Category Archives: Switching

Everything switching related to the prototype

Reworking the Maintenance Centre Layout for modern prototypes

Overview

This all started when I saw a Facebook post by Aaron Riley showcasing his Metra Service Centre layout, adapted from a Robert Chant design, in HO scale. I reached out to him and asked if he’d be willing to share more about his layout with us all. Aaron was gracious and extended many images and much information about his layout that allowed me to create that initial post. What most struck me from the outset was that the layout in the photos does not look like what it is, a small footprint layout. It appears larger while providing a great deal of operating potential that would provide many years of interesting operations for anyone interested in building from Rob’s original design.

Inspired by the layout I pulled information from my day job working in a similar location and wrote the Operations for Maintenance Centre Layout Series (see the links for all 7 parts in the resources section below). While you don’t need to read all of the posts before taking on this post, there is a lot of contextual information there that will help in understanding the redesign that I’m proposing.

I want to take Rob Chant’s original layout design, which is more suited to an earlier time of operation (say through the early to mid-1990s) and bring it into the 21st century. Those not in the rail industry often think that maintenance centres change little over time. Nothing is further from the truth. As operational needs and operators change, major often drastic changes to facilities occur that allow operators to streamline and manage throughput (lowering costs in the process). My depot has changed twice in the last 20 years. Each time with major additions to its layout.

Enough preamble, let’s get into the meat of the article and look at how to bring Rob’s design into the modern-day.


Rob’s Original Design

For reference here is Rob Chant’s design, as used by Aaron Riley to build his layout. I’m going to be referring back to this image quite a lot. It may be worthwhile to either open a new window, or another tab with this image to make referring to it easier.

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

Bringing the layout into the 21st Century

The design below mirrors, to some degree, what I see at work every day.

A running depot for passenger operation of diesel hauled push-pull train sets
A running depot for passenger operation of diesel hauled push-pull train sets

Comparing the two designs you’ll notice right away the differences. The second design is streamlined and devoted to one function: getting train sets out of the gate and onto the mainline and the reverse as needed. To cover all of the changes I’ll start on the left and move to the right.

Parts Warehouse – GONE

Starting on the left top of the layout you’ll notice that the parts warehouse is gone, along with the scrapping line, sand house and locomotive shed. In modern facilities such as this, all parts have been moved into the main maintenance sheds and are now delivered by road. Except for rolling stock being returned from upstream maintenance centres, nothing arrives by rail.

Scrap Line – GONE

Scrapping too has moved off-site. As I mentioned in the article series major maintenance is carried out off-site at what I term upstream maintenance centres. Determination of end-of-life status for railcars and locomotives happens at this higher level and not at the running depot level.

To help you understand why running depots no longer have the means or the authority to scrap rolling stock onsite let’s go down the rabbit warren to understand the three major reasons for removing rolling stock from the asset register (or roster if you prefer):

  1. Condemnation occurs when rolling stock is:
    • life expired because of age, mileage covered, or material stress such as fractures in frames, failures of major high-cost components
    • determined to be uneconomic to continue to maintain or repair, often because of the rising cost of replacement parts or  sub-assemblies driving ongoing maintenance costs above those of outright replacement
  2. Withdrawal occurs when rolling stock is:
    • considered to be excess to current need due to adverse economic circumstances such as a downturn (COVID caused a lot of this), which usually means the asset will be stored out of service until needed later on by the operator,
    • determined to be no longer required by the operator, yet is still  in a saleable and serviceable condition in which case it will be put out for tender by interested parties and often sold into service with another operator, and finally
    • determined to be no longer required for operation by the operator, but usable as a source of spare parts to keep other similar units running by the operator
  3. Accident damage occurs when rolling stock is:
    • involved in an accident and has suffered damage sufficient to make the cost of refurbishment equal to or more than the value of the asset, its insurance value, for example, it will be stripped of usable parts by the maintenance teams, and then sold by tender to interested scrappers

Locomotive Shed  – GONE

Locomotives are generally left out in the open on an available track spot, so shedding is no longer required. All light maintenance that can be carried out at the running depot would be carried out in the regular maintenance sheds. These items would include checking and topping up fluid levels, replacing minor components such as oil filters, light globes, brake blocks, windscreen wipers, cleaning the crew compartment, emptying waste tanks, etc. All other maintenance items would be carried out at the upstream facilities.

