Tag Archives: Metra

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.


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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Aaron Riley’s Metra Service Centre Layout

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

Rob Chant’s layout concept

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

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

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

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

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

Enough of the overview let’s dive in.

Looking around Aaron’s Metra layout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in the next post?

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

Till next time; Andrew


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

Staying in Contact

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

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

It’s been a while right?

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Riley’s Metra Railcar Facility layout

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

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


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

Staying in Contact

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