As I was driving down the road the other day, I was thinking about what I would write in this space. I was having a hard time thinking of a topic that I could write about. At that moment I realized this was a “problem,” and my mind wandered to the thought of some of the operational problems real railroads have and how we can simulate them on our own pike.
Railroads have numerous problems they must contend with in order to move the customer’s product and try to make a profit. The first is related to the maintenance of the track. When a track gang is working on the track the dispatcher will designate the block of track with either a slow order or a time limit. A slow order is a temporary order to all trains passing through a certain section of track which requires the trains to operate below the allowed speed limit. The speed at which the trains travel is designated in the order. This is for the safety of the train crews and the track crews. This also ensures that the product carried in the train is delivered to the receiver in one piece. A time limit is a period of time with a specific beginning and ending time when a block or section of track is out of service and cannot be used by any train (other than the work train).
In order to model these, have your dispatcher send a work train to the area that will be under a slow order or time limit. The movement of this train will itself interfere with the movement of trains. Then when this train gets to the area, have the dispatcher issue the slow order. The train crew might know about a time limit prior to the time it is issued because they are usually planned by the railroads. This should not be done at each operating session but used on a random basis. While a section of track may be out of service for a few days or under a slow order for a long period of time, it will not usually pop up in the same place or even on the same division with any regularity or pattern. In fact, if it did, the track crews in the division might be in trouble for inadequate maintenance of their division.
What about a special train? Some of you know that I would like to model the POTUS (President of the United States) train. This is a four section train run whenever the President takes to the rails. In addition, railroads now weld all switches shut so the train will not derail or be derailed by individuals who wish to harm the President. Imagine the operational nightmare you could cause for your train crews by scheduling a few of these during an election year. Other special trains we see in the St. Louis area are the circus trains and steam excursions. These are seen on a frequent basis in this area. During World War II there were numerous trains then known as mains which moved on the rails. These trains were full of soldiers and their equipment. In addition to moving these special trains the railroads had to move their regular passenger trains and freight trains, which themselves were full of raw materials needed to make the arms to prosecute the war. Think of what would be required to try to work these trains into your regular schedule on a consistent basis. Another train which causes problems is a special company train for shippers or the board of directors. As the dispatcher you must move these trains smoothly and timely so that no one gets angry with you.
Overall, we modelers are usually concerned with making our railroads run without any electrical or track problems. Our mind does not always look to modeling the problems of the prototype. From an operational stand-point, these “problems” can be fun.
Until next issue, I hope all the signals that you see are green over red.