Bulk Oil & Diesel Tanks – MOVED

The bulk oil tanks for locomotive fuel have been moved to the area near the admin offices. This allows for trucks to deliver directly to the tank area. No supplies are received at the running facility by rail. The tanks can be serviced by trucks 24 hours a day, and most likely receive a top-up on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Road Vehicle Garage – MOVED

With the focus changed to getting train sets serviced and onto the mainline, road vehicles have been moved off the layout. Any of the greyed areas can act as parking spaces (so long as there is clearance between trains and vehicles).

Crew Amenities Building  – ADDED

The crew amenities building and the cleaners annexe have been added to provide better facilities for change rooms, meal (mess) areas, toilets and training rooms in line with modern practice.

Hazardous & Waste Storage – MOVED

These two sheds have been moved to the maintenance shed (off layout) in line with modern practice.

Paint Shop – GONE

All paint-work has been moved to the upstream maintenance centres.

Contaminated Storage Tanks – MOVED

As with the other storage buildings mentioned above, all of this storage is now contained within the maintenance building footprint.

Bulk Sand Storage Silos – MOVED

Sanding facilities have been moved to the roof of the maintenance facility to save space and simplify sand delivery to sandboxes wherever it is needed. Sand delivery comes in by road at the rear of 4 road on the paved area there. There is an air feed sand line that runs across the top of the maintenance sheds to the loco sanding facility between 9 and 10 roads.

As an additional point of interest, passenger cars can be filled by a sand buggy (not a dune buggy, unfortunately) that allows sand service to passenger cars when and where needed in the facility. The sand buggy has its own air supply to blow sand into the sandboxes.

Road Numbering – ADDED

Each road has been numbered and is used as follows:

  • 1-3 are for ‘ready; train set storage, that is these sets are ready to run out onto the mainline.
  • 4 through 8 are maintenance roads where:
    • 4 road is the washing road.
    • 5 road is the wheel lathe road.
    • 6, 7 and 8 roads are all pit roads for general service and maintenance of train sets.
  • 9 and 10 roads are for locomotive storage and supplemental sanding
  • 11 road is the locomotive fueling road

Modellers should note that fueling and sanding may occur without interfering with maintenance activity on 8 road. 9 road may be designated the locomotive arrival road. And when time allows sanding can happen here, before the locomotive goes to 11 road to be fueled. After fueling the locomotive can be stored on 10 road until needed.


Wrap-Up

This is the last post in the current series based around Aaron Riley’s excellent Metra Layout. I’ve tried to share my knowledge of the operation of these facilities and I hope that you have gotten something from the series. If you have a comment on what you’ve enjoyed and would like more of would be appreciated.

I’ll be moving on to looking at how I would operate the Australian RIP track layout I posted about some time ago. I have another very small layout design that I am working on at the moment in that vein, and I wanted to see what sort of operations you can have on a 4 foot long RIP track layout to keep it interesting. More on that in the next post.

Resources

Aaron Riley’s Metra Layout

Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout Series

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 7 – Op till you Drop)

Welcome to the final instalment of the Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout series. In this post, we’ll run through the game using the layout as the game board, the train sets as the pieces and using the cards offered in the last post as the modifiers and randomisers for the game. Let’s begin.

Setting Up

If you have not already read through the series, I suggest that you do so, You really need to have the background and knowledge of the previous posts to make the most sense of this. Still, it’s your electrons, so let’s get started on operating the layout as Rob Chant has envisioned for Aaron.

Please keep in mind that the following four steps (which are all paperwork related) can be done well before your next operating session once you have your train sets built, and the paperwork bundled together (as I posted in part 4). Now you see why I say you need to read all the previous parts to simplify this final post.

Step 1 – Set up your train sets

As we’ve already discussed a train set consists of a locomotive, a cab car and one or more trailer cars. This is the smallest (whole piece) in the game. Each train set needs to be stabled on the layout. Where it is doesn’t matter, it must be on the modelled section of the layout to matter at the start of the operating session.

Step 2 – Set up your train set paperwork

Using a train set holder (see part 4 for more information), that contains the basic set data, match your locomotive cards, cab car cards and trailer car cards to the locomotive and cars in each train set. Once this is completed you can now determine the state of the train set before the start of the running day in step 3 below.

Step 3 – Using dice for randomness

Each train set has to be cleared before leaving the yard for the mainline. This requires a dice roll (I’ve referenced this in Part 4) which I’ve decided can be a 6-sided dice. Keep in mind that if you’ve skipped the previous parts, what we’re doing is looking for switching opportunities (that is operations) within and without the yard. The dice assists in allowing chance to determine what train set is fit to run out of the yard, and what needs servicing or maintenance.

