Sunday, 6 November 2011

Thoughts on Operations

As mentioned in a previous post, I think I am now to a point where I can start to think about planning my operating sessions. Granted I designed the layout for operations, and I have been continually trying to design my layout around this concept, and now I think i can start to bring the two together.

The 'Points' of the layout, heading east from staging:

Staging (WB Trains)
Theta East
Theta (Branch)
Steino Yard
Staging (EB Trains)


Staging here does not have an EB or WB suffix, as here is how it looks on the signalling panel:

Here the 'end to end' staging is shown, so it is possible to run a through train, or run a train from WB Trains staging, across the layout, and back to EB Staging. Note the Signal Numbers, used for reporting and helping me find each signal within the ctc systems source code.

The layout is a continuous run model, however the staging works on an end to end basis. I am planning to modify the yard to allow locos to run around their trains, thereby eliminating the use of hands.
So first up we have staging. Where trains come and go from, and where they are assembled/broken down between sessions.

Theta East

 As we head east, we reach the first stop, Theta East. Here there is one industry at one end of the loop, and a branch line diverging at the other end. Lets head up the branch (shown above as dark, non-signalled territory).

The branch contains 3 industries, two lineside on the way to Theta, and one at Theta. Returning, we come back onto the main at Theta, and head back onto the main. because of the direction of the main, you return to Steino Yard through staging. Continuing East, you head along the main through Theta Loop (used for crossing large unit trains) towards Spencer.


Arriving at Spencer, the track diverges into a main and loop, and continues towards the Helix on the left hand side of the layout. It is called 'mid helix' as if you were to put each part of the layout end to end, this helix would be in the middle.

As you can see from the diagram each industry track is shown, however it is black indicating it is not protected by RVD (Rail Vehicle Detection) signalling. Each crossover with an 'M' indicates it is unlocked by the dispatcher.

In Spencer there are 3 Industries, as well as a small loop for pushing cuts of cars into crossovers that are against the direction of travel. This track could actually be used as an industry as well, for this exercise I will use it as an industry, bringing Spencer's Industries to 4.

Upon leaving Spencer, we hit Notch 8 for the long 2.5% grade towards Meridian, on the upper level.


Arriving off the helix we go back to single line for a brief period, before arriving at Meridian.

At Meridian, there are two industries, one at each end of the loop. they may be expaneded upon, since there are only two inputs I'd like to make the switching a little interesting. For this exercise, there are two industries only.

Steino Yard
Onwards from Meridian, we hit the Steino Triangle - Gateway to Steino Yard:

Inside the Triangle is yard working, so it is not included on the CTC Panel. Instead, here is the current Iteration of the yard, with the industries highlighted in yellow:

So as you can see here, Steino Yard has 5 Industries, as well as a passenger terminus on the LHS, and freght marshalling facilities.

Below are the counts for each town and their Respective Industries:

Theta East 1
Theta (Branch) 3
Spencer 4
Meridian 2
Steino Yard 5

Total: 15

15 Industries are being served on this subdivision. Now I know the 'points' of the layout, I can now define how the freight flows. Its fairly simple, 98% of traffic runs like this:

Staging -> Steino Yard -> {Town} -> Steino -> Steino Yard -> Staging.

A simple path really, I'll try and explain it below..

-An EB Train of Empties leaves staging bound for Steino Yard. Upon arrival at Steino Yard, it picks up a full rake of cars that are ready to depart, and continues to EB Staging. (You'll see where this 'full rake' came from later)

-Meanwhile at Steino Yard, the shunter is busy arranging the cuts from the EB Arrival into EB and WB local turns. The EB train in this scenario will do the following:

Theta East

  • Depart Steino Yard towards Summit and Staging.
  • Arrive Theta, Switch
  • Arrive Spencer, Switch
  • Return to Steino Yard.

Whilst the WB Train will:
  • Depart Steino Yard towards Meridian
  • Arrive Meridian, Switch
  • Arrive Spencer, Switch
  • Continue Around via staging through road to Steino Yard.

There is still a train to go out.. The Theta Branch Turn. Rather than attaching it to another train, it is its own job, since it runs on one side of the layout only. The Theta Branch Turn will:

  • Depart Steino Yard towards Staging
  • Arrive Theta, continue down branch
  • Switch Theta
  • Switch Lineside Industries outside of Theta.
so we know the trains now go to their lineside industries, and each job picks up however many cars they need to drop off. This is done by assiging cuts of cars to a waybill.

So.. While the local turns are out, the Steino Yard switcher is preparing to switch each arrival train's cars into industries located within Steino. This is the start of the Steino -> Steino Yard process. As the local turns return to the yard, they either switch the cars themselves into Steino Industries, or the shunter does it for them. (depending on how busy each operator is) As they shunt the cars in, they take cars out, which are then formed into trains at Steino Yard to head to staging.

