Interchange / Operations

Discussion in 'Model Rail Operations' started by Gary S., Nov 21, 2006.

  1. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Hey Guys:

    I’ve got some questions. I have an around-the-room shelf arrangement ready for an operations oriented layout. I want to freelance a shortline mimicking something like the Los Angeles Junction or the Empire and Modesto shortline. My shortline will be located in Texas in the 1960s era and the source of traffic for the industries on the layout will be interchange from two major railroads, the Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific.

    Let’s say I have two staging / interchange yards at the locations shown, one being the Santa Fe and the other being the Southern Pacific. Each interchange yard will have 6 or 7 tracks. The long tracks will hold maybe 11 cars, the short ones will hold maybe 5, so, on average, each track will hold about 8 cars.

    Now, thinking about operations, would I want to divide each interchange yard into “arrival” and “departure” tracks? The cars on the arrival tracks would be picked up and set out at my industries, plus some would be going through to the other interchange. The cars that are picked up from my industries would be placed on one of the departure tracks at one of the two interchanges, depending on where in the “off-the-layout” world it was headed to.

    Does this sound at least remotely prototypical? Any suggestions?

    Attached Files:

  2. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    Sounds pretty prototypical to me. My own layout is based on a belt line that mostly handled interchange traffic between different railroads. Operations consisted of breaking down incoming trains and cars from interchange points, bringing them through town and switching various local industries, and dropping off cars to be transferred to the interchanges on the other end of town. I like the idea of "visible staging" myself, having yards that look like modeled yards (not hard to build, not much in the way of complex scenery challenges) even though they might function as staging yards at least part of the time. Eager to see your track plans!
  3. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Thanks for the reply, Jetrock, I too like the idea of visible staging.

    So let's say I finish up an operating session, the arrival tracks are empty, and I have newly deposited cars sitting in the interchange yard departure tracks. These cars are destined for locations off the layout. Between sessions, I will remove these cars and place a new batch of cars on the interchange arrival tracks, ready to be moved to the industries during the next session. This way, the cars get rotated on and off the layout and keeps things interesting. Does this sound like a lot of trouble? Essentially, the rolling stock storage boxes would be my "hidden staging."

    As for the actual layout plan, I have been agonizing on this for awhile. The shelves were completed about 9 months ago!!! And I still don't have a plan. I guess the biggest hold-up is that I want an "operation oriented" railroad but since I am a newbie to model RR, I don't know what it is that makes a layout good for operations.
  4. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    First and foremost is a plan. Sounds like you already have that. My personal advice would be that if you have the shelves, start playing with some Snap-Track. Personally I prefer to build in stages, one module at a time, and you might try that in order to start operating quickly and then be able to build in more operation. The lower left corner looks like a good starting point: build trains from the incoming interchange traffic, then a road engine takes them and sets them out at the nearby industries. A fairly straightforward single-ended yard and a few facing-point spurs for the industries (necessitating either that the roadswitcher backs the cars it spots into place the length of the yard, or a small runaround track near the industrial area) should be enough to get started. You'll start out with more yard capacity than you'll need for your industries, but once you build that bridge and start adding industries on the far side of the river, you'll be able to take full advantage of your yard capacity.

    One nice thing about shelf layouts is their extreme linearity: it means that one can take real railroad track arrangements and create something very similar (although selectively compressed with sharper curves and shorter track lengths.) Google Earth can be very helpful for this.

    Personally, I occasionally swap out cars, but generally I assume that in between sessions the newly arrived cars that I shuffled for the northbound departing train have magically been transformed into the just-arrived cars from the southbound train. Shuffling them with the cars spotted in sidings on the layout (I use a "wheel report" system, basically trading spotted cars at industries for the cars on the local peddler) keeps things suitably mixed up.
  5. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    To a certain extent, I have been using some track to experiment with, and even if I come up with something I like, I still have my doubts as to whether it is good or not. What I plan on doing is throwing out my ideas to The Gauge and see what others think. Another thing I have been doing is looking at other layouts and photos, to get ideas. As an example, DoctorWayne's Gern Industries photos were making my mouth water. I want something like that on my layout! And, with all the linear space I have, I think I can put in some fairly large industries.

    You mentioned the linear layouts, I really like the point to point arrangement. Is your layout a shelf type?

