Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Going the Proto-Freelanced Route

After much consternation, I think I am definitely headed down the proto-freelanced route. I've been watching afar at others' who've taken favorite prototypes and have either created routes in parts of the country their prototype may not have gone (but probably should have) or have just created a layout to fit their wants and desires while running their favorite prototype. When I selected the Harrisburg Line to be my modeling subject, I did it because of the heavy mainline action, the intermodal aspect of the Harrisburg complex, the two major industries (Hershey and Millard quarry) and the local generated out of Lebanon. However, the more I analyzed what operations would be, I quickly realized that 90% of the trains on this route would be nothing more than staging to Harrisburg, crew change/refueling, back to staging. With a double track main, this would make road crews really do nothing on the layout, save for the two or three manifests that actually dropped cars at the three main yards/industries on the route. While there would be block switching in the yard, the "fun" operating on the railroad would almost exclusively belong to the yardmaster at Harrisburg. I also realized I really didn't have the passenger operations I'd like on the layout without bending history and track quite a bit.

With the above in mind, I began exploring what I really wanted in a layout and here is essentially my list of wants/desires:
  • Walk-around Layout
  • Division Yard
  • Sincere Layout
  • 1 Major Industry
  • Active Mainline
  • Amtrak/Passenger Operations
  • Industry support for 2 or more locals, one originating in the division yard, another at an industrial center
  • Intermodal area/facility
  • Foreign Roads/Interchange
  • Road Crews need to work while traversing the layout
There were others, but these were the main criteria I had. While the Harrisburg Line and the design I had for it met most of this criteria, I really think it would just have been a double deck roundy-roundy, especially with the lack of action for mainline trains. I think dispatching and the yardmaster would have been the hardest parts of the design, and while they are usually on any layout, I think they would have been unfairly off-balance with the rest of the "jobs" on the layout. I think the final convincing I needed was Byron Henderson's latest article in the September/October Model Railroad Hobbyist about an N-Scale NYC layout that was completely proto-freelanced. With that in mind, I began to break down what really floats my boat when it comes to "railroading".

First, I was raised on Amtrak as my passenger railroad. To not have it on my model railroad other then token appearances would really not do my interest in it justice or utilize the amount of rolling stock I've collected. Second, I like commuter railroading and I don't see a lot of modelers doing it. I think it adds an interest to operations and the Harrisburg line (really, any Conrail line other than the Lehigh line in North Jersey) would not have added that interest without going completely off the reservation with respect to prototype fidelity of the line. Just understanding those two points, I realized that doing a prototype line probably wouldn't work for me. I also realized that unless I'm going to magically create a Conrail line in some portion of the country as well as create the need for that area to have a commuter railroad might be pretty far fetched. So that really only leaves me with going the "proto-freelancing" route. In my mind, my passenger operations would look something like this:
  • Run-down "Union Station" that has seen better days but is seeing a rebirth as is the city it serves
  • 2, maybe 3 commuter trains into the city in the morning, with like number out in the evening (and probably 1 run the reverse way to "stage" a set)
  • 2 more stops all on the lower level (no sense having commuter sets go up the helix)
  • "Union Station" would be part of a larger expansion of a downtown convention center as what happened to so many stations around the country
As for the other aspects of the layout, really, my wants list drives the rest of the layout. The one thing I know I definitely need to do is embrace the single-track main approach. This will make the dispatcher more important then it would have been in the design and make the road crews actually work on the layout if their train only has to drop cars some where (most likely just at the yard, but we'll see). It will also force my design to separate towns by at least 12 feet, since the max train length I'll have is 10.5 feet. I know some people have taken double track mains and reduced them to single-track for operational interest, but, and this is just me, it would bother me knowing that the prototype wasn't like that. Besides, Conrail had a habit of reducing double track mains west of Pittsburgh to single track with CTC (we'll ignore the fact they would abandon some later) and then watch as Norfolk Southern or CSX re-instituted double tracks after the split. While I want an active mainline, it doesn't have to be one where 60+ trains operate over it in a 24 hour schedule. This could be a secondary main line, an alternative to the Pittsburgh and Chicago Lines, perhaps serving the southern most cities within the Conrail system, kept alive only by the online industries and its proximity to the coal regions. It will definitely have a feel of climbing out of a valley into the mountains since that is probably the other aspect of "railroading" I've always liked.

And with all of that, it's on to design time ...

Note: This will still be the site to track progress on the layout. I won't change the URL or anything like that until much, much later and will probably always keep this domain as a "mirror" of whatever may come in the future.


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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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