesy ADB.... Many thanks for all the work you put into cleaning these pictures up!



    1      COLA Tower


Various info I have come across:

In the April 1972 ETT Cola control began at Tome, 4.5 miles from Perryville, plus 10 more interlockings between there and Cola, and 3 interlockings to the west (Lake, Shocks, and Jeb). I don't know when Cola closed, but it would have been in the late '80's. And yes those machines to the left print out the readings from the hot box detectors in the field.  (from OnBlock)

I believe Cola controlled from Shocks to Cres interlocking after Port shut down  (from Out_Of_Service)

Former PRR interlocking tower in Columbia, PA.  COLA was one of the larger CTC plants on the PRR with control stretching up and down the Enola Branch.  Interlocking was re-signaled in 2011.
(from http://wikimapia.org/6765066/COLA-Interlocking-and-Tower )

Below, a picture from the last days of operation of the tower.... too bad they feel it neccessary to throw everything away when they decommision one :-(


    2      Reading and Columbia RR Freight Shed


    3      Former Northern Central Bridge Piers



    4      Columbia Yard


    5      National Watch and Clock Museum



There are a few signals in Columbia.... the main line signals have been replaced by "tri-lights" :-(
You can see from the GIF above that Columbia at one time had way more signals than it does today!

    1       Pennsy PL signal for trains coming off the Columbia Secondary which comes from to Lancaster.



    2      NB and SB mainline signals



    3      New NB colorlight at the edge of the yard


    4      Crossovers, signs, and other misc stuff




This was sent in to me by a good friend, Irving Itzkowycz, who was the chap that pulled this switch out of the CTC panel, great story!:

Bob and Jim Gambler were two old towermen (or "block operators," to use Pennsy-speak) at "CD" Columbia, Pa.  They were brothers and had hired in the 1940s.  In the last years of the tower, Bob worked the second trick and Jim worked the midnight shift, as I recall.  I spent many, many, many nights in that tower with them.  They were good workers.

Bob always said his favorite lever on the massive machine was the 110 lever, because that's where he "got rid of" trains.  When westbound trains reached the 110 signal at Shocks Mills, Pa, Bob had had already handled them for nearly 50 miles, from Perryville MD, through 15 interlockings on the old 1938 CTC machine, and when he gave them the 110R signal, they were someone else's problem.

When CD Columbia was closed in 1986, and the machine was junked, I got the 110 lever and the three indication lamps for Bob, intending to mount them on a small metal plate and light the indication lamps with a small power supply, so that he could play with his "favorite lever" in his retirement.  But before I got the job done, Bob died.

So the 110 lever has languished almost three decades in my basement.  But at last I have found a young man who lives just a stone's throw from the 110 signal at Shocks Mills, and this young man has a first rate railroad collection, with all pieces in impeccably restored condition.  So guess where the 110 lever is going...?  At least it will be close to home again, and in appreciative hands.


A Little History

The following "stuff" comes from the fellow who helped out with the information on the switch above... many thanks for providing the insight!

The present brick tower was built shortly after the railroad went to those stupid one and two syllable names, instead of telegraph calls, in the late 1930s.
The original CD (which stood for "Columbia Dispatcher") was in the station, across the street from the tower and about one city block upstream (east of town and near the foot of the inclined plane of the Philadelphia & Columbia RR.  It was a shop and engine house and housed the "Columbia Despatcher" after the railroad got Telegraph in the 1850s. (They had it at least by 1857.) About 3/4 mile or so east of the present depot in the town.  I have been out to the area of the old "Columbia Depot," and there is nothing there now except a field.

The building is circa-1860 and is still standing.  Now occupied by (I think) a small electrical manufacturing plant (small motors, or some such.)

After the stone depot was built in town (still existing,) the Division Headquarters of the PRR's Frederick Division was there, and "CD" was the call for the Train Dispatcher.

Also... the wooden tower which was destroyed in the 1936 flood existed, I think, to handle the diamonds of the York, Hanover & Frederick Branch, which crossed the Low Grade at that point.  That would explain the rodding which came out of it.

After the Low Grade was built, there was a wooden structure several hundred feet west of present "Cola" tower. It's name was "LG-42." It was a Train order Office and Manual Block Station only... not an interlocking.  All it did was block trains on the A&S Low Grade, and handle Train Orders for such trains.