Step 4 – Consulting the card packs

With the die cast for each train set you now work through the results of the die roll to see whether the train set runs out as expected (which should be the bulk of outcomes), or maintenance on a loco, car or set is required.

Where a loco, car or set requires servicing, you consult the specified card set and follow the advice thereon. (Part 5 contains the downloads that allow you to print the cards in PDF format)

Minor delay cards mean just that. A set may not be clean and ready to run out. Or lights might not be functioning on a car in the train set. Sometimes no fault is found by our maintenance and train staff (represented by the die roll). I’ve skewed almost 43% of the cards toward this outcome because it is quite common that while a fault is reported by the train crew during use, maintenance staff either clear it on first touch or the fault has cleared by the time they get to it.

Medium delay cards work in the same manner, as do the major delay cards. The difference with these two card packs is that they provide for switching operations of “spare” cars and locos between sets, and require in some cases that cars and locos be moved to a higher level maintenance centre (for resolution of the problems) and thus you now have switching moves to complete.

Step 5 – Generating a switchlist

I suggest using a switch list as it allows me to enjoy the switching without the headache of remembering what goes where (click this link for an example I built using Excel in a new tab). You can keep it super simple and write everything you need to do using a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. Whatever floats your boat.

Once you understand what you need to do from the switchlist, it is time to get playing (or switching if you prefer). Among the things that you may need to do to train sets on the layout could include:

  • Moving train sets to service tracks,
  • Cutting locomotives off train sets and replacing them with another loco, or
  • Cutting a car, or cars out of a train set and moving them to maintenance tracks, before cutting a replacement car or cars into the train set, and clearing it for service (to staging),
  • Moving trains sets from service tracks to storage tracks when ready for service,
  • Building trains to be moved to upstream maintenance centres, and finally
  • Moving trains (of cars, of locos, or mixed consists) off the layout to those service centres.

After your first operating session, you will also be receiving cars and locos back after they’ve been fixed by the upstream maintenance centres (staging). These will require switching to either storage roads or into train set consists. And so the operations will go from there onward.

Final Thoughts

For small layouts built around maintenance centres, the hope of long term use and enjoyment at home or for exhibition use requires an easy means to make the layout work for you. Through the use of switching activities, randomness and an adversary (as mentioned in a previous post)  you may find that you have more than enough to keep your interest using my method here.

I hope that you’ve found this series of benefit to you and your layout. Perhaps you can adapt what I’ve described to your own use and situation. Perhaps you can use it as is. If it gets you thinking about how you can use a system like this to improve your small layout operation then I’m a happy man. Let me know in the comments or on Facebook (link at the bottom of the page) how you have put it to use.

Till next post.

Resources

Where to buy stuff:

Australia:

Overseas:

  • Head your Office Depot (or similar retailer)

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:

Recovery, Delayed Posts and the flat-out best Chain-Link Fence tutorial ever!

I wrote back in December 2021 that I caught “the virus” and was hoping to be over it in short order. Yeah, well that didn’t happen.  Read on…


Recovery and Delayed Posts

What doesn’t kill you gives you a set of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a dark sense of humour” – Unknown

So, what started out as an optimistic case of COVID-19, turned into a 7-week absence from work, including 5 weeks (solid) of 24 hour-a-day coughing fits, being as weak as a kitten, and 2 plus months of continual work to get back to my fitness level. I get that everyone’s story with COVID is different. I was lucky not to have ended up at the hospital, but it was a close-run thing. Thankfully, Australia’s public health system held up and is outstanding; I had a fantastic team on my side made up of my GP, The Royal Melbourne Hospital‘s COVID triage team, Nurse-On-Call, family and friends to help out. Seems that raising a child is not the only thing that requires a village.

I’m still finding that overwhelming tiredness at the end of the day remains. Each day that goes by, thank the fates, I am still here and getting back toward normal. While my wife caught COVID, it was less aggressive with her than with me. It would have been better not to have caught it at all. I’ve now had my 3rd vaccination and hope not to catch it again. Let’s just hope that it turns more benign as time goes on and as we become used to having it in the world at large.

If you’ve been through it I hope that you are O.K. and that your family and friends likewise are on the mend.

Needless to say, posting has been delayed as life, in general, has taken priority. I hope that you will stick with me as I get back on track to work on finishing the last post in the “Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout (Part 7 – Op till you Drop)” series. In this post, which I’ve begun working on again will take us through an op session on the layout. I aim to finish that soon.


