One of the most important aspects of operation is that it requires research in order to operate in a prototypical manner. This theme will be repeated, often! In order to operate well, the prototype must be studied.
Once the era is determined, look at the railroad that you are either modeling or using as a guide to determine what the operating rules are that you will use on your pike. The era will influence what the operating rules where at the time your railroad existed. For instance, during the steam era orders were hooped up to both the engine and the caboose by an agent at a station when told to do so by the dispatcher. Today track warrents are common to control the movements of trains on light to medium density lines. These warrants are issued by the dispatcher by radio to the engineer and conductor and, possibly, the fireman, if there is one in the wide comfort cab of the SD70MAC. To use track warrants in the manner they are used today on a pike modeled in the 1930s or 1940s would be both unprototypical and an anachranism.
In addition, research of the prototype will reveal traffic patterns and the types of cars used by the prototype. For instance, it would be very hard to model the Pennsylvania and not have a few coal cars on the layout. The Pennsylvania had the most number of coal cars on a roster with one class so numerous that it numbered more than any other railroad’s roster of coal cars. Therefore, the railroader modeling the Pennsylvania should have a few coal cars on the layout and may even want to try to model a mine or user of coal.
Modeling a traffic pattern will need research in the timetable to determine what trains ran where and when. For instance, modern railroads try to run TOFC or container traffic in the early evening from the shipper and have it at the receiver by the next morning. Thus the Chicago and North Western may run a train from Chicago at about seven in the evening and have the trailors or containers ready in Kansas City by three in the morning and other points west by the time of business the next day. By reviewing timetables and freight schedules which were published in books available to shippers and railroad personnel, the modeler can see what the railroads were doing during the time he or she models.