Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout (Part 3 – Game Theory)

This is the third post of the continuing series on Operations for Maintenance Centre Layouts. In part 1, we looked at the types of passenger facilities I’m familiar with. In part 2, we looked at how we can use the prototype’s methods to develop an operations plan that suits a small layout.

In this post I wanted to address two questions about small layout operations: firstly is model railroad operations a game, and if so, how can we keep the game interesting for the longer term?


Railroad operations is a game?

From my first introduction to model railroad/railway operations (railops), I noticed a lot in common between it and the Role-Playing Games (RPGs) and board games with which I was familiar. Bear in mind that I’m addressing railops in a general sense (both freight and passenger operation), not just as it applies to Aaron’s excellent layout and Rob Chant’s design, as there is much in common to apply to both styles of operation.

I want to give a quick side by side comparison (they’re really one below the other) of the parts of your ‘average’ board game and a small layout.

The board game has A small layout has
counters or player pieces Cars and Locos
a board on which the counters move The layout board
rules that describe how the counters can move Rules
a means to add some randomness (usually dice, or a spinner) a means to add some randomness (car cards/waybills, the timetable, the ops plan, the list goes on)
a starting point and an end goal to close out the game a starting point and an end goal (switching cars into spots according to the ops plan), which when complete, ends the game

Once you see the commonalities, I’ve found there’s no going back.

Countering boredom with randomness

On Facebook, back in November of 2020 a post from Paul Boehlert got my attention. I didn’t want to reproduce the post in its entirety, so I’ve cut it down to the following.

A couple of days ago, a member asked the group how we keep interest high on a small switching layout. The following is a short description of a scheme my son and I worked out. It makes each session a bit unpredictable and adds variety, which helps maintain interest.

My adult son is a skilled and talented games designer and has been around model railroading all his life. When I asked him what he would do to make operation more interesting and varied on a small layout, his reply was immediate: I needed to generate some randomness, and I needed an adversary.

Paul went on to describe how he used one of his son’s 12 sided gaming dice to assist with introducing random events into the operations gameplay. His initial focus was on the weather, due to the setting (location) of his layout. Multiple roles of the dice allow him to determine the time of year, and the level of ferocity of the weather.

As he points out, the weather is not the only adversary. The interactive nature of the railroad right of way with cars, trucks, other railroads, shippers and receivers, trees, power lines and the poles they use (just to name a few) means that lots of events can and do on occasion happen that interfere with the railroad doing its stated job of moving stuff. Technology can be a problem, no matter the time period you model. Steam engines sometimes wouldn’t fire correctly lowering their tractive effort and slowing them down. Diesel locomotives have mechanical, electrical and electronics issues that need to be rectified either on the road or in the shed before being able to complete their shift. Cars become bad-ordered due to mechanical faults, accident or loading/unloading damage, or vandalism which all have effects on the operation out on the line.

Paul’s solution was to make “a list of random events, and roll the 12-sided die one more time when things get a bit too predictable. If you want lots of random possibilities, gaming dice come with up to 100 sides.

No two days are the same in the railroad industry. Each day presents different challenges, and there is always something that is not working the way it should. It affects what you can achieve and how you can achieve it.

At work often nature is our adversary. For example every time it rains we have problems with random detector loops. These pick up transponder signals. They are sealed, but they misbehave whenever there’s a lot of rain. But never the same one each time. Or high winds bring down trees along the rail corridor, blocking lines until maintenance crews can get out and cut the trees and clear the line.

There are general technical issues that occur, point/turnout motor failures for example are unfortunately common at the moment. Each of these requires spare parts and in the COVID world of 2021, those parts are not always available. So it’s back to the 19th century we have to go, manually throwing over the switch blades (points) until the spare parts arrive. Electronics are slow for the same reason at the moment with computer chips being in short supply due to COVID-19s effect on the supply chain in China. From design to fabrication, land and sea transport, we have slowdowns that are affecting rail suppliers worldwide.


Takeaway

Treating railops as a game, and using randomness and an adversary can make for better gameplay and longer-term interest.

Final thoughts

On small layouts, especially those with a small visible footprint, even with all the permutations mentioned above, can it, like Monopoly, Cluedo, or Trouble get too predictable?

Can boredom set in too early in the life of the layout? Is that why so many small layouts are sold on, torn down, rebuilt and replaced with yet another?

I’m interested in your thoughts on this.


