Sunday, September 6, 2020

Operating on the Prototype (CNZR)

This is a picture I took while throwing the iron on the CNZR. I was in the area, and Dale said they were coming back to switch out Home Depot a second time when they finished switching out the Armory Line. It had been a busy day, so before I get to my part, here's what they had done already that day. Jeremy had just backed up onto the runaround to pick up a group of loads to take down to Depot.

The CNZR services one industry on the old New Haven Griffins line. The end of the line, just north of Day Hill Rd, is their engine servicing. Just south of Day Hill Rd is a runaround track:

A little less than a mile south is the Home Depot distribution center:

There is a storage track across the main, plus a box car track and a flat car track. They also service a single industry on the old Armory line, which is not connected to this line at all. 

They interchange with Pan Am and Connecticut Southern (CSO) in Hartford. 

There is a long runaround that serves as the interchange track for CSO.

Off of the northern track is a side track for Hartford Lumber (I don't think this is in service, or if it is, it's not served by CNZR).

Off of the southern track is the 'station track.' previously the Highland mainline, now a stub-end track that serves as the interchange track with Pan Am.

The day started with:

  • 4 loaded flat cars (from Pan Am) on the runaround track.
  • 5 empty flats on the flat car track.
  • 1 loaded flat on the flat car lead.
  • 5 empty flats on the box car lead, fouling the flat car lead.
  • 9 empty box cars on the boxcar track.

The morning was spent switching out Home Depot:

  1. Pick up the four loads from the runaround.
  2. Pull five empty flats from the boxcar lead (they were fouling the flat car lead).
  3. Drop the five empties and the 4 loads on the main.
  4. Pick up the load on the flat car lead, then the 4 loads from the main. This ensures that the oldest car (the one that was on the flat car lead) will be at the front of the cut when spotted.
  5. Pull the 5 empty flats. This takes a few moves, because of the way the flat car track is spotted. There are 4 cars at the end of the track, then a driveway, then the fifth car at the front of the track.
    • The first car of every cut has a skate (chock) in front of the leading wheel so the car cannot roll toward the main.
    • Single cars have their handbrake set, the cut of flats have three of the four handbrakes set.
    • There is a blue flag on the flat car lead.
    1. Lower the blue flag. This is often done by a Home Depot employee.
    2. Back the train onto the flat.
    3. Connect the air (all moves are made with the air connected).
    4. Release the handbrake on the single flat.
    5. Push the car off of the skate (if it didn't when coupling to the car).
    6. Remove the skate.
    7. Back the train into the second cut of flats.
    8. Connect the air.
    9. Release the three handbrakes.
    10. Pull the cut of flats.
  6. Drop the cut of empty flats on the main.
  7. Spot the flats on the flat car track, setting three handbrakes and one skate on the cut of four cars, and the handbrake and another skate on the single car.
  8. Raise the blue flag.
  9. They then pulled the 9 empty box cars. Each car is on a skate, with the handbrake set, and about 3 feet between the cars. So they have to go through that process for each box car.
  10. Hook up the empty box cars to the 10 empty flats on the main and connect the air.
  11. Dale walks the train giving the car numbers to Jeremy, and does a brake test by verifying the brakes set and release on the rear car.
  12. Haul the train to Hartford.
    • In Hartford CSO has left 3 loaded box cars and 3 flat cars for them to pick up.
    • There are 5 empties for Pan Am to pick up on the station track (an interchange track for Pan Am).
    • The 19 empties they have brought down are all for CSO.
  1. They left the train north of Garden St because they only have one working locomotive today, they won't have the space to runaround the train plus the new cars. There is a side track for Hartford Lumber that holds 5 flats, but the box cars are 13' shorter, and 3 of each will fit (Dale did the math to make sure).
  2. They shove the new cars into Hartford Lumber, and Dale set 3 handbrakes on the far end so the slack doesn't run out when pushing the cars on the wheel stops, leaving about 15' to the clearance point painted on the rail.
  3. Dale stayed at the Garden St switch (the north end of the runaround) to let Jeremy know when he clears the switch so they can get back out.
  4. He sets handbrakes on the cut of 19 cars and uncouples the locomotive when he gets to that. This cut is fouling the Pan Am interchange, so if they get there before CSO they will have to shove the cars up the track to get to their cars.
  5. They pick up the cars from Hartford Lumber, then return to the end of the line.
    • Home Depot wants them to bring them 5 more loaded flats that are on the runaround. There is a 6th loaded flat there, with a James Hardie load (the 2nd or 3rd car of the cut). They only want the Irving Lumber loads, not the Hardie load.
    • They considered going to lunch, then switching after that, but Depot wants it switched after 4:00 pm.
    • They head over to the Armory Line instead, to switch out the an empty there. Only the 25-tonner is working on that line today.
    • This was when I met them at Griffins. We needed to:

