In the last article I wrote about the three different types of freight hauls that are sent out from a yard, through freight, way freight, and local. This seems like a good time to discuss prototype and model operation and to focus on the task of the yard crews in getting each type of freight train ready to depart.
This is the easiest of the three trains to get ready. Through freights are trains which travel nonstop (barring meets with passenger trains or engine servicing) from one yard to another. Westbound service on the CRI&P from Armourdale to Herrington, Kansas is the example I knew well since I worked this job several times each of my two summers on the fireman’s extra board in Armourdale. The train left Armourdale, traveled the UP mainline to Topeka, Kansas, where it switched over to Rock Island trackage and completed the run in Herrington. My main task as fireman was to check fuel and water gauges on the motive power just before Topeka since that was the only place we could take on water or diesel fuel on this particular run. The only time we ever made a stop on that trip was on the night the load of reinforcing bars shifted while we were crossing the bridge into Topeka (but that’s another story). The cars on this freight were all bound for Herrington or points beyond. There were no stops to set out or pick up cars at any city or industry along the way. Through freight is the “express” service. The crew boards the motive power in one yard and passes the train on to another crew several hours later in another yard 200 miles or so down the line.
Building the Through Freight
For the train yard crew, building a through freight is a pretty simple task. The yardmaster provides a switch list which tells what cars to pull from arrivals, interchange and local service. These cars are already waiting in the designated train yard tracks or will be delivered there by other yard crews. The cars going into the westbound for Herrington will be blocked according to destination or interchange road. All cars to be delivered to industries in and around Herrington will be in one block within the through freight. Similar blocks will be set up for cars destined for further travel on the Rock Island. Additional blocks will be set up for cars bound for other roads but not every city with a yard had interchange. In some cases a block of cars for local delivery was set out, motive power was serviced, and a new crew took over the train for the next leg. In any case the train yard crew’s job is clean and simple. Take blocks of cars and assemble them into the departure track in the order set up by the yardmaster. The only factor this crew has to consider beyond getting the right cars in the right blocks is the safety issue. Cars carrying combustible materials, explosives, or other hazardous materials had to be placed a set number of cars away from the engine and the caboose for crew safety.
Making up the east or westbound through freight is probably a good job for a new operator on an unfamiliar layout as long as the demands aren’t for too many through freights in very limited time. Given a good switch list, a clear yard lead, the safety regulations for car placement within the train, and enough time, this is a pretty simple switching job. If the yard tracks are clearly identified by name or number and there is an empty departure track, then the crew just has to make sure that all the cars in a block are in the correct block within the train. There is nothing that will make the crew in the next yard meaner than having to re-switch blocks to correct another crew’s sloppy work.
Way freight service provides for some really interesting operations potential. These trains serve wayside industries and smaller towns and cities which don’t generate enough traffic to have a yard and local service. A typical way freight on the CRI&P might run westbound from the Carrie Avenue Yard in St. Louis to Eldon, Missouri. This train would not serve industries within 40 or 50 miles of St. Louis. These would be served by a local freight operation. In addition, way freights do not necessarily run every day. The train might go out to Eldon on Monday and make an eastbound return trip on Tuesday, skip Wednesday, and make another out and back on Thursday and Friday. The frequency of east and westbound way freights depends on the amount of traffic being generated by the industries served. If there is a lot of traffic, you might have a train every day out of Carrie Ave. Going west, the way freight would set out loads and empties that were needed by the industries served and pick up only those cars which had delivery destinations further west. Any eastbound traffic (i.e., to St. Louis or beyond) would be collected on the return run. If the traffic on a segment served by this way freight was really large on a daily basis with a considerable number of cars with both east and westbound destinations, it is entirely logical for there to be both a westbound way freight departing Carrie Ave. and an eastbound departing Eldon on the same day, and if traffic is “really heavy” there would be daily trains on a Monday through Friday schedule. Weekend traffic would only occur if the industries served were running more than one shift and/or working weekend shifts which generates a need for rail servicing.