The mentality behind this is that goods coming from the lineside industries produce 'raw' goods, and the industries at Steino move them to refined goods. It adds another link in the chain to keep freight flowing.

As the full train/s is/are formed ready to depart to staging, an empty train coming from staging will arrive. this starts the cycle over again, When this cycle begins is anyones guess, however it is likely one operating session will see this cycle go run through once.

Other traffic (The dispatchers challenge)

Having these three freight trains on the line at any one time will most likely be a rare occurence, therefore preventing the looping of the cycle described above during an operating session.

Other traffic will include:

-Unit Intermodal/Coal/Refrigerated goods trains (the latter coming into Steino to be loaeded, hence the balloon loop around the outside)
-Local Passenger trains

These two extra trains will add interest and give drivers something to run whilst things are quiet. It also provides a challenge for the dispatcher to co-ordinate these two types of traffic with the local freights, as the unit trains will not fit in certain loops, and the passenger trains have priority over others.

I hope this decribes in some way how I'd like to run the layout - since this is entirely theoretical it may be subject to change, but I won't know until I run it in practice. Until then, it will be an idea that I will base my test operating sessions on.

Thanks for reading!


Progress - 06/11/2011

So its been a while since I've posted, however I have some updates!

1. The first Helix is complete.

As you can see below, the helix has been installed onto the layout. It took about 8 hours all up to install the table, lay the helix, and on each layer, lay the track as a continuous curve, and solder droppers for power. Many thanks to Rodney from Ashlin Designs for the custom built helix, easy to set up and very sturdy.

The Helix will join the two levels together. 2.5% Grade, 12.75" and 14" radius curves.
Side view with two trains stabled on the tracks (no locos)
A better view of the current end-of-line.

Another view into the helix.

2. The Upper level roadbed is complete.

As you can see below, the roadbed not extends through the whole layout on the upper level. Since it skips the peninsula (which will contain the yard) it is a simple 'U' Shape around. I managed to finish the spline in 2-3 days, with still plenty to spare.

Left Hand Side, future site of 'Meridian' with the loop and main line present for the helix.

The future site of 'Steino Triangle' - The entrance to Steino Yard.

A view showing both the upper and lower levels, with my current project of soldering sub-buses evidenced on the lower level.

Looking back onto the helix.
  3. The plans for the next couple of months.

By Christmas time, I would like to have a complete track around. That is going to be a hard ask, since I have to:

-Order another helix, install and lay track on said helix.
-Lay track along the upper level
-Have one point hooked into the DCC Bus.

Still, nothing like a challenge!

To keep myself motivated I'm also shortly going to purchase two locos to test the track with. A Kato SD70ACe, (UP Colours) and an Atlas GP38-2 (BNSF)

Why these two?
-One is a 6 axle and one is a 4 axle loco. This will help me test the pointwork and trackage that I have currently laid.
-Different brands have different characteristics, so this will let me see how they behave on the helix and along the other parts of the line.

Eventually they will be utilised for the unit coal train and local industry jobs.

4. This yard bugs me.

Is this yard too complex? Am I trying to compress too much track into the limited space I have? I'm starting to think so. Looking back at my previous design iterations for this yard, I can see how it has had a habit of filling out the empty space I have.

The yard in an operations context has a simple purpose:

-Trains come in with empties from staging.
-empties are arranged into industry turns for local trains to pickup.
-local trains come in from linside industries, drop off 'raw' goods which are then switched to industries within the yard.
-'refined' goods (cars picked up from industries within the yard) are switched into outgoing trains. they are then picked up and taken to staging - the car cycle is complete.
-A unit reefer train swings around the outside of the yard - to make things interesting.

I'm thinking of keeping the left hand side the way it its, but replace the haphazard tracks in the lower right with a ladder for a large grain/hopper goods complex.

The right hand side will become a lot simpler, the two passenger arrival roads will become a passenger arrival and loop road only, to allow freight trains to use the loop. the freighlt loop and industries will disappear to be replaced with a slightly modified layout of the 'timesaver' shunting puzzle. a lot simpler trackage, and a bit more room to put in some scenic items. since I will be battling a low depth-of-field on the rest of the layout, its probably a good idea.

Whilst writing this I did a quick mockup - I'm liking it this way a lot more already.

A modified design, with changed track each side, and expanded shunting necks.

I'm going to write another article shortly outlining my current idea for operations on the layout, after visiting a couple of layouts I have gotten some ideas on how to forward cars and I think i am now at a point where I can begin to start a theoritical car flow, and work on it from there once we start operating (Q1/Q2 next year hopefully)

Thats it for now, enjoy!