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wm3798

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Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« on: February 16, 2009, 08:39:05 PM »
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After this weekend's adventure, I though it would be a good time to pull this topic out of the shadows and begin dissecting it as only the Railwire brethren can.

First, I'll outline some of the fundamentals that go into setting up an operating session on my layout.  This process is driven by my over-riding approach to the hobby, which is to attempt to simulate the operations of my given prototype during a particular era, with a reasonable degree of fidelity to the subject in terms of track plan, scenery, rolling stock and operations.  At that point I diverge significantly from the mantra of the Koesters, McLellands and Chubbs of the world, and that is the part about purpose.

For the hard core operators, the purpose of an operating session is to make believe they're running a transportation system.  It's a role playing game, complete with jargon, communications systems, and a rule-intensive approach to running the trains on the layout.  For me, the purpose is to get together with some friends that I don't get to see too often, meet a few new friends, and between beers and bull sessions, we run a series of trains that each have different jobs to do in an effort to move make believe freight around a make believe railroad.

That being said, in order to keep the train running part fun (and a little challenging) I try to arrange things so the operators can learn a little about the railroad I model, and about my model railroad.  (For instance, Ed, when a train is leaving Ridgely bound for Baltimore, it is an EAST bound train... ;D)   

My operations are based on the Western Maryland in the late 60's and early 70's.  This gives me a fairly broad canvas.  The hub of the layout is Hagerstown, which was the busiest point on the WM, filtering traffic from three directions on its own lines, plus traffic from the B&O, Reading, PRR and N&W.  Except for the few tons that moved toward Pittsburgh, just about every ton of coal that moved over the WM went through Hagerstown, as well as the lucrative and time sensitive "Alpha Jets"

So, with a very busy focal point like that, the layout has (or will have) several key components that not only provide interesting backdrops for running trains, but also provide the foundation for the operations.  To me, these features are a "Must Have" for any layout that attempts to simulate a prototype operation, whether to a degree of Obsessive Compulsion, or loosey goosey (like me). To wit:

A Yard.  There has to be a place to sort cars and get them blocked for the next train.  This can be "off stage" but it should be an integral part of the track plan.  If you have a small layout, then you only need a small yard, but you need to have a yard.  Don't kid yourself into thinking otherwise.

Some sort of staging.  This does not necessarily mean that you have to build an elaborate underground affair like I have, or some massive rig behind a backdrop where some poor devil has to spend the entire ops session cocooned in the bowels of the layout.  In the case of a simple branch line operation, it could simply be an interchange track where the "main line" carrier drops off cars for your short line to deliver.  To me, staging is simply the place where your train (or trains) begin or end their journey across your layout.  In the perfect world, my layout would have separate staging tracks to represent each of those destinations I described above, but that's not always practical.  My primary deficiency right now is the lack of direct access to staging from the west end of the railroad.  So I have to run the trains through the 5th dimension (basically back eastbound) to return to staging the same way they came.  Now that I have some room to work, that might soon be changing!

A Car Forwarding System
  Again, you can be as simple or as complex as you like.  Some guys want the train rosters for a particular day, then try to model every car in those trains.  They research the consists, schedules, etc. ad nauseum.  I admire their stamina.  Again, my goal is have traffic flow with a reasonable degree of realism, but not to the point where it consumes me or my time.  I use car cards that I made years ago out of 3x5 index cards, and 4 cycle waybills that I simply typed up in a business card format and printed out.  The more I learn, the more I add, but I don't get all in a twist if a delivery is headed to a plant that might have closed two years before my modeled era, or if a 53' gondola is sent on a mission that was only ever handled by a 55' one.  On a smaller layout, a simple switch list can be hand written and worked pretty efficiently.  But you should do something, even if it's just write down the car type and road name, so you have the opportunity to imagine what might be in it, and where it might be headed.

Passing Sidings  If you have the ability to dispatch trains in one direction or another, it's important to have someplace on the layout where they will meet.  There should be at least one siding that is long enough to handle the longest train you would run.  (Actually that's the corollary to the rule of thumb that you don't want to build a train that's longer than your longest siding).  Even the simplest roundy roundy layout can be made more interesting if one train has to hole up for a moment to wait for another train to pass.