    Now, back to operations: Let's say I am using the operating scheme I am proposing. With 3 arrival tracks per interchange, that puts about 24 cars, for a total of 48 coming into the shortline to be moved around and set out at the industries. There would be another 48 cars give or take already in the industries to be picked up and taken back to the interchanges. Does this sound feasible? Does that seem like the right number of cars for a layout this size?
  6. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Gary: That sounds like a lot of cars to me. How many operatirs do you plan on?
    We have a local shortline that used to be a Canadian Pacific branch. It has a junction at one end with CP -- that's a switch from a small yard. Just across the road from the yard is a passing siding.I haven't seen any operatiosn, but I think both roads leave interchange cars there. Quite possibly the shortline comes down and the loco hooks on the pickup cars, pushes them until the drops are all in the siding, uncouples, pushes until clear of the siding and then pulls the pickup cut back up the line.
    Farther up the line they cross CNR with a diamond (pair). There is a long siding that starts on the CN track. bends 90 degrees or more and runs parallel to the other line for a long distance and then joins it. I've been here almost 30 years and don't remember seeing any cars on it.
  7. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    Have you seen the article on The LA Junction in MR magazine. It was about six months ago, I believe.
  8. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Errr... so far just me = 1 operator:wave: ! But my "operating sessions" wouldn't be the normal 1 night affairs. Mine would be whenever I felt like running trains, and may extend for an hour here, an hour there, maybe for several weeks until I get all the incoming cars spotted at their industries, and all the pick-ups back to the departure tracks at the interchange. At that point, I would take the cars in the interchange off the layout, add new cars to the arrival tracks, and start all over.

    Now, this is all speculation on my part because I have never done any of this! If my plan sounds just plain wrong, someone please let me know. Most likely, I would start on a smaller scale as Jetrock mentioned, and kind of "grow" into a full fledged railroad.

    My thought is to model an industrial area shortline with a lot of traffic. My reasoning for this is that the three things that I am attracted to in the hobby are:

    1. Rolling stock and locos (haven't even got the layout planned but have already accumulated 160+ cars and 7 locos :rolleyes: )

    2. Industrial structures (h-e-g-t-l-p but already have built a couple of large factories and a grain elevator and a feed mill and several smaller structures.:rolleyes: )

    3. Operations with car cards and waybills. I like the point-to-point scheme because it is the most realistic operationally.

    If you have comments, I welcome them!
  9. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    I saw that one and have gone back and studied the article quite a bit. When I first came to The Gauge a year ago, I got to talking with Andrew (Iron Goat - haven't seen him on the site lately) and he had suggested I do a shortline with interchanges at both ends. He gave me a link to the "Empire and Modesto RR" and it seemed perfect for what I wanted.

    I think I have the overall concept for the layout, but just don't feel I have enough knowledge to determine the best track design for good operations.
  10. liven_letdie

    liven_letdie Member

    Not to be a stick in the mud but it is the Modesto and Empire Traction Co. I am in the process of hiring on there, should be good to go be end of next week as conductor trainee. As far as the layout I think you are right on track so to speak. It does seem however that there are some areas that need polishing though I hope we can all help you with that. Something you may want to consider. The M&ET operates on 5 sq mi of track between the UP ex SP and the BNSF ex SF lines. They have over 100 industries and have over 1000 frieght cars at any one time. They have a transload facility and several yards all within this area. I could easily see your layout having an operating scheme of 3 operators, possibly having the extra 2 operators as optional, or being able to fill them yourself. What I mean is that you could have some sort or engine house in the middle of the layout that dispatches crews to switch the interchange with the SP to the west, a crew to switch the interchange to the east with the BNSF and one or two to switch industries/make outbounds in the middle. This would be much easier to pull off realistically. On the down side it would limit the run throughs of Santa Fe/SP power. Just a thought. On another note, could you double deck your layout with a helix in the lower left corner? That might also change things too. Good luck!!!

  11. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Thanks for all the great info, Cory! And sounds like you will have a GREAT job = lots of info for us st The Gauge! :) I'm all ears to whatever insights you can provide.

    As for the helix, a double deck layout was in my original plan, with the helix in the area you mention. As I got to thinking about it, my status as a layout rookie made me change my mind = just keep it simple and straightforward, one level point-to-point.

    I don't know anyone else in my area that would want to operate with me, perhaps my wife would, she has helped me weather some cars and make trees, so she has shown a little interest but not a whole lot.

    If you think of any more operational tidbits, please throw them at me!
  12. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    The LA article is a good one, and there are lots and lots of other industrial sections of trackage you can insert to use.

    48 cars to interchange/switch will take a long time. For example, on my little Marlpost layout, I have a single main, a siding south of the main, and a runaround with another siding of it on the north side (see here for pictures:

    It took me an hour to stage and switch three 5 car trains. It was a lot of fun, and as you can see, it does not require a lot of complicated trackwork.

    Take a look at the "Castor River" modules in the Gallery at That might give you some ideas for a relatively modern industrial district. I have switched it at a couple of HOTrak meets, and it is quite challenging. Takes about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on a) how much you have to dro and lift, and b) what is already "in the way" ;)

    Good luck!

  13. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Thank you for the links and the info, Andrew. When you say you switched three 5 car trains, does that include picking up empties and taking them back?
  14. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    Gary S: My current layout is a point-to-point shelf layout consisting of three modules: one 6 foot long 1 foot deep yard, one 6x3 foot L-shaped module with four industries and a three-track loco storage yard/freight house, and one 3x1 foot mini module with a large cannery (two sidings, one for incoming reefers & canning materials, one for outbound canned goods.) I took some photos recently but now I can't find the camera I used to take the are some older pics I have posted before, they give a general sense of the track layout I use. The curves I use are very sharp (the switches are Peco "Setrack" and roughly equivalent to a #3 turnout, and the curve for the industry on the "L" is 12" radius in HO) to represent the line's heritage as an electric freight/interurban line--the biggest motive power I ever use is a GP-9, more often 44 ton GE switchers or an S1.