Resources

The series so far:

Staying in Contact

Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways by:

  • Commenting on this post (I read and answer each one)
  • Sending me a note using our About page (email)
  • Connecting with us on Facebook at the Andrew’s Trains page

Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout (Part 2 – Ops Plan)

This is the second of three posts on maintenance centre layouts, that started with Aaron Riley’s Metra service centre layout.  In this post, I’m focusing on developing an operations plan that suits that layout. This involves working through background information on the prototype, its operations and the methods they use to get train sets out of the yard and onto the main for timetable services.


Developing an Operating Plan

On a layout designed for operation, the focus is on mimicking only those prototype operations that suit your interest. On a small switching layout, I don’t want to do paperwork, attend staff meetings, or write reports for senior managers when I could be switching. Your choices may differ obviously so knock yourself out writing those reports, while I keep switching.

On a layout such as Aaron’s, his focus would be on servicing the train sets. What I’m defining as a train set is:  “a locomotive and a ‘number’ of bi-level commuter cars“.

Photo 1: Gallery Type Bi-Level Passenger Car for METRA (Image credit: Nippon Sharyo,Ltd.)
Photo 1: Gallery Type Bi-Level Passenger Car for METRA (Image credit: Nippon Sharyo,Ltd.)

I’m guessing that in Aaron’s space that number will be in the range of 3 to 4 cars maximum. A train with a larger number of cars would overwhelm the space available and cause switching issues that could not be overcome. It is worth keeping in mind that when you design operations for small layouts, siding lengths are the key to play value. Too much train or too short a siding or spur and operations grind to a halt. The key takeaway is: ‘design operations to the size of your layout’.

Some prototype background information

The core of real-world transit operation planning is to keep passengers moving, and paying. To do that the operations department, the people responsible for staffing and operating train sets in passenger service, focus on ‘availability’. Availability means a train set is available to run a timetabled service. Each timetabled service has a ‘run or train number’ which you’ll find in the employee timetable. Occasionally you’ll find these in the publicly available timetable, but this is rare.

Ideally, operators want 100 per cent availability, which means that all trains run according to the timetable; reality is not often this simple. Locomotives, passenger trains and the infrastructure they rely on (tracks, signalling, etc.) are complex machines requiring much care and attention to maintain peak operation.

In addition, there are also external factors beyond the operator’s control, such as pedestrians and motor vehicles interfacing with the right of way, natural and unnatural events, and things simply don’t always go to plan.

Prototype practices drive model operations

Prototype operator’s work using a decision hierarchy focused on quick turnaround. This ensures that timetabled trains run, thereby maximising availability. Understanding the prototype’s decision hierarchy helps in designing a modelling operations plan. You don’t need a complete understanding of the process to make sense of it.

A simplified view of the decision tree can help guide how we operate a layout of this type. I’m greatly simplifying the process and not accounting for regular mechanical examinations however, the prototype operator will use a decision tree similar to that presented below.

Working the decision tree to understand operations

Situation: A train set arrives back into the facility after its assigned run at the end of the day or shift. The operations management staff (called Starters, or Officers Production [OPs] here in Australia) will then run through the following decision tree to assess the status of the fleet assigned to their location to ensure availability and to plan maintenance and cleaning activities to meet future availability needs.

  • Step 1 – Is the train set in working order and is it ready to run out now:
    1. Yes, go to STEP 2, or
    2. No, go to STEP 3.
  • Step 2 – If the answer is a ‘YES’ what is the next step for the train set:
    1. If needed for a timetabled service, the train set runs out of the yard and onto the network, go to END
    2. If not needed for a timetabled service, the train set is placed onto a storage track ready for its next use, go to END
  • Step 3 – If the answer is a ‘NO’ what is the needed step to get a train set ready to run out:
    1. If it is in need of cleaning, clean it, then clear it for service, go to STEP 1
    2. If it is need of minor (running or regulated interval) maintenance (sanding, fuelling, replacing lights, fixing a seat, etc.), perform the maintenance, then clear it for service, go to STEP 1
    3. If it is in need of mid-level (out of service local specialist shop) maintenance, cut out the car or locomotive and move it to the service track for repair, then clear it for service, go to STEP 1
    4. If it is in need of major (heavy out of service upstream) maintenance, cut out the car or locomotive and transfer it to the upstream maintenance centre, and await its return, go to STEP 5
    5. If the train set is ‘short’ (as in missing a car, or cars, or a locomotive), combine a spare car or cars, or a locomotive to form a full set, then clear it for service, go to STEP 1
  • Step 4 – For cars or locomotives received from the upstream maintenance centre, determine:
    1. Is the car or locomotive needed immediately for a ‘short’ set
      • Yes – Switch the car or locomotive into the short set – go to STEP 1
      • No – Switch the car or locomotive to a storage track – go to STEP 5
  • Step 5 – return to STEP 1 and apply to the next train set

Rinse and repeat for each train set, locomotive and car until the answer at step 1 is YES.

