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Piece of UP history to close in June

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February 14, 2001 The Union Pacific is closing the Ridgely Tower in Springfield, Ill., one of the last manually operated rail switching towers in Illinois, The State Journal-Register reports. The tower, south of Sangamon Avenue and west of 16th Street, controls rail traffic along the Union Pacific/Amtrak line between St. Louis and Chicago and the Springfield to Peoria line of the Illinois and Midland Railroad. One of five operators sits in the tower around-the-clock to control rail traffic using a series of levers.

"We will be able to
move the Ridgely Tower functions to the Harriman Dispatching Center in Omaha by
the end of June," said Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis. "The
automation of the tower is part of our annual improvement projects and takes
advantage of newer technology that enhances operations and safety."

The tower has been in its
current location since the early 20th century. It was rebuilt in 1930 by the
then-owner, the B&O Railroad Co., and hasn’t changed much since.

The five people who still
work at Ridgely — Bob Phillips, Frances Jumper, Dave Gutierrez, Damon Vinson
and Dewayne Clinton — are members of the Telecommunications Union. The union
is expected to offer them the chance to take other jobs, but probably not in
Springfield.

The tower has not been well
maintained over the years because the railroad companies that have owned it
kept thinking it would close soon and they didn’t want to spend money on
upkeep.

Control operators are not
allowed to watch TV because it would distract them from the train traffic, but
there is a microwave oven, a telephone and a good supply of bottled water.
Visitors are not allowed. The operator in the tower is in radio contact with
train engineers and monitors rail traffic via computer. The four-foot-long iron
switches — there were more than 30 of them at one time — are pulled in a
sequence according to where the rail traffic needs to go. After the tower
closes, that will be done by computer from Omaha, as is the case already on
much of the UP rail line.

The closing of Ridgely
Tower does not come as a surprise. Manually operated towers have gradually been
phased out. Thirty years ago, Springfield had five control towers that were
operated by people. After June, it will have none.

"Considering the
advancements in technology over the years," said Davis, "these types
of towers use antiquated technology, and replacement parts are not readily
available."

What will become of the
Ridgely Tower once its operations are closed in June is unknown. But there is
interest in preserving it as a historic artifact.

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