Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout (Part 4 – Setting Up)

This is the fourth post in a series on designing operations for a small maintenance centre layout. It started with a post on Aaron Riley’s Metra service centre layout.  That layout crystallised a lot of my thinking on how I wanted to operate an upcoming layout design for a maintenance centre. In this post I’ll be taking what’s been covered over the last three posts to build a simple and reliable passenger-focused operations system to suit a running depot; that is, a layout that is focused on getting train sets out the gate and onto timetabled services. If you’ve not read the previous posts, I suggest you do so before tackling this one; I promise it will help. (They’re all linked in the resources section below.)


Ops for a passenger maintenance centre

For the small layout builder and operator, the operating system should allow you to focus on switching, not on paperwork unless that is your thing. Ideally, the K.I.S.S. principle should be your design goal. I am not anti-paperwork, far from it. On a layout, it can assist you to ensure that everything gets serviced and checked on a regular basis. Whatever system you use or devise should meet your needs.

For layouts such as Aaron has built from a Rob Chant design, your operating system has to focus on generating train sets to service the timetable. This means turning out train sets for service at the start of the working day or after the inter-peak period (the time between the end of the morning peak and the beginning of the afternoon/evening peak) to meet the timetable. This means that you have to take into account things such as fixing minor faults, swapping out cars and locomotives to get sets up and running, sending those same cars and locomotives upstream to the higher-level maintenance centres when required for heavier maintenance tasks, receiving them back and creating sets with them upon their return, and finally the internal and external cleaning (presentation) tasks that are required for passenger equipment.

To add uncertainty and an adversary, as discussed in the last post, we need to create situations that require activities to resolve them. There is no way to totally get away from paper to get the system up and running. You can of course go freeform – which is fine. After all, it’s your layout and you do it your way. Since I’m aiming to provide a realistic, easy to set up and use, operating system I’m designating the train set, described in a previous post as “a locomotive and a number of passenger cars” as the object that we are working with. I’ve designed the system based on Aaron’s Metra layout. This system will work for loco-hauled push-pull sets, diesel multiple units (railcars), electric multiple units and trams or trolleys. No matter the number of vehicles per consist, it will work.

The minimum paperwork you’ll need

The three (3) must-have items for our operating system are:

  1. train set holders (these group cars and locomotives),
  2. car and locomotive cards (allow switching to take place), and
  3. situation cards (providing randomness and the adversary)

You can also use switch lists to make keeping track of multi-day operating sessions easier. I find that on small layouts especially, where my operating sessions are short and spread over multiple days (I prefer to operate more often each month, for 30-45 minutes each time), so a switch list allows me to keep track of what switching I have done, and what switching I still need to do, for the session to be complete.

Setting up the operating system

Let’s start by looking at what you’ll need to generate your train sets, car and locomotive cards, and your situation cards.

Supplies you’ll need

To get the system up and going you’re going to need the following materials or something similar that works for you.

  • Bulldog or fold back clips – to create train sets you’ll need something that allows for the easy addition and removal of car, loco and situation cards. The first two can be hung on cup hooks, nails or screw heads, the last is fancier, they are magnetic which is cool but not required.
  • Index cards (or pre-printed car and locomotive cards) – the 3″ x 5″ ( 127 x 76mm) index card is ideal for a low-cost approach to starting in car cards. Available J Burrows Blank Index Cardsin packs of 100 (at least here in Australia) they can be used whole or cut in half to make your car, locomotive and situation cards. If you have the option (I don’t) I’d suggest using white for cars, blue for locomotives, and red (really pink) for situation cards.
  • A multi-sided dice of your choice; this gives us our randomness.  Any dice with 6 or more sides should do. If you have gaming dice on hand try a 12 or 20 sided one (you’ll just need to adjust the levels of randomness below depending on the number of faces of the dice).
  • Bill Boxes – these are used to hold individual car and locomotive cards. You’ll need one box or holder for each of your maintenance Bill Boxes (5 holder version)tracks. The ones shown here have 5 holders, you can get 3 holder versions or make your own simply enough to whatever size you need. Alternatively, use bull clips or fold-back clips hanging on a nail or screw head.

