Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ZTS in Hand, More Planning Ahead

Yesterday I finally got my Conrail Philadelphia Division, Zone 5 ZTS Book that I bought/won off of eBay. A ZTS, Zone Track Spots, book was, from my understanding, a Conrail phenomenon which laid out every single spur and spot for a car across the system. I haven't seen many offered for other railroads. These maps are much more detailed than standard track charts which usually just showed a siding or spur with one line, maybe two if you were lucky. It would show every industry spur and name the customer. Another feature is it shows the number of "spots", i.e., car loading/unloading positions on a spur which, thus, gives an idea on the number of cars for a particular industry. As a bonus, each and every single track in a yard was also detailed with it's prototype name and number. The ZTS maps in this volume cover a number of "zones" encompassing the following routes (including any branches off):
  • Harrisburg line from Royersford through Harrisburg
  • Reading line from around Alburtis to Reading
  • All the trackage in Reading
  • Buffalo line from Harrisburg to Keating
  • Line to York
  • Enola yard and its approaches
Of interest to me are zones 48 and 49 coverring from Wernersville to Landis and Derry to Dauphin, respectively. The main focus of my layout is Harrisburg through Lebanon. The one area I have struggled to even remotely get a representation of is Harrisburg yard and its various terminal operations, both TrailVan (TV) and switching yards. So what I think I will do is design each of the various areas of interest, i.e., layout design elements (LDE) starting with the Harrisburg TV terminal and work my way east. Hopefully, focusing on one area at a time will get me a good, operational (well, for Conrail) design and one I can start putting lumber towards by September.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Time to Hit Reset

I think in planning there comes a time when one needs to take a breath, step back, and evaluate what it is one wants to get out of a layout. I know I've seen on message boards where an enthusiastic new member of the site joins and starts posting wildly, gets tons of help, but changes so much that they become the boy who cried wolf and the help decreases. I've seen it on railroad forums and on technology related forums, so it's more of an internet-age thing I think. Well, I feel like I was getting into that realm with some of my forum and blog posts so I've spent the last few days doing everything from understanding what I want out of a layout to how to maximize my space in the basement while meeting storage/utility access needs. I believe I've solved the latter and the former, well, if that means getting rid of junk, so be it.

As for the layout, I sat down and evaluated the 7-8 plans I have done for this space to look at what I liked about each and what I didn't like. I also looked at what do I really want out of the layout. My interests in the hobby are formed from my railfanning interests, as well as passed down from my dad. We would railfan mailine action, particularly in Maryland and some West Virginia, along former B&O trackage while on visits to my grandparents. Additionally, we would watch NEC action in and around Philadelphia/New Jersey. What I've come to the conclusion of is that my interests have all derived from being able to stand in one place and just watch the trains roll by, the longer and more motive power, the better. However, in my limited exposure of the hobby, I know that a layout to meet this need would get pretty old quick as it would probably be one town, a mainline, probably a station for passenger service, maybe an industry, plus lots of staging. Others have tried this and their experiences have shown me that it's not the greatest layout vision in the world.

So where to next then? The other thing I remember when growing up was going to various yards or terminals and watching the work that goes on there, like Amtrak's 30th St. Station and Brunswick yard. While they weren't necessarily as busy as they were under previous owners/operators, the moving of the cars around was interesting. I even find myself looking at what work is going in Pavonia on my way to and from work each day. Okay, so then I like mainline running and yard operations. Yard plus mainline should form the basis of my layout as I move forward.

But wait Phil, you've made no mention of locals to serve industries along the mainline! Well, that's right. While it was always nice to see the local along the Pemberton I.T. or moving along the Bordentown Secondary, by the time I counted to 10 cars thoughts of can't this thing move any faster always crept into my mind and I was never really all that interested in the movements needed to server the industries. I don't know why, it just never occured to me but I think it goes back to the motive power. So would local's be an operating focus of my layout, in short no. However, after listening to the Model Railcast podcast for the last year, I've come to realize that the way freight/local is really how one gets operational interests from a layout with respect to how Conrail (and other modern, Class-I railraods) operated. So, I consider them a necessary evil, but the layouts focus won't be on them.

