Newbie: How to run a railroad...?

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#1
The other night my wife and I stopped by a local RR club. They are apparently in a multi-generational construction project as they had no trains running and were working on their layout which is quite extensive and no where near completed. (I presume there are evenings that they do run trains but I didn't think to ask about that. Hopefully I can catch them on a night when they are). As we walked around looking at the layout, the details, observing the work as it was progressing (I never knew you could build your own switches using raw, unmounted track rail) I asked a few questions of the folks there.

One question displayed my ignorance. I asked what I thought was a simple question: When you are thinking about creating a layout how do you go about it?

Wow! In my ignorance I didn't realize what I was asking. The response I got was rather cursory and I suppose appropriately lacking in specifics in keeping with my ignorance. No problem. Obviously, that was not the time or place to educate. But it revealed to me at least a hint of the variety and complexity of railroading. So, I will bring the questions here where they are (hopefully) more appropriate to ask and there are not the same time (and other) constraints...but in thinking about it, I guess I really don't even know enough to ask an intelligent question so I will just plow ahead and beg everyone's indulgence (which I've found most hobbyist are more than willing to grant).

I guess the first question is this: How do you run a railroad? Okay, that's another one of those ignorant, "you really don't understand what you're asking" questions but I don't know where else to start at the moment. And let me "preface" this question by referencing what the modeller I asked stated. When I asked about creating a layout, his response focused on, "What are you going to do? Run in circles? Is it a toy? Are you planning to run it like a real railroad?"

Well, I don't know the exact answer to those ancillary questions, but I do know I don't want to just run in circles. I want to be more along the lines of a simulation...but how far? I don't even know enough about how to run a railroad or the hobby to know to what level of operational detail in a simulation I might even want to attempt or what circumstances might dictate what is appropriate.

Thank you in advance.
 
#2
Yeah, there are two primary reasons to hand-lay track. One, it's more realistic looking than premade track, and also it allows near infinite variability in turnout and crossing geometry.

In real life, the railroad operates to serve the needs of the customers. Industries need goods and materials delivered and or hauled away. And so this is how most people operate a model railroad. Traffic from staging (the rest of the world) is picked-up and delivered to to the sidings, exchanged for the cars there, and the exchanged cars taken back to the interchange/staging/yard. That's how it works in a nutshell. There are books to help with designing a layout based on a desire for realism. 'Track Planning for Realistic Operation' comes to immediately to mind. But for the most part, a layout needs two major things; One, industries, customers, a reason for the railroad to exist in the first place. Second, a place for the traffic to come from and go to. In the old days this usually meant a yard on the layout. But mostly now, especially for smaller layouts, simply having the track go into a hidden area for staging suffices.

Granted, most people with the space to do so desire some form of continuous running. There is just a simple, nostalgic pleasure to seeing trains go around. Nothing wrong with that. It also helps to 'build mileage' on a smaller layout. You can have both the ability to just set a train to make laps and do some 'realistic' switching. This is after all a model and can be as realistic as you want it to be. And any object inside a hobby is a toy, plain and simple. We're just a little more serious about our toys than little Johnny with his Lionel trains.
 
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#3
In real life, the railroad operates to serve the needs of the customers. Industries need goods and materials delivered and or hauled away. And so this is how most people operate a model railroad. Traffic from staging (the rest of the world) is picked-up and delivered to to the sidings, exchanged for the cars there, and the exchanged cars taken back to the interchange/staging/yard. That's how it works in a nutshell. There are books to help with designing a layout based on a desire for realism. 'Track Planning for Realistic Operation' comes to immediately to mind. But for the most part, a layout needs two major things; One, industries, customers, a reason for the railroad to exist in the first place. Second, a place for the traffic to come from and go to. In the old days this usually meant a yard on the layout. But mostly now, especially for smaller layouts, simply having the track go into a hidden area for staging suffices.
What about the "logistics" part of it? How "realistic" is reasonable or even (dare I say it) necessary to run things like a "real" railroad? I'm thinking in terms of creating loads, scheduling them for specific destinations and such. That was sort of the impression I got of the operation that was being done or set-up at this place we visited. Or do most people just sorta "wing it", setting up the equipment for the day in whatever manner they feel like at the moment?

Thank you for the input.
 
#4
What about the "logistics" part of it? How "realistic" is reasonable or even (dare I say it) necessary to run things like a "real" railroad? I'm thinking in terms of creating loads, scheduling them for specific destinations and such. That was sort of the impression I got of the operation that was being done or set-up at this place we visited. Or do most people just sorta "wing it", setting up the equipment for the day in whatever manner they feel like at the moment?