After "42" went away, there was another structure in the exact same spot.  That structure was (I think) called "CD" and it had rodding coming out of the base, so it was an interlocking of some type.  It was demolished by the St Patty's Day Floor in 1936.  It was set back on its foundation temporarily until they got the new "Cola" thingie built about a year or so later.

Fire and Police

the Police Station
308 Locust Street, Columbia, PA:  (717) 684-0976
the storefront next to the town Police Hall, you can see the reflection of the car taking the pictures :-)

the Susquehanna Fire and Rescue Company #4
Manor Street and 10th, Columbia, PA:  (717) 684-5751

the Columbia Consolidated Department - Vigilant Fire Company #2
265 S 10th St, Columbia, PA: (717) 684-2695

the Columbia Fire Department
137 S Front St, Columbia, PA: (717) 684-5100

This is conveniently located right on Front St across from the tracks, between the COlA tower and the signals at location 2.

the Wrightsville Fire Department
If you take the Veterans Memorial Bridge across the river into Wrightsville, there is a fire station just off the bridge.

Vintage USGS Maps

Top map - composite of the 1904 and 1906 maps....

Middle map - from a 1902 USGS map of the Lancaster Quadrangle, it's been "squeezed" to fit on this page,
          it'll be much bigger if you choose to download it.

Darn if Columbia wasn't right on the line between two adjacent Quadrangle maps! :-(

The bottom map also comes from the Middletown Quadrangle.....

I found these maps and more at the University of Texas library website here



I love trains, and I love signals.  I am not an expert.  My webpages reflect what I find on the topic of the page.  This is something I have fun with while trying to help others.  My webpages are an attempt at putting everything I can find of the subject in one convenient place.  There are plenty of other good websites to help me in this effort, and they are listed in the links section on my indexa page, or as needed on individual pages.  Please do not write to me about something that may be incorrect, and then hound the heck out of me if I do not respond to you in the manner you would like.  I operate on the "Golden Rule Principle", and if you are not familiar with it, please acquaint yourself with how to treat people by reading Mathew 7:12 (among others, the principle exists in almost every religion).  If you contact me (like some do, hi Paul) and try to make it a "non-fun" thing and start with the name calling, your name will go into my spambox list! :-)

Please Note:  Since the main focus of my two websites is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  For those of you into the modeling aspect of our hobby, my indexa page has a list of almost everything railroad oriented I can think of to provide you with at least a few pictures to help you detail your pike.

If this is a railfan page, every effort has been made to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this railfan guide is correct.  Once in a while, an error may creep in, especially if restaurants or gas stations open, close, or change names.  Most of my maps are a result of personal observation after visiting these locations.  I have always felt that a picture is worth a thousand words", and I feel annotated maps such as the ones I work up do the same justice for the railfan over a simple text description of the area.  Since the main focus of my website is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  Since most of us railheads don't have just trains as a hobby, I have also tried to point out where other interesting sites of the area are.... things like fire stations, neat bridges, or other significant historical or geographical feature.  While some may feel they shouldn't be included, these other things tend to make MY trips a lot more interesting.... stuff like where the C&O Canal has a bridge going over a river (the Monocacy Aqueduct) between Point of Rocks and Gaithersburg MD, it's way cool to realize this bridge to support a water "road" over a river was built in the 1830's!!!  

My philosophy: Pictures and maps are worth a thousand words, especially for railfanning.  Text descriptions only get you so far, especially if you get lost or disoriented.  Take along good maps.... a GPS is OK to get somewhere, but maps are still better if you get lost!  I belong to AAA, which allows you to get local maps for free when you visit the local branches.  ADC puts out a nice series of county maps for the Washington DC area, but their state maps do not have the railroads on them.  If you can find em, I like the National Geographic map book of the U.S..... good, clear, and concise graphics, and they do a really good job of showing you where tourist type attractions are, although they too lack the railroads.  Other notes about specific areas will show up on that page if known.

Pictures and additional information is always needed if anyone feels inclined to take 'em, send 'em, and share 'em, or if you have something to add or correct.... credit is always given! BE NICE!!! Contact info is

Beware: If used as a source, ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as being possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.


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NEW 6-18-2011
Last Modified 13-Feb-2015