I have not included mandated FRA mandated safety checks (or your local version thereof) into the operating plan; you certainly can do so. it is another level of operations and adds to the complexity of your switching operations as locos are pulled from service at their periodic intervals.


What’s in the next post?

In the next post, I’ll focus on game theory and how it can improve small layout operations for the long term.


Resources

Staying in Contact

Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways:

Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout (Part 1 – Facility Types)

This is the first of a three-part series of posts on maintenance centre layouts, that started with Aaron Riley’s Metra service centre layout.  In this post, I’m focusing on helping you understand the types of prototype passenger facilities (or depots in Australian parlance) with which I’m familiar. Providing an overview of their services and facilities and where and how they fit into the passenger rail network.


Understanding what we’re modelling

After looking at Aaron’s interpretation of Rob’s design I noticed a lot of variances from what I see at work each day. In this post I’ll show how you can adapt Rob’s design to better fit your needs, if like Aaron, you are focusing on passenger rail maintenance centres in a small space. Aaron’s layout focuses on modelling a mix of running and maintenance facilities rather than the heavy maintenance facility indicated in Rob’s original design. This is because he is modelling a location that has complete train sets waiting for use, as well as the minor maintenance facilities

By modelling the less specialised running depot, rather than the tightly focused Super or Heavy Maintenance centre opportunities for operation are available which might be missed by focusing solely on the upstream maintenance facilities.

Understanding these opportunities for operations on your given choice of layout come from understanding the scope of work that is able to be carried on a maintenance site, and therefore when a transfer (off layout) is required to a heavier maintenance facility. This understanding assists in the operating design and will add to the long term enjoyment of the model. Without losing sight of the fact that this is a small layout design, let’s focus on making the most of the space within the footprint of Rob’s original design by looking at the three types of passenger rail facilities with which I’m familiar and how each affects the size and operations possibilities of a layout.

There are other types of specific maintenance facilities (beyond the scope of this article) which we’ll look at later in the series. These I classify as rebuilders, scrappers, and leasers (think Larry’s Truck and Electric of McDonald, OH), that are large sites, usually in old railroad shops and simply too large for the small layouts I prefer to own, operate and design. In this vein, however, there are some smaller outfits such as McHugh Locomotive and Equipment that specialise in niche locomotive services for industrial, short-line and regional railroads as well as heritage, historical and vintage. I’ll link all of those in the resources section below.

Depot types

There are three types of passenger rail depot with which I’m familiar:

  • Running depots,
  • Maintenance (a.k.a. super) depots, and
  • Heavy maintenance depots.

Each type of depot fulfils a different role for the rail network. Primarily they allow the most efficient use of operational, technical, mechanical and overhaul capacity to keep trains running, and people moving and paying.. You as a modeller should keep in mind that the prototype site may contain more than one type of depot. So for example a super or heavy maintenance depot may also have attached to them a running depot. These can be modelled together (if you have the space), or individually depending upon the space available to your layout. We’ll look at the different depot types and what in general they contain; before we do we should understand that while each type of depot has unique functions and infrastructure, they also have things in common such as:

  • Staff amenities for train crew, maintenance staff, cleaners,
  • Administration/Office buildings
  • Sanding infrastructure and storage,
  • Cleaning infrastructure for external cleaning (a carriage/loco wash), and
  • Cleaning staff for internal carriage and locomotive cleaning which includes buggies to get around the site, cleaning carts, sanding vehicles to top-off sand for individual passenger cars, grey and black water drainage facilities, and so on.

Within a footprint similar to Rob Chant’s original layout design for a passenger rail operation you are not going to be able to fit anything other than a running depot. And really with my preferences, I’d prefer to see a large range of train sets on the layout moving about. Having said all of that, let’s look at the different types of rail depots that I am familiar with.