Now on to my selection of a prototype road (yes, I even questioned this). Conrail is the only railraod I knew and I really didn't know how much I loved it until it was gone. I could easily have chosen to model the Chessie System, too, what with the exposure to it during my youth, but I don't think my heart would be in it as much since it wasn't really "my" road like Conrail was (expect a few weathered yellow, orange and blue units to roll through). What about passernger operations though? Amtrak is the only inter-city passenger operation I've known. In fact, when I was younger, I had drawn up plans for a corner room of my parents basement to represent the Morrisville to Trenton area of the NEC, complete with the flying junction from the Morrisville/Trenton cut-off. Once older, I realized that for the motive power on Conrail I wanted to run, this wouldn't be an option as Conrail didn't run trains up the NEC anymore (I think one scheduled run). Essentially I came to the conclusion that Amtrak operations would be nice, but they weren't essential for me.

Next I evaluated prototype to proto-freelanced. I came to the same conclusion I did when I started the planning process, I'm not creative enough to come up with terminals, line-side industry, and operations on my own without doing a ton of research. If I'm going to do that much research, I might as well pick a prototype area and model that.

With that decided, which area do I model? Well, let's see, I wanted yards/terminal operations along with a busy mainline. Gee, I might as well take a system map of Conrail and throw darts at it. This is where I put the geography limitation on what I want to model - the mid-Atlantic region. Now we've got a yard/terminal, mainline operation, and mid-Atlantic region. Ok, it's a smaller map, but still there are about 3 or 4 lines to choose from: Reading, Harrisburg, Lehigh, and Pittsburgh. I ruled out the Pittsburgh line as it's not as mid-Atlantic as the others, i.e., it's more mountainous. That leaves me with the Lehigh, Reading, and Harrisburg lines. I have a copy of the Mail-3 cabride so I rewatched most of it. I felt like the Lehigh line, until it reaches the Allentown area doesn't have a whole lot to offer other than train after train rolling through town. I felt the same with the Reading line, although it had a some more interesting features. That left me with the Harrisburg line, in the same position as before. Between Reading and Philadelphia, there are industrial operations and some terminals, but most would be "off-stage" and after looking at them and figure out how one would operate/scenic that area, I felt it might be too much to do that much hidden traffic. Reading could be a layout unto itself, but I can't figure out how traffic moved through there looking at maps, let alone driving through the town a few times recently trying to figure out the rails going over/under/beside the roadways.

This left me with the Harrisburg line between Reading and Harrisburg. So, let's go back and see what I want out of my layout: yard/terminal operations and mainline running. Harrisburg yard didn't do a whole lot of classification, but it was a crew change point/refueling area. It did, however, have an important part in intermodal service as an intermediary switching point for TV/Mail trains. Mainline running, well, according to a tonnage chart I saw for the Conrail system in 1997, the tonnage moved on the line was 90-95 MGT. I'm not 100% sure what this stat means, but compared to the rest of the system it wasn't the most heavily used line, but it was near the top and it did have more than the other lines I was looking at. Also of note was that about 20% of it's traffic went down the Lurgan branch for interchanges with Norfolk Southern and CSX. I essentially confirmed my layout starting point to be Harrisburg and I would move out eastward as space/compression dictated.

Now that I had put together an origin to the layout and a direction to travel, picking out areas to model would be next. Well, you can't go from Harrisburg east without modeling Hershey and the various plants located there. Operationally speaking, I would consider Hershey a terminal as it really had its own self-contained switching operation that could keep a person busy just switching the various plants. Researching the rest of the line, there is Millards/Wimpy Minerals/Pennsy Supply quarry just west of Annville, Pa. Again, this is more like a terminal with empties coming in, getting switch off to the various loaders, and loads going out. As for other areas of the line, I'm going to hold off until the ZTS map I just purchased arrives and I look at how all 4 areas (Harrisburg yard, Harrisburg TV terminal, Hershey, and Annville) are prototypically configured and build those 4 LDEs, see how much I have to bend them, and how much space that leaves for other things.

