In the previous article I wrote about human factors in freight yards. Before I get into the topic for this article on yards, I want to direct your attention to the January 1996 issue of the Bulletin, pages 29 and 30. Pat Harriman has two one-night projects which are exactly the kind of structure I was referring to. If you are looking for a simple project to add life to your yard you can’t go wrong with either of these structures.
As my personal struggle with layout design continues there is another aspect of freight yards that every modeler needs to consider. What are all those tracks for? A large yard is a maze of track and switches and the plan and purpose is hard to see. I remember my first couple of weeks as a fireman in Armourdale as a time of total confusion. I was never sure where we were, where we were going, or what we were going to do once we got to some section of the yard. This made it really interesting for the switch crew the first time an engineer allowed me at the throttle for some switching, but that’s another story. The point of all this is very simple. A major yard facility looks very confusing but there is a purpose behind each and every track within the yard limits and that purpose helps to determine location, access and size for each track.
The first set of tracks to consider in designing a yard are the receiving tracks. These tracks do exactly what the name implies, they receive inbound freight trains. There should be at least two receiving tracks, one for eastbound trains and another for westbound. There may need to be more tracks if the number of trains arriving each day is large enough that switching operations will be unable to clear these tracks before the next trains arrive.
Receiving tracks are located immediately adjacent to the main line with easy access from the main into the yard. If the main line is double track, there have to be crossovers to allow trains into the yard. Also, the receiving tracks must be located so that access from the main does not block yard leads. In real life, railroads want to get trains into the yard as quickly as possible so that needed servicing and switching can be done and the next train sent on its way. If movement into the yard requires using a yard lead, the inbound freight might be held up by switching operations, thus blocking the mainline. Also, the time it takes for a long train to move into the yard will tie up the lead and hamper switching operations. Neither of these situations is one that leads to efficient operation and on the prototype would make the yardmaster and trainmaster very unhappy.
Receiving tracks should be long enough to hold the longest train you intend to operate plus enough additional length to allow for engine movement. Inbound freights should be able to pull into the yard without having to make a cut to double part of the train over into a second track. Typically, any moves made within the yard limits is done by a switch crew. Breaking an inbound freight would take extra time and tie up the yard. The additional room allows engines to cut off for movement to the service facility. This means that there also will have to be switches allowing access to a runaround track for road power to escape from the receiving tracks. Also, for those of us still operating in the days when a caboose was always present, the runaround track allows a switch crew to remove the caboose from the train and set it out on a caboose track. Once the road engines and caboose have been cut off and are out of the way, the inbound train is ready for switching. The road crew have done their job and now the yard crews take over.
The departure yard in Armourdale was called the train yard. It is really a yard within the yard and it is the heart and soul of railroad operations. Classification or sorting is done in the train yard, taking through loads from the receiving tracks and new loads received through interchange and assembling them into outbound trains. Within the train yard some tracks may be designated east and westbound to help clarify the direction the trains will travel on departure. But the train yard has many more tracks than just those designated for outbound freight. Additional classification tracks are needed to set out loads and empties for transfer to other roads, for repair, or for delivery to local industrial sidings or team track unloading.
The train yard lead needs to be as long as possible to allow the switch crew to pull the maximum number of cars out onto the lead for switching operations. The fewer cuts that have to be switched the more rapidly the switching operation can be accomplished. In the train yard the tracks nearest the main line are usually designated for outbound trains. Like the receiving tracks, these tracks need easy access to the east and west bound main line and in a way that does not tie up the yard lead as an outbound train pulls out onto the main. Ideally, departure tracks will be long enough to contain the longest freight — but they don’t have to be. They should be as long as layout space will allow to limit the number of tracks that have to be coupled to make up that train. In railroading, time is money and each time you couple on to another block of cars it is necessary to pump up the air on the new cut. Also, while doubling is going on, the train yard lead will be in use which prevents switching operations. Yet another complication to consider while coupling adjacent tracks to make a train is this: the train yard lead and/or track extending from the lead must hold the entire train within the yard limits. An air test has to be completed before you are allowed out of the yard, blocking the main just isn’t done.
The number of tracks contained in the train yard is dependent on a number of factors. The first factor is the space available on the layout. If you have lots of space for a yard, then long tracks capable of holding entire trains is not a problem and you will need fewer tracks. If space is at a premium, as it is for most of us, then a larger number of shorter tracks becomes necessary. The second factor to consider is the number of departing trains. If you only plan to operate one or two trains in a session, then two outbound tracks will serve and it might be possible to get by with only one designated departure track. If you plan to send three or four trains out during an operating session then more tracks are needed. A final factor that has to be considered in yard design is where to place exchange loads, local deliveries, etc. In a large yard, some of the tracks in the train yard serve as temporary storage for these cars but there would be a separate set of yard tracks, known as the transfer yard, with its own lead to complete the classification process before these cars are delivered. The transfer yard is another complex operation in its own right and so will have to wait for another article. Until that time, keep the switch crews busy and the trains running on time.