Running Depots

Running Depots focus on getting units out the gate and onto the network. As such they have a small maintenance staff, performing minor fixes and repairs that assist in keeping units on the road. The maintenance staff also cover off periodic running inspections. For higher/major level maintenance and repairs, whole trains or individual cars are transferred to higher-level maintenance centres for action.

Maintenance (Super) Depots

Maintenance (Super) Depots are the next step up and provide a means to perform heavier programmed maintenance of units. They will also perform minor accident, and easily performed system repairs and part swaps. It should be noted that you’ll often see contractor vehicles onsite at these locations (especially in the modern context to service HVAC, and other managed systems on units. One thing that I’ve not seen in facilities of this type are overhead cranes. These tend to be found only at the heavy maintenance centres. Super depots simply aren’t focused on these heavy industrial repairs, so there is no point in spending money when it is not required.

The facilities at these depots, above and beyond those available at the Running Depot are in general:

  • Wheel lathes,
  • Bogie drop/swap-out facilities,
  • Major component swap out (HVAC, etc.),
  • Under-floor mechanical servicing and repair
  • Engine/traction motor repairs
  • Driver’s cab/passenger saloon furniture repair/swap facilities (seats, toilets, instrumentation, electronic components, and sub-system components and storage for the same)

Heavy Maintenance Depots

Heavy Maintenance facilities are, as the name suggests, where major overhauls are carried out. In general, this would include late-stage programmed maintenance requiring engine/traction motor swaps and rebuilds, bogie exchanges and rebuilds, car body rebuilds, and so on. The facilities at these depots above and beyond those available at both the Running Depot and the Maintenance (Super) Depot are in general:

  • Rebuild facilities for all subsystems (electrical, traction, car body, subframe, collision repair, etc.)
  • Commissioning facilities (for new units being brought into service)
  • Decommissioning facilities (for units being removed from service), including storage for salvaged components waiting to be reused

Other types of repair facilities

There are other kinds of repair facilities. Generally, these fall into the following categories:

  • Manufacturers: where cars and locomotives under a contract arrangement go for major overhauls, collision and other damage repairs, and end of economic life extension work and upgrades
  • Junkyard traders: Think Larry’s Truck and Electrics who buy bulk locomotive lots from the class 1 railroads before:
    1. stripping saleable parts from life-expired units for on-sale to refurbishment companies, re-use in refurbishing their own lease fleet, or direct part resale to their own customers
    2. cutting up what’s left of stripped units for scrap for resale to scrap buyers for (hopefully) a profit
    3. refurbishing working locomotives in good condition for lease or sale to regional and shortline customers, and
  • Specialty rebuilders: think McHugh Locomotive who deal primarily with industrial, and smaller shortline and regional customers, offering a full range of locomotive servicing, repair and rebuilding options (interestingly their plant has no direct rail connection, although they do have a long history of moving locomotives using large tractor-trailer rigs and a cool website and youtube channel, so there’s that too)

Specialty rebuilders are a topic all their own. And I promise to come back to this specific


What’s in the next post?

In the next post, I’ll be focusing on developing an operating plan to suit a layout running depot style layout. This involves working through how the prototype does its operations and the methods they use to get train sets out of the yard and onto the main for timetable services. But I’ll share more with you in that post.


Resources

Staying in Contact

Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways:

Aaron Riley’s Metra Service Centre Layout

This post is made possible by Aaron Riley. I’d like to thank him for his assistance, his time and especially for supplying the images of his Metra maintenance facility layout that I first saw on Facebook (more information in the resources section at the bottom of the post). Adapted from a Robert Chant design in HO scale, Aaron has executed an exquisite small layout that in the photos does not look small. Let’s take a look around his Metra Service Centre.


Rob Chant’s layout concept

In the original Facebook post Rob Chant commented that while he “hadn’t designed [a maintenance facility style layout] before, he thought it would be something that would extend his model railway design skills“.

He said further that he thought “the layout owner’s space would be a good fit with his design and could include a load of detail and some support structures.”

I heartily agree with both perspectives. Rob’s concept and the layout Aaron built from it are outstandingly good and show what can be achieved in a small space. And remember, as you can see from the plan below it is not a lot of space; the layout is only 8′ (2400mm) in total length; with a total width of 4′ 5″ (1346mm) and maximum board width of 18″ (450mm).

