Before we dive into playing the game, I need to make sure I’ve not proceeded on assumed knowledge. That is, assuming that what I know – you know. Let’s follow that thought down the rabbit hole.
Understanding Service Patterns
Passenger operations (from a depot perspective) are not regularly discussed in the modelling media, which is a crying shame. And rarely does anyone write about modern-day commuter operations in-depth in a way that would help modellers understand the operation. And that’s an even bigger shame because there is a whole realm of modelling operations that modellers are missing out on.
In this post, I want to start discussing how things are where I work, from a higher level operations point of view. In this pre-game post I’ll be covering three major topics:
- service patterns, covering the different times and traffic patterns during
- morning run-out,
- morning peak,
- afternoon peak,
- evening run-in, and
- overnight services
- how operations staff (drivers, conductors, etc) report and deal with issues, and
- how service patterns affect the maintenance side of operations (locally and upstream).
Once we’ve covered this the situation cards and overall game-play will make a lot more sense. And most importantly we’ll all be on the same page (or card).
Understanding Service Patterns
If you can get them, commuter system timetables tell us a lot about how a system operates. Primarily they give us the number of how many services run at certain times of the day, known as headway. Headway is the time between passenger services. Non-peak services operate with greater headways than do those services running during peak times. In our case (at work) we have the following general time frames. It should be noted that from Sunday through Thursday we do not run services throughout the night. These are exclusively for Friday and Saturday nights when the party animals come out (well they do now after two years of COVID-19). Services local to you will likely be different in their operating patterns, so a little research will be needed to understand how your prototype operates.
How our timetables are set out
Our timetables are built around four distinct service day patterns:
- Monday to Thursday,
- Saturday, and
Each requires a different operating pattern and time spread. For our operators (we have a driver-only operation), day’s start one day and finish in the morning of the following day. So you’ll note that times exceed what would be considered normal 24:00 hours. 25:00 hours means 01:00 the following morning and so on.
Services for operators run in only two directions: UP or DOWN.
In your jurisdiction, they may be EAST and WEST, or NORTH and SOUTH or another combination of these. In the UK (where we took our ideas from) services are also UP and DOWN.
Let’s dive in and understand what each one means for you as a modeller.
Morning run-out (05:00 – 07:00)
With no services running overnight the early morning period is about getting services out from the depot to do two things:
- getting the first service from the depot to the end of each line served such that they are ready to run the first full (end-to-end) service, and
- establishing the pre-peak morning headways.
Starting headways are 20-minutes, and are down to 10-minutes by 07:00.
Morning peak (07:00 – 10:00)
From the end of the pre-peak period services begin to surge out of the depot. Headways come down from 10 minutes to as little as 5 minutes. After about 10:00 AM those 5-minute headways begin to extend. With sets coming in off the road and back to the depot our headways double during the morning from 5, to 7, to 8, and finally to 10-minute headways. By the end of the morning peak, only half of those peak services are running. The rest are parked up and snoozing back in the depot.
Inter-peak (10:00 – 16:30)
The inter-peak period keeps the same 10-minute headways that were established during the end of the morning peak. This is usually the most settled period of the day with a little upward blip as people go about their shopping and move around the city for work.
Afternoon peak (16:30 – 19:00)
The afternoon peak is the same as the morning peak, with the exception that people are generally going home instead of coming to work. Train sets that were sitting at the depots begin to surge out once again. Usually cutting in between other services, and so cutting headways from their 10-minute or longer inter-peak times to as little as 5 minutes again. Just as it was in the morning, services begin to lengthen headways toward the end of the evening peak. With the services running in toward depots from their furthest station, some running in-service, others running as out of service express movements. Usually, by the 19:00 hour mark, we are out to 12-minute headways.
Early to Late Evening (19:00 – 22:00)
The bulk of peak services have gone from the rails by 19:00 hours, not all, however. Services continue to run into the depot, at a slower pace than earlier, until almost doubling the headway from 12 to 20-minute headways by 22:00 hours.