Industrial Switching  There are plenty of "main line" style layouts that can operate without this element, but this is where the most basic part of railroading takes place, and to me, the most interesting.  Make some sidings where your railroad can serve some industries.  It'll give your yard a little more work to set up the local, and it'll give your railroad some revenue!  Some of the most fun layouts to run are nothing but industrial switching.

A Branch Line  Another personal preference of mine.  I love main line running, don't get me wrong.  But those sleepy branches are where the real action is.  Once my Thomas Sub line takes shape, it will have its own yard, and will be handling about one hundred hoppers during a session.  Supplying empties and pulling loads from the mines will keep a couple of crews busy for a whole session.  They'll also be providing the trains that will head east over the main via Hagerstown and on to Baltimore.  Again, it's quite possible to focus an entire layout on one branch line that serves only a handful of customers.  But all the elements are there... Yard and Staging represented at the interchange point, and industrial switching to keep an engineer and conductor amused for at least part of a session.

Interchange Traffic  This might be concealed in staging, or be a live interchange featuring some of the other line's trackage on your layout.  But it's critical to include that connection to the outside world where cars come from or go to once you've run them around your layout.

Now, there are as many operating requirements as there are modelers, so take this list for what it is.  But I'd be interested to hear what you would like to include in your operations based layout plan.  In the interest of time, if you don't have any desire to include operations, please don't post to this thread unless you are contributing to the topic.  I've given you a lot to think about, so I'm anticipating a lively discussion.

Lee 

« Last Edit: October 11, 2015, 04:40:05 PM by tom mann »
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John

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2009, 08:44:27 PM »
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I think my operation will be actually pretty close to yours, but I won't have any beers in the basement ;)

I think I will limit myself to about 7 operators ..

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2009, 09:28:23 PM »
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Guess y'all never heard of Rule "G" - no alcoholic beverages on the property nor while on duty. OTOH, we had a crew outlaw on the CINR at Decatur, IN and I drove the President and Superintendent over from Huntington to relieve them. They had me stop along the way to pick up a sixpack of beer to share while bringing the train back to Huntington.  :o :o :o

I had assumed there were no other model railroaders around here until I got a call from the former Auditor and IT guru at the old AN, who is working with Early Childhood Education as CFO and moonlighting at computer repair. He was three houses down from me with another retiree who built a four car garage with a train room above it. He's in HO, though and looking for someone to help him build a layout as he had a stroke. I never planned for more than one person operation, but might have to reconsider. I plan four types of train, inbound  from staging to yard, outbound from yard to staging, local turn, and "milk run" with a single coach. No schedules, and haven't decided what type of car system.  I don't want to turn my model railroad into what my dad called a "busman's holiday", where the bus driver's family wants to drive across the country.

John

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2009, 09:31:19 PM »
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Gregg .. good news for you .. someone to share the hobby with, and close by ..

John

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2009, 09:38:36 PM »
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My layout is a little bigger than Lee's, but not as advanced in the development of the operating scheme.

I have 2 yards, on the lower level, and an upper level that is one big loop , and will also have staging for actors to come in.

The yards are 4 track and 8 tracks. There will be a stell mill, consisting of the whole gamut of walthers kits, at least 3 coal mines, and several other paired industries, - saw mill, lumber yard,    quarry, rock crusher   coal --> power plant, coke plant

wm3798

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2009, 07:31:31 AM »
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The paper mill has been permanently relegated to the module then?

Lee
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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2009, 07:32:40 AM »
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The paper mill has been permanently relegated to the module then?

Lee

No .. not really .. I am trying to figure out how to work it in

cv_acr

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2009, 01:39:45 PM »
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For the hard core operators, the purpose of an operating session is to make believe they're running a transportation system.  It's a role playing game, complete with jargon, communications systems, and a rule-intensive approach to running the trains on the layout.  For me, the purpose is to get together with some friends that I don't get to see too often, meet a few new friends, and between beers and bull sessions, we run a series of trains that each have different jobs to do in an effort to move make believe freight around a make believe railroad.