One area conspicuously absent from this post so far that was present on my other plans, Harrisburg Station/Transportation Center. While I think the station would be a great modeling effort, operationally, how much would it really add to the layout? Amtrak terminates its Keystone Service here and in the time frame I am focusing on (1996 and 1997), it had 2 thru trains, Pennsylvaninan and Three Rivers. So this would really just leave me with replicating on-off for Keystone Service and on, through the yard area into staging for the thru trains. Is that really enough operation to warrant essentially a 6-8 foot LDE? I don't think so. Now, to model the line accurately, a portion of the station should be modeled, but I don't need to do the extent I had planned, especially considering that the Harrisburg line doesn't get adjacent to the station until about at it's midpoint.

Well, I think this word vomit is over, but at least if I ever lose focus on what I'm trying to accomplish with this layout, I have this post to come back to to refocus. I have a better understanding of where I'm going with the planning of (and eventually building of) the layout, now it's a matter of determining the LDEs mentioned above. One of the things I will be doing over the next little bit is researching the operations of the line, the trains moved, their makeup, and determining how that should/would be represented. While I obviously won't reproduce every train that ran over the route, I should have enough to represent the types and number of trains to make operating on the layout fun and give it a prototypical feel.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How to execute Staging Appropriately

I'm in a bit of a quandary on how to implement staging for the layout to achieve the kind of operations that would be representative of the Harrisburg Line. By the schedules I have seen, there were approximately 35 east and westbound trains in addition to a number of locals, 3 or 4 of which would be of interest in modeling. I should note, I am only counting trains that run multiple days (usually more than 3). Harrisburg yard handled, i.e., drop-offs or pick-ups, about 10 trains, Harrisburg TV handles about 28 trains, and Rutherford handled 6 RoadRailer trains. I will not be modeling RoadRailers because 1) I don't have the space to model Rutherford and 2) RoadRailers were a semi-maintenance nightmare for the prototype so I can't imagine how fragile they are in N scale. In addition, there are extras, particularly coal off the Lurgan branch, that would add to the number of prototypical trains. I also have a desire to model 2 trains in each direction, PIBA/BAPI and PIES/ESPI, off of the Royalton branch that actually went into Enola from the Port Road branch but a yard transfer job happened to move cars from Harrisburg trains to Enola and vice-versa.

As one can see, that is a lot of trains to represent. I'm not going to be trying to run every train, but a decent sized sampling (50%?) so I will need a significant amount of staging. Complicating manners is a self-constraint of only having the footprint of the layout in which to place staging. In my original designs I had done, staging was under the first level and included the peninsula (I figured I could build it in sections as it was nicely divided into 4 sections) with two different loops to turn trains. While turning trains automatically would be nice, it's not a requirement as is not having double-ended staging tracks. With the new arrangement of the room, I'm a little more limited in how much I can put under the first level as the new orientation of CP Capitol and CP Harris resulted in the staging of Amtrak/Royalton and the Lurgan Sub within under the first level. Secondly, I am somewhat concerned with trains that need to go from staging and run westbound have to constantly climb approximately 30 inches just to reach their entrance to the main part of the layout. I worry about the wear and tear on engines, especially considerring that a helix is already in the middle of a mainline run. I've read through Tony Koester's Multi-Deck Model Railroading book and have taken notes on what not only he has done, but also others he mentions/has pictures of. With that, I see a number of possible solutions:

1. Keep the previous designs' elements on staging on a "level 0" and worry about locomotive maintenance as it arises
2. Adjust CP Capitol and CP Harris and/or their staging alignment to free up more space under the level 1 footprint, essentially number 1 above, but with more room for staging tracks and possible return loops
3. Follow some of the examples, like Ken McCorry's Buffalo Line, that go, at points, staging-scenic-staging-scenic where the staging levels are the width of the level above it's footprint
4. 4 Levels that follow staging-scenic-scenic-staging. Not sure if I can pull this off as I live in a home built in the late 60s and my basement height isn't much about 7ft.

