Author Topic: Thinking about operations...  (Read 2760 times)

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wm3798

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Thinking about operations...
« on: April 27, 2008, 10:22:08 AM »
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Yesterday Ed and Brian popped by for a some informal train running.  We didn't mess with schedules or car cards or any of the usual paraphernalia associated with an operating session.  We just set 'em up and let 'em run.

We did bring trains into the yard, switch out blocks cars and do our power swaps, but there wasn't a bunch of flipping through paperwork.

I guess we ran for about three hours, and we ran a fair number of movements on and off the layout.  I dare say we had as much fun as we had during our last session, where there were six operators, a tight schedule, and upwards of 20 train movements.

Maybe its due to the smallish nature of the layout, or perhaps it's because Brian and Ed are my two "regulars" who've been on hand for every ops session, but it seems like the railroad is in a good groove, and we really don't need to follow the formalities to get the jobs done.  As usual, Ed gravitated to the yard, and Brian ran the mill job.  We all took turns running the road freights in and out of staging.

I'm finding that the more I adapt the layout for full blown operations, the less I want to do the tedious part of working up waybills and all that.  I guess having developed a sequential schedule, the worst part of the set-up is over.  But I still find that the idea of handling all those cards is getting less and less appealing.

That being said, I recognize that when we have a larger operating group, with fewer guys that are familiar with the layout, having the card system in place can be helpful to keep things moving.  But there's still the issue of setting it all up each time.

In the perfect world, once it's set up, it stays set up as long as I pay attention and follow through with the paperwork after an evening of "just playing"... But as my CPA will tell you, I'm not much for following through with paperwork!

So here's my dilemma.  I really like the feel of prototypical operations.  Running that full schedule during the last session was pretty exhilarating, and I think everyone enjoyed it.  But even then, we were working purely off of switch lists that were hastily prepared on the fly.  (I had planned to be more prepared, but my paperwork ennui got to me the week before!)

So do I push my personal envelope and really buckle down to tighten up the operating potential of the layout?  Or do I put on the Hawaiian shirt, grab a beer, and let the trains run more "organically?"

The other question would be, what's your preference, and how do you approach train movements on your layout?

Lee
Route of the Alpha Jets

Lee Weldon www.wmrywesternlines.net

3rdrail

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2008, 10:35:57 AM »
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Lee, its supposed to be fun, it's a hobby, not a common carrier transportation company!  If paperwork isn't your cup of tea, why do it? After all, you're not collecting freight charges from anyone, are you?

What I'd suggest is work up a blank switch list for, and hand write what's on, each track at the beginning of a session and then what should be there at the end and let the operators figure out how to achieve it, if, and only if, you want a challenge. It's gotta be fun and it's your railroad.
« Last Edit: April 27, 2008, 10:59:33 AM by 3rdrail »

ljudice

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2008, 10:42:10 AM »
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I admire and am a little jealous of you guys who can perform realistic operations on your layouts. But the kind of railroading I've always watched is more the "sitting on the mainline 50 miles from terminals on either end, waiting to see what comes next".

I am going for more of the "railfanning" the middle of a mainline - probably with just two significant industries - a quarry handling ballast cars and other hoppers, and probably a modern brewery. A couple of other industries like a asphalt unloader, a scrap metal/recyler, feed/fertilizer farm products business and that's it. 95% of the time will be watching trains, then once in a while play with the industries.

Lou

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2008, 11:04:22 AM »
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I think it's nice to be able to go both ways like Lee did with his layout. The informality was nice yesterday, but there a few annoyances, like looking at a block of cars that arrived in the yard and thinking "where should THESE go?".

If you could tie up that end, I think the laid back version would be more fun. But then again, that all only works because we know where stuff tends to go and what it does.

justTRAINcRaZy

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #4 on: April 27, 2008, 11:16:14 AM »
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I was at an Ops session on Michael Pennie's Penn Central yesterday. He uses those round stick on dots from Office Depot and prints the destination on them. Sticks one on the top of each car. The paperwork for each train just lists the number, origination, destination and stops. The thru trains don't have the dots, just the orders.

All the yard guys have to do is look at the top of each car to see what stays and what goes. Very simple and nothing to mess up except when one of the dots falls off and you get a car with no idea where it's supposed to go.