It is a role-playing game - but multiplayer games are more fun than solitaire!

asciibaron

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2009, 03:26:56 PM »
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the goal of an operating session is to have an operating railroad, just not in 1:1.  there are many concessions that must be made due to a lack of space, but working within those constraints, a workable facsimile of the 1:1 should be possible resulting in a plausible "drama."  one of the keys to a successful operating session is the sequencing of events on the railroad.  train A should not arrive with cars for train B after train B leaves from the interaction point.  if that happens, the results will cascade until the entire railroad is shutdown while everyone points fingers because they are missing cars or can't move because they have no place to go.

the only way to work out sequencing is to do it.  time how long it takes a train to traverse the layout between points.  figure out how long it would take a local to make it's rounds.  assemble some trains and see how long it takes a yard crew to re-class them and get them ready to leave. 

like everything that requires success, practice is a very important aspect of creating a decent operating session.  there is no magic software that eliminate planning and replanning a session.  it might take more than dozen times to really lock into a sequence that works for your layout.  it's easy to dismiss operations as boring if the hard work isn't done well ahead of a planned session with the guys.

slowly add trains until the session has met your goal and the layout is not smoking from burned up wiring and fried switch machines.

-steve
« Last Edit: February 17, 2009, 03:30:02 PM by asciibaron »
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wm3798

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2009, 03:32:49 PM »
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Very true.  Things went halfway smoothly Sunday because there's getting to be some "regulars" who are familiar with the basic jobs.  That being said, there's always room for improvement, and many of the suggestions I've been getting have been added to the 'to do' list.

This is very helpful stuff.

Lee
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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2009, 03:42:39 PM »
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Our club layout has pretty much everything you've mentioned.

A yard - Sudbury yard is basically the focal point of the layout, and a massive hub of activity. It easily keeps two yard switchers active in addition to the yardmaster, and we're still not running all of the local traffic as much of the layout is still under construction. It's definately already and interesting and busy place! Also, the CPR's transcontinental passenger train, the Canadian, split into Montreal and Toronto sections at Sudbury, and that switching will also require some help from the yard crews.

Staging - Staging yards at every exit from the layout. Eventually, when the layout is completed there will be 5: Toronto, Sault Ste Marie, Montreal, and Thunder Bay-Winnipeg, as well as CN staging for live interchange in two spots. (Actually Montreal and Winnipeg will end up being the same complex, as they are opposite ends ofthe line, but physically end up in the same spot. So 4 yards.

Car forwarding system - Car cards & waybills.

Passing sidings - Mainline sidings should handle a 30-40 car train. We know which siding will be the shortest on the mainline, but it hasn't been built yet, so it remains to be seen the exact number that siding will fit. It will be as long as we can fit. Sidings on the branchline will only handle about a 20 car train.

Industrial switching & Branch line - 3 branchlines are served out of the main yard, as well as some scattered mainline industries and industrial spurs.

Interchange traffic - Live interchange with CN (including off-layout CN staging), as well as a few interchanges with INCO and Falconbridge private industrial railways.

cv_acr

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2009, 03:55:34 PM »
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one of the keys to a successful operating session is the sequencing of events on the railroad.  train A should not arrive with cars for train B after train B leaves from the interaction point.  if that happens, the results will cascade until the entire railroad is shutdown while everyone points fingers because they are missing cars or can't move because they have no place to go.

That happens all the time. Cars can sit in yards for a day or two before making a connection. Model railroads are sometimes way more efficient than the real thing.

The key is to have your system work that way. Some computer switchlist programs assume that trains are always making connections, and that the cars are ready to be lifted. If they're not, things get messed up. With car card and waybill systems, the paperwork is with the cars, you classify them as they're dropped off, and departing trains take whatever is available for them. There could very well be another 5 cars for that train's destination that haven't been sorted yet - oh well. They just go out on the next train, or the next day/session.

wm3798

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2009, 04:28:29 PM »
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Agreed.  The great equalizer seems to be the 4 cycle waybill.  If these are written in a sequence, I've found that you almost never miss a connection, and the locals seem to build themselves.  I can definitely see where the prototype could be less predictable.

