What do Railroads do?
Railroads are a shipping company. They move commodities from one place to another.
Well, duh, right?
The Movement of Trains
In my view of operations, there are four major components: The Jobs Performed by the Railroad, the Movement of Trains, the Movement of Cars, and Paperwork. As you may have guessed, a lot of folks like to start with the Movement of Cars (car cards/waybills) when designing for operations, but for me that's still to come.
First we need to figure out how trains will be moving around the layout. To do that we need to know where we are, and what Point A and B are, and if there are any intermediate stops as well. Oh yes, and the layout is a loop.
A digression - for decades we've seen layout plans talk about point-to-point layouts, as if they are inherently different from a layout designed as a loop. But the real point (ahem) is that a real railroad travels and moves goods and/or people between two or more points. So that means you have to design a layout with a start and and end, right?But it probably didn't take long for people to realize that even in the smallest scales, we can't build the entire rail system in our basement (or laundry closet), so we'll need to find a way to include the parts we don't build. Thus the concept of staging.It's pretty simple - you have a layout designed with two ends, and staging at either end to represent everything else. And obviously this has absolutely nothing to do with the layouts we built as uneducated kids on a 4' x 8' loop.Except that my layout has a helix at either end, that goes down to the lower level where the staging is, and it also forms a complete loop. So I guess it can be a loop, but part of the loop is hidden, right?Why don't I just get to my point, which is:Point-to-point is a method of operation, and not necessarily a physical design.Back to my layout to clarify. If I have an open house, I can just put a train on the mainline, and let it loop through the layout for as long as I let it run. It's a loop. But when operating the layout, we consider that the right helix is heading toward Hartford, and the left is going to Plainville, and no train going down one side would ever come back up the other one.Yes, it's certainly possible (and often preferable) to design a physical point-to-point layout. But just because a layout is a loop doesn't mean we have to operate it that way.
OK, back to where we were: Where are we?
Paul labeled the left loop as New Haven and the right as Boston. I suggested an alternative. The layout is New Haven and Boston, depending on which end of the run we find your train.
That is Point A and Point B are defined by operation, not by the physical layout.
You start the Session in Boston Yards, and in incoming train has arrived from New Haven, from the left loop (west). You break down the train, build a new one, and head west to New Haven.
If you enjoy watching trains run around a loop, then you can do so for as long as you'd like. Otherwise it can be just one. In which case you have arrived at Cedar Hill, and the layout is now in New Haven.
Some people won't like this approach, I get it. But then I'd suggest you try it. Because my modeling buddies and I have commented many times that the details don't matter when operating, because you're focused on the operations. Both Chris and I have had many ops sessions on our plywood (OSB) central layouts, and nobody has complained that the ops session was a failure because everything was the same shade of plywood (well, except Essex through East Haddam on Chris' since that's built on pink foam).
To me, Movement of Trains also addresses things like signaling, Time Table & Train Order, etc. But those are potential layers to consider in the future. We need to get this operating for Paul first, get a handle on the basics of operating the layout before we add those layers.
But that still doesn't address the issue of (lack of) staging or, to put it another way, the lack of connection to the outside world.
So let's look at staging.
I think it's one of the most important aspects of layout design. And to design proper staging, I think you need to have a general idea of what you'll be running on the layout in terms of trains. Because you must have a staging track for each train, right?
The answer, of course, is yes. And ideally that will be off-stage. But in a small space it may not be possible for you to have off-stage staging.
There are three basic types of staging: hidden, visible, and fiddle.
Hidden staging is the traditional staging, separate from the main layout, where trains await their next run. It can be a siding on the back of a loop and hidden from view. It can be in a second room, or a second level with a helix. Anyplace you can put a hidden track where a train will start or end its run is what most people think about when discussing staging.
Visible staging is also fairly popular. A yard at one end of the layout often serves as a visible staging yard. Trains are built and broken down at the yard, which runs to the other end of the layout, sometimes another yard, or a loop that returns to the same yard. A hidden staging track or two might exist for interchange to another road, or a dummy track serves the same purpose. Another type of visible staging is an interchange track.
Fiddle staging is a point, sometimes hidden, where trains are built and broken down. It's a real space saver, but requires you to actively swap out the cars. A carfloat operation is one possibility. You can even have multiple floats, pre-loaded, and you swap out the float itself. This can be combined with other types of staging as well.
An example I've provided fairly frequently when people online ask about small layout design and how much staging is needed is the CNZR. You can look at my earlier post for details on the operation, but the basic schematic is this:
It's a small branch line that has their engine servicing at the end of their line. On the CNZR it's literally the end of the track, with a couple of sheds, and the locomotives sitting in the open. A runaround is across a street. The other end of the line consists of a runaround, and a junction with another railroad's mainline, and a couple of interchange tracks.
If we look at it from the perspective of the crew, then they pull cars and drop them on one of the interchange tracks, and pull inbound cars from another interchange track. That, on the prototype, is visible staging. If this is wrapped around the walls of a room, you can easily add a hidden track to create a full loop for continuous running when you want it. They only have a single customer, but there's no reason why you can't add more.
For this layout, it's all visible staging. The passenger train never leaves the layout. Freight cars can stay on the layout, or you can fiddle some of them on/off, either during or between sessions. Locomotives are on trains or being serviced, and never leave the layout. But we can still have a connection to the outside world.
Track No. 5 is now designated as an Interchange Track.
We've already declared Track No. 3 as westbound, and Track No. 4 as eastbound. Since we're only running one freight at a time, this helps prep everything for the next train. Which means next time we can talk about the Movement of Cars.
Movement of Trains - Passenger Service
We can extend the "road scene" by switching between the freight and passenger trains. Since Track No. 2 is an independent block, the passenger train can be at the station while the freight pulls into the siding. Then the passenger will proceed to the passenger station on the Coast Main Line, stop, and then proceed back to the other side. If desired, it could be stopped in the New Haven block, while the freight continues around the Boston loop, and so on.
I would also use the reversing loop to allow the passenger train to go out, then back to meet the freight in different directions. Again, the freight can be parked temporarily in a block so the passenger crew can "turn" the train by running around their consist using Track No. 2, and being ready for another out-and-back.
Admittedly, this is not an ideal layout for long runs, but you can have a meet or two, and some people just enjoy watching the trains run. That's possible here, but for me the bulk of the operations would be in the yard.
Back to the Movement of Trains
As for how trains are moved across the road, which is what I usually focus on? There isn't really any need to worry about TT&TO, or even operational paperwork here. Signaling could be added to indicate when one of the blocks is occupied. But as a single-operator layout with a single-track mainline in DC, there's not going to be any need for anything other than, "the train I'm running has the main."
Having said that, we can design a schedule and we'll look at that next week.