Thursday, June 4, 2015

Reflection on Layout Wants - Design and Operations

So I've been reading the books by Lance Mindheim as well as a few chats at recent operating sessions and have begun reflecting on things I would want in a model railroad layout as well as what I actually have time to build and maintain. I've come to the conclusion that, for me, a layout I would maintain interest in both in building and operating, would include the following:

  • Off Layout staging - trains have to come somewhere
  • Continuous Run - both for me, my kids, and I'd like to show off the layout without having to think about operating it
  • Area to drop off and pick up blocks of cars as well as originate a local or two
  • At least one concentrated switching area
  • One major industry
In addition to understanding scope of the layout, one thing I'm becoming more aware of seeing others building layouts is to keep operations in mind from the beginning. This is being affirmed with a little more digging into layout design, especially those who focus on the more modern layouts of which mine would technically be considered (i.e., those after cabooses were no longer required/first round of mega mergers). With that in mind I listed out my few operational wants:
  • Want to be able to operate on my own or with kids - impromptu sessions
  • Host regular operating sessions lasting no more then 3 hours
  • Max of 5 people, most likely only 3 or 4
  • Prototypical operations
Now, I know that first bullet is going to raise some eyebrows. I don't know who penned it, but the whole "don't operate your layout between sessions" never made any sense to me. I mean, you put all this time into building a layout, improving rolling stock, install and figure out DCC decoders, etc., to just let the layout sit for a month or two at a time between sessions? I do believe some of it has to do with the operations setup of the 4-cycle waybill. Now, I'll be honest, I do prefer that over switchlists, at least the kind I have been exposed to. Lance's books give another kind of way using what I'll call a work order. It's combination switchlist and train info worksheet. Basically, it lists the cars to pick-up, set-off, respot and anything else that may be of note to the train operator. I've also seen other layouts use what's called spot cards so each industry on the layout gets a certain number. These are then placed in car cards for delivery and each car card has a "return to" on it for when it goes off layout.

That brings me to my next desire, to have more prototypical operations. As I read more and more, I think some of the setups I see across the hobby are a little off. The number of cars that can be delivered should equate to the number of delivery spots available at that location and not from any other kind of measurement. For example, a warehouse with 3 doors but a spur length that could hold 5 cars, should only receive 3 cars. It's why thinking about operations, and as a result, industries and the to-be structures, is an important part of planning. Another example used is some type of food processor. They can receive reefers, corn syrup tanks, covered hoppers, etc. Just putting those cars onto the spur isn't prototypical. The reefers should go in front of loading doors or docks, the tank cars as the spots next to their pneumatic hose connections and the same for the covered hoppers or over an unloading pit.

The other thing is, not every car gets moved every day. In fact, when I look at old freight schedules for Conrail, manifests run almost every day (or at least every weekday), but locals may only run every other day, or if they did run each day, sometimes it is one direction one day, and another direction the next. Lance and others confirm this in their writings that reflect observations of the modern prototype. Combine a car that's still be "unloaded" with a car that has to be spotted at a specific spot, and you now have to make an extra move or two to get that car to the right spot.

All of the above helps lengthen a work task and, as a result, the session overall. Also, there are a whole slew of other things like not blocking a crossing, perhaps stopping at a crossing if visibility is low or it's unguarded, always coming to a stop to throw switches, etc. I've started to do this a little bit when I go to other layouts to operate. The two ones I definitely attempt are the cars to the loading door/dock and stopping to throw switches.

In the next post I'll talk about the design I've been working on and how I plan to use some of the stuff in my IT background to help tackle the building of the layout.


Allen H. said...

"The number of cars that can be delivered should equate to the number of delivery spots available at that location and not from any other kind of measurement. For example, a warehouse with 3 doors but a spur length that could hold 5 cars, should only receive 3 cars."