Thank you for the input.
Well, it varies. Usually larger layouts are divided into towns or major groups of industries and each one gets their own wayfreight out of the yard. It can be as simple/casual as just building a train that has enough cars of different types to change out the chosen industries. Or what alot of modelers do is use waybills. Each car has it's own paper sleeve (roadname, #) into which a 'load' is placed (destination, load type, ect). The loads determine where a train is headed and the cars carrying those loads sorted into groups, the operator carrying the stack of waybills with the train and dropping them in the industries' pockets and picking-up the empties/loads as he goes.

Both methods are valid and their use depends on the mood of the person holding the controller (or what the group wants at a club operating session). Technically, to operate a railroad realistically you need the paper waybills (or in future...an Ipad app?) to keep track of the cars. But there's also nothing wrong with just assembling a cut of cars in staging with the 0-5-0 and saying "that train goes to xxxxx, or yyyy-zzzzzzz", dragging it out to the predetermined industries/town, and switching it out.
 

dave1905

Active Member
#5
There are many ways to run a railroad in model form. Some people just want to watch trains run in circles. Some people model dispatching systems and run trains, but don't switch cars. Some people like switching so moe industrial areas. Some people like the whole enchalada and model the car movements as well as the train movements.

For train movements there are various levels of management. Some use informal verbal authorities ("No 350 run to Bess and hold for a meet.") Some have working signal systems complete with a dispatcher panel that rivals a real railroad's. Some use various written instruction up to running by train orders, a semi-hobby in itself. Others use the modern equivalents of track warrants, DTC or OCS.

For car movements there are many different approaches. Some people use lists but don't car about car numbers, some use lists that are handwritten, some use computer generated switch lists. Some people put tags or markers on cars to indicate destinations. Many people use car cards and waybills with a card for each car and recyclable "waybills" that are attached to give a car a destination.

There is just about every flavor you can imagine. It can be as simple or as complicated as you wish.

I operate in the 1900's so I use time-table and train orders and I use car cards and waybills for car forwarding. My industries are based on the actual industries served by the railroad I have chosen in the 1900's.
 

D&J RailRoad

Professor of HO
#6
One of the finer points of operations is train speeds. What appears to most as a moderate speed is in scale, about 120mph. When ya run your trains slower it takes them longer to get around the layout.
 
#7
Well, it varies. Usually larger layouts are divided into towns or major groups of industries and each one gets their own wayfreight out of the yard. It can be as simple/casual as just building a train that has enough cars of different types to change out the chosen industries. Or what alot of modelers do is use waybills. Each car has it's own paper sleeve (roadname, #) into which a 'load' is placed (destination, load type, ect). The loads determine where a train is headed and the cars carrying those loads sorted into groups, the operator carrying the stack of waybills with the train and dropping them in the industries' pockets and picking-up the empties/loads as he goes.
For the sake of realism do they get load information from some outside source or do they just put a bunch in a fishbowl and pull them out at random or what? I presume there is some method to it?
 
#8
There are many ways to run a railroad in model form. Some people just want to watch trains run in circles. Some people model dispatching systems and run trains, but don't switch cars. Some people like switching so moe industrial areas. Some people like the whole enchalada and model the car movements as well as the train movements.

For train movements there are various levels of management. Some use informal verbal authorities ("No 350 run to Bess and hold for a meet.") Some have working signal systems complete with a dispatcher panel that rivals a real railroad's. Some use various written instruction up to running by train orders, a semi-hobby in itself. Others use the modern equivalents of track warrants, DTC or OCS.

For car movements there are many different approaches. Some people use lists but don't car about car numbers, some use lists that are handwritten, some use computer generated switch lists. Some people put tags or markers on cars to indicate destinations. Many people use car cards and waybills with a card for each car and recyclable "waybills" that are attached to give a car a destination.

There is just about every flavor you can imagine. It can be as simple or as complicated as you wish.

I operate in the 1900's so I use time-table and train orders and I use car cards and waybills for car forwarding. My industries are based on the actual industries served by the railroad I have chosen in the 1900's.
The group format sounds more complex than I probably want to get into, at least for some time. For someone who is doing it solo, are there places (on line, perhaps) where these sorts of plans can be generated?
 
#9
One of the finer points of operations is train speeds. What appears to most as a moderate speed is in scale, about 120mph. When ya run your trains slower it takes them longer to get around the layout.
I think I had already realized that the scale speeds would be deceptive, although as you point out, they may be even more deceptive than I imagine. Intuitively, I'd say that the physical scale and the speed scale correspond to each other? N-scale being 1/160th, scale speed would also be 1/160th of full scale speed? Or is it more or less complex a calculation than that?
 