Rob Chant's original Track Plan with numbers keying to Aaron's gallery of photos
Rob Chant’s original Track Plan with numbers keying to Aaron’s gallery of photos

And there’s a lot packed into that small space. Yet it doesn’t look crowded; quite the reverse is true. It looks wide, open and has relaxed look about it. Lived in, even.

Enough of the overview let’s dive in.


Looking around Aaron’s Metra layout

Image 1: Looking into the layout from the fiddle yard
Image 1: Looking into the layout from the fiddle yard

In image 1 above, you can see Rob’s use of the administration building as a view blocker ensures that the viewer’s eye is distracted where the layout ends, and the staging begins. It’s a great design feature. In addition, provides a verticality to what would otherwise be a flat, horizontal layout. it gives the viewer, no matter the angle of viewing, a framed view of the layout. It’s a thoughtful design feature that makes Aaron’s layout, and Rob’s plan a cut above.

Image 2: Looking over the administration building toward the storage and engine tracks
Image 2: Looking over the administration building toward the storage and engine tracks

In image 2 above, it is interesting to note Aaron’s prototype solution to the problem of overcrowding and short sidings. You’ll note the three-car set is fouling the two cars in the siding. This is common where older facilities were designed for shorter cars. Things get put wherever they’ll fit. During late nights most running facilities like this one are crowded, with train sets packed in like sardines. It’s nice to see that modelled, even if Aaron did so unintentionally. It really adds to the believability of the scene.

Image 3: View from the administration building - note the details in Aaron's scenes
Image 3: View from the administration building – note the details in Aaron’s scenes

In image 3 above, what I noticed first was the sense of openness. Taken from the other side of the Administration buildings, it is great that Aaron has been able to achieve this and fool the eye and the mind on what is a small footprint layout. And there is a wealth of detail too. I love the cracked hard standing area, not overtly achieved. Subtle but unmistakable. It is really great work and carried across the layout.

Image 4: A Metra transfer run prepares to leave for the heavy maintenance centre with a tired motive power unit
Image 4: A Metra transfer run prepares to leave for the heavy maintenance centre with a tired motive power unit

In image 4 above, what took my eye straight away was the photo-realistic building flat. It is an eye-catching feature. The prime mover looks to have just been loaded, as the tie-downs have yet to be fastened to the flatcar.  This transfer freight movement will be heading off to the upstream maintenance centre later where that prime mover will get a rebuild before being replaced into another locomotive. I’m impressed by how the scene has been dressed. With most of the buildings flat against the rear of the layout, wide-open space reigns. Cleverly done Aaron.

Image 5: With the maintenance centre behind you, it's amazing what you can fit in only 8 feet x 1.5 feet
Image 5: With the maintenance centre behind you, it’s amazing what you can fit in only 8 feet x 1.5 feet

In image 5 above, we’re standing roughly in alignment with the face of the maintenance centre buildings. No matter how many times I look at the scene, I just don’t see how it is not 16 feet long.

Image 6: Aaron's use of photorealistic buildings and large buildings add to the scale and apparent size of the layout
Image 6: Aaron’s use of photorealistic buildings and large buildings add to the scale and apparent size of the layout

In image 6 above we’re looking toward the heart of the maintenance centre. Cleverly Aaron has not tried to model the entire building, yet there is enough darkness to hide the fact that the buildings are not as deep as they appear to be. Once again, the height of the surrounding buildings, and the service centre, illustrate how even in a small space you can use the vertical to make things appear bigger than they really are. It is something I’ll be using on my current small switching layout when I get around to making the warehousing and other structures. Also, we see another of the photo-realistic buildings; with knocked out windows, rusty roller doors, and a run-down look from an earlier time. It grounds the newer parts of the layout and suggests a history we just haven’t heard yet.

Image 7: Aaron's use of tall photo-realistic and large new structures add to the vertical scale and complement the small footprint of the layout
Image 7: Aaron’s use of tall photo-realistic and large new structures add to the vertical scale and complement the small footprint of the layout

In image 7 above, you’ll note the uncluttered nature of the layout. There’s work going on here, but there’s room to get about, without bumping into things. This particular scene also shows the actual depth of the maintenance centre buildings, just a car length long. Not that you’d notice while switching. The layout ticks so many boxes for me in regard to how small layouts should be built. With thought and care not only in the design but also in the execution of that design.

I guess by now there’s no hiding it: I’m a fan of this layout. There is so much to learn from how Rob has designed and Aaron has built the layout. And there is much more that you can add to what’s already here. That’s for another post and another day, however!


