Sometimes, a Plan is Helpful
This expanded incarnation of the railroad gives me the opportunity to engage in more realistic operations. With the point-to-loop design, classification yard, and sidings, I can now create realistic operating sessions.
As mentioned elsewhere, I do not use a command-control system (DCC)– the layout is simple block wiring with 2 power packs for the main and a third for yard operations. This is adequate for operations on a layout of this size.
As it turns out, 14 is the magic number on this layout. I can fit a 14-car freight (plus 3 locomotives) into Winter Park siding. 14 cars will fit between the south ladder switch and the crossover switch at the north end of the main yard. 14 cars fit into the longest yard tracks. I can cut a pair of swing helpers into a coal train, 14 cars back, and still fit all the power into the reversing loop (important for when you reverse polarity).
In order to design a realistic session, I have begun analyzing historic traffic patterns along the Moffat Route, from North Yard westward. The situation varies greatly over time, so I am choosing a few sample periods. The first era I’m studying is the mid-1980s, during Rio Grande ownership.
Below is a mini-summary of traffic during that period. Odd numbers are westbound, even numbers eastbound.
Number Dir Time in/out Comments 187 WB 5:30 Intermodal, autoracks from BN. UPS to Roper. 183 WB 6:00 Cargill export grain and other manifest freight. As needed. 136-6 EB 6:00 Manifest, lots of lumber from SP 102 EB 8:00 Railblazer, TOFC 5 WB 8:30 Amtrak California Zephyr 100 EB 11:45 Intermodal, autoracks from SP to BN 103 WB 18:00 RailBlazer TOFC 101 WB 19:30 intermodal, autoracks from BN to SP 6 EB 20:00 Amtrak California Zephyr 195 WB 20:00 TOFC, City Market trailers on end with extra caboose in middle. 134-6 EB 20:30 TOFC from Roper, often head-end tonnage. 709 WB flex CSUX, Nixon to Axial, empties, bi-weekly 710 EB flex CSUX, Axial to Nixon/Drake, loads, Wed/Sat. 702 EB flex PSCX, EB loads from Energy to Cherokee, daily 701 WB flex PSCX, WB empty from Cherokee to Energy, weekdays 717 WB flex CSUX empties from Nixon to Energy, weekly 718 EB flex CSUX loads from Energy to Nixon, weekly 713 WB flex DRGW hoppers, empty to Energy, weekly 714 EB flex DRGW hoppers, loads from Energy to Naples, Illinois, weekly
Next, we factor in the realities of my layout, the limited number of passing sidings, and the actual bridge connections at each end (none!). From this we distill the above list into a workable two-person operating scheme, which I will call the Basic 1986 Session (daylight).
|709||Denver||CSUX, Nixon to Axial, empties|
|702||Winter Park||PSCX, EB loads from Energy to Cherokee|
|187||North Yard (NY)||Intermodal, autoracks from BN|
The operators then perform these jobs in sequence:
|Road Crew- Movements||
|187 to Cliff|
|102 to Rocky||102 to TOFC ramp|
|187 to Tabernash||Cut power from 102 and service|
|702 to NY||Cut power from 702 and service|
|187 to Winter Park||(Becomes 100)||Assemble 181 freight|
|709 to Tabernash||Power 181 on yard lead|
|100 to Denver||Cut power from 100 and service|
|709 to Winter Park||(Becomes 710)||Break up 100|
|181 to Tabernash||Power 103 and move to Rocky|
|103 to Plain|
Which leaves us with this:
|181||Tabernash||to become 136-6|
Testing this in real time with a single operator, I find that it takes at least 45 minutes in real time to complete. It would be somewhat faster with multiple operators. I created an Excel form which I simply call “Dispatch Form A-1986”; I print this out and follow the steps, marking off each as I go to prevent catastrophe and gridlock.
As you can see, this is a much-simplified operating scheme. You’ll also notice that I haven’t included the Ski Train or the Amtrak operations. I need to clear up some yard space before I can take that on!
Jumping back to the past, say 1980, things get much different. About half of the trains are freights. Coal is often moved in blocks of coal hoppers added to freight trains. The Rio Grande Zephyr makes a thrice-weekly round trip over the line. Winter weekends add a Ski Train turn to Winter Park. And, there’s those pesky cabooses! Just cutting them from incoming trains and assigning to outbound ones is a full-time job on this railroad.
Other Types of Operating Session
Under Union Pacific ownership, the vast majority of traffic is coal trains. Moving these trains up and down the mountain is the dominant feature of operations. The yard operator actually has a lot to do, though, allocating power for these long trains and finding yard space. Throw in a daily freight train, Amtrak, a seasonal Ski Train, and some BNSF trackage rights trains, and it becomes a very crowded railroad.
After some testing, I find the following scheme to work best. An operating session includes the following:
- Two coal trains, 20 cars max plus three locomotives (2+1 DPU)
- One UP freight (MDVRO, which becomes MRODV)
- One BNSF freight (MDENSTO, which becomes MSTODEN)
- Amtrak’s California Zephyr, trains 5 / 6.
The basic scheme is fairly simple. I operate six trains; a coal train is followed by one of the freights or the Amtrak train, followed by another coal train, followed by a freight or Amtrak, and so on. Or to put it another way, I alternate with one coal train and one shorter train of my choice. I have just enough yard space to make it work, assuming the coal trains average less than 20 cars. It’s a challenging job finding sufficient yard space, sequencing the movements, keeping trains out of each other’s way… in other words, it’s a lot like a real dispatcher’s job!
Southern Pacific era operations somewhat different from the UP style. There is a a slight increase in the manifest freight traffic, and no BNSF trains. Freight cars now include intermodal and autorack cars. I find that by limiting myself to a pair of coal trains, congestion is reduced dramatically.
SP manifest trains include basic general freight (RODVM/DVROM, OADVF/DVOAF), lumber trains, and intermodal trains (RODVT/DVROT). The intermodal trains can also include basically any kind of general freight to fill out length.
Amtrak can run one or two trains, depending on how passenger-heavy I want the session, plus the Ski Train runs with Espee power.
BN / BNSF Yard Transfers are now possible, with the completion of the Joint Line section. Occasionally I send a couple of BN units up from the Joint to North Yard and take back a cut of interchange cars. These transfer moves just wait on spare yard tracks near DUT until needed, when I bring them back and trade out other cars for interchange. Post-1996, the power includes BNSF-painted units.
And, there are plenty of times when I just want to run some trains around, so I certainly don’t always adhere to a schedule.