Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Start to plan for Operations

Here I want describe one of the possible path to organize Operations on your layout.
This is the way I found simple for me, but I understand it can not the same for everybody. I’m not a Railroad “Pro”, more a modeler that like the Operations and this I’m sure is reflected on my approach.
That said, as a modeler… I start from the track plan!
1- Start to Plan your traffic:
Well, not exactly, as my plan was designed with the fundamental railroad rule in mind: rail traffic is generated from customers and rail service must have a revenue to have a reason to be ( as any business adventure, I well know!)
So, after reading a lot about SP Coast Division ( type of traffic, type of merchandize delivered, history of some key-industries, history of some key-town along the route, timeline for main freights types to identify what-was-when, etc….) I’ve identified some subjects I like to model in the selected era and selected locale:
-   cement traffic from manufacturer to distributor
-   perishable freight traffic with typical car management (cleaning, icing, loading, pre-cooling, unloading )
-   some wood-chain industries ( not the lumber sawmills on the mountains that are simulated from staging but furniture makers, building materials resellers , crates manufacturers …)
-    food treatment chain ( canning , frosting,  packing,  stocking, transfer to trucks for door delivery…)
-    Chemical raw materials supply for food treatments and gasoline for automobiles, oil-derived products for  industries and… to run trains motive power
-    Express mail traffic and LCL ( Less –than-Carload package shipping: what in modern time is UPS-DHL and USPS delivery )
Setting these  “Given” in a list was a good start, and I’ve used this “guideline” to find good names for all industries along my track plan  and “on the outside world ( the two staging yards )” and design all service tracks ( spurs or sidings) that will do the jobs.
The result was something like this document, that shows all main buildings along the path from San Francisco to San Jose: my modeled section of the Coast Division.
Buildings list

 2- Shipper / Consignee and Lading list:
Well, after this, and sourcing from the Customer list referred above, a second document take shape.
This will list all customers ( using Excel or any different spreadsheet software give you the “sort” facility: sort by town, by lading, etc), setting also quantity of cars they weekly need.
Shipper/ Consignee- Lading & Cars count
If you’re interested to download this document and use it as form to fill with your data, I’ve put it in the Google document service as “public” ( no on line editing ) . here the direct link:
Select “File” menu and then “Download as..” and select the format you like ( Excel or Open Office are obviously editable formats).
A good starting source for Industries names, his location and lading type, can be the OpSIG (Operations SIG of NMRA) database, that is available at their website,, under “Online Resources,” and then “Industry Database.”
This sheet will be the basic document to plan your traffic, unrelated to which  method you may select to implement ( Car-Cards & Waybills. Switchlist, Timetable & TrainOrders, Warrants…. or any of the “electronic” alternative , JMRI  included) 

3-      Timetable
Before speak about this we’ve to prepare another “basic” : a Timetable of the “scheduled” trains, passengers trains included if you plan to have it. To do this job, I take as a good start a real Employee Timetable of a relevant year I want model. For an example of some “vintage” SP Timetables, you can source on my page here:  
Here is a sample ( in progress as you see) of my ETT prepared for my layout:

Again this is available to download at Google Docs using the same procedure as above:
You see that I’ve listed regular and “named” trains, both passengers and freights. In addition to these some 3rd Class “Extras” are generated (randomly or when the OP session need some “excitement”).
Given the number of operators my layout will have “normally” , I image to split the daily time in 4 consecutive OP sessions. Anyway we will define this when the time of a first “Round Robin” become a reality!
An important "visual" addition using Excel or similar software is the ability to generate a "Traffic diagram". This helps a lot to check train meetings and timings on the line.
Here is a good sample and explanation:

4-  “on hand” documents for your crew
All these activities give you an organized basis to step forward with next action: prepare documents to have “your Railroad running” in a prototyped simulation.
The traditional choices, as said, are:
-     Car Card & Waybills
an attractive prototypal approach to Waybills can be found on Tony Thompson’s blog:
-     Switchlists
For example of this approach see the Robert Bowlidge site :
-     Track Warrant
see for explanation the Carsten S.Lundsten site:

Any of these methods have sustainer or detractors, but I want to describe in a next post an alternative I want to follow ( at least as my first option ) given my inexperience in car traffic planning: I want try to use the Operation section of JMRI , a freeware software that maybe some of you know ( and use?) to program you DCC decoders or display CTC panels.
So, wait ‘till I find some time to drop another update here!

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