#10
For the sake of realism do they get load information from some outside source or do they just put a bunch in a fishbowl and pull them out at random or what? I presume there is some method to it?
Well, except for a team track, which may serve a varied and changing list of lessees, it's pretty logical. An oil refinery needs lots of oil and chem in and lots of kerosene, gasoline, ect out. A commercial bakery needs flour, corn syrup, packing materials, ect in and trucks or rails out the finished goods. Industries served by rail are pretty consistent in what they receive and ship, for a given industry the loads usually don't change.
 
#11
For the sake of realism do they get load information from some outside source or do they just put a bunch in a fishbowl and pull them out at random or what? I presume there is some method to it?
Yes and no.

Deciding what commodities an industry ships or recieves is pretty much fixed on the type of industry. The feed mill recieves grain. The textile mill recieves cotton and ships cloth. The foundry recieves pig iron and ships castings. The NMRA Operations Special Interest Group (OpSig) has some lists of what goes in and out of industries, but that is fairly easy to figure out for most industries. Worst case scenario is you can Google the industry and find components.

So that's not so random.

Finding out where things go or where they come from is harder. That takes a little more research. Google is your friend. Also the OpSig has some lists of industries across the US and Canada.

Once all the commodities and destinations have been set, you might end up with 200 possible shipments for your 100 cars. That's when some people actually do something like pick a card out of a fishbowl to assign shipments to cars. If they have 10 boxcars that need destinations they might pull 10 boxcar waybills from the fishbowl and apply them to the the cars (put the waybill in the car card pocket.)

Many ways to do it.

Micro Mark sells kits of car cards and waybills that are typical of many systems used by people. You can also buy software to create lists (Shenware, ProTrak) and there are some free software packages too (JMRI Operations). You can also use Excel to create switchlists.
 
#13
You can also try the Ops sig website http://www.opsig.org/reso/

This is probably an overload of information, but they do have a Ops 101 presentation that would be a good starting point.

Since you are interested in operations, you might ask at your LHS about anyone in the are that hosts operating sessions. The quality of the sessions vary depending on the layout design, owners preferences and ability, as well as the experience level of the crew. Also there are Ops till you drop held around the country that would allow you to operate on 4 layouts in 1 weekend although they are invitation only and you have to have a contact to get invited.

XTRKCAD is a freeware trackplanning tool that also allows you to run a train on the trackplan.

How large a layout do you plan to build? What scale? How many operators do you envision having at a time?

A couple of threads with some pictures of my layout which is designed for operation. A full crew is currently 12 although we only had 10 last month.

http://www.modelrailroadforums.com/forum/showthread.php?t=13838
http://www.modelrailroadforums.com/forum/showthread.php?t=24117

Glenn
 
#14
Well, except for a team track, which may serve a varied and changing list of lessees, it's pretty logical. An oil refinery needs lots of oil and chem in and lots of kerosene, gasoline, ect out. A commercial bakery needs flour, corn syrup, packing materials, ect in and trucks or rails out the finished goods. Industries served by rail are pretty consistent in what they receive and ship, for a given industry the loads usually don't change.
And I understand that part of it, but I am wondering about the creation of load orders. Those are created by the shipping customer along with certain date requirements (must be picked up by a certain date, must be delivered by a certain date, or both). Do modelers just make up the details to fit their purposes or is there some outside source that is generally used to create them (such as historical shipping data).
 
#15
Yes and no.

Deciding what commodities an industry ships or recieves is pretty much fixed on the type of industry. The feed mill recieves grain. The textile mill recieves cotton and ships cloth. The foundry recieves pig iron and ships castings. The NMRA Operations Special Interest Group (OpSig) has some lists of what goes in and out of industries, but that is fairly easy to figure out for most industries. Worst case scenario is you can Google the industry and find components.

So that's not so random.

Finding out where things go or where they come from is harder. That takes a little more research. Google is your friend. Also the OpSig has some lists of industries across the US and Canada.

Once all the commodities and destinations have been set, you might end up with 200 possible shipments for your 100 cars. That's when some people actually do something like pick a card out of a fishbowl to assign shipments to cars. If they have 10 boxcars that need destinations they might pull 10 boxcar waybills from the fishbowl and apply them to the the cars (put the waybill in the car card pocket.)

Many ways to do it.

Micro Mark sells kits of car cards and waybills that are typical of many systems used by people. You can also buy software to create lists (Shenware, ProTrak) and there are some free software packages too (JMRI Operations). You can also use Excel to create switchlists.
Okay, this helps. So there is a place where load data outside of the modelers control can be generated (sorta more like real life), although a "fishbowl" can still be useful.
 