What’s in the next post?

In the next post, I’ll show I’ll share my knowledge of the types of depots that passenger trains operate from in my experience.  It’s not something that is often discussed in the hobby press, or online groups. So if you have no idea what I mean by a running depot, we’ll cover that in the next post, and in the series of posts that follow.

Till next time; Andrew


Resources

  • Aaron’s original post on the Micro/Small Model RR Layouts group on Facebook – membership of the group required to access the post (and well worth it too!)

Staying in Contact

Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways:

Thoughts on modelling the Montpelier, OH Elevator

Small layouts have to meet the needs, and desires, of their owners. Often that is not easy as we want it all, but in a small space.  In this post, we’ll look at how you can work with the track layout from the elevator at Montpellier, OH (see this post) to fit in a smaller space, even if you don’t want to model an elevator.

There is so much that you can do with a good track layout!

Disclaimer

So before I begin, I wanted to make this clear:

  • If you want to model the Eden Co-Op, in an as-is, where-is format, if in a somewhat smaller version, knock yourself out. I’ll go through that in the section below.
  • However, should you want to use the track plan and model something else, then I have a few ideas about that for you too.

Now, feel free to read on.

Site overview

Image 1: The Eden Farmers C-Op Ass’n in Montpelier, Ohio USA

After clicking the image above, which I hope you’ll find interesting, you’ll note that the track arrangement is basically a double-ended Inglenook (I call it a Supernook) providing:

  1. a run-around option for the locomotive,
  2. off-spot locations for cars not being spotted under the over-track auger(s), and
  3. somewhere to go off the layout at the end of the session.

The track plan
Image 2: The track plan

And that neighbours, is everything we need to make an operating layout (see my Ops 101 series starting here for more).

According to our friend Google, the branch line is just under a kilometre at 941 metres (or 3084 feet) from the toe of the switch on the left of the branch to the road on the right. To model it all you’d need 35 feet and four inches, give or take. We’re into small layouts so we’re not going to do that.

Site Operation

The elevator receives empty blocks of cars inbound, shipping loaded blocks of cars out. The elevator has its own switcher (an SW-1200 of 1955 vintage) to do all the in-plant moves.  From the video I pointed to in the previous post, I’m guessing that there might be multiple types of grain available for loading within the block, and this is why the centre track is used to store cars before they are loaded.  You’ll note in the video that the switcher is pulling trucks from the centre track.

Assuming that there are no cars waiting to be loaded, the general operation goes something like this:

  1. Class 1 railroad switches a block of empty cars for loading by the elevator (pushing cars in from the yard – left of the above image). They place these cars onto the branch line (top of the picture)
  2. The plant switcher fires up, after being shore powered (it looks like they have a mains plug to float the battery voltage at the right-most building) overnight
  3. The switcher then hooks up to the first block of the inbound cars, pulls forward to the switching lead, and pushes the cars back onto the loading track (bottom track on the image above)
  4. Where a car is not in the right loading order, the switcher sets this car out to the middle track
  5. The switcher then repeats step 3, and step 4, as necessary until the cars are all loaded
  6. Once switching is complete the switcher then goes back onto the switching lead, is powered down and then reattached to shore power.
  7. The class 1 railroad now switches out the loaded hoppers and the cycle starts again.

Modelling Opportunities

As-Is

Modelling a single industry provides you with focus. In this case, it is a single commodity and car type operation. On the positive side though you only need to buy one locomotive. And there is lots of switching. And if that’s your thing then you’re good to go.

While the original site is really big, a model of it doesn’t have to be. You can build a layout based on this industry, using the simple principles of the Inglenook and model it in a lot less space by determining the maximum number of cars that you want to switch in any given session. And

Freelancing Opportunities

The elevator at Montpellier as shown in the last post is big; really, really big. It handles unit grain trains with an empties in/loads out procedure. So I guess you’re wondering “what is Andrew thinking!

A smaller version elevator

But we don’t want to model this site full size. Instead, we want to model a smaller version of the site. And for that, we’re going to use the classic Inglenook design that is double-ended so you can run around the cuts at either end (see this page for an overview of the Inglenook) to shorten the length to something more manageable.

