You know, sometimes the hardest thing to do is what is normal, expected, and, routine. However, this is what we should strive for when we operate our railroads. The prototype railroads do the same thing day after day and for most of the railroaders the job can seem the same. Occasionally something will be amiss or an extra train will arrive which will throw the yard and mainline crews into a fit.
The same applies to model railroad operations. What we should strive to model in our operations is the normal, the predictable. It is hard enough for us to get this correct. No matter what it is that you are modeling, whether it is the mainline or the shortline, this is what we should see when we operate.
First, you should research the railroad that you are modeling. If you are freelancing, look to the prototype that is similar to your model empire. That railroad will serve as a good indication of what should be happening on your layout. For instance, I know that the Missouri Pacific’s oil and chemical traffic expanded exponentially during World War II, the period that I model. Due to fear of German submarines sinking the merchant marine off the American coasts, more and more of the oil and chemical traffic was moved by rail from the Texas area north to St. Louis. The Missouri Pacific ran a number of these trains to the refineries and manufacturing plants around St. Louis and other points north and east. Trains also moved toward Texas and other southern states filled with young recruits for basic training. Trains full of war equipment moved across the rails headed for ports and destinations across the ocean to be used to win the war against the Axis. This may seem like an enormous amount of traffic to move along the mains from Texas to St. Louis, but this is not all that moved on these rails. Even with the increased war traffic, the MoPac still moved its normal traffic and passenger trains. Food and clothing still had to be moved to feed the people on the homefront as well as the soldiers. It was a real challenge for the MoPac and other railroads to handle this large volume, yet this was done every day.
Modeling this will be quite a challenge. I hope to have a helper district controlled by a tower to get trains over a steep grade on my layout. Getting all of this traffic over the grade will be quite difficult for the tower operator and helper crews, not to mention the other train crews.
A timetable will govern train schedules. However, extras should be expected. It is normal for a general freight train to travel between St. Louis and Kansas City every day. This train would not normally be scheduled but run as an extra. All of these trains will provide enough entertainment to keep my train crews busy when they operate on my layout.
During some of these operating sessions with my friends I will have an occasional special train or problem which will make the session even more interesting. But these things did not happen that often on the prototype. They happened just enough to keep life on the railroad memorable. It should be that way on our layouts too. It is hard enough to follow an operating schedule perfectly without adding a special train or operating problem each session.
On the prototype, a train may be delayed when an engine fails and the other diesels in the lashup are left to get the train to the yard. They may be able to do it but it will take some extra time. Likewise, when the fast clock is marking the time, problems can happen when there is a short circuit or that grain hopper hits the ground. This kind of problem can last long enough to block up the main line for the trains which are behind or opposing the troublemaker.
When forming an operating schedule, research what the prototype did and try to emulate it on your layout. This can be enough fun. Occasionally throw in the special train or operating problem to keep your crew on their toes. It is fun to watch others try to cope with the unexpected. But remember, the unexpected does not happen everyday–just once in a while.
Until next time, I hope all the signals you see are red over green.