Western Rail Road Museum Overhead Lines and Substations

November 2012

In 2012, the Department finished the overhead line work on the railroad extension to Birds Landing Road. It was a great deal of work by many of the members. However, the work was worth it to ride a car or train down the line to Little Honker Bay Road with the smoothest ride yet given to us by the Track Department, and the smooth commutation of the overhead. Special thanks to volunteers Terry Barnes, Gary Baker, Bill Kluver, Don Meehan, Henry Markwart, Brandon Styczinski, Paul Zaborsky, Dave Buechler, Joel Cox, Lou Schneider, Jim Ward, and Chris Pagni.

Extending the overhead lines solved the low-power problem at the southern part (railroad west) of the line. The problem showed itself when a fully load Key System Bay Bridge Unit left Gum Grove for the Museum.

Back in 1992, we knew there would be a need for more power in the future. We acquired an Ohio Brass (OB) substation from the Illinois Railway Museum with help from Julie Johnson. Julie went on to help fund the installation; that is why the substation in named for her. Unfortunately, she passed away before the substation was completed.

Before the OB Substation could be installed, several major problems needed to be overcome. First, the Substation was designed to use a voltage that PG&E no longer supplies. Second, the transformer was damaged. To solve these problems, the Department installed an isolation transformer and used PG&E's grounded 3-phase 480-volt AC (alternating current). This allowed the Museum to have the power underground and to lower our useable voltage to 463-volt AC. The 463-volt AC can be rectified to 600-volt DC (direct current), which is the voltage and type of current we need to power our rail cars.

The OB Substation was tested at Rio Vista Junction with a lot of help from Honorary Museum Member Tom Young. Professionally, Tom worked on these Substations for the Ohio Brass Co. and his expertise helped
us to make sure that everything works properly. Dave Buechler and Dick McClenaghan put the finishing touches on the Substation by treating it with rust prevention and painting it orange so that it resembles an original Ohio Brass Substation.

Next, the Museum hired Schulz Construction to build the building that houses the substation. They built the foundation, the structure, and
all the duck banks (underground electrical pipes that connect the substation to PG&E's power source). With the help of Terry Barnes, the Substation was placed on a concrete pad and the building was framed around it.

The process of connecting the substation to the PG&E system is very complicated. The attachment point (PG&E cables) and metering enclosures were installed in the front of substation structure. This equipment had to be a preapproved enclosure by PG&E or they would not supply power. We wired the cables from the outside enclosure, to the main panel inside the substation, to the 600 Amp main circuit breaker, and to the 60 Amp circuit breaker for station power.

Cable was installed to the Main Contactor and from there to the isolation transformer. Then, more cable was installed from the transformer to the Ohio Brass Substation. On the DC side, cables were fed from the substation to the duck bank that connected the negative cable, then to an impendence bond, and from there to the track.

Many years after the wire and feeders were removed from the old electrification of the Milwaukee Road, Terry was looking at what was left and came upon three disconnect switches that were attached to the poles that could no longer support them and had fallen over to the ground. Carefully he removed them and transported them to Del Paso Substation.

Once power was available, one final item was needed before the Substation would be fully functional. Disconnect switches are used on electric railroads to isolate sections of the track and are safety features in case something needs repair or maintenance. Historically, the Sacramento Northern used disconnect switches inside of their substations. Today, law requires inside disconnect switches to be enclosed, which is prohibitively expensive. The alternative is mounting disconnect switches on the electric wire poles. Terry Barnes donated two disconnect switches from the Milwaukee Road. The Milwaukee Road switches suited our needs because they were designed for 1,500 volts and our cars run at 600 volts. Terry and Don Meehan refurbished one of these switches and installed it on a pole next to the Julie Johnson Substation.

The AC power was turned on, the Julie Johnson Substation was energized, the electricity was converted to 600 volts DC, and our overhead wires gained reliable voltage over their entire length. It was a long road and I want to give special thanks to all the volunteers who worked on this project and to all of you who made donations to RF46: Destination Molena. Nothing was more rewarding this year than seeing the many happy faces riding on the Bridge Unit to the Pumpkin Patch and knowing that it would operate at full speed along the entire length of the track.