105 – Ops Criteria

Operations – Criteria for Operation

In order for a model railroad to be an operating railroad here are what I consider to be the basic requirements:

  1. Trains must come from somewhere,
  2. Trains must do work of some sort on the layout,
  3. Trains must go somewhere after completing their work.
  4. A car forwarding system must be used.
  5. Train operators must move trains in accordance to written rules of safe working,
  6. Train operators should be kept busy most of the time during a shift.

Sound like work? Maybe – but for those of us who really love trains there is nothing better to do than take a lot of horsepower down the rails switching industries according to your paperwork, and living to tell about it. Sadly few people really understand this area of the railroad modelling hobby. And yet operations can provide you with more enjoyment out of your model railroad than almost any other area of modelling endeavour.

Operation is the reason for your layout design

From 1997 to 2006 my family and I lived in Austin, Texas in the US and I became aware of the power and enjoyment of model railroad operations. The bug really hit after being introduced to author Dr Bruce Chubb’s book in 2003. Since then I have become greatly influenced by several of the masters in the hobby:

  1. Dr Bruce Chubb – a lovely fellow who is only to helpful and willing to chat with you online. Bruce’s book is now long out of print, but is available every now and then on eBay.
  2. David Barrow – whose Cat Mountain and Santa Fe I visited in 2004 during the Model Railroad Jamboree held each year in Austin.
  3. Paul Mallery’s excellent book: “Operation Handbook for Model Railroads” available from Carstens Publications. Another book of his that you might find very helpful is his bridge and trestle book. Also from Carstens.

A longer list of links to other books of interest on this topic are available on my links page listed on the right. There are some very excellent books on this list and while not cheap or readily available in many cases they are very worthwhile in your study of this fascinating subject and I can personally recommend them to you.

The railroad model versus the model railroad

A model railroad in my opinion is the sum total of the trains, track and other infrastructure and the operating plan that makes it run. In contrast a railroad model is no more than a moving diorama. While this may be a fine point for the duration I’ll refer to the Railroad Model throughout this diatribe.

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 fulfill 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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