Building the Way Freight
This can be a much more complex switching operation depending on the number of stops and the number of industries served at each location. Train #73 departs Carrie Ave. with 33 cars, 22 of which will be set out at industries between there and Eldon. The remaining 11 cars are for industries and the CRI&P team track in Eldon. At each location along the main line there is only one industry to serve. Two of the industries are reached via facing point switches while the others are all trailing point. There are six industrial locations for these 22 cars. At each location there is at least one car to pick up and three or more cars to drop off. The 22 cars for delivery must be blocked within the way freight in a manner that makes it possible for the train crew to do its job quickly and efficiently. This means the yard crew needs a very detailed switch list identifying each specific car to be added to the way freight and specifying its location within the train. Here too the rules for crew safety must be observed which may mean placing a car loaded with hazardous materials within the train in the less than optimum position for on-line servicing. It is not the yard crew’s responsibility to know things like the length of spurs, sidings, run-around capacities or which industries are facing and which trailing point. They are simply going to put the cars together in the order specified by the switch list given to them. Building a way freight takes the yard crew as long or longer than putting together a through freight because the way freight involves many moves of two and three cars at time as opposed to the larger blocks which make up the through freight.
The way freight is obviously a bigger challenge for an operating session. The crew putting together a way freight needs more time to assemble the small blocks of 1, 2, and 3 cars and put them into the best sequence for the road crew to do its job. There will be lots more switches to be thrown, couplings and uncouplings to be made. Each of these moves requires time. How much time depends on how well the crew knows the yard layout and how scattered the cars are to be assembled into this train. (The individual who prepares the switch list also can simplify or complicate things at this point.) While this train is being assembled, the yard lead will be pretty much shut down for any other moves. If there is only a single yard with a single lead track (which is what most of us have to do because of space limitations), then it should be clear that putting together one or, at most, two way freights during an operating session will keep a crew occupied. Somebody, in some article, in some magazine stated that model railroad switching and prototype switching really tend to take about the same amount of time. It is fine to run a fast clock on the trains to produce realism but running a yard on a fast clock is more likely to make yard crews crazy trying to keep up and train crews unhappy because of delays in getting their assigned trains.
Since the layout my wife and I will have is still in planning stages, our operating experience has been limited to other modelers’ layouts where it seems that usually one crew is assigned to operate a yard. This works when the yard crews know the yard, and the overall scheme of the layout, but there are number of different options which can be used depending on the number of crews available and their familiarity with the layout.
Option One: Assign a relatively inexperienced crew the job of putting together the through freight (this would be the train yard crew) and then let them “go to beans” while a crew with at least one member familiar with the yard is given the task of putting together the way freight. After they pass the train along to the road crew, the trainyard crew could come back on to work on assembling the next “express” freight. This would mean that more operators would be needed but no one crew would have to do it all. This style of operating would also be much more typical of the prototype.
Option Two: Stage the yard prior to the actual operating session with both through and way freights sitting on designated tracks ready to go. The yard crew’s job is to get the motive power and the caboose onto the specified train, set up clearance out of the yard and then pass the train on to the road crew. This option also allows a fairly inexperienced crew to keep up with the job pretty readily. In fact, this is exactly what I had the opportunity to do on Pete Sanborn’s Sierra Central on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. There was plenty to do to especially when the foreign road trains arrived from staging with the need to swap the head and rear end foreign equipment for Sierra Central equipment before the train could be passed on to the road crew. And just as things seemed to settle down, trains begin to arrive in the receiving tracks which meant more moves with head and rear end equipment to be pulled for servicing facilities and the rest of the train to be relocated into the yard to clear the receiving tracks for later arrivals. One yard crew was all that was needed to do this but it kept us busy for nearly every minute of the four hour operating session. It was fun but also hectic.
Option Three: Another option which would be very much like the prototype in operation would call for as many as four crews to set up through and way freights. The first crew would be assigned as hostlers. That crew would be responsible for moving motive power. The hostler would take arriving trains power to the servicing facility and bring the assigned power to the outbound trains. The train yard crew would work only on preparing through freights. The third crew would make up way freight trains for operation. A fourth crew could be used to make those odd job moves that always seem to be needed such as bringing in the last car or two from an in town industry that is supposed to go out on the next available train. This crew would also take care of putting the caboose on the outbound and taking the inbound down to be serviced before the next turn.
I started this article with the intention of discussing all three types of freight operations, but I really think this article is long enough and so I am going to save local freights for another time. The local freight is a real operating challenge for yard crews and road crews and it would be a shame not to give a full article to the local. Until the next issue, keep the crews happy and the trains on schedule.