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Operations Journal

Volume One - January 2007 through the present

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January 1, 2010

A while ago, we made some changes to the staging scheme for several reasons.  First, I wanted to make better use of the car cards already in use on the railroad. Second, I wanted to make the Active Staging Agent (ASA, or Mole) job more interesting and interactive - Folks liked the job but it could be a yawner most of the time without much to do.  I think the changes outlined below are going to make the job a lot more interesting, fun and important without making it onerous and difficult.  What you are reading below is the instruction sheet that will be handed out to ASA operators before each session.  I hope it makes sense - if it does not please let me know what you don't get and I'll try to spell it out more clearly.

Active Staging Agent instructions

The Job:

You represent the rest of the world beyond the confines of the railroad. Your job is to break down arriving trains into their component parts and rebuild new trains to keep the session going.

Trains into staging:

Pull all waybills from the car cards. Place the used waybill cards in the Discard basket.

Place cars in the drawers below the fiddle yard WITH THEIR CAR CARDS. The drawers are labeled with the types of cars to be filed there, please try to keep to the scheme. It will make it easier to build new trains later.

You may also place cars on the shelves above the fiddle yard WITH THEIR CAR CARDS if there is no room in the drawers.

Some cars, like passenger coaches and head-end cars (milk, baggage) are re-used frequently and should probably be placed on a shelf where they can be found and accessed quickly.

Building new trains:

When the time arrives to build a new train, collect the train build card and any pre-selected waybills for that train. Select an appropriate locomotive and caboose (if necessary) for the train, place them on a fiddle yard track.

Repeat as necessary for pre-selected waybills:

bulletExamine waybill, determine car type and likely originating RR from shipper address.
bulletSearch drawers below yard (or shelf) for a car that matches the type and origin point. Pull the car and car card with it.
bulletPlace the waybill in the car card, and place the car on the shelf or on a track, wherever you are marshalling the cars for the train. Keep the waybill with the car or train build card.

When the pre-selected waybill cards are all matched with cars, check the train build card. If the train is permitted to take more cars (example: “Fill out with Southbound cars”) you MAY elect to add more cars to the train up to the limit printed on the train build card. There are four ways to find waybills and cars to add to a train:

bulletThe Waybill Rack in staging has boxes for each location on the railroad and all the offline destinations. Within each box will be waybills that could be either bound to or coming from that location. You may select waybills from the boxes and match them up with appropriate cars to augment the train being built.
bulletFor instance, when working on a southbound freight train out of Pittsfield (Staging North) that stops at Danbury, you could look through the Staging North waybill box for cars that route to or through Danbury. Loads bound for the New Haven or Bridgeport divisions, the New York & New England or local towns online served from the Danbury yard would be appropriate. Select these cards from the box, match them up with appropriate railcars as above and add them to the train.
bulletYou can look through the waybill boxes associated with the destinations you need cars to go to. You may find additional waybill cards there looking for a ride to that place. Be careful to check that the origin makes sense – if the waybill lists the Long Island carfloat as its origin it doesn’t belong on a southbound train coming out of North staging!
bulletYou can also look through the car cards to find empty, or MTY cars to place into a train. Most car cards have a “Return To” destination printed on them. You can place a car in a train with no waybill as an MTY return home move if the direction / routing make sense. The road crew will handle the car the ‘best way home’ based on the final destination.
bulletFinally make use of the MTY – Route to Shipper slips available to you on the Waybill Rack. You can use these slips with a waybill to grab a car to send to an industry (on or off-line) as a MTY for loading. Simply insert the waybill into the car card and place a Route to Shipper slip in the pocket with it. The train crew will deliver the car to the shipper and not the destination. Next session the Route to Shipper card will be pulled and the car will be forwarded normally.

You are NOT required to fill out every train to its limit. It’s OK to do a few like this but it’s also good to let a few trains be shorter here and there.

When all the cars are selected, build the train on the staging track behind the selected locomotive. Please try to pre-block the cars in the train together as much as possible to save the road crews time and trouble. Collect all the car cards and place them in order behind the train card and bind them with a clip. Hang the clip on the track rack next to the waybill rack so the packet can be found quickly when the crew is called.

Refilling the Waybill Rack

During quiet periods, take waybill cards from the discard basket and sort them back into the waybill boxes. Feel free to jumble the cards up before filing so the destinations may or may not be the same the next time the card is pulled. You can file a card either by its Origin or its Destination into the appropriate box. Again, alternate how you do this so the cards get sorted randomly. BE SURE TO ADD THE CARDS TO THE BACK OF THE STACK AND NOT THE FRONT so they won’t necessarily come up again right away.