Chain-Link Fence Tutorial

Boomer-Diaries on YouTube has been a must-watch, that I found during my time watching ‘everything’ on YouTube during my convalescence. He recently posted what I feel is the best Chain Link fence tutorial I’ve ever seen or read. I’ve linked it below. Watch and enjoy as you get a masterclass in how-to modelling, painting and dressing a great scenic item.

Once you go down this rabbit-hole though, you may be some time, to misquote Capt Robert Oates (of Scott’s doomed Antartcic expedition) as Boomer diaries has a big collection of outstnading videos on the current layout build.

Talk more to you all soon.

Andrew


Resources

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 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 Andrew’s Trains

Evans Hollow layout hits a milestone (been a long time coming)

The Evans Industrial shelfie layout has hit a major milestone! Read on…


A quick heads-up for those of you following along with the slow build of this layout. We’ve hit a major milestone, with the completion of the wiring of the layout underside. No track down at this stage, but that is coming in the next day or so, and aiming to be at the testing stage during the Mothers Day weekend.

(That’s the second week in May if you need reminding like me!)

I’ve completed the wiring to my wiring standards. You can download a copy from this site, just head down to the resources section at the bottom of the page.

Just a couple of notes for those of you wondering:

  • Yes, I love wiring and electrics
  • Yes, the wiring is designed as a modular unit, to facilitate troubleshooting and replacement as necessary over the years
  • Yes, the wiring is extensible, in that this layout will be able to join up with other small layouts  being planned in the future for this series
  • Yes, I had a lot of fun, and a little frustration – more on that in the article that I’ll be publishing in the next week or so – plus there’ll be a video too that I’m working on for the remainder of my vacation – I go back to work Sunday.

Hope that you have been able to get out and also do some modelling, and thanks for continuing to follow along with me. Stay well, stay safe, and stay modelling.

Regards Andrew


Resources

Staying in Contact

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

More first Mile/Last Mile? We can do that…

I posted a while ago about a flour mill, here in Melbourne, that showcases a loads-in, empties out flour milling operation. Today we’ll look at another operation, this time in Montpelier Ohio which is an empties-in/loads-out facility for grain. This is truly first/last-mile railroading at its best.

Switching the Montpelier Ohio Elevator

We’ll talk about modelling a facility using the track layout and operations featured in this post next time. For now, I’d suggest that you watch this outstanding video from YouTuber Scott Taipale. With WAER 223 an SW 1200 switcher (ex IHRC 223, ex TRRA 1223) working a unit grain train at the elevator in Montpelier Ohio.

This SW 1200 switcher was built for the Terminal RR of St Louis in 1955. Later owned by the Indiana Hi-Rail and successor Wabash Erie, it is now used exclusively by the Edon Farmers Co-Op to handle the bulk car movements you’ll note in the video.

A couple of notes on the video from Scott:

  • The line furthest right (North) used to be Wabash’s 1st district which ran from Toledo to Montpelier (now truncated, it ends 4800 feet behind/east of the camera)
  • The branch line connects to the former Wabash yard in Montpelier (now Norfolk Southern)

In my next post, we’ll look at how you can model a layout based on the track diagram and how you can fit this facility into your space and time limitations. Thanks for reading along.  and if you get the chance please like and subscribe to this blog, and to the Facebook page. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Resources

My switching first/last-mile playlist on YouTube

Previous Kensington Posts:

Scott Taipale

Staying in Contact

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

Every day’s the same, just different

A recent Facebook post in the Micro/Small Model RR Layouts group regarding problems with a member’s switching layout prompted me to write this post.

Here in essence is what was said:

I built a switching layout based on Lance Mindheim’s “One Switch Layout” plan. The first time I ran a switch job it was very absorbing. The second time (different switch list), I realized that I had figured out the “trick”, and it was more tedious than interesting.

Working in the rail industry this is the standard operating procedure. The first time you do a thing is often stressful if not outright terrifying, and then the tedium sets in as you make this just another part of your day. And perhaps, that is the difference between knowledge and understanding.

Most days are going to be the same. You drive a train. You deliver and pick-up. You go back to your starting point and berth the train or hand it over to another crew. And this is a good thing. When things get very different there is a problem and that can ruin your day. Each industry may be simple to switch or there may be gyrations required to get cars fettled into the right spots. You don’t know until you get on-site and check the tasking from the receiver or shipper. Same but different. That’s the nature of the business.

In the same vein, the model should be much the same. Every time you operate the layout, the track and switches won’t change (unless they break). However, with an interesting industry, with more than one spot, nothing will ever be the same twice. This is where the interest comes in for me. It is the troubleshooting required to get a car out of spot 2 of the 3 on the spur, get another car into that spot and work with the industry to get it out that makes it interesting.

