Model Railroad Operation on the Consolidated South Western RR
In Pictures and Captions.

How The CSWRR Operating Sessions Work
A CSWRR Operating Session Part 1

A CSWRR Operating Session Part 2

A CSWRR Operating Session Part 3

A CSWRR Operating Session, Extras

The Consolidated South Western RR

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How the CSWRR Operating Sessions Work.

In designing my Consolidated South Western Railroad (CSWRR), I had two major goals that I wanted to achieve.  One was to have the feeling of going from one place to another and the other was to have Operating Sessions. The first was accomplished by creating the CSWRR in my 30' by 40' basement.  The Operation I wanted would more or less mimic the railroads from where I had lived all my life.  I wanted something simple enough that an inexperienced operator could do it, yet difficult enough to make it realistic and challenging for an experienced operator.  After having several unsatisfactory experiences on friends railroads where there was either a total lack of instructions or it was so simple to be boring I knew there had to be another way.

First of all, crews must understand what they are expected to do.  Thus I developed an instructional method of operation on my Railroad and it has been in use now for over 18 years. The crew members are provided with simple, clear, step by step instructions of what each train is expected to do.  Similar to following a TO manual in the military, if you can read and follow the instructions that you read, you can operate the train.  The written paperwork is held to a minimum, mainline trains set-out cars in blocks.  Only the locals would require switch lists where specific cars need to be routed to specific industries.  For a new operator, the hardiest thing they have to learn is where the control points (town locations) are.

After the Model Railroad was well enough along to run trains smoothly, it was time for Operation.  The first I had to work out what I wanted each trains to do.  Second was to provide the crew members with clear instructions of what their train is expected to do.  Third was to keep the paperwork to a minimum. Fourth was to make the sessions as continuous as possible, when one session is complete the trains are in place ready for the next session.  For example, the road trains are operated first in one direction, then turned and operated back as another train in the opposite direction, I call this "Regenerative Staging".

I started by making up a list of the trains which operated on the prototype railroad that I was modeling. From the very beginning, it became obvious that there was no way that I would be able to operate all these trains within the 3.5 hour limit I had set as a maximum time for a session.  It also became quite clear that as I did not have all the same industries on my railroad as on the prototype, the car makeup of the trains would be different. Thus while I would be using some of the train symbols from the prototype railroad, I would be moving cars based on the industries on my CSW railroad.

Next a list was made up of all the locations on my railroad where cars could be routed to, including industries, interchange, staging and yard tracks. This also included the car holding capacities of each track as well as if it was East or West facing.

Finally a rough Train Work Sheet was developed, showing the location where the train/crew was expected to perform some task.  How the trains would share the staging yard tracks as well as how they interact with each other. The first versions of this were quite crude and changed between each session.  If you want to try this type of operation, start out with 6 or 8 trains and add on later.  I also found out early on that it was necessary to set the number of cars in the train once in each session.  This clears out any errors by the crews and allows the trains to fit in the staging tracks and using dedicated power sets to get the train over the road.

Below is a sample of my much refined Train Work List.  For the first ten or so years I used train symbols to reference trains,  Now for the past several years I have been using the engine numbers with the symbol being secondary as the number on the lead engine is what is obvious and everybody sees. The engines remain on the train all the time and are seldom changed.  The number in parentheses is the expected run time for the train. The Train Work List sample shown below only shows the first 9 trains operated in one session.

