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FORUM CLINIC: Operating like the prototype
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joef
Tue Aug 08 2006, 03:02PM


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Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 2112
I think it's time to start a new forum clinic, this time on operating your layout like the prototype.

TOPIC THIS POST: Railfan versus Engineer
People have mixed feelings on the topic of operations, because "prototype operation" has been used as a baseball bat against some modelers to beat them about the head and shoulders and say that "just running trains" or wanting to build a layout just to railfan trains is somehow bad.

Let me start off by saying that I don't agree with the idea of using prototype operations as a club against those who like to railfan and just run trains on their layout without a lot of structure. Let's talk about this notion a bit more.

RAILFAN versus ENGINEER
Several years ago now, the Layout Design Special Interest Group (LDSIG) did a survey of the membership and discussed this whole area of the "Railfan" versus the "Engineer".

The railfan likes to just see trains run, and the more trains running, the more fun it is. Having a layout with nice scenery helps a lot, and the railfan loves being able to take in a room-wide scenic vista, with lots of trains in motion.

The engineer, on the other hand, wants to focus on running a single train and to follow its action from point A to point B. The engineer's focus is on engine and the train, but not much more than that. The engineer prefers a walkaround layout where they can stay close to the train and to get a good sense of progress and that the train is doing useful work. Scenery or lack thereof doesn't really matter -- it's all about modeling this one train realistically and accurately.

Each of us falls somewhere along this continuum ...



So if you are mostly a railfan at heart, then you won't mind a "spagetti" track plan, and you really won't be into realistic prototype operations with a dispatcher, correct operating procedures, and so on.

But if you lean more toward the engineer side, then having a linear walkaround design will be important to you so you can walk along with your train, and learning to operate like the prototype will be a high priority to you.

Both the railfanning and the engineer approach are valid -- and it's important to determine where your leanings in the hobby lie as early as possible, otherwise you could end up designing the *wrong* kind of layout. This is why the LDSIG survey and discussion around this point was so valuable to me.

I realized from this discussion that my leanings are toward the engineer. I have some railfanning moments, but my real passion is the engineer. This means I should design my layout to facilitate this leaning.


Dale Trongale operating as an "Engineer" on the HO Siskiyou Line

Therefore, my layout is a linear walkaround design that lets me follow a train along a route. The train does not pass through a scene more than once, and you can't see the whole layout anywhere in my layout room. This sort of design, you should realize, would be anathema to a dyed-in-the-wool railfan!

The rest of this clinic will be mostly for those who have engineer leanings. My operation approach does accommodate my railfan moments, but it's very much to satisfy the engineer passion I have.

TOPIC NEXT POST: What do we mean by 'prototype operation'?

[ Edited Sat Oct 21 2006, 03:23PM ]

Joe Fugate
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joef
Tue Aug 08 2006, 08:52PM


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My good friend and fellow modeler Charlie Comstock has some very insightful comments on operations. In order to keep this forum clinic from getting overwhelmed with lots of side comments, I moved Charlies great comments to its own thread.

To view Charlie's thoughts, click here. It's worth the read!

Joe Fugate
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joef
Tue Aug 08 2006, 09:26PM


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TOPIC THIS POST: What do we mean by 'prototype operation'?

Let's start with the very basics and add on details as we go. My hope is that way you can see how easy and fun prototype operations can be if you don't overwhelm everybody at first.

So what's 'prototype operation'?
This means in its simplest form, the trains have a prototypical purpose for running. Beyond that, we add prototypically inspired operation procedures that minimize model railroad thoughts. A model railroad thought reminds us this is just a toy train that's not real. When we operate like the prototype, we want to think like this is a massive full sized train that needs to be handled with skill if it is to get where it's going safely and without mishap.



So we start with the very basics. The train isn't running just because the engineer got bored and wanted to see some scenery. The railroad is transporting freight or people somewhere. This much should be pretty obvious.

But as we delve into the details, things may not be so obvious. Let's get into some more of those details.

THROUGH TRAINS: A through train is a train that runs from one yard to another yard many miles away.

LOCAL TRAIN: A local freight train is one that runs from a yard to deliver cars to nearby industries. A local passenger train is one that runs from a yard to a terminating station stop nearby.

There are lots of variations and some exceptions to these definitions, but if you get these two types of trains down, you have a good foundation for further understanding of how to operate like the prototype.

An example of an exception to the above definitions is a local train that runs from yard to yard. This is typically called a TRANSER RUN and is used within major metropolitan areas to move a bunch of cars from one yard to another so the cars can then be sent out as a normal LOCAL TRAIN from the destination yard to industries.