I'm really leaning towards number 3, I just need to do some more research on what the heights/resulting benchwork widths would be to achieve enough access and still make operating comfortable for the both mainline levels. Because the upper level is approximately 12" wide, while the bottom is 18"-24" for approximately half, I have a concern that the amount of trains stored on the upper level staging would be smaller than that on the bottom, thus creating operation inequities. Compounding the issue is that "East staging", which is what would be on upper level staging, must contain both trains heading out the Pittsburg/Buffalo lines as well as the Lurgan branch, so it should be larger than the bottom level. I guess I should also do the old adjustable bookshelf tests to get the right height/spacing requirements and see what looks good. Lastly, the less access I have above the staging yard, the farther apart I need to make the centers of the parallel yard tracks, thus reducing the number of tracks.

I'm open to any and all suggestions and really think nothing is out of the question, as long as my givens/druthers are met. One thing I'm not against is double-up staging, where one track can hold more than one full length train. This would effectively increase my staging capacity while still remaining within the width restrictions and possible center line adjustments.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Level One Design

My goal from a planning perspective was to get the first level of the railroad mapped out and planned using the new 3 foot buffer between the layout wall and the gas meter. Here's the plan as it stands now:

A quick tour of the layout, starting at the bottom right:


This will go down a level to staging. I have decided my base layout height will be 40" for level one and the staging will be at 30". I came to this conclusion by looking at various heights of things common around the house like my desk, the kitchen counter, my miter saw stand, etc. I felt 40-42" is ideal for standing and bending for a lower level that won't kill the back. The staging level is the same height as a standard desk, so one could conceivably sit while preparring/setting up cars for a session and the like.

Harrisburg Locomotive servicing

Harrisburg yard has an interesting servicing station. It has what is referred to as a "fast fuel pad" in that trains do not need to come off the main line in order to be serviced. Now, not all trains entering/leaving Harrisburg yard will utilize this, but those that really have no pick-ups or drop-offs, this will be their only interaction on the line from an operational perspective.

Harrisburg TV

Parallel to the servicing area is Harrisburg TV (HBTV). This is a representation of Harrisburg's intermodal facility. If one looks closely, they'll notice that there is a yard lead for HBTV which is separate from the general yard lead. It also has it's own classification tracks (5) and two loading tracks.

Harrisburg Yard

As we move further along the wall, we see the Harrisburg Yard classification tracks (6) and receiving tracks (5). Both Harrisburg Yard and HBTV will use the receiving tracks.

Harrisburg Transportation Center

Next as we curl around the outside wall is the Harrisburg Transportation Center, i.e., Amtrak's Harrisburg station. Not much else to say here except that block diagram representing the station infrastructure is almost to scale as I used Google Maps to measure out the various parts of the structure.

CP Capitol

At the end of the aisle is CP Capitol. The Lurgan branch goes off towards the left-side of the room, along with Amtrak's Harrisburg line and Conrail's Royalton Branch. The way I envision operating the layout, the Royalton Branch will see a few more trains than normal as Wimpey Mineral's quarry (which will be on level 2) has two customers that would bring/recieve cars using this branch, one being in Baltimore, the other in Harrington, De. Conrail would dropp-off cars in Harrisburg Yard and then shuttle them over to Enola for pick-up on trains heading to either location. I think in operating the layout, to give some more operating interest, I'm going to have this switching done solely in Harrisburg yard. The Lurgan branch will be where CSX and NS trains are sent into and received from staging. All 4 lines curling out will go into a 1/2 pass helix to get to a staging level around 34-36" in height, which should leave about 8" to bottom of the Hershey complex. Conrail had 2 or 3 named manifests for NS along with additional coal trains. CSX was mostly coal run throughs.

Hershey Plant

The Hershey plant takes up 3 areas of the rest of the first level. The first siding represents the Reese's plant in Brownstone. The next siding starts the main Hershey plant complex and represents the extraction plant. Continuing around the curve is the main plant itself. On the top side of the main line is the main plant complex, on the bottom is the Hershey silos. I have drawn the silos pretty much to scale, again, using Google Maps and tracing the Walther's ADM grain elevator in Xtrkcad. Around the corner is Harrisburg yard as well as the storage warehouse. What I have found intersting is that Conrail uses a lot of switchbacks for this plant while Norfolk Southern has redone some switches, particularly the Reese's plant. At the end of the North Yard is the entrance to the helix up to the second level.