Next you need to convey to your train crews what you expect them to do with each train.  For this I make up an instruction sheet for each mainline train which I call a Train Order, a sample is shown below.  (Local crews use a Switch List which I describe later.)  This Instruction sheet describes to the operating crew what tasks each train is to perform. These instructions include all the information that a crew needs to run the train including the engine number that the train will be operating under, the DCC address and the starting and terminating locations. These instructions also include what and where set-outs and pick-ups are to be made as well as checks on the number of cars that should be in the train at that time. The sample shown below is folded on the center line and in this case the west bound train is on the left and then the sheet is turned over for the east bound train on the reverse side.
You also need to provide your Yard Crew with instructions on what they are expected to do and in roughly what order to have the cars ready when the road train arrives.  Shown below is the instruction sheet that is used on the CSWRR to tell the yard crew what they need to do.  This instruction includes the Engine Number assigned to the yard and the types of tasks that the Yard Crew will be performing. The Yard Crew will also break down cuts of cars that have been set-out by through trains or Local returns.  The list should also include all the trains which the Yard Crew will encounter during the session, even if it is only passing through and requires no action. Keep the list simple and brief, but include all the information that the crew may require to perform their tasks.
For Local Train crews that will be setting out specific cars to industries, you need to provide them with a switch list similar to the one shown below.  This list also includes instructions on which cars to pick-up and which cars to leave. The Switch Lists are the only paperwork which requires any writing by crews, or reading of car numbers. When folded back down the middle, this closely resembles a prototype Switch list. When the crew needs help with following the list, they may open it up to refer to the added help / instructions on the back.
Finally, we get to the Dispatchers Train Sheet.  This has evolved over the years to what is shown below.  I use Microsoft Excel and it is made to be printed on two 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper, then taped together for use. At the top, there is a space for the Dispatchers initials, A Yard crew, their power, B Yard crew, their power and the date.  To help the Dispatcher keep track of crew assignments, there is a space to enter the name of the crew.  Tracking trains on the railroad is usually done by memory, however some Dispatchers will use stick-on tags to assist them. 
When the train has arrived at it's destination, the Dispatcher simply draws a red line through that line on the sheet.  As the CSWRR does not use a clock, there is no need to enter any times.  Mostly under Routing and Work, there are prompts to aid on how to route the train, work the train needs to do and any other helpful information.
Shown below is the CTC board used on the CSWRR.  By observing the lights, the Dispatcher can tell the position of all Main line switches and the blocks that are occupied.  Hanging above are the Train Order/Instruction sheets. To the right, is the computer used to monitor the DCC system and view hidden parts of the railroad.
This how the Operation system works on the CSWRR, and it works, we have fun.  If you would like to try this system of operation on your railroad look over what I have provided here and give it a try.  Yes, my CSWRR is a larger then average model railroad, however a simplified version of this operation could be used on almost any size of railroad.  A 4 by 8 Railroad may only require a single sheet, a combination of the Yard Instruction and the train Order sheets.  I would like in the near future to describe an operation for the Mooselip display railroad. 

A few final thoughts;  For your Operation Session to be successful it has too be fun and must be as trouble free as possible.  Here some basic "Ground Rules" that would recommend be followed;
The track work needs to be nearly perfect, derailed cars can spoil the fun real fast.
Car weight standards need to be carefully followed.  An overweight car is hard to pull and reduces train length.  An underweight car tends to derail and will "Daisy Chain" on curves.  I have found that the NMRA standard for HO (1 oz plus 1/2 oz per inch) works very well.
Cars must be free rolling.  "Lead Sleds" reduce the number of cars that an engine(s) can pull.
I use dedicated power sets for each train to assure that there is sufficient power to pull the train up the hill without the use of helpers.  I have had problems with finding helper crews as it is to mundane to be interesting.
At some point in the session each train needs to set to a specific number of cars.  This is to correct for any unforeseen variations of cars during the session.

In general, trains fall into one of the four basic categories;
Through Trains without any switching which simply run from their originating point to the terminating point.  These are easy trains for the newcomer or the guy that has a hard time understanding the operation.  This includes almost all passenger trains.  They can also be a drag as an experienced crew will find them very boring.
Through Trains with switching between their originating point and terminating point.  These trains are great for most crew members that have a basic understanding of the operation.
Local Trains which switch the industries.  These trains require the crew to think about how they can get their cars into position to switch each industry in a timely manner without delaying Through Trains.  These trains are great for the crew who wants a challenge.
Yard Jobs work in the two yards to assemble and block the cars for pick-up by Through Trains and make-up cars to be switched by the Local Train crews.  Yard Jobs may also service some industries and are quite complex and challenging.

Visiting Power, is permitted under the following conditions;
Yard Crews and Local Crews may substitute their personal power (engines) as long as it runs smoothly and has sufficient pulling power to perform the task.
Visiting power may be substituted in consists if they have sufficient pulling power, operate smoothly with the remaining CSWRR power in the consist and will remain on the CSWRR for several Operating Sessions.  The visiting power replaces a CSWRR engine which is placed in ready storage to be placed back in the consist at any time.

Managing your Operating Sessions where you may have more people for one session than you can keep busy and then the next Session you may be way short.  I find that identifying trains ahead of time that may be easily dropped or may be held and run at a later date is extremely helpful.  These trains may also be super simple trains that the "new bee", inexperienced operator can run and get the feeling that they are in the middle of the operation.  I identify these trains in the Crew column on the Train Sheet with an "A" for annulled and "H" for hold to run at a later time.

If you have any questions I would also be most happy to answer them or provide any additional information.

Marty Quaas, CEO
The Consolidated South Western Railroad

A CSWRR Operating Session Part 1

A CSWRR Operating Session Part 2

A CSWRR Operating Session Part 3

A CSWRR Operating Session, Extras

The Consolidated South Western RR

Return to Model Railroading in Alaska
This page was updated on: December 27, 2016