#16
You can also try the Ops sig website http://www.opsig.org/reso/

This is probably an overload of information, but they do have a Ops 101 presentation that would be a good starting point.

Since you are interested in operations, you might ask at your LHS about anyone in the are that hosts operating sessions. The quality of the sessions vary depending on the layout design, owners preferences and ability, as well as the experience level of the crew. Also there are Ops till you drop held around the country that would allow you to operate on 4 layouts in 1 weekend although they are invitation only and you have to have a contact to get invited.

XTRKCAD is a freeware trackplanning tool that also allows you to run a train on the trackplan.

How large a layout do you plan to build? What scale? How many operators do you envision having at a time?

A couple of threads with some pictures of my layout which is designed for operation. A full crew is currently 12 although we only had 10 last month.

http://www.modelrailroadforums.com/forum/showthread.php?t=13838
http://www.modelrailroadforums.com/forum/showthread.php?t=24117

Glenn
Yours is the second reference to the Ops sig group, so I will definitely check them out.

LHS = "Local High School"? "Little Hotdog Stand"? (i'm sure at least one of those is wrong!)

XTRKCAD. I see there is a Mac version. That's nice. So many specialty applications like this tend to ignore Mac users.

As far as what I envision...well, we have an apartment. Very limiting. I don't anticipate that circumstance changing anytime in the foreseeable future (although the location may change). So in order to get as much layout in as little space as possible, I am leaning heavily toward N-scale where I can get 4x the layout in the same space as compared to HO. I anticipate something of an "L" shape overall. Also something I can break-down without too much work or damage if necessary. As far as the number of operators...on the layout I create, I am only currently envisioning myself.

I would like to see a layout and crew in action, even if just to get an idea of how an "real" operation works (in terms of the logistics I even asking about). But I would also be interesting in seeing what that sort of "crew" operation is like (and if that would be something I would be interested in participating in).
 
#18
LHS = "Local High School"? "Little Hotdog Stand"? (i'm sure at least one of those is wrong!)
Local Hobby Shop

I would like to see a layout and crew in action, even if just to get an idea of how an "real" operation works (in terms of the logistics I even asking about).
The OpSIG has a CallBoard program that offers members the opportunity to visit and participate in established op sessions in many areas.
 
#19
I don't even know enough about how to run a railroad or the hobby to know to what level of operational detail in a simulation I might even want to attempt or what circumstances might dictate what is appropriate.
Two excellent books for reference (be prepared to spend some time in study, but it will pay off).

John Armstrong's Track Planning for Realistic Operation

Tony Koester's Realistic Model Railroad Operation: How to Run Your Trains Like the Real Thing

How to have fun with a small layout from my humble site
 
#20
And I understand that part of it, but I am wondering about the creation of load orders.
Think about the whole chain, since by modeling a railroad, you are modeling the whole supply chain.

A customer buys something from a shipper. The shipper orders empty cars from the railroad (or leases private cars). The railroad spots the empties. The shipper loads the cars. The shipper then gives routing and commodity instructions to the railroad (the bill of lading). The railroad puts freight charges with its routing instructions and creates a waybill. The railroad pulls the loaded car from the industry and moves it to the customer. The customer unloads it, then releases the empty car backto the railroad. The railroad pulls the empty and moves it home or to its next loading point.

If the car is loaded on your layout the first move is an empty car order, if its loaded off your layout the first move is the loaded inbound waybill move.

Those are created by the shipping customer along with certain date requirements (must be picked up by a certain date, must be delivered by a certain date, or both).
.... or neither. Actually the vast majority of railroad shipments have no due date and the further back you go the fewer time gaurantees there were. Pretty much railroad shipments get there when they get there. Unless the company has a storage arrangement worked out with the company, all inbound cars are spotted on arrival, regardless of what is needed.

If a company doesn't unload a car within 48 hours the railroad can charge them extra charges (demurrage). If the industry says they don't need the car, the railroad holds it, but the clock starts on the demurrage time and the railroad can charge them an extra charge to switch the car into the industry a second time (the "free' switch was burned putting the car in a storage track.)

Do modelers just make up the details to fit their purposes or is there some outside source that is generally used to create them (such as historical shipping data).
Actual shipping data is tough to come by because its very perishable and not public information, its proprietary information.

Its also not especially essential. By the time you consolidate and compress the railroad operations to fit in your basement, you have to make so many compromises to the shipping patterns that prototype data is not essential. The approximations that modelers come up with are fine.
 





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