July 2009

OpSig Operating Session in conjunction with the NMRA Hartford National Convention

June 7, 2009

On June 7, 2009 we had a "Shakedown" session on the Housatonic Railroad.  A shakedown is when you run a new part of the railroad for the first time under stress conditions to see what works, and more importantly what does not.  While the primary reason for this session was to test out the new trackage on the upper level (Branchville to Staging) we also wanted to review the status of the lower level too in case there were problems that cropped up since the last session almost two years ago.

This session was called with relatively short notice, just about 10 days, and as it turned out most of my regular operating crew could not attend for various reasons.  I was really concerned I would have to cancel the session but in the end we got just enough people to run the layout - Myself, Dave Ramos, Neil Henning, Tom Callan, Ted Pamperin, Jay Held, and a newcomer, John McCluskey.  Between us we managed to get through the session, though we had to abandon running the session by Timetable and Train Order as I had hoped.  As it turned out, this was probably a good thing though.  Since the primary goal was testing the layout and equipment, we were better off not having to stress about the clock.  When issues came up we stopped to fix them, and then went on with things.

We started out with Neil at Dock Yard, Tom at Wilson Point, and Jay as the Active Staging Agent (ASA).  The rest of us were road crews.  We got the early passenger trains out first (including the first ever run of the Long Island & Eastern States Express) and the milk train, while I grabbed a freight extra out of staging and started running it down to Dock Yard.  We had a few trackwork issues in the first hour, so the runs took a bit longer than planned while we stopped and fixed them, but it ran smoothly. 

Tom collects his thoughts while working Wilson Point, with John McCluskey in the background  Dave switches cars at Winnipauk

I was really pleased with the length of the run we now have from Staging down the two levels to Dock Yard and Wilson Point.  It was easily a 20 minute run from one end to the other at scale speed with only a couple of quick stops.  When we start running with TT&TO that run will get much longer for most trains.

We got through the early passenger runs fairly well and stared working on the through freights and local freights. 

Fairly well, I'd say a 7 out of 10.  We all had a good time, but we found a lot of problems.  Many got fixed on the spot.  The cars are definitely over-weighted, any train of about 8-9 cars struggled to get up the ruling grade.  Even trains of 12 cars were having trouble being pulled downhill!  Plus there were many detailmants because a LOT of the cars have trucks too tightly screwed on and climb off the track in curves.  I fixed about a half-dozen cars during the session (missing coupler springs, high/low couplers, tight trucks) but we need to go through every car now and re-shop them, to check the trucks and remove some weight where possible.  That will be part of Wednesday's session.

Quiet Time in Dock Yard  Spotting a boxcar for loading out on the long pier at Wilson Point  Spotting a boxcar for loading out on the long pier at Wilson Point  Switching a train in Dock Yard

We also found that the foam mounting tape holding on the servo motors is completely inadequate, we lost another 2-3 switches before and during the session.  We need to find a better way of mounting them and fast.  I have an idea I'm going to try out tonight for a quick-attach mounting bracket that should be fast to make too.  Hopefully that will work.  If it does that will also be a big part of Wednesday's session.

We also found some electrical issues that are going to take some time to fix. It seems that some of the isolated sections of track are cross-feeding into other areas, negating the usefulness of the power cutoff switches.  Also, in some places a short seems to overwhelm the breakers and shuts down the entire railroad - so that's got to be fixed.

But all in all, things worked out pretty well.  Since we didn't have enough people to have a DS we ran the schedule with one train in, one train out regularity and it seemed to work all right.  Ted thought it was best that way because we had time to stoop and fix problems without worrying about the clock.  I think he was right about that.  But we never got to troubleshoot the paperwork / timetable which was part of what I wanted to do.

I'm confident now we'll be ready for the convention.  I have some more cleaning to do (and maybe a little scenery work to finish, get some of that plaster around Winnipauk painted, and the fascia painted too) but that's all cosmetic - at least the railroad is running pretty well now.  My most recent communication from the convention organizers is that 11 of the 12 operating slots are filled, so we'll have a decent sized crew that day.  I'm really looking forward to it!

January 28, 2009

OK, not an op session report, but some background on why I'm making another major change to the layout plan when we're nearly finished with it...  read on if you find this sort of thing interesting.

A little while back (late 2008) I was getting unhappy about the way the railroad north of Danbury was laid out. After the last major revision, we had created a new town on the upper level between Georgetown and Branchville (on the lower) which had alternately been called Hawleyville and Brookfield Junction. It was named as such because it represented a spot either to the north or west of Danbury where there would be a siding and station (the timetable definition of a station, not necessarily a place passengers get on or off).