From the track plan above you’ll note that I’ve named the tracks as Branch Line, Overflow and Elevator track. The branch line is the longest track, with the other two being roughly the same size. That is why the Inglenook is the perfect solution to shrinking the track down to a manageable size. In the resources section below I’ve listed the very best calculators (some on this site, others off) to help you determine the length and number of cars you can fit in a given space.

Same track arrangement, different industry

I can think of several industries that you could model, that require constant switching, mainly in the food industry (refrigerator cars, and boxcars primarily) that will keep your single loco crew hopping for each session. By keeping the same track arrangement cars would be left on the overflow track by the Shortline or Class 1 railroad, and then taken by the company switcher and placed onto the loading track.

To boost operations you could work as follows:

  1. The session starts with the loco on the right end tail track
  2. Empty cars are pulled from the overflow track and pushed onto the loading dock or to the loading doors
  3. As cars are loaded they are pushed to the end of the loading track
  4. More cars are pulled from the overflow track, and the cycle continues
  5. As space is freed up on the overflow track those loaded cars can be switched back to the overflow track using the branch line as the run-around
  6. Rinse and repeat until your loads are completed and a train of loads is assembled on the overflow track
  7. The session ends when the loco is parked up on the right end tail track

Here are my thoughts on what your food-based industries could be:

A frozen foods manufacturer (meat, vegetables, fish, you name it) – empties in, loads out with a slab-sided warehouse and environmental dock door arrangement.  A modern facility (from the 1980s onward) would be a better option. The doors would need to line up with boxcars of the era. Mostly 50 or 60 footer mechanical refrigerators. Luckily, there are plenty of those on the market at the moment.

Other industries off the top of my head are a breakfast cereal factory, or Snack cake bakery (think Hostess), plywood factory, auto part (castings) manufacturer, a food-service warehouse (a mix of dry and frozen doors would work here similar to the old Austin, TX SYSCO/US Foodservice warehouse, using doors rather than docks.

The list of ideas is almost limitless. If they ship a lot of stuff to other factories you could use the track plan and scale it down as needed for your site. Making it a stand-alone layout means you could have a small, high-quality operations based layout up and running quickly, and prototypically in just a couple of weekends. Then spend a couple of years adding detail you go. 1 locomotive, especially an older SW, rusty GP9 or a patched GP20 would do. Try a leased unit.

I hope this has given you an idea or two, and that you’ve found the post useful. In the meantime don’t forget to check out the resources below. Like, comment and subscribe if you find my content useful. I hope to hear from you soon.

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An Australian RIP (switching) layout

At the Corio Model Railway show in 2017, I was lucky enough to catch this outstanding Australian switching layout. Owned by Ian Wilson of Ian Wilson Models (which is sadly no longer in business) this layout was simply outstanding. You’ll notice that the layout is completely self-contained, with no off layout cassettes or fiddle-yard.

Despite that, it had all the needs for a working layout including a run-around to allow the single locomotive to serve all facing and trailing sidings.

At 2400mm (8′) long by 600mm (2′) wide, it was a delight to see operate in the flesh. Sadly I was advised today, that the layout is (sigh), no more.

If you have any images of the layout or further information on it, I’d love to know. Please contact me through this site’s contact page (which send me an email), or on the Facebook page with details.

Enjoy the gallery of images.



Resources

  • None in this post

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Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways:

I’m working on a new series of posts – here’s a quick teaser…

It’s been a while right?

Shift work, long days, cold nights, and all that stuff.

The good news is there’s a batch of content coming focusing on Locomotive, and Railcar maintenance facilities… you are going to love it. How to model each one, operations possibilities and all in a small space. I want to thank Rob Chant and Aaron Riley for beginning the discussion on Facebook.

Here’s a taste of what’s coming over the next few days! The day it posts depends on how I feel after my second COVID-19 vaccination tomorrow. Here’s hoping for the best outcome and no headache, etc.

There’ll be more posts to come during October though covering a range of topics from the micro size to the mammoth 8′ x 2′ footprint, including:

  • Motive Power Depots (MPDs) for diesel or electric locomotives,
  • Electric Multiple Units (EMUs), and
  • Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) throughout October.

Aaron Riley’s Metra Railcar Facility layout

Based on a Rob Chant design (more on that in the next post) Aaron has built a cracker ‘L’ shaped layout in only  96″ x 53″ with a width of only 18″.

This is a taster, there’ll be more in my next post!


Resources

  • Visit Rob Chant’s Facebook page for more great designs.

Staying in Contact

Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways: