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.


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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.

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