My waybills are typically set up to run the car from end to end (east staging to west staging) then from west staging to some point on the layout, from that point back off to the west, and finally a through movement back to the east, where it's ready to go back to the first step in the cycle.

To keep things from getting clogged up in the locals, instead of an "on layout" destination, I'll send the car back through, but via a different train, so it still has to get re-classed in the yard.  Example:  Step 1- Lurgan-Connellsville-NW (AJ-1 the whole way), Step 2, Connellsville-NW to Baltimore (AJ-2 to Ridgely, then WM-6 to Baltimore), Baltimore-Connellsville-P&LE (BT-1 Thru) Then Connellsville-P&LE-Lurgan (WM-6 to Ridgely, then AJ-2 to Lurgan).  This type of routing is set up for the majority of the cars, since there are very few on-line spots.

Another trick that we can do that the big boys generally do not, is to re-block the train so it's ready to be switched when it comes back to the yard.  The beauty of active staging is you can have an operator responsible for re-blocking "off stage".  This saves time getting out of the yard, and it shuffles the cars a bit so the train looks different when its returning, even though it's the same cars.

Lee
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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2009, 04:59:01 PM »
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On our layout, there's a lot of classification of staging-to-staging traffic exchanging between trains at Sudbury, since there's 4 different directions that traffic can take, not counting local deliveries. Because the trains that pass are going in all directions possible, there's isn't a sequence of trains that will be guaranteed to get a car connected and delivered in the same operating session.

For example, in the early morning, 955 arrives in Sudbury to clog up the yard in inbound cars. It's a Toronto-Sudbury junk train that brings in local traffic for the area. Some traffic will be destined for local industries, some will be empty paper boxcars for assignment, and some will be headed for Sault Ste Marie. There are two trains which could pick up the Sault traffic; 911, which passes roughly the same time as 955, so it won't make that connection, or 96, a Sault-Sudbury & return local, which arrives in the evening. Now 96 will invariably drop a lot of Sault-Toronto bound traffic, and the only train to take that traffic will be 50, 955's counterpart which has already left in the late afternoon/early evening. So 96's Toronto-bound traffic won't get pulled out of the yard until about 20 hours later. It may not even get sorted by midnight (end of the session) and remain to be the yard's first task the next session. Additionally other locals will be in and out of Sudbury during the course of the day with other traffic that will be destined for Toronto, some of which will make it out on that day's 50, some of which will wait until tomorrow.

Outbound Montreal traffic can be lifted by 912 (very early morning, 4-5 am) or 974 (afternoon-evening), and the lower amounts of traffic for Thunder Bay, Winnipeg & west is really only lifted by 951. So westbound cars could easily sit around in the yard for quite a while before getting pulled out.

There are additional through trains that could lift traffic if required, but normally don't.

Also, Toronto to North Bay (in the direction of Montreal staging) traffic is transferred at the junction where the lines diverge, so that takes a bit of load off the yard.

wm3798

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Re: Week 4,378: Operations - How much is too much?
« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2009, 05:28:32 PM »
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That's very similar to Hagerstown.  Destinations out of the yard, going counter-clockwise from the east, Baltimore via the East Sub (Westminster), Baltimore via the Dutch Line (Gettysburg), York via the Dutch Line, Lurgan, PA (near Shippensburg, connection to the Reading), North Junction (PRR), Cumberland, Cherry Run (B&O Connection across the Potomac) PRR (Winchester Branch), and B&O Weverton Branch.
At Cumberland, you'd get trains from Elkins, and all the coal from the Thomas Sub, then the B&O at City Jnct., PRR State Line Branch to Bedford, the B&O yard at Cumberland, plus WM trains from the Connellsville sub, which included trains from Somerset PA, Connellsville (PWV/NW or P&LE, plus another B&O connection), and Bowest, where the lines from Fairmont, WV came in via trackage rights.

The railroad basically works out to a big "X" the the middle being the line between Cumberland and Hagerstown, where just about every train crossed at one point or another.  Ideally, each destination would have a three track balloon for turning traffic back toward the scenery.

Lee
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