Not necessarily Phil.
If it's an industry with a high turnover rate, there are bound to times when you get too many cars that will fit on the siding for that session. If that is the case, that is where Off Spotting comes into play. The extra cars are spotted elsewhere, where they can fit or have to be taken back to the yard until the next session.
What this does for the hobby end is gives us a bit of a problem to solve. If you make things fit every time, then it does get a little boring. That's my $0.02 worth. We changed over to the tab system like Mark Dance uses and this happens from time to time and the guys find it enjoying as it makes them think a bit rather than just run the trains, set out cars, move along.
I don't think I'd want to deal with this all the time, but a few times breaks the redundancy. If your system is setup for corrections, you can then adjust the amount of traffic to comp for the over flow.

Phil D said...

I agree and disagree with you at the same time. I probably didn't explain it correctly. So in your scenario, most likely, the industry in question has either an extra siding somewhere, perhaps more of a lead into their loading/unloading areas or, as I'm finding out, old sidings elsewhere along the line that are used. They would also probably have some kind of critter or small switching engine themselves, like most elevators I've seen.

Offspots are definitely in play but shouldn't be accepted as the "norm". What I was trying to describe was the following:
- Siding measures out to 16" past clearance point
- Industry at siding will receive 50' boxcars ( 3 3/4" in length in N)
- Industry structure planned/built only has 3 doors/bays for loading/unloading with no other "lay down" or accessible area.

I didn't want to be too critical of what I'm about to describe because it's used to setup layouts around me and ones I operate on, but it the method of waybills for an industry would take the above information and do the following:
16" with 3 3/4" expected car lengths to be delivered equals 4 cars on the siding resulting, if it's to be moved every session, 16 waybills (using 4 cycles) to be created for said industry. Now, obviously, once you put one of those in a "hold" status, you've greatly increased your chances of having off spots the next session(s).

What I'm saying is instead of using the 4 can fit, you use the 3 loading bays to generate the 12 waybills, if using that method. Having an extra 4" or so on the siding post clearance point would allow for an offspot for storage once you have a hold, but like you said, that shouldn't be the norm.

Also, and this is the main point, not every car moves every session or on the prototype. So if I set up 3 spots at an industry, and it's full with 3, but the local comes along and will deliver 1, and pick up 2, that means that other car has to be moved and placed back at the spot it was at. That is where you get more play valley from operations, not puzzles in trying to find out where can I shove this extra car. Unless the industry has that extra siding or their own way of shuffling cars around without fouling railroad property, they aren't going to order more materials then their capacity, normally. And if they do and it's a normal occurrence, you'll have industry support yards setup nearby.

Allen H. said...

Yes, the crews will spot the cars where they can, but it's not meant to be the norm, just an occasional happening.
The Riceland elevator has its own switcher and does have an extra for this purpose, and overflow track. But I was talking about smaller industries.
As I go through the sessions I can and have been adjusting the car count sheet so it should happen less and less.
I have one location, a food distribution center that has 2 tracks and the building has three doors where the cars need to be spotted, but both the tracks are longer than three cars. Each door is suppose to except a certain type of car. But if I have more cars for one door and there is no car on another spot, then the extra gets shoved in there for that session and is to be moved to the correct door before being picked up. The tabs on the cars tell us where it needs to go.
Also if door #1 gets Mech reefers, then I can spot two there, one on each track and the workers can lay a platform between the two cars and unload them both.
Very rarely have I had both tracks filled with 6 cars, so there is generally and empty spot to park an extra car, if not the lead is long enough to hold one or two, but again, this is not planned for the normal operation.
I would tell anyone to shove more cars than they have spots for all the time otherwise it would be a constant puzzle and it would get old.
At the same time, if everything fits every time with no puzzles, it could also get boring. My crews have done it enough that they know anything could happen, it just gives them a bit of doubt before each run.

Allen H. said...

I would tell anyone to shove more cars than
Oops, that should be "WOULDN'T"

Phil D said...

Yep, completely agree with that whole scenario Allen. I think we're saying the same thing just differently.

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