At RPI, there's a sign-up sheet, and it's first come, first served. A rule was later added that you had to select the next available train, since crews were cherry picking what they wanted later in the session, and occasionally there would be trains scheduled to go out, but no crews signed up. Or somebody signed up for a train later in the session, but hadn't finished their prior train by the scheduled start time.
At other sessions, I've often seen the owner assign the job based on various criteria. Another approach I've seen is at sessions that have relatively regular crews, who "own" the job whenever they are there. The idea being that it rewards regular attendance.
I think there are benefits to all of these approaches, and the "best" approach will vary not only on the layout and its operational design, but the operators involved. What I'm currently doing is trying to better understand the New Haven Railroad system, and see if I can adapt it for the layout. I also like the idea of operators qualifying for particular jobs.
I was looking through my small collection of Along the Line, the New Haven Railroad employee magazine and found an article about Crew Dispatchers in the May-June 1948 issue, followed by an article on Engine Dispatchers in the July-August 1948 issue which helps clarify the process in my era.
On the PrototypeOn the New Haven, there were 12 crew dispatchers, stationed at Boston, Providence, Worcester, New London, New Haven, Grand Central Terminal, Harlem River, Danbury, Waterbury, Hartford, and Springfield. The ten Engine Dispatchers were located at the same locations, minus Worcester and Springfield, although New London was handled by the Crew Dispatcher.
What was the difference? Engine Dispatchers assigned Engineers, Firemen, and Hostlers. Crew Dispatchers assigned Conductors, Flagmen, Brakemen, as well as jobs like Head End (baggage cars), etc.
Most crews were assigned to a regular job/train and just reported to duty. If a regular job becomes open permanently or temporarily, it is put up "for bid," advertised on bulletin boards, and after the bid period, assigned to the applicant with the most seniority.
When a job was open unexpectedly, then the Dispatcher consulted the Spare Board, and works from the top of the list. This seems to have been a fairly consistent method, still in use today.
On the ModelThere are several things I can do to try to incorporate this approach on the layout. I don't know if I'll actually implement it, but it's a starting point.
- Track Seniority. This is simple matter of recording the number of sessions/hours working the railroad. This could include both operating sessions and work sessions. The easiest method is to just count sessions, rather than number of hours.
- Develop Qualifications. A good approach might be for a crew member to work a particular job a certain number of times. Since I prefer two-person crews, this could be working as an engineer three times to be qualified on the job, and then perhaps switching jobs with a Conductor qualified on the job to see how they do in charge.
- Bid on Jobs. Regular crew can bid on jobs for which they are qualified. Rather than having somebody "own" a job, those who are qualified can bid for a job in a given session. Of those that bid for a job, the one with the highest seniority will get the job for that session.
- Spare Board. The spare board can be populated in the order that operators respond to an ops session announcement. During a session, when a crew completes a job, they are added to the bottom of the Spare Board. Qualified crew gets priority, with unqualified crew taking the remaining jobs. Seniority isn't important for this, just the order they respond/are available during the session.
Rather than have a new (unqualified) crew member have to shadow a Qualified crew, the jobs can be separated into Qualified and Unqualified jobs. On my layout, the Station Agent, and the Switching Conductors for the two switchers and Stanley Works would be Qualified jobs. All engineer positions, along with the through train Conductor positions (if used) would be Unqualified jobs.
The through trains would be filled by unqualified crew first, since they are the easiest jobs. For other jobs, the preference would be to assign qualified crew to Conductor positions (and the Station Agent position), with unqualified crew as engineers. Or to put it a different way, I'll have a Spare board for Conductors (Qualified) and Engineers (Unqualified), with intention of filling the jobs from within those lists.
Of course, this isn't to make the operations "work," but to more closely replicate the prototype, and perhaps to encourage crew to be more involved. It's also to help me, the layout owner, to have a core group that can help ensure that the session will run smoothly because they know the operations of the layout well. But I like the idea of rewarding those that participate more, and those that get more involved in the actual operations.
A simple spreadsheet, to record name, # of sessions, and a Qualification column for Station Agent, Switcher, and Stanley Works covers that main jobs I'll need to track. In a cell for a job, I can track the number of sessions worked that job, or another notation ("Q") when qualified.
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