So to start out prototype operation, it helps to have some idea of what through trains you want to run and what local trains you want to run.

So how do you do that? Well, remember the basic flow of a railroad car is:

  • Rail car is empty
  • Industry contacts the railroad to ship product
  • Railroad sends empty car to industry
  • Industry loads empty car
  • Railroad picks up loaded car and delivers it to where it needs to go


In my case on my Siskiyou Line, I was able to "cheat" and model what the prototype did. If you are freelancing, you should pick a favorite prototype or two and study what they did to come up with your trains.

On the Siskiyou Line, empty cars went south (railroad WEST) to the Lumber mills, and cars loaded with lumber came north (railroad EAST). From this point forward, we will use the railroad directions in our discussion. The major yards on the Siskiyou Line from East to West are:

  • Eugene
  • Roseburg
  • Medford


In the next post, we will take a look at what trains the prototype ran and why -- and how I model them on my HO Siskiyou Line.

TOPIC NEXT POST: Figuring out what trains to run

[ Edited Tue Aug 08 2006, 09:28PM ]

Joe Fugate
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joef
Wed Aug 09 2006, 03:04AM


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TOPIC THIS POST: Figuring out what trains to run

In this post, we are going to learn about setting up through trains and locals by considering an example -- how I figured out what trains to run on my HO Siskiyou Line.

From the last post, we know the prototype SP Siskiyou Line had these major yards in southern Oregon, from East to West:

  • Eugene
  • Roseburg
  • Medford


The prototype ran two major through trains between Eugene and Medford called, appropriately enough, the Siskiyou Line West (Eugene to Medford) and the Siskiyou Line East (Medford to Eugene).

The prototype also ran two through trains between Eugene and Roseburg called the Seagull West (Eugene to Roseburg) and the Seagull East (Roseburg to Eugene).

Since my layout also includes a proto-freelanced version of the Coos Bay coast branch that connects in at Roseburg, Oregon, we also run two through trains between Eugene and Coos Bay yard on the Oregon coast. The prototype called these Eugene - Coos Bay trains "Coos Bay Haulers", with a hauler being the SP's term for a slow-running through train. No hurry -- it will get there eventually.

Roseburg yard is a focal point on my layout, so once cars make it to Roseburg from Eugene on the Seagull West through train, those cars need to go somewhere. Now let's consider the locals the prototype would run out of Roseburg.

One of the major industries within 10 miles of Roseburg is the massive Roseburg Forest Products facility. This one industry complex runs for over a mile along the prototype, and can originate dozens of railcars a day loaded with lumber. This is one industry!


The Dole Turn has just arrived back in Roseburg yard after working the Roseburg lumber mill and is getting switched by yardmaster Brandon Thompson

The SP ran a single local just between Roseburg and this *one* industry in the Dillard/Dole area. The SP named this train the Dole Turn, or the "Fruit Loop" as the crews called it. Railroaders love to give cute names to things, and this local was no exception.

Note: A TURN is a special type of local train that runs one direction, does some switching, then turns, does some more switching, and then returns. When we get to our discussion on industry switching, we'll talk about a turn in more detail.

The SP ran two other locals out of Roseburg yard to industries -- one local to the East called the Oakland Turn, and the other local to the West called the Riddle Turn.

The Oakland Turn would run from Roseburg, through Sutherlin, Oregon and switch industries, then through Oakland, Oregon and switch industries, and just past Oakland toward Rice Hill, Oregon to switch any industries -- then turn and return to Roseburg. The SP used town abbreviations and a train type on their train designations, so for a time, the Oakland Turn's designation was ROOKT (ROseburg to OaKland Turn) ... crews took this designation and nicknamed this train the "Rice Hill Rocket".

THE TRAINS WE RUN
Eugene yard on my layout is a staging yard, and likewise Medford is a staging yard. A staging yard is a yard "out of sight" on your layout that represents your layout's connection to the rest of the world and is just used to store ready-made trains. In my case, my staging yard is double ended and located in my basement shop area.



Eugene and Medford Staging on my HO Siskiyou Line

So my staging yard is visible, it's just "in the back room". One end of the double-ended staging yard represents Eugene, the other end represents Medford. Roseburg yard and Coos Bay yard are modeled on my layout. To see my entire track plan, click here.

