So, we have a simple loop and two industries to service. We can turn a train, but only one direction. And a yard. What are we going to use the yard for?
Well, to me the yard is the key for this layout. But first a little model railroading philosophy...
One thing you may notice when operating a layout, is that your focus is on the work in front of you. Since this is primarily going to be a single-operator layout, we can take advantage of this. This narrowed focus also narrows your view of the layout. Which is one of the reasons I like a layout to be built somewhere between chest and eye height. It draws you into the scene, and limits your view of the rest of the layout.
We accomplish similar things with view blocks, etc., but with a small layout in the form of a loop, we'll have to rely on our imagination and narrowed focus a bit more. By doing so, we can focus on the action as a series of scenes, rather than how the relate to each other in the context of the layout itself.
The layout is our stage. For many of us, the stage is large, with different scenery for each. In other cases, the stage is a small independent theater. The scenery is more imaginary. Implied by the action on the stage, rather than a literal depiction built by the scenery crew.
By thinking more interpretive than literal, a small layout can represent a much bigger operation. And more we dress up the operations themselves, the less important the surrounding scenery is.
You'll also notice that my focus is, once again, more on the operating experience. I'm sure you can get a sense as to how this will look on the the layout when you operate it. The details, about how trains or cars are moved, or even the paperwork used, are details that are added to clarify and provide structure and prototypical 'operations scenery' to the process of operating.
A typical approach to designing operations would be to try to jump in with car cards and waybills. And in fact, that's what Paul originally asked me to help with. "Supplies and bill boxes are already ordered from Micromark, how do I get started?" sort of thing:
But with only two industries, that wouldn't provide a whole lot of operation. By stepping back a bit, we can let the layout design itself help inform us as to where to start with operations design.
The Jobs Performed by the Railroad
As I've said, my focus on designing operations is on the operating experience that the crew has when running your layout. So I like to start with the jobs they'll be performing. This is more than just a practical consideration, it also enhances the operating experience.
In this case, we're handling a lot of different jobs. Since this is a single operator layout, all of them will be performed by the same person. But rather than lump everything together, I still like to think of them independently.
Since the majority of the layout is a yard, we'll start by looking at the jobs in a typical terminal yard:
- The road crew brings their train into the yard, but they do not have permission to move their locomotive within the yard facility. In fact, the railroad forbids it because they would have to pay the road crew higher rates for their entire run if they did.
- Hostlers are responsible for taking the road power to engine servicing, and also for bringing the road power to any newly assembled train.
- Yard crews man the switchers that do the work classifying cars and breaking down/building trains.
- The Yardmaster is responsible for coordinating all the work in the yard, and the Foreman is responsible for ensuring that the work is completed as directed by the Yardmaster.
All this is interesting, but why do I care for a single operator layout?
Because it helps to envision the scene we're creating. It helps to provide the tunnel vision that will obscure the fact that everything is occurring sequentially since you can only do so much at one time. In a sense you are like an actor stepping out of one role and into another and, like a movie, things that happen simultaneously must be shown separately to avoid missing any of the action.
Understanding the different jobs helps us visualize and separate those scenes into distinct events, enhancing the illusion that this is all part of a much bigger operation. It also makes it easy to operate a larger layout where you might be assigned to be a hostler, yard crew, or yardmaster.
Although quite condensed, this already achieves the goal of prototypical operations. You can add layers, such as how you run the trains, paperwork, etc. to enhance that experience. But for a big picture overview, think of it in a series of scenes in a movie:
Scene 1: A road freight has arrived, and the locomotives need to go for their inspection and maintenance to prepare for the next run. Hostlers uncouple from the consist, and head to the engine house.Scene 1a: In the meantime, a yard crew starts classifying the inbound cars, building new trains, or shoving the cars to an interchange track to be picked up by another road.Scene 1b: A switching crew is handling work at several industries within yard limits.Scene 1c: A train is near ready for departure, and the hostlers are on their way with the road power.The crew is given their orders, and throw the iron just after the latest passenger train passes, and starts to pull out onto the main.Scene 2: The road freight is on the high iron, on its way to Cedar Hill and making good time. They'll have to take the siding at a couple of points to let the first class passenger trains pass, before pulling into the yard.Scene 2a: The first class passenger train is running from station-to-station, and turning at the terminal at the end of its run for the return trip.
We're not talking about the physical scene, and how to model the landscape, structures, etc., but the action that takes place. But it relates to the physical elements as well. We need to determine where this will take place on the layout itself.
Designating Yard Tracks
A yard typically has a number of dedicated tracks for specific purposes. In this case, though, we'll have to use different tracks for multiple purposes. Remember that on the rear (North Main) west is left and east is right.
Track No. 2 is a runaround for the North Main Line, but we're also going to use it as an arrival and departure track. Freight trains will terminate here, and when a train is built, we'll stage it here. When a freight arrives, the road power will be taken to the engine house, and a switching crew will break down the trains.
Tracks No. 3-5 are the yard tracks, where cars will be classified.
The yard ladder also serves as the Yard Lead, along with a portion of the main line. Runaround moves will also have to use the main line.
The Coast Main Line is actually just part of the yard complex at this point, allowing access to the engine servicing tracks. Paul has wisely kept that in the same electrical block as the yard.
Cabooses will have to be shoved out of the way temporarily as working. Either on one of the yard tracks, left on Track No. 2, or on Coast Main Line.
Not ideal, but we can have a fully operational yard.
Yards also have tracks designated for specific purposes. That is, the same outbound train is built on the same track every day. With that in mind, here's a track list:
- Yard Ladder and North Main to the right of the ladder: Yard Lead
- Track No. 2: Runaround, arrival, and departure track.
- Track No. 3: Yard Track for Westbound trains.
- Track No. 4: Yard Track for Eastbound trains.
- Track No. 5: Yard Track
With those designated, we can easily see how the scenes I described can occur on this layout.