So what do we take away from all of this? Tedium is a daily part of any ‘work’ task. Adding interest is the job of the layout designer and builder. Ensuring that you have industries with more than one spot and that at least one of those spots requires a certain car on occasion will ensure that you have operational interest in all of your operating sessions.

Your takeaway

Working with the industry is how you make sure that your layout does not go stale. There are resources available for understanding this concept. I’ve linked to Tony Thompson’s outstanding website (see resources below) for more on ‘Sure Spots’.


Resources

  • Visit Tony Thompson’s excellent website “Modelling the SP” using the link to get to part 1 of 4 on Sure Spots. I’ll quote Tony here on what a Sure Spot is: “The concept of a “sure spot” means a particular point at which a car must be spotted, such as one particular spur, or a particular loading or unloading facility along a spur, or even a particular door at an industry.”

Staying in Contact

Got a comment on this topic? Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways:

Site Seeing – More on Grain at Kensington

I’ve written previously on the Allied Mills facility at Kensington (inner Melbourne, Victoria, Australia). Marcus Wong I’ve discovered has a great blog post on his site about the facility that goes in-depth about what it is, what it does, and where it is headed.


Visit Marcus’ site

First off here’s the link to Marcus’ site

So visit there for an in-depth review of how things get from A-B.


Resources

Visit the previous post on our site:

Staying in Contact

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

Site Seeing – The Little Critter that could edition

It’s not often that you get to see internal (in-plant) company railway operations today. Thankfully “Saginaw Terminal Docks” (Facebook and YouTube) posted a video from Reid Machinery in Lansing, Mi showing how they use old freight cars to store valuable machinery on their site prior to sale.


Reid Machinery’s internal railroad

Reid Machinery Inc of Lansing Michigan have specialised in moving machinery, primarily in the forging industry, throughout North America since 1992. And while that may not seem like the most worthy thing to write about on the third Tuesday in July – I urge you to hang around a moment longer. You see they also hold their large (as in big – not lots of) inventory on and in their own railroad assets.

Yes – they have their own switching layout.

Thanks to Saginaw Terminal Docks we have a front row seat, and a cab ride on one of these switching moves. I asked him about connections to the rest of the world. He tells me that the in-plant line connects to the JAIL/Adrian & Blissfield on over a mile of old track through Lansing’s south side.

And this is so modellable…


YouTube video

Some of the things to watch out for in the video are:

  • The three person crew (Engineer, conductor, and digger – and yes it’s a guy with  a shovel)
  • Slow switching speeds
  • At around the 18 minute mark – opening the boxcar door with the forklift forks (we often model the result but the actual operation is rarely filmed)

So sit back, turn up the volume and enjoy the show.


Resources

Site Seeing – Last mile switching on the Florida Central

Danny Harmon spends a day out following a railfan friendly switch crew of the Florida Central as they switch customers around Orlando, Florida.


First Mile / Last Mile

This is where I believe that real railroading happens. It is where the customer meets the railroad. It’s also where modellers with small spaces, budgets and time allocation get the most bang for the buck when designing and building a layout. There’s a lot of great locations and close up detail shots of the crew working and the locations for inspiration.

Sit back, put on your headphones and enjoy the sights and sounds of a couple of vintage locomotives as the train crew prepare their train, run out to, and then switch, the customers spurs. (Clickable video below)



Make sure to like and subscribe to Danny’s channel. Recently he’s been doing a lot of switching videos. I hope he does a lot more to come. Supporting him might just get him to do more too.

Site seeing – Op till you drop – Blue flag “Video” edition – August 26, 2018

In my August 18 post we looked at modelling and using Blue Flags for your operating sessions. Thanks to Charles Malinowski’s timely reminder, there’s an additional video for context.


MRR Video Series – Taking Care of Business

Model Railroader magazine has a series of videos (most are pay to play). However some of the best of them are free for you to watch. One of these focuses on the SMS Rail Lines industrial park in New Jersey.

I did try to embed their video (as they offer this as an option – like YouTube) however, it didn’t work. Instead you’ll find below the link for the video. THis will take you straight to the page and then play away.

The video is narrated and professionally shot and edited. It is really well done and shows the operations in the Industrial Park and the blue flag in action. Thanks to Charles for reminding me of the video. I hope that you all enjoy watching and learning.

Don’t forget to comment on and share this post with your friends.


Resources

Taking Care of Business: SMS Rail Lines