So we run these WESTBOUND through trains out of Eugene staging:
  • Siskiyou Line West (Eugene -> Medford)
  • Seagull West (Eugene -> Roseburg)
  • Coos Bay Hauler West (Eugene -> Coos Bay)


We run this EASTBOUND through train out of Medford Staging:
  • Siskiyou Line East (Medford -> Eugene)


We run this EASTBOUND through train out of Coos Bay yard:
  • Coos Bay Hauler East (Coos Bay -> Eugene)


We run this EASTBOUND through train out of Roseburg yard:
  • Seagull East (Roseburg -> Eugene)


We run these LOCAL trains out of Roseburg yard:
  • Oakland Turn (Rice Hill Rocket)
  • Dole Turn (Fruit Loop)
  • Riddle Turn


And finally, we run this LOCAL train out of Coos Bay yard:
  • Myrtle Point Turn


Hopefully, you can see how the prototype uses a mix of through and local trains to get the railcars where they need to go in an organized and efficient manner. Each train has a purpose and a reason for being run.

Now that we have some idea of the trains we want to run, it's time to start operating!

TOPIC NEXT POST: Getting started operating

[ Edited Wed Aug 09 2006, 11:11AM ]

Joe Fugate
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bear creek
Thu Aug 10 2006, 04:17PM

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Joe,

Since you're a prototype oriented modeler the decision on whether to run a local as a "point to point" train (say from Eugene to Roseberg) or a 'turn' (from Roseberg to a town then return to Roseberg) was made for you by the Espee's operating practices.

But if you were freelancing or protolancing are layout and were deciding which trains to run, how would you decide whether to serve a town or industry area with a turn or a point-to-point local?

Cheers,
Charlie

[ Edited Thu Aug 10 2006, 06:48PM ]

Bigwig Bear Creek & South Jackson Railway Co.
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joef
Thu Aug 10 2006, 06:54PM


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Charlie:

A lot of it would be which you liked better, as are many things with freelancing.

A turn works all the trailing point turnout industries going out, but ignores the facing point ones, since that would involve more moves to runaround the train.

At the end of its run, the turn locos run around the train, puts the caboose on the rear, and then returns, switching the previous facing point turnout industries because they are now trailing point and easy to switch.

A regular local switches town-by-town, running around the train as many times as necessary to switch the town's industries.

A turn is a more modern invention and the general notion is running a local as a turn is more efficient than running it as a town-by-town local.

We'll talk more about turns when we get to the industry switching part of this clinic, since we'll also talk about the facing point turnout problem in depth at that time.

Joe Fugate
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joef
Fri Aug 11 2006, 02:22AM


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TOPIC THIS POST: Getting started operating

Once you have some idea of the trains you want to run, it's time to get started running some trains. Forget fast clocks, car cards, track warrants and all that for now. Just list the trains you want to run, in the order you want to run them, and invite some friends over who are interested in learning to run trains on your layout "Engineer" style.

RUNNING TRAINS IN SEQUENCE
Pick someone to be the dispatcher (the person most familiar with the layout, which for a home layout is probably the layout owner). The dispacher needs a stack of simple Train Authorization forms that look like this:


(Click image to enlarge)


So using my Siskiyou Line as an example, let's say the first train we want to run is the Siskiyou Line West from Eugene to Medford, and the next train we want to run is the Seagull East, from Roseburg to Eugene -- and we want these two trains to start out at about the same time. Obviously, those two trains need to meet somewhere between Eugene and Roseburg, so we can opt to have them meet at the long siding at Rice Hill, which is roughly halfway between Roseburg and Eugene.

On this form you indentify the train (the SP just uses the engine number of the lead loco), indicate the direction the train is running, note from which town to which town it is running, and indicate what the train does once it gets there -- either take the siding or hold the main.

In our example, we have SP 7961 sitting in Eugene, so the dispatcher gives the first operator who is going to run the Siskiyou Line West this sheet:


(Click image to enlarge)


And then the dispatcher gives the second operator who is going to run the Seagull East this sheet:


(Click image to enlarge)

And then they run the train, doing what the sheet says. It's that simple. Just have the dispatcher issue a sheet to each train, and run them in order like that. You can run as many trains at the same time as you have operators as long as you don't give any two trains authorization to run on the same piece of track at the same time.

We'll talk about how you can get fancy later and have more than one train share the same piece of track using a "joint" authorization, but we'll keep things simple for now.

WHAT WE'RE TRYING TO LEARN
We are trying help people get familiar with the layout, which way is east and west, learn the train names, and where all the towns are -- and to get them familar with some basic railroad terminology around train movements (for example, 'hold the main'). That is plenty at first, so it's best to keep things simple -- no fast clocks, car cards, track warrants, or any of that.