KB

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #5 on: April 27, 2008, 12:04:59 PM »
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I think it's nice to be able to go both ways like Lee did
You two are freaking me out!   :-X

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Bob Knight

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wm3798

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #6 on: April 27, 2008, 12:44:51 PM »
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You started it, Bob... Showing off your caboose for all to admire :o

You better start etching storm drains... all that time your mind spends in the gutter! ;D

Meanwhile, back at the topic...  I hate the idea of putting stickers or pins on the rolling stock.  To me that's a total cop out, and completely obliterates the visual aspect of running the railroad.

I suppose Ed's right... and the time spent setting up the paper work is well spent as it smooths out and simplifies the operation itself...  It can actually make the operating a little more casual if it's organized... if that makes sense.

Lee
« Last Edit: April 27, 2008, 12:47:18 PM by wm3798 »
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DKS

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #7 on: April 27, 2008, 01:04:39 PM »
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You better start etching storm drains...

I wish he would. I'm always using chopped up vents for HO diesels...

Sorry, thread hijack! Back to ops...
« Last Edit: April 27, 2008, 01:08:22 PM by David K. Smith »
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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #8 on: April 27, 2008, 01:10:10 PM »
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Wait a minute, you told me you had a date with someone else tomorrow night...... oh,.... wait...

I guess you ARE about to date yourself... :-X

You'll get pimples that way, you know...
Lee
Turnabout in your thread is fair play isn't ??   ;D
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Bob Knight

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wm3798

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2008, 01:26:36 PM »
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Got me!

Well, the layout is built with ops in mind, with a yard, several industrial locations and staging in place.  It also provides for continuous running which is handy both for breaking in new equipment as well as railfanning.

When the crew comes over, it is definitely a participatory sport.  As I said, when things are semi-organized, we can run a lot of trains on a fairly tight schedule, and things flow pretty well.

While I enjoyed myself yesterday, there were a couple points where it got a little frustrating as trains piled up heading into the yard, and the main got blocked up while a local was fiddled with.

So really, it seems like the more organized you are, the more smoothly the session can run, with the result being a more relaxing and enjoyable operating session...  The hard work of preparation provides for an easier time running trains...

But then the question remains, how much is too much?  I'm too visually oriented to use things like colored dots or pins on the cars themselves, but I'm just not (as) interested in writing up all those waybills for 300 pieces of rolling stock.  Somewhere in the middle is the happy medium, and I think that means preparing switchlists based on the equipment that's on the layout at the time of the session.  Again, more work, but more flexible than car cards which require you to know exactly where every car is and where it's going.  If something gets moved and the card doesn't get moved with it... (I'm guilty of this ALL THE TIME!) then I have to play hunt 'n peck to reset everything.

Using switchlists, I can simply write up the cars in a particular train or at a particular station, figure out where I want them to go, then hang the list at the station so when the crew gets there they know what to do with them.  Cars that just run through don't need to be written up at all, or just mentioned as "Thru East," or "Thru West."

I'll probably still keep making up car cards, because they are a good way to keep track of inventory (I have a spreadsheet, but the cards are great for taking an actual physical inventory... handy after taking the trains to a show to run on someone else's layout).

Well, it' all very evolutionary...  We'll see where we go from here!

Lee
Route of the Alpha Jets

Lee Weldon www.wmrywesternlines.net

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #10 on: April 27, 2008, 01:40:02 PM »
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Lee,

Have you thought of some of the software out there for waybill operation. It may make you life easier in this respect.

Just a thought.

Regards
Bob Knight

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #11 on: April 27, 2008, 01:52:55 PM »
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Two words: application development.

I KNOW there's software out there to do this stuff. Have you checked out the opsig? When I get to figuring that junk out, I know those are the cats I'M going to be asking this stuff of.

I wanted to mention this too, I can understand how to move stuff around the yard because I have an understanding of the way cars move. What different car types are for (ie, why that PC 50' insulated box wasn't going to be heading to the same place as the PCA 50' general service boxcar). And that western cars in the yard are either heading to a customer, or heading back to their home roads. You don't really have many industries that would be originating outbound stuff for the west (ie, the GN / UP cars). Maybe from the paper mill though.

But you don't really have much "car ordering" going on, which makes things easy. If it's an outbound GN car, it goes on AJ1 or AJ3. No questions about it. That keeps things simple.

But if you were to have an ops session without someone who knew that stuff, you'd HAVE to have some paperwork that told them what to do.

