Short Utility Poles Along Rail Lines

Why are the utility poles along railroad tracks so short?

We’ve made an annual tradition of making a trip to Klamath Falls, OR to photograph the eagles that migrate south from the northern parts of North America December through February.  Along route 97 headed into Klamath Falls, the railroad tracks have short telephone poles, usually leaning at a good 15-35 degrees, parallel to the railroad tracks.  Being the curious people we are (well at least the non-photographers among us looking for things other than raptors along the way) we wanted to know why these poles are so short.  So of course my friend Google and I took up the task of finding out.  So here’s the deal…

The telegraph poles (yes, “telegraph” not “telephone”) are a holdout from years ago.  The poles are short for several reasons. First and foremost (at least it seems to me it should be first and foremost) the poles are short so that should they topple over for some reason (storm, earthquake, fraternity hazing activity…) they won’t block the track. Other reasons are cost and ease of maintenance.  Shorter poles, of course, cost less than longer poles.  Also, at the time these were put up, the voltage carried by the lines was fairly low compared to today’s power lines.  Since the right of way for railroad tracks was often restricted, safety concerns were less of a concern.  Over the years, the poles have sunk due to water tables, leaving them leaning at various degrees and shorter above ground.

What, you ask, were they used for? OK, so you didn’t ask (yet) but I’m going to tell you anyway 😊.  They were used for telegraphs (thus the name…), communications between depots and operators, signaling, what’s called CTC or “code lines” to communicate with remote switches and signals and in some cases, local telephone service.

Today, modernized lines communicate with microwave signals rendering the code lines obsolete.  And there you have it, folks – why the utility – I mean “telegraph” – poles along railroad tracks are so short. 😊