Creating that area gave me other ideas at the time, including adding a removable bridge across the aisle from Danbury to the new town that would represent the New Yory & New England RR to the west out of Danbury. I thought it would be a great opportunity to be able to run NY&NE trains out of staging around to Danbury, where they would exchange cars with the Housatonic and then continue across that bridge and back into staging. I wasn't crazy about a long removable bridge, but I loved the operational possibilities it opened up.

Because that 'bridge' route would meet the Housatonic's line just before going into staging, I named this siding Brookfield Jct., because that was where the lines from Hawleyville and from Danbury met in real life. Unfortunately, the line didn't actually come from Hawleyville, it wasn't even the same railroad. But it fit scenically, more or less, so I let that go.

Flash forward a year or so, we're working on building the upper level and I have to start thinking about how we will operate the upper level. I start to see there's a problem with the design as I try to figure out where train registers will have to be placed. (A train register is a form that conductors have to sign naming their train and the time it passed the location. It is usually placed at division points or junctions where a train crew would not have the opportunity to visually confirm a train might have passed.) Registers are an important part of timetable and train order operation, they help the crews decide if it is safe to use tracks ahead.

The plan indicated there would be junctions at The following towns: Bethel, Danbury (twice), Brookfield Jct and the entrance to staging. Each would need a register. That's five separate registers in only about 100 feet of track. They may be necessary but they are also somewhat distracting and a nuisance, and I knew my crews would not want to be bothered with so many in a short distance. I had to find a way to simplify the track plan - without major surgery to the layout - to reduce the operating overhead.

At some point in the process, another siding was added to the plan, complicating things further. An area north of Danbury but south of Brookfield Jct. was created as a place to hold trains out of Danbury and not create a bottleneck. When we added it I started calling it Hawleyville because that was the nearest town, map-wise - but it made the situation even more confusing. Hawleyville certainly doesn't appear on the line modeled, it's offline (and would have required it's own register (and made even less sense to passing crews)). By early 2009 it was obvious I needed to change something drastically.

So first up, Hawleyville was out. I gave the cutoff at the base of the Danbury peninsula a proper name, the LY (Hawleyville) Cutoff. This now placed LY off the railroad, and set the cutoff as the hidden route to LY out of Bethel as it already had been. I decided the section of track was long enough that trains en route between Bethel and Brookfield Jct via Hawleyville could hide back there and wait 15 minutes to represent traveling the distance between the towns. That would work.

Now I had to do something with the siding between Danbury and Brookfield Jct. To my knowledge there was no siding in real life between these locations, but there was a mile or so where the HRR and NY&NE ran parallel to each other heading east out of Danbury. I used a little modelers license and decided I could represent the NY&NE track as a siding track along this stretch. Looking on a map I decided the most likely spot for this would have been where the track paralleled a street called Federal Road, so that became the name of the siding. Because there was no way to place a train order station here (no room on the control panel, which I do NOT want to rebuild a second time) this would be a named siding in the timetable but with no train order office.

That put the route back into place, now it made sense again, except for one place. I still had a paperwork problem with too many registers because of where I'd placed Brookfield Jct. and my NY&NE 'bridge' across the aisle. I had narrowed things down trying to save it for the operational value, but it was turning out to be more trouble than it was worth. That idea ended up tying the route up in knots, and it was why I was having so much trouble. Reluctantly I started to think about removing that bridge and how it would affect things.

Pretty well, it seemed. I already had a natural location for Brookfield Jct. to be placed, just past where the lines out of Danbury and the LY Cutoff actually do come together. So I moved Brookfield Jct. to the siding that had been Federal Road. Now we're down to three registers - one at Bethel, one at Brookfield Jct., and one at Danbury which is a division point. In theory there would be one at Hawleyville as well but since it isn't modeled we don't need it. That left the former location of Brookfield Jct. open to become something else.

In late January 2009, a few days after I started to think about this, I met up with Jim Schweitzer, a good friend and the chief dispatcher on my railroad. I started to tell Jim about my ideas, and he had a lot of great feedback. Jim also thought the new alignment made much more sense, and was worth losing the NY&NE bridge track for. He also suggested assigning the now vacant siding to New Milford, CT. New Milford had a really nice station that still exists today, and also a big paper mill that could become another large industry for the layout.

