Thinking about Operations and a new Tool

It’s the start of a 4 day long weekend for me with Canada Day on Thursday and a vacation day on Friday. I’ve got some out of the house things I’m going to do as well, but after some chatting with my friend Trevor on the phone last weekend, I’m going to “reward” myself for the layout construction progress over the past 15 months by making a first serious effort to run some trains on the layout. As things open up, and we can get together with friends again, the potential to have people over to operate the layout is actually a reality again in the near future. At some point, I need to start thinking about how operations are going to look, and what does and doesn’t work. This won’t be without it’s challenges, as I have only 4 or 12 switches with their throws installed and almost tuned for operations, and I’ll be working solo and no doubt finding electrical issues as I go, but I will be running trains at some point between now and Sunday. I’ll try to remember to take some pictures.

For my operations, I am going to use a version of waybills I learned from Trevor’s Port Rowan layout, it is simple, and easy to follow for new operators. There will be empty car cards for either empties to be picked up and taken away, or being delivered for loading. There will be Freight Waybill cards for loads being delivered loaded or loaded cars to be picked up. At the start of a session, the CN and CP Crews will be given a stack of car cards, some will be on the layout waiting to be picked up and some will be in the Yards/Staging waiting to be delivered. They will then need to figure out what their order of operations is going to be, so as to not block themselves into the limited yard space, while picking up and delivering cars. I hope it will be a fun challenge for people figuring out the order of movements and what cars they should take onto the layout, and how they need to take them on (push or pull, there is no way to move a locomotive from one end of a car to the other on the layout, need to do that in staging before you start).

My new tool is the first of a couple of things I need to manufacture my own waybills is a good paper cutter for reliably trimming out things printed on the home printer. That arrived this week, and I’ve been able to print off and trim down the waybills. The next thing I’ll eventually need is a laminator. Once I actually do up proper cards on the computer, instead of the hand scrawled ones I am doing now, I will want to laminate them so they are easy to handle and can take the abuse of being used during and stored between operating sessions. Each car at a minimum will have two cards, and most will have multiple variations of empty and loaded bills. The simplest cars are those delivering a single commodity that really only have one destination (one location for chemical tank cars, and the Gillett Mill for covered hoppers). Almost all the traffic in Liberty Village was box car based, which means cars can pretty much wind up anywhere depending on need and what was available from the railroads when a shipper called for an empty to be delivered.

A new paper trimmer. Nothing fancy, but something that will let me trim my own paperwork from our home printer to size. A set of bills, an Empty Car Bill, and Freight Waybills for shipments originating on CN and CP.

Part of my conversation with Trevor stemmed from a question I asked him, as I am working on learning about operations and railroad paperwork, because I have “foreign” or non CN/CP rolling stock, what paperwork do I have for them to get there, and how do I figure out plausible reasons for a car from the west coast being in Liberty Village. He pointed out, that I don’t need to. Toronto is, in railroad terms, a centre of the universe. Stuff from everywhere and every railroad can and did wind up here, coming or going. Instead of worrying about who is sending something to Liberty Village in a Norfolk and Western box car, think about the railroads empty car forwarding rules and use them to your advantage. I won’t go into huge detail, as I need to research more myself, but in a nutshell, when a car comes from a railroad in say Florida to Toronto with a shipment, the car then has to get back home. It does this either being shipped empty, which costs the railroads money and makes none, or the railroads can use the car on a shipment going in the general direction of home based on a set of rules set up by the railroads to determine how empty cars are forwarded home.

For example, if I understood what Trevor explained, loosely speaking, a Northern Pacific Railway Car that made it to Toronto with a shipment, is now empty and looking to get home. CN/CP should send it back by the shortest possible route to minimize them being charged for having the car, but, if someone needed a boxcar, depending on the rules, they could send it to be loaded and use it to go in the general direction of home. CN/CP probably could not use an NP car to send a load from Liberty Village to Halifax, but it could from Liberty to Winnipeg, which brings the car much closer to home, which means it makes money for part of the trip of being sent back home. With that knowledge, trying to find plausible reasons for non CN/CP box cars is a bit easier. How they got to Toronto matters not, that someone in Liberty is shipping something in their general direction is more important. That doesn’t mean I can’t start with a US road car on the layout having made a delivery, it just means I don’t need to know why or how it got there. It also means, where I started asking Trevor about paperwork for US cars is more irrelevant. If a Northern Pacific car would have had an NP waybill when it entered the layout is irrelevant if it’s being moved from a yard in Toronto empty to Liberty Village for loading. It’s much more complex than this, I have a lot of reading to do on this, but simply put, that at least frees a mental roadblock to let me prepare some test paperwork, and see how trying to run an organized train goes.

Work in progress switch lists. Subtle differences for CN and CP operators, using slogans and fonts that reflect each railways employee time tables from the 1950’s. Also working on getting the size right for my mini-clipboards for operators to use.

I have also made up switch lists, using Trevor’s as a guide. We will see how they work on my layout compared to his, my layout works a bit differently as the switch jobs come and go from the yards represented by staging at either end, probably (definitely) several times a session with cuts of 3-4 cars, which is the max that can be handled at a time. It will take some thinking by operators in terms of bringing cars into and out of the staging traversers, managing the number of cars you have, and where you can stash them on the layout without blocking road crossings I think will be one of the challenges for operators of the layout. Time will obviously tell. As you can see above, my switch lists have a schematic map of the layout with notes on where industries and car spots are located. It also includes the street names to align with the street signs on my fascia to help operators with way finding on where they are.

Rough waybills for the same car. Coming Loaded to deliver, and empty to remove.

I have tried to prep enough waybills to do two operating sessions. One to move everything I’ve staged on the layout, and a second to swap them back out. Not all cars are going to the same places, and once I’ve done the first session, I may find the waybills I made up for a 2nd one don’t make sense, and may have to make others, but that’s ok. Every car on the layout will wind up with multiple bills for it being used in various places for various industries.

So with that, off to finish organizing the first set of paperwork for a real (albeit solo) operating session. Need to charge the DCC controller and give the track a quick clean to hopefully have smoothish operations. Looking forward to giving the layout a run in the next couple of days sometime.

One thought on “Thinking about Operations and a new Tool

  1. This is awesome. After so much work on the layout, operating will be the big payoff. The first session(s) will probably be rough – a friend of mine compares them to Sea Trials in the navy – but they’ll get better as you identify and address mechanical issues and discover the right order of moves to make your crews’ lives easier.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s