[railway icon] Model Railway Operations

This page introduces model railway operations as a technique for simulating the dynamics of the railway industry. The main goal of operations is to work your railway as much as possible as the real railways do. Operations teaches a lot about the 'people' side of the industry and why things are done in specific ways. But you can move into operations in a phased manner until you find the level of operations that you are comfortable with.

Phase I offers several easy to make steps to move your railway empire from a static model into one that resembles the business of a transportation giant. These small steps can be made at your own pace.

Phase II of operations is freight forwarding which gives purpose to the movement of trains. It is applicable to a single operator layout but many find that having friends operating trains as well makes the experience more enjoyable. Phase III is train movement control which coordinates the actions of all the trains. Hopefully you will attempt some of these steps and phases towards operating your layout/empire realistically.

Step 1 - Realistic Speeds

The first step to adding realism while operating is to slow down the engine speeds! In real life passenger trains rarely exceed 100 mph, fast freights 70 mph, and locals and switchers 40 mph. It is easy to slow down to more realistic speeds if you measure off a set length of track and use the following scale speed calculator.

Scale Speed Calculator

Scale Speed Calculator is a small utility that I wrote while learning JavaScript. By entering distance and time, a scale speed in miles per hour can be computed for the most commonly modeled scales. Printout makes a time vs speed chart for the distance entered. Scale Speed Calculator is free to download (by saving speedclc.js and this page and modifying to taste). Please provide me with feedback on usefulness and any extra features wanted.

After getting engine speed under control, practice stopping in a realistic manner! Real engines have both momentum and inertia. They do not start or stop on a dime. But a little practice (or using a momentum throttle) will make stopping and starting second nature.

Hints: If you or your crew have difficulties slowing down, you can enforce a speed limit by either adjusting the engine profile in DCC or by adding a limiting resistor to your DC throttles.

Step 2 - Location Names and Direction

Real railways had names for every station, every industry and every track. Your model empire should have them as well. The names can be picked to reflect the railway or geographical area that you are modeling. They could be whimsical (as was the tradition of the fifties) or just plain made up. But there should be names! Each industry should also be named as these will be used as destinations for freight traffic.

Location also implies direction. If you are modeling a prototype and using real names, this is taken care of. One standard approach (especially if you will be having visiting operators) is to stay true to mapping conventions. East is to the right and North is to the top or far side.

Step 3 - Reliability

Railways strove for reliability throughout their system. Motive power, cars, tracks and signals were checked and maintained on a regular basis. Model railway owners should take the same care of their assets. Some steps in moving from a display/runner style of layout to an operations based railway include:

Step 4 - Switch Lining Procedure

Another common mistake for modelers is lining switches before the engine arrives. In reality, the engine stops at the switch to let the switchman drop to do his work. Simulating this on the model layout adds pacing! Use scale lead figures, tacks or pushpins to indicate crew on the ground.

Step 5 - Car Coupling

Coupling cars together should be done at the minimum speed possible by the engine. This avoids damage to the knuckle couplers, draft boxes and car contents. Uncoupling cars is easier if you put some slack in the knuckles to increase the space where you place your uncoupling pick. Turning the pick clockwise also helps! Remember to position your ground crew correctly as in the previous step.

Step 6 - Realistic Car Movement

Car movement requires careful consideration of where freight cars are to be placed and how to place them in the minimum number of moves. You may want to play with my on-screen shunting trainer to get some practice.

General Operations References

This is a listing of online and print references for railway operations activities. For freight specific references see Freight Operations References. For train control references see Train Operations References. General References covers other topics.

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