Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Operations 1: A Preamble

If anything divides the British and American model rail communities it is operating layouts.

As a British modeller I know that operations tend to be based on timetables with an emphasis on passenger operation, and when it comes to freight it is all about shunting the wagons. The aim of the layout is to parade a set of prototypical looking trains that represent the service that ran on the line.

From an American perspective operations are the big goal, the one thing that that brings all the facets of the hobby together. As such schemes involving waybills and switch lists have evolved, with the running of trains by train order, or through a Centralised Traffic Control scheme. The aim to represent the traffic generated by the railroad business.

Of course in Britain, say on the West London for instance, I would see about 184 trains a day run up and down the line that is about seven miles in length. On the North Shore line they advertised of 38 trains daily to Milwaukee on a line that was about 86 miles in length.

So the whole traffic density thing is rather different.

Nowadays if I see a 60 wagon train I think whoo-hoo a long freight train. In America I would be waiting for 10 minutes for the train to run past and I'd lose count of the number of freight cars in it. So it is in no way surprising that the difference in what operating a layout entails differs so much from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

So what do I see as the things American and British layout operations have in common?

Well slow running speed for a start. About 5 scale mph while shunting, and about 15 scale mph while running up and down the yard. I think that the locations on the layout should be named for what they are; the goods shed, or freight shed in American parlance. The operations are some sort of point-to-point scheme, in my case an out and back from the fiddle yard, staging tracks, to the hidden storage again.

My layout is small enough that it really needs hidden storage tracks to represent the rest of the world, where I can fiddle with consists and rebuild them to maintain the illusion of an operating railroad. I've also set my sights very tight. Burham Yard is an interchange and industry area, not a classification yard. The majority of my operations will be bridge traffic, which is exactly what the real North Shore Line had to contend with. My only twisting of reality is the location of the yard itself, and that is a choice based on the pragmatic reality of the space I have.

I shall also be using the rules from an employee timetable. When it comes to waybills versus switching lists, I'm leaning now more towards a switching list as I think given the size and type of layout it will work for me better.


  1. Hi Ashley,

    Classification yard? Switching list? Do tell...

    1. Nothing much to tell about classification yards as there isn't one on the layout. Switch lists are another thing, but I'm still working on the question of how involved do I want to make the operation of this layout?

      Part of me says go the whole hog. Waybills and switch lists, while the other part of me says just you use one. However, they both both simulate different things, and therefore bring something different to the table. More discussion to come.

    2. Personally, I think it gives more of a raison d etre to the whole thing if you understand the reasoning and methodology. Of course, you're then in the dangerous position of being labelled a geek. But who cares what other people think. I'd do what suits you. You can go the whole hog and still play trains :)