104 – Real or Model

Operations – The railroad model versus the model railroad

While we are talking about operations in a model railroad context I think it might be worthwhile to take a moment and define what a model railway is. In my opinion then I’ll state the following:

“A model railroad layout is a model of a railroad, real or fictitious, that aims to reproduce the trains, track and other infrastructure and an operating plan to make it all work together for the owner and operators in a logical and prototypical manner.”

By this I mean that you can own a plywood central style layout (plywood surface, track and a few tin cans to describe the industries) and yet still have a model railroad. This may seem wrong to those who need scenery to feel a model is complete. However, look at the it from an operating perspective by answering the following questions.

  1. Are shippers and consignees serviced on a regular basis?
  2. Is there a working operations plan in place?
  3. Do trains run according to the operating plan?
  4. Are the users (train crews, dispatchers, singallers, etc) happy with the experience of operating the layout?

If you get a YES to at least 3 out of the four questions then you have a model of a railroad, shortened to model railroad for clarity.

As an example a “model railroad” does not need to be scenically complete to be functional. When I last had the opportunity to visit David Barrow’s Cat Mountain and Santa Fe (CM&SF) it was nothing more at first glance than a 24 foot by 36 foot plywood central. There were some photographs of the industries at a location, and the occasional architectural model. Other than that there was little to no scenery but that little scenery was evocative of the area and the time frame for the railroad being modelled. Of greater importance was the operating scheme for the railroad which was fully in place.

This allowed crews to pick up their trains, and the operating orders to fulfil the mission of the train on the layout and then go out on the layout and complete their mission. Crews could then begin all over again or take a break and move to another area of the railroad and take over another job.


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