Night to Final Run-In (22:00 – 25:00)
Services from the beginning of this period to its end remain at or near the 20-minute headway set earlier in the evening. In general, our last two or three services from each end are run-in services and cover a little more than half the stops (since our depot is roughly in the middle of the lines we service). By just after 25:00 hours all train sets are back in the depot and the cleaning staff are going to work, cleaning internally and also sanding our sets overnight. This ensures that they are ready to go for the morning services only four hours later.
Weekend (Saturday & Sunday) Services
In general, Saturday services run an hour longer than normal and come into the depot at around the 26:00 hour mark.
Headways begin at 20 minutes in the morning, dropping to 10-minute headways throughout the day until evening when the timetable moves out to 20-minute headways until the last service at around the 26:00 hour mark on Saturdays. Sunday services have similar headways with the last service finishing at our depot around the 25:00 hour mark.
Overnight (Friday & Saturday) Services
Friday and Saturday all-night services are only on one line for our depot. This is fairly common through most depots in our network. These are primary lines with the highest patronage and assist in getting the night-owls home after their big night out.
Running on 30-minute headways from 01:00 through 05:00 hours (from which time regular services take over) these services remain out on the network until around 07:00 hours and then return to the depot for cleaning and servicing.
Public Holidays are treated as Saturday timetables. The differences are that all services end one hour earlier and that there are no all-night services.
How operators deal with on-road issues
For our operations’ staff all technical and mechanical (train set) issues are reported in one of two ways:
- To the depot starters (before leaving the depot) during crew preparation and testing, or
- To the Operations Centre or OC (after leaving the depot).
In situation one, the set is failed by the crew, a replacement set is assigned to the crew, and the testing regime begins again. Once the set is tested and found fit for service it leaves the depot. Failed sets are assigned to the maintenance staff for rectification and eventually released for service.
In situation two, faults on any set become a problem for the OC. They assist in troubleshooting and fault clearance. If the fault cannot be cleared, but the set is movable, we get to the next platform, alight all passengers, and the train set is returned out of service to the depot for further attention.
Major issues require higher levels of assistance, and it is here that the heavy trucks and technical support crews come into play. They provide the first response mechanical and technical support to get sets moveable and recovered to a safe, off the mainline, location. Often these incidents cause delays (from normally timetabled services), diversions and or short running (where services are rerouted or run a shorter shuttle service) to the platform nearest the failed set. In some instances another train set is brought up to propel or pull the failed set to a safe location for stabling, or to get it back to the depot.
How service patterns affect maintenance staff
Our primary maintenance crew are scheduled for day shifts. This is when the most mechanical and technical service happens. You’ll need to do some research as I’m sure that your prototype will do things differently.
Late evening to overnight (our maintenance staff work 12-hour shifts) see our roving crews going to outlying depots to perform maintenance work on reported failed sets to prepare them for service the next day.
Generally, the maintenance staff do the most work during day shift hours. This is because the depot is generally empty, so moving train sets, and single cars around is much easier, Something to think on when you are planning your own operations. After hours with train sets coming backing into the depot, switching/shunting space rapidly runs out. Evening work is relegated to those maintenance shed roads, already filled with cars and sets switched/shunted their from earlier in the day, or assigned to one of the said tracks when the crew car it in at the end of their run. We find little switching/shunting is done for maintenance after hours.
I hope that I’ve been able to give you a high-level overview of the operations with which I am familiar. It is important (I feel) that you understand how things work before we dig into the game. Context is key in my mind so understanding how things work gives you the context for getting the most from the gameplay.
I promised that this post would be published last weekend, for which I apologise. Life does get in the way and my life is not exempt from little issues that cause big delays. Roster changes and family stuff has to take precedence. So thanks for being as kind and understanding as you are.
I’ve begun working on the final post in this series (playing the game) and I aim to have that completed in the next week or so. So keep an eye out for that.
Till next time
This series so far:
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