Model Railway Operation
This is a term that conveys different meanings to different people. It can mean anything from running trains around in a circle on the most basic of layouts to following prototype practice to the extreme and anything in between.
Let’s examine operating a layout along the lines of how the prototype is run. A lot of course can depend on location – which country, whereabouts in that country; which era – historical or modern; what type of traffic – passenger, freight (general freight or specialist commodity such as coal).
Having spent many years exhibiting smallish layouts at shows, predominantly terminus stations, I have always tried to replicate the prototype as much as possible. I will usually have 3 or 4 trains, a mix of passenger and freight, lined up in the fiddle yard and run each train onto the layout in turn.
In the case of passenger trains, this entails running into the station, uncoupling the loco, running round, re-coupling and leaving the station. Every so often, in the case of steam, the loco can go for water etc. In the case of freight, the train enters the station, loco uncouples and shunts the wagons into their correct sidings, picking up any wagons to form the outbound train. Once assembled, the train leaves the station for the fiddle yard. Pretty much what you would see if you were to be stood on a typical terminus station in years gone by, except things happen a lot quicker than they would in real life.
Nothing revolutionary in that I hear you say. That’s quite true but we have to consider the distinction between operating a layout at an exhibition for the entertainment of others against the operation of a layout at home or in a group for one’s own entertainment.
At an exhibition, I find that visitors will probably spend no more than 15 – 20 minutes maximum viewing the layout before moving on to the next. Therefore, a simple sequence where the moves are speeded up is perfectly acceptable as a sequence with 3 or four trains can take from 25 – 40 minutes to complete.
Looking at things from a different perspective – operating the layout for one’s own entertainment – we can develop the prototype theme even more. As mentioned above, the loco uncouples from the train – with the use of a reliable automatic uncoupling system, this is instantaneous. In reality, how long does it take for the driver/guard/shunter to get down between the vehicles and uncouple all the pipes etc and then move out of the way? Possibly up to 3 or 4 minutes?
After the uncoupling, the loco runs forward and then changes direction. Again instantaneous. However, in reality, the driver has to, in the case of steam, change the direction of the loco by altering the reversing gear (quite a strenuous task on many locos), In the case of diesels, the driver has to walk from one cab to the other.
So, immediately we can see that, by following prototype practices more closely, the time taken for even the simplest of moves is much greater than we often take. The principles can be taken even further by considering:
- the changing of points – easy and quick with point motors; on the prototype, a strenuous pull of a lever to move point rodding over some considerable distances;
- situations where points might be hand operated (yards, private sidings, etc) and the ground frame has to be unlocked;
- marshalling wagons in the right order (not quite so relevant to the days of air braked stock). Those who have exhibited with me will know I have a bee in my bonnet about the order of wagons. In my early railway career, I was taught that wherever possible, the fitted wagons should be next to the engine to provide the optimum continuous brake. My freight trains, albeit only 5 or 6 wagons in length, will have the fitted wagons (brown) at the front and the unfitted wagons (grey) at the rear. I was hoisted by my own petard when exhibiting with a fellow club member who insisted that the loaded cattle wagons were always marshalled immediately behind the engine! That was a new one on me!
- opening and closing gates, either at an unmanned level crossing or entry to a siding. It takes time for the guard to walk the gate, unlock it, swing it and possibly reverse the procedure.
And I’m sure there are many more….
So, next time you are thinking of operating your layout, take some time to consider how you can increase your enjoyment by following the prototype.