Setting up your ‘Train Sets’

How many train sets you have on your layout is a matter of linear space. That is, each train set requires so much linear length. The total linear storage capacity of your layout sidings, divided by the set’s linear length gives you the number of sets you can have at ‘maximum’ capacity (in whole numbers). In Aaron’s case, I’m guessing the most train sets he can stable on his layout would be between 5 and 7. With each of the bi-level sets containing  3 cars (1 cab car + 2 trailer cars) and a locomotive (click the image below).

Gallery Type Bi-Level Passenger Car for METRA, delivered by Nippon Sharyo of Japan, from 2002-2008 (Image Credit: Nippon Sharyo, LTD)

Once you know how many train sets your layout can handle at maximum capacity (think overnight storage), you need to create a ‘train set’ by using a bulldog or fold-back clip for each one. Each clip should have a sticky label, or a Printed (Dymo style) label applied denoting the set A Dymo Label Makernumber; for example Set 094, or Set 103.  The numbering of train sets depends on the railroad. I’ve looked for information about the set numbers used by Metra sets but could find no information about that on any of the railfan or official sites. Being that this is your layout, you get to decide what each set number will be.

Pick a numbering scheme, starting with a number and then randomly assigning numbers to your set, unless you know what the set numbers are. In which case I’d be interested in knowing them.

Setting up car & locomotive cards

Car and Locomotive cards represent (in paper form) the passenger cars and the locomotives available on your layout. They allow you to:

  • track the whereabouts of passenger cars and locomotives while on and off the layout (in staging), and
  • provide a means to assign cars and locomotives to train sets

The cards give basic information about each passenger car and locomotive. How much information you put on each card is up to you. I suggest that the following is the minimum information you provide for passenger cars:

  • Railroad Name (Metra in Aaron’s case)
  • Car Class (Bi-Level) Commuter Car
  • Car Type (Cab, or Trailer)
  • Car Number
  • Any additional information that you want to put on your car cards

For locomotives, the following should be the minimum information you provide:

  • Number: (example 100)
  • Railroad: (Metra in Aaron’s case)
  • Builder: (example EMD)
  • Model: (example F40PH-3)
  • DCC Address: (if applicable)
  • Notes: additional information that you want to put on your car cards

Later this week I’ll share my Index card sized Car and Locomotive Cards (in Word format) for those of you interested in printing your own. I’ll post when I have a link available for them. The need a little clean up from the rough versions I’ve been using. Those shown in the images above are available from Micromark. I’ll link to them in the resources section below.

Situation Dice or  Dice and Cards

A dice, or a dice and situation cards, provide the uncertainty and the adversary in our operations game. I see the system working in two ways: using a single dice to determine the train set readiness, or using the dice and situation cards to do the same.

Dice Only

On your roll of the six-sided dice a:

  1. means the set is good to go into service
  2. means the set requires cleaning before release
  3. means the set or locomotive requires sanding/refuelling (your choice which one and where it goes on the layout)
  4. a car or locomotive requires (local) minor maintenance (you choose which it is and where it goes on the layout)
  5. a car requires upstream (off-layout) maintenance  (you choose which one in the train set and where it goes on the layout)
  6. a locomotive requires upstream (off-layout) maintenance

Dice and Situation Cards

Using dice, and situation cards you get more uncertainty, but more direction on how to direct cars and locomotives for service. Here’s how I see that system working.

On your roll of the six-sided dice, a:

  • 1 – means no issues and the train set is ready for service.
  • 2 – means a minor delay for a car (choose from “car” minor delay cards)
  • 3 – means a minor delay for a locomotive (choose from “loco” minor delay cards)
  • 4 – means a mid-level delay for a car (choose from mid-level “car” delay cards)
  • 5 – means a mid-level delay for a locomotive (choose from mid-level “loco” delay cards)
  • 6 – means a major delay for a car or locomotive (choose from major delay cards)

I’ve listed what I think is a realistic number of car cards for each of the packs described here. You can change these as you see fit, and by experience.

