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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:

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

Merry Christmas 2021

2021 has been a year of challenges, setbacks and the odd major problem. My family and I have worked hard to get through the year. We feel blessed to have made it to the end of another year.

We hope that Christmas finds you and your family in as good place. That you and your family are well and able to enjoy tomorrow to the fullest.

I look forward to bringing you more content, including the final post of the Metra layout series, covering the playing of the operations game soon. There are a few more similar layout ideas I want to share in the new year too.

In 2022 I’ll be completing the Evans Hollow industrial switching layout. I look forward to sharing the rest of the build with you.

I’m going to take a couple more days off before I begin the next post. The road out of COVID-19 has been harder on me and my family than we planned. I hope you’ll bear with me as I continue my recovery.

It’s our hope that you enjoy the holidays. I’ll see you in the new year. Thank you for being a part of the blog and for coming back time and again.

My family and I wish you and yours a safe, joyous and a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. All the best and we’ll meet again in early 2022.

Andrew and family.

Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout (Part 6 – Service Patterns & Impacts)

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:

  1. service patterns, covering the different times and traffic patterns during
    • morning run-out,
    • morning peak,
    • inter-peak,
    • afternoon peak,
    • evening,
    • evening run-in, and
    • overnight services
  2. how operations staff (drivers, conductors, etc) report and deal with issues, and
  3. 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:

  1. Monday to Thursday,
  2. Friday,
  3. Saturday, and
  4. Sunday

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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

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:

  1. To the depot starters (before leaving the depot) during crew preparation and testing, or
  2. 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.


Takeaway

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

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

Ops Downloads – how useful are you finding them?

I’m pleased to see a large number of downloads of the operations files for the maintenance centre layout. I’m wondering how useful and easy to use you have found them so far?

Part 6 will be coming this weekend, likely Sunday night. That will be followed up by the last part in this series a week or so later on. Thanks for following along. It’s an honour that you have found something I’ve written of value.

More later this week

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 (to me as an email)
    • Connecting with us on Facebook at Andrew’s Trains

Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout (Part 5 – Downloads)

In my last post – Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout (Part 4 – Setting Up) – I promised you a set of downloads for the operation of a layout similar to Aaron Riley’s Metra Layout. Here they are.


Notes on the downloads

The downloads I’ve provided allow you to begin operating a passenger running depot layout, like Aaron Riley’s, using locomotive, passenger car and situation cards. We’ve been working toward this over the previous four posts. Now it’s time to download and get printing.

1 – Word Files

The passenger car and locomotive cards are in MS Word (*.docx) format. I’ve used the document header and footer to add two texts:

  1. “<Name of Your RR>”, and
  2. “Railroad Footer Here”

Both of these can be modified or deleted by double-clicking on the text. Then over-typing with the name of your layout or railroad, and a form footer text if you so desire.

2 – Excel File (database)

The database file is a multitab Excel file  (*.xlsx).

All you need to do is remove my test data and input your own into the spreadsheet.

3 – Creating the cards

You have options here. You can:

  1. print a bunch of blank passenger car and locomotive cards, and hand-write or type in (if you own a typewriter) the details.
  2. link to the supplied MS Excel file, or one of your own, and
    • from within MS Word, add the specific spreadsheet tab as a data source,
    • add the merge fields in the spaces provided on the cards (the names on the cards are the same as the merge field name for simplicity), and
    • complete a mail merge, and
      • export to a new document, save it as a PDF and print to Index Cards, or
      • Print directly to an installed PDF printer (such as Bullzip for Windows).

How you proceed will depend on what you have available to you.

Please note that if you are using software other than the MS products mentioned I have no idea how they work, but I assume they are similar in set-up.

4 – Situation Cards

I’ve pre-printed the situation cards for you in PDF format to standard 3.5″ x 5″ index cards.

In my tests they’ve printed perfectly on my printer (a black and white Fuki Xerox laser) without issue. My printer will not duplex print the index cards, which is a pain, but something I can live with.

Some legalese I have to mention

1 – No Warranty implied

  1. These MS Word and Excel files are provided “as is”.
  2. No support is offered, nor is any warranty implied by providing them to you.

2 – Ownership

  1. Word and Excel Files
    • The content and design of the word files are released openly.
    • The spreadsheet similarly is provided openly.
    • No copyright is implied, although attribution would be nice if you modify and share the files
  2. Situation Card PDFs
    • The content of the situation cards are copyright Ian Andrew Martin © 2021
    • You are granted a personal use license to use for personal use only
    • They may not be reproduced for sale, whether whole or in part without entering into an arrangement with me, their author.

3 – File Safety

  1. All files were virus-free when uploaded.
  2. I strongly urge you to run local checks after download to make sure that they still are.
  3. Please note that I take no responsibility for loss or damage to your system from downloading the files provided. You should be running the appropriate AV software and you should check the individual files with that software before opening the files locally on your PC.

The download

I tried creating a single ZIP file, but WordPress doesn’t allow that. So instead I’ve added individual file links for you to download.

  1. Andrew’s HVL Passenger & Locomotive Card Database
  2. Index Card (3×5 inch)_Locomotive Card_Andrew Martin_Published (V 1.0)
  3. Index Card (3×5 inch)_Passenger Car Card_Andrew Martin_Published (V 1.0)
  4. Index Card (3×5 inch)_Situation Card_Andrew Martin_Published (V 1.0)

In the next post

Next time, before we dive into playing the game, I need to make sure I’ve not proceeded on assumed knowledge. That is, something I know, and think you know. So I’ll be discussing how things work where I am from a higher level operations point of view.

I’ll be covering the service patterns, (morning run-out, morning peak, inter-peak, afternoon peak, evening, evening run-in, and overnight services) and how these patterns affect operations for operations staff (drivers, conductors, etc) and on the maintenance side (mechanics, etc.). Once you understand this I think the situation cards and the overall game-play will make a lot more sense. And most importantly we’ll be working from the same understanding.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series so far, I know I have. Till the next post.

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

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:

Part 4 is close: I’m hacking CC & Waybills

I had hoped to have Part 4 of the Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout (Ops System) completed by the end of October.  Unfortunately, I’ve had to go back a few steps to make things a little simpler. And that takes time.


Hacking Car Cards & Waybills

I’ve been gaming, using a mockup of the operating system. To figure out all of the wrinkles, and the unexpected outcomes, so that you don’t have to. No gaming system is perfect, but I’d like to try and make things work as simply as possible, with the widest scope of operations for a layout like Aaron’s or any maintenance type layout: locomotive, freight or passenger, tram or trolley.

And right now I’m in the process of hacking apart the waybills side of things to make it work. I plan to have the entire post finished on November 8th. Right now the 4th part is quite long. But I’ll get there in the end.

My wife suggested that I publish the whole thing as an e-book. And that may be the best format to cover off all of the topics. I’d be interested to know what you think about that idea! She’s a smart cookie, she is!

To add a little interest, I dropped the resources from part 4 into this post. Take a moment to look around. It will help you in your understanding of the final post.

Till the next post.

Andrew


Resources

Setting Up Car Cards for Operation:

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

The Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout 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

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: