In my first column, I wrote that railroads are in the business of making money by moving freight and passengers (which can be thought of as a type of freight with certain requirements concerning movement). The manner in which the freight is originated and terminated uses a train known variously as the way freight, drill, turn, and many other appealing (for modelers) names.
This train usually originates in a yard and will work to a certain point on the line and then return to the yard. It may also go from one yard to another yard, or meet another local from another yard and the crews then switch trains and return to their home yard.
There are other types of locals such as transfer trains, but those will be discussed if future columns. For the purposes of this article, I will only discuss trains which work “industries” and take cars back to yards.
The blocking of the train by yard crews is determined by whether the local will return to the yard from which it left or if it will go to another yard to finish its day, as well as the proximity of industries to the two yards. All trains, even locals, are blocked by yard crews to ease switching either at industries and sidings or at the next yard.
Please remember that when I use the word “industry,” this could refer to an industry, interchange or other type of duty in which cars are exchanged. Do not only think of businesses when I use the word “industry.”
Blocks are arranged so that the crew will have an easy time switching the industries. Therefore, if the train is leaving yard A and then will do its work and return to yard A, the train will be blocked so that the cars which must be set out first are behind the engine. And because the train is returning the same way as it left, those industries which are facing point switches on the outbound will not usually be switched until the train returns. On the return trip those same industries now become trailing point switches. This is done because the crews do not have to worry about running around their train or having to run the train in reverse.
When the train reaches the extent of its outbound trip, it will then go to a siding and the engine can then run around the train so that it is on the head end for the return trip. If you have a steam engine, you may have to run the engine light to a wye or turntable before taking up the head of your train.
If the train runs from yard A to yard B, it will be blocked to pick up and drop off cars from industries that are trailing point and some facing point. The decision about whether to work businesses which have facing point switches is dependent upon (a) where the cars need to go (does the car need to head east toward yard B or west toward yard A?), and (b) is the cargo time sensitive (a local coming west toward yard A might be able to pick up the boxcar, forward it to yard A to place in a hotshot for yard B so that the car arrives at yard B before the local which left A to go to B would have delivered the car to yard B). There may also be other special factors. All of these factors must be considered.
If the train goes from one yard to the next but stops somewhere about the middle of its route to switch crews, it is no different that the train which goes from yard A to yard B, other than the crew gets to go to its home base each day instead of having to spend a night in another town before working another local back. (For an interesting discussion of how crews are assigned, see the Trains article on crew assign-ments which appeared this past year.)
Once the train is blocked, the crew will take the train to its first switching chore. This process is set out in a train procedures book which will instruct the crews how to handle their train. Another book, known as a “click” book, contains diagrams showing the switching areas and name of each siding and sometimes parts of sidings. In addition, special instructions are usually included either in the click book or train procedures book which will inform the crew of whether to use a specific dock door when dropping off a box car.
Now you may want to consider drafting a train procedures book and click book for your layout. These need to be done with an eye towards trying to keep a schedule. Also, remember what kind of product your industry is shipping, if it time sensitive, and will this play a roll in whether it gets picked up by this local or a different one. Sometimes, if the business is large enough, a freight train will stop and put the cars in its own consist. This is rare.
When you make out your schedule, try to plan for a reasonable amount of time for the local to do the switching. In addition, if you have an industrial park, you might want to consider having a switcher stationed there to block cars for a train to pick up. Think of the possibilities for working the local around your scheduled freight trains and completing the job. What is the most cost efficient? Will this route keep a crew working over the 12 hour limit on a regular basis so that the train goes “dead” and a new crew sent out to bring the train into the yard? Would this cargo be best handled by the local going east or would the westbound local better serve the needs of the customer? These are just some of the factors the real railroads must think of when sending out a local.
I hope that this has whetted your appetite for trying some of this on your layout. I find simulating railroad operations immensely pleasurable. Running a local can be the best job on the entire layout. Until the next issue, I hope that all of the signals that you see are green over red!