  1. Block the flats so the Hardie Load is on the front of the cut.
  2. Take the four loads down to Home Depot.
  3. Pull the five empty flats and move them to the box car track.
  4. Spot the 5 new flats.
  5. Leave the flat with the Hardie load on the flat car lead for switching later.
Dale walked over 5 miles that day. This was a long day. Consider on a model railroad how long it often takes us to:

  1. Pull 19 empties (on two tracks).
  2. Deliver 5 loads on one track.
  3. Deliver 19 empties to the interchange.
  4. Pick up 6 loads from the interchange.
  5. Switch out 1 empty and deliver to the interchange.
  6. Pull 5 empties and deliver 5 loads to the same track.

In many cases we do this very quickly because we don't consider the amount of work it takes on the ground to make those moves. We might pull the 5 flats and the 9 box cars at once, shoving the box cars together then immediately pulling them without any delay. Then pull the remaining flats, and spot the new ones, and then assemble our train and be ready to head to Hartford in less than 15 minutes of model railroading.

Once again I'll point out that people will say that fast clocks are problematic with a lot of switching because switching is 'real time.' But the reality is, it took us about 1 1/2 hours to deliver the 5 cars when I was there. For Jeremy and Dale it was at least a 10 hour day. 

From a modeling standpoint, how can we address this? I think it's just a matter of keeping in mind that you have somebody on the ground doing the work. I don't think it's necessary to use a fixed amount of time for each move, nor do I think we'd want to do it at the speed the prototype actually does.

But remember to drop off your ground crew at the switch stand, and slow to pick them up when you're done. Remember to pause when hooking up the air, and releasing or setting handbrakes. Especially when modeling a modern era where the actual number of cars switched can be lower, it still takes a decent amount of time to do the switching. Sound-equipped locomotives enhances the experience, and I find makes it easier to move the locomotive more prototypically. I'm also a huge fan of the ProtoThrottle for this, and will be switching to those over time.

Another thing that I always notice is that they figure out exactly what their moves will be before they head out to do the work. As model railroaders we often wing it when working a local freight, as we go from town to town. Instead, if you're the conductor, take the time to go through your paperwork, and walk the line (if you're not that familiar with it) to figure out what your moves will be. In earlier eras you might not know if there's additional work at each town, but you will at least know what might be there and have plans for how you'll handle any additional work.

Something else that has become evident is that the industries have a lot of say over when and how they want their work completed. This has been a consistent theme whenever I look at the work on the CNZR and also my buddy Joseph at the Pioneer Valley Railroad. We can simulate this by providing additional work or instructions during our sessions, just like it happens on the prototype.

It also highlights how much railroading you could fit in a very small space, considering how much work it is to service a single industry if you're operating closer to the prototype.

The trick, of course, is also to keep it fun. We aren't actually going to work for the railroad, and we don't want it be work. My focus on operations is on creating an immersive experience. The idea is that you'll feel like you're actually working on the real railroad, without having to deal with what makes a job actual work.

We often spend a considerable amount of time making our models look as realistic as possible. With sound we enhance that experience even more, drawing us into the illusion. For decades we've worked with momentum to make it seem like the model is actually a massive locomotive hauling hundreds of tons of goods. That illusion is only enhanced by operating the trains themselves closer to the prototype. I also find that other aspects, like prototypical paperwork also add to the effect.

Another thing I'm adding to my list? More sound. I know I'll be adding resistors to my wheelsets for signaling purposes. Now I want to add other sounds that are missing from my miniature world:

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