Personally, I didn't really like the little yellow slips you've got right now. Mostly just the ergonomics of them. I'd like them to be bigger so I can read / write on them easier. But combining those with waybills for the cars is REALLY the way to go.

What part of the process is it that is a pain? Writing the waybills? THAT part can be easily automated (especially because it's very recurring, remember, railroads are really "process" oriented transportation.  Customer x ships out cars routinely to customer y on railroad z. They do this almost every day, with little variation. Therefore, you could, conceivably, write something in excel or something like that that that just prints out a bunch of pre-defined waybills where you just have to write in the car information.

In FACT, that'd be pretty accurate. The waybills are shipments that need the correct cars to be assigned to. I bet you'd only have to create 25 variations and you'd be largely there.

Let me work through that here. These are going to be VERY simplified, but should get you rolling. The First column is the load, second is destination and train routing, third is RR routing.

Loads from Westvaco (assuming it makes news print only)
News Print - To New York City Area Via AJ2 |WM - RDG - CNJ|
News Print - To Chicago Area Via AJ3 |WM - RDG|
News Print - To Philadelphia Area Via AJ2
News Print - To Pittsburgh Area Via AJ1
News Print - To Buffalo Area Via PC Turn |WM - PC|
News Print - To Norfolk Via NW interchange |WM - NW|
News Print - To Baltimore via AJ2 (I think) |WM|

Loads To Westvaco
Bleaching Chemicals - From Baltimore via AJ1
Bleaching Chemicals  - From Philly via AJ3

(ok, gotta run, will continue later, but you get the idea...)

Dave V

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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2008, 02:05:08 PM »
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I've agonized over operations myself, so I feel your pain, Lee.

I went straight from 'roundy-round to waybills and car cards and that may be the problem.  Sounds like switchlists are more manageable for certain applications.  I may give the switchlist a shot next time.
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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2008, 02:15:57 PM »
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As one of Lee's regulars, I have done it both ways. I think the car cards/waybill combination would have been easier with the three of us yesterday. With Ed already backed up with inbound freight, I enjoyed having a moment of my own to get ready for the local and also preparing the empties.

I enjoy running the mill job and assembling the outbound trains, but, I do feel the pressure of having the main tied up as I switch cars around when others want to run a train, especially the Alpha Jets. At the last ops. session when 6 people were there, I felt like I was holding up other's enjoyment of an awesome layout. If Lee were to make me the yardmaster, I don't think I would have as big an understanding as Ed has of that role of assembling trains (and potential paperwork), therefore dramatically slowing things down.

The main reason I feel for all of us to run on the layout is to have fun! Its a little work sometimes to have fun (does that make sense?). I will give Lee a copy of the switchlist I use for work on the MDDE. Maybe this will give him an idea for the bigger ops sessions (switchlist versus waybills/car cards).

Great pics Lee and Ed!
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Re: Thinking about operations...
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2008, 02:24:31 PM »
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I liked what 3rd Rail said : "It's a hobby...not a real railroad" !

Lee, when you are operating the layout with just a few friends maybe it would help if you don't pull all the staging tracks and run all the jobs. A prototypical railroad only accomplishes a certain amount of work in a 24 hour period. Run a yard job, mill job and a through freight or two to feed the jobs and enjoy a slower, more realistically paced operating session. When friends are there for an operating session then use the " paperwork" but only if you need to.
Some of the layouts I have operated on used a few simple maps of yard/switching locations and a general idea of the car types used for each industry without a lot of details.

Several times as a railroader I could pick out cars coming to my railroad from an interchange yard just by knowing which cars went to which customers  on our railroad. Mechanical reefers went to Termicold or Seneca Foods, 50' plain boxcars often went to Packaging Corporation, asphalt tank cars went Texpar, plastics covered hoppers went to Amoco, mty gons went veneer loading etc..

As far as simple paperwork:
One railroad I managed used only a simple form I made up from a piece of legal paper. It listed each car by initial/number, load or empty, customer, pulled or spotted and time it happened . At the end of the day, this sheet was faxed to the general offices of the company to be entered into the computer for billing purposes. The only other documents used were a copy of the inbound/interchange list of cars from the delivering/connecting railroad and an outbound list of cars returning back to the interchange railroad which again was faxed to the corporate office.

Guys, it really can be simple and fun... it does not need to be complicated unless that is your desire.

Just my 1 3/4 cents for what is worth.

Barry