Overall, I'm happy with the design. I think I've got the physical plant in Harrisburg and Hershey well represented. Unfortunately, I cannot figure out a way to represent either Hummelstown or Rutherford. Either one of these would be represented with the 12 feet I lost on gaining/giving access to the gas meter. I do like Harrisburg station more in this design as I feel it doesn't look like it was just thrown into a corner or bend in the benchwork, but is part of the layout, not really a background "industry" as I felt it looked like before. I also like the fact that HBTV and the yard are separated as this really was the case at Conrail's Harrisburg facilities. Finally, after looking at this and the lack of "distance" between the Harrisburg and Hershey areas (a distance of 11 miles on the prototype), I'm probably going to employ some type of view block, perhaps a Belina drop, to give the illusion of distance between the points.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Layout Parameters

Below are the listing of parameters I had when I first started planning my layout:

Theme: Mid-atlantic Conrail in the mid to late 1990s focusing on an east-west main line connecting the Northeast with Alleghenies.

  • N scale (1:160)
  • Walkaround
  • Protolance
  • 1 Major Industry
  • "Division" yard w/engine facilities
  • Mainline operations
  • area of basement for workshop (both for railroad and woodworking projects)
  • Good-sized mainline run
  • 3-4 industrial "areas" to support 1/2 locals
  • 2% or less grade
  • Staging
  • Minimal duck-unders, no less than 48" high
  • Amtrak representation
  • Continuous "one-way run"
  • visible sharp curves
  • sharp turnouts
  • no blocking of storage area
  • no way to get to gas meter or water meter or furnace filter
So after trying a few different freelanced plans, I realized I was using quite a bit of design elements from the Reading, Harrisburg and Lehigh Lines of Conrail. The more I looked into Conrail's operations on these lines, the more I grew into the idea of doing a prototyped based layout. I then purchased the Mail-3 cab ride video from Neff Video to view the lines I mentioned above. After viewing the video and looking at my nice-to-haves, I realized that the Harrisburg line starting at Harrisburg was the area for me, so I started out looking for track charts, ZTS maps, locomotive rosters, etc., related to that portion of Conrail. After a while, I came up with attempting to model the line from Harrisburg yard through Lebanon, at the least. This would give me a decent sized yard, moderate engine facility (fueling/sanding rack), Amtrak representation with Harrisburg station, two major industries (Hershey plant(s) and Wimpey mineral's Millard quarry) as well as some other local indsutries, some which may/may not be respresented, depending on space.

My first few iterations of a design had half of a second level used as staging and really didn't leave ample room for the gas meter. Later designs went to 3 levels, one solely dedicated for staging. After realizing that I'm not going to be able to move the gas meter without costing more than I want, I decided to move the back wall out 3 feet. Unfortunately, this had the equivalent of removing 12 feet on each level, over 2/3 a scale mile! What the previous designs had shown me, however, is the makeup of the LDEs on each level. Here is a listing I have come up with:

Level 1
  • Harrisburg yard
  • Harrisburg intermodal/TV
  • Amtrak Harrisburg station
  • Rutherfod RoadRailer complex
  • Swatara/Hummlestown area
  • Hershey Plants
Level 2
  • Palmyra
  • Millard Quarry
  • Annville/Cleona
  • Horntown Yard
  • Lebanon/Lebanon Station
  • Avon
  • Myerstown
It is with this LDE base that I will be basing my new plans off of. Stay tuned ...


Welcome to the my Conrail Model Railroad site. I will document the research, design, construction and operations of my N-scale model railroad based on Conrail's Ft. Wayne Line in Ohio.

Conrail Ft. Wayne Line © Header image from J. Alex Lang Template Nice Blue modified by Indian Monsters. Original created by http://ourblogtemplates.com.