The Card Packs

The “Passenger Car” minor delay pack contains the following 40 cards:

  • 5 x Set Cleaning required – 1 hour delay
  • 3 x Set Sanding required – 2 hour delay
  • 17 x No fault found – cleared for service
  • 3 x Minor Maintenance on car 1/2/3 – 1 hour(s) required
  • 3 x Minor Maintenance on car 1/2/3 – 2 hour(s) required
  • 3 x Minor Maintenance on car 1/2/3 – 4 hour(s) required
  • 3 x Minor Maintenance on car 1/2/3 – 8 hour(s) parts required
  • 3 x Minor Maintenance on car 1/2/3 – 16 hour(s) parts required

The “Locomotive” minor delay card pack contains the following 40 cards:

  • 5 x Minor Maintenance Locomotive (Fuel) – 1 Hour(s) required
  • 5 x Minor Maintenance Locomotive (Sand) – 1 Hour(s) required
  • 18 x No fault found – cleared for service
  • 5 x Minor Maintenance on Locomotive – 1 Hour(s) required
  • 3 x Minor Maintenance on Locomotive – 2 Hour(s) required
  • 2 x Minor Maintenance on Locomotive – 4 Hour(s) required
  • 1 x Minor Maintenance on Locomotive – 8 Hour(s) required
  • 1 x Minor Maintenance on Locomotive – 16 Hour(s) required

The combined “Car and Loco” mid-level delay card pack contains the following 50 cards:

  • 15 x Mid-level fault cleared – draw card from “Car Minor Maintenance cards)
  • 15 x Mid-level fault cleared – draw card from “Loco Minor Maintenance cards)
  • 5 x Mid-Level Maintenance on car 1/2/3 – 1 day(s) required
  • 3 x Mid-Level Maintenance on car 1/2/3 – Send upstream 3 day(s) required
  • 2 x Mid-Level Maintenance on car 1/2/3 – Send upstream 5 day(s) required
  • 5 x Mid-Level Maintenance on Locomotive – 1 day(s) required
  • 3 x Mid-Level Maintenance on Locomotive – Send upstream 3 day(s) required
  • 2 x Mid-Level Maintenance on Locomotive – Send upstream 5 day(s) required

The combined “Car and Loco” major delay card pack contains the following 30 cards

  • 10 x Major fault cleared – draw card from mid-level “car” maintenance cards
  • 10 x Major fault cleared – draw card from mid-level “loco” maintenance cards
  • 3 x Major Maintenance on car 1/2/3 – 14 day(s) required
  • 1 x Major Maintenance on car 1/2/3 – 21 day(s) required
  • 1 x Major Overhaul on car 1/2/3 – Send Upstream – 42 day(s) required
  • 3 x Major Maintenance on Locomotive – Send upstream – 14 day(s) required
  • 1 x Major Maintenance on Locomotive – Send upstream – 21 day(s) required
  • 1 x Major Overhaul on Locomotive – Send Upstream – 42 day(s) required

You’ll notice that there are a lot of cards that clear a fault level and direct you back to the previous lower maintenance level. This is quite common in the rail industry. What is reported as a major fault, can often be cleared by the local maintenance team (who’re pretty smart people), which then only requires a mid-level or minor repair to get a car or loco back on the road.

Winding up the post

With the basics of the system in place, and a fair bit of printing to do if you go that route, you can add improvements as you desire:

  • A second roll of the dice for example would allow you to pick the destination track for on-layout maintenance, where that is not stated (such as sanding and refuelling).
  • You could add additional cards which specify which maintenance is to be done, and which track the car or loco is to be sent to.

I’ve kept the system simple initially, to allow growth by the user as they become more familiar with it. And for me, as I develop this for my own purpose.

I think that’s enough for now. I’ve been writing two posts at once this weekend. I’ve had to strip this one down from the monster it was and build the new one up with all of the bits I didn’t keep in this one. Plus cleaning up all of my own car cards, loco cards and freight car cards which I’ll share some time, later on, this week.


What’s in the next post?

This post got away from me. It was so long I was getting lost while writing it.

As I wrote earlier, I’ll put up a late-week post for the word document resources to print car, locomotive and situation cards. Then you can download and print your cards. Next time I’ll walk you through a running session as I would do it on Aaron’s Metra layout.

Till then I’ll remain yours kindly;

Andrew


Resources

Where to buy stuff:

Australia:

Overseas:

  • Head to your Office Depot (or similar big-box retailer)
  • Find a local stationer (they might have quite the range)
  • Micromark’s Car Cards system is quite extensive and you can find out about that here

Setting Up Car Cards for Operation:

Model Railroader series – Basics of car cards and waybills for model railroad operation

The Operations SIG:

Find out more about Metra on Wikipedia

This series so far:

Staying in Contact

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