We want to learn how long it takes to get a train from town to town on your layout.

We also want to get some idea of how long it takes a given train to get from where it starts out to where it's going, so the one other thing you want to teach your operators is how to run things at a scale speed. We'll take a look at that next.

TOPIC NEXT POST: The importance of running trains at a scale speed

[ Edited Fri Aug 11 2006, 03:28AM ]

Joe Fugate
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joef
Sat Aug 12 2006, 01:13PM


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TOPIC NEXT POST: The importance of running trains at a scale speed

Do not underestimate the power of this one simple point -- running trains at scale speeds. This has a dramatic effect on a concept I call quality of run (We'll talk more about quality of run in the next FORUM CLINIC post).

Teach your operators from the get-go to run trains at realistic scale speeds. On my HO Siskiyou Line, we keep things simple and I tell people the standard speed of all freight trains is 25 MPH. So how in the world can you easily tell how fast 25 MPH is on an HO layout?

EASILY DETERMINING SCALE SPEED
To make knowing your scale speed really easy, I have this little chart taped to all of the clipboards used by my operators:




So using this chart, you pick a point on your train and count the number of fifty foot rail cars that roll past in 3 seconds. If I count one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three -- and three and a half cars roll by, then I'm going about 40 MPH.

This means if my operators are following the 25 MPH speed limit, then two fifty foot cars should roll by in three seconds. Pretty simple.

I did the math to determine the numbers on this chart and it's approximate, but that's generally close enough. I wanted the chart to be simple to use, and to get the speed "in the ballpark" as they say. It works well, and it's simple and fast -- you'll know the answer in three seconds!


Running trains at realistic scale speeds will immediately make your layout feel larger

If you can get your operators trained to run at scale speeds, you'll immediately see a benefit: your layout will feel larger. Also, running at scale speeds just makes the trains feel bigger and more like you are running these massive real trains, not these tiny toy trains. Remember the idea of model railroad thoughts? Running your model trains way too fast reminds you that these are just toylike miniatures with no mass or momentum.

With DCC, it's possible to tune your locos so you get excellent low speed performance from them, complete with momentum (but don't over do the momentum part -- a little goes a long way). There's never been a time in the hobby when it is easier to run trains at realistic scale speeds.

So what about this concept of "quality of run"? What's that all about?

TOPIC NEXT POST: The secret to a satisfying layout - quality of run

[ Edited Sat Aug 12 2006, 01:40PM ]

Joe Fugate
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bear creek
Mon Aug 14 2006, 11:31AM

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Having to count both time and the number of cars then do a table lookup seems much more complicated than necessary.
I prefer to take advantage of the fact the 60 miles per hour = 88 feet per second. And that in HO the scale is 1/87th - very close to 88!

So 1 foot per second in HO is very close to 60 scale miles per hour.

So I try to pick two points about 1 foot apart. Then I count the number of seconds it takes for a point in the train (such as the B end of a box car) to travel between those two points.

If it takes 1 second then the train is going 60 smph
If it takes 2 seconds then 30 smph (60 / 2)
If it takes 3 seconds then 20 smph (60 / 3 )
If it takes 4 seconds then 15 smph
If it takes 5 seconds then 12 smph
If it takes 6 seconds then 10 smph
If it takes 10 seconds then 6 smph.

On Joes railroad (and mine too) this works well for me because the speeds tend to be lower. So there are typically 3 to 5 seconds counted. On a higher speed railroad counting seconds to traverse a two-foot space would allow more resolution in the 40 smph area and keeping track of speeds in the 100 smph area.

Cheers,
C.

Bigwig Bear Creek & South Jackson Railway Co.
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joef
Mon Aug 14 2006, 12:41PM


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Charlie:

Interesting alternative ... but I don't find the table any harder to use than your method, which involves finding two points, and hoping you got them precisely a foot apart. The worse your approximation of a foot, the more "off" your speed estimate will be, so there seems to be more room for error with your method.

For the Siskiyou Line, you only need to pick a single point and to remember 2 cars in three seconds. One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three -- if two cars have passed the point, then you got it right.

If fewer cars then you are too slow, more cars and you are too fast.

For restricted speed track warrants, just drop to 1 car past the point in three seconds (half speed). That's about all you need to remember. No need to do any division in your head or find multiple points that are a precise distance apart.

[ Edited Mon Aug 14 2006, 12:46PM ]

Joe Fugate
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