    The yard: four tracks, capacity around 36 40-foot cars
    transition between yard and industries hidden by (non-operating) Southern Pacific overhead mainline on berm
    Industrial area--it's NOT a Timesaver.
    other end of the industrial area
    my preferred type of motive power
  15. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Thanks for those photos... good looking work! Something like that is what I envision for my layout.

    In the first photo, I like the telephone poles and the low scenery you have against the backdrop. I have been wondering what I was going to do for my yard.

    The second and third photo are really nice. I would be very satisfied if I had something like that.

    Do you have a track plan I could see?
  16. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    In a word - yes ;)

    Each train (two eastbound and one westbound) had to set out and/or lift at least 4 of the five cars in the consist. Since Marlpost is not the "end of the line" there was through traffic as well (i.e. the one remaining car ;)).

    I also added some operating rules, such as stock cars must be blocked immediately behind the engine, and all engines must take water prior to departure. These rules are in line with what CN was practising in the 1920s and 1930s.

    The "staging" in my case is simply the 3 foot section of flex at either end of the town. I plan to improve on this, and if I was building something permanent like yours, I would definitely consider an interchange as "open staging" as you are doing.

  17. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    One thing to consider for off-line staging is the use of a cassette system: basically, a yard-long box with track on the bottom that can be attached to one end of the layout. Rather than use the ol' 0-5-0 switcher to move cars to and from the layout, they can be shuffled by rolling them from the layout onto a cassette, then detatching the cassette and putting it in storage elsewhere. The assumption is that the cassette represents off-layout locations.

    The modules in the photos are the first portions of what I hope will be a room-spanning layout, recently relocated from the garage in my old house to the basement of my new house, an 11x24 foot space. Its final form will include yards at either end with a long passing track in the middle. Prototype practice included two trains as part of each shift, one starting from the northern end and one from the southern end, that worked in opposite directions. Once I get everything built, it should be ideal for two operators, one working from either end. As with the prototype, the two trains will have a "scheduled meet" at the long passing track on S Street and continue past each other. I prefer the more ad-hoc feel of wheel-report operation to car cards, although I want to add a bunch more "special situation" cards, like scheduled fan trips (a common occurrence on the SN) and special moves involving pulling electric freight motors through non-electrified mainline (freight motors used in Marysville/Yuba City were maintained in South Sacramento, and had to be towed by diesels to & from the maintenance shops) and other localized oddities.
  18. liven_letdie

    liven_letdie Member

    Jetrock: I appreciate all the work you put into the modules, the results are quite nice. Photo 3 is exactly the feel I was going for on the 3x7 module I was constructing I am glad they will be living on in your current setup. I took a minute to look at your previous postings and I am impressed by your work, both modeling and historical. I will be paying more attention to what you contribute in the future :thumb:

    Gary: I can definately understand the apprehension for the helix. Many of us go through several layouts anyway so it can wait for the next one =]. In time you will find operators. I was very fortunate to get involved in operations early. It is actually what got me back into trains during my second childhood =]. It keeps the hobby fresh, and it is nice to not only have friends to share and enjoy it with but people who will actually enjoy helping you build and operate your layout. It is helpful to help others build their layouts too, I always make the mistakes somewhere else before it happens on my layout :D. Any experience is good experience, and living in the area you are in I am sure you could find others in your area that you could actually see a layout in operation. Flaws and areas of improvment quickly stand out, and it will help you focus on whats important for your own layout. Remember to learn from others mistakes, including your fellow gauge members :D. Do you have a copy of Track Planning for Realistic Operation or Creative Railroad Design by John Armstrong? They would be a good resource. If it is just going to be yourself operating I would take the advice of Andrew and add the operating rules to keep it interesting and puzzle like rather than loading in 50 car switching operations. It is more fun (and frustrating) to deal with special rules for Hazmat cars etc than just switching the same thing over and over. Hope this all helps! Let us know about your failures so I can learn something too sign1 And If you have any questions definately feel free to ask,

  19. shortliner

    shortliner Member

  20. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Gary,Your plan is a solid one and up to par with the prototype operations..You will need several cars on your layout-the more the marrier..Why? You will have empty home road cars,overflow car waiting for delivery at the industries..Remember it can take up to 2 days to unload some types of cars-as a example a covered hopper takes time to unload for many reason,a boxcar of lumber would be unloaded by hand see? Now in the mean new inbound loads will keep arriving for your industries.
    As far as equal number of set out/pickups that is a easy but unprototypical approach because the work load will vary due to customer demand..Some days you may have light work-2-3 cars or just a engine going out to pick up loads and empties...Other days you will have heavy work after all freight has to be picked up or delivered in a timely manner.IF it isn't your customers will turn to trucks.

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