As far as trying to continue the NY&NE live interchange, we reasoned that we were already using the track between staging and Danbury for double-duty (HRR/NY&NE), it was not much different to just have the NY&NE trains return along the same route they came in on. A crossover track in Danbury that would create a turnback loop facing north was already a possibility before this, now it would become a reality. The electrically isolated reversing section could be handled by the same auto-reverser already in use for turntables at Wilson Point and Dock Yard. The reverse loop track would be disguised as an industry track that extends behind a structure on either side, masking its true purpose. In some ways it actually makes it simpler for the dispatcher to handle the foreign road movements. It's not perfect, but it wasn't perfect before either.

But Jim had some other ideas too. He really liked the idea of extending the main line north because it provides an opportunity to model some of the Housatonic traffic that didn't run on the Danbury & Norwalk division.

February 24, 2008

Op Session Number Four! This session was an exercise in minimalism – we ran the layout with only 8 people where normally I employ a full crew of 12.  And it worked out all right, but I think we were really one crew member short of what we really needed in the end.

Originally scheduled for Friday evening on Feb. 22nd, but postponed due to a snowstorm that day, we had the session on Sunday the 24th at 11 am.  We lost about half the scheduled crew members because of the date change, but picked up a few who couldn’t make it Friday.  The final roster of crews for the session turned out to be:

Jim Schweitzer – Dispatcher
Neil Henning – Dock Yard YM
Henry Freeman – Wilson Point YM
Tom Callan – Mole Operator / Helper
Tom Bacigalupo – Road Crew
Craig Bisgeier – Road Crew
Ted Pamperin – Road Crew
David Ramos – Road Crew

We had no operator (person who copies orders from the dispatcher), no Wilson Point hostler (who usually works with the passenger crews to get the trains turned and ready, and handles moving power in and out of the roundhouse), a South Norwalk Shifter who assists the Dock Yard YM, and 1-2 more road crews.  We got by all right, but we really could have used one more road crew or someone to man the South Norwalk Shifter to make things go more smoothly.

We got started a bit late as I was not quite done cleaning up (as usual) but several of the guys pitched in vacuuming and putting things away and we were ready to begin by 11:30.  The clock went on at 5 am scale time, and within a few minutes Ted Pamperin was out on the road southbound with #10, the milk train. 

Because we were short of road crews (normally we have six, not four) I had to step in and help get the other trains over the road.  I took #4, out shortly after #10, and this was the first time I had officially ever operated on my own layout!  I need to do this more often, because I learned in the first hour that the timetable schedules for the passenger trains are too fast to keep up with.  I was supposed to meet #5 at Wilton, but he couldn’t make it in time to get there, and I met him at Winnipauk instead.  Then #5 could not advance against #6 heading down behind me for the same reason, which set him even farther behind. 

Poor Tom Bacigalupo running #5 had to sit there with his schedule ticking off until #6 finally met him in Winnipauk also.  And by the time he made it up to Georgetown, he was on train #8’s time and stuck again.  Which was a real problem because His trainset  was also going to be train #8!  Jim Schweitzer had to write him a train order to get past Branchville so his train could get looped in staging and sent back out as #8.  He finally got there and started heading back but he was quite far behind.

Now again, since we were short of crews, Tom B’s frustrating experience had ripple effects all over the layout.  Tom was only supposed to be handling #5, then he was supposed to go and help out Neil around Dock Yard so Neil could concentrate on getting the local trains built, and switching out the trains to and from Wilson Point from points north.  Tom B. was supposed to be the South Norwalk shifter, responsible for industries around South Norwalk as well as the freight house and team tracks in Dock Yard. 

But with Tom B. being tied up on passenger runs, Neil had no help and was getting into trouble.  Trying to manage everything in the yard was confusing him, and some issues with him trying to understand the To / Via format of the waybills led to some real problems for him.  Adding to that, two dead spots in the track surfaced around Dock (one on the mainline by where I’d installed the new switch, and one on a crossover track off the lead just shy of the ladder) and that slowed him down even more. 

I also did not make clear to him that he needed to watch his lineup and make each of the local turns ready on time, so they all got terribly delayed (making matters worse for him because the cars sat in his yard, plugging it up).  Making matters worse he sent a whole cut of cars to Wilson Point that were not supposed to go there, complicating things terribly.  By the second part of the session I jumped in and started working as the South Norwalk Shifter for him, And Tom B. started trying to help Neil out too, but by then it was really too late.  I felt really bad, it wasn't his fault so much as mine for not making sure he had all the tools and a clear understanding of what needed to be done.

Please don’t get the idea I’m trying to bury Neil here, I’m not.  He got confused and had no help, but still he managed to get cars on and off the trains and kept things going.  I think he did a decent job and next time we’ll talk some about the job beforehand and I know he’ll do much better.  It’s just a matter of building up some experience doing the job.  Dock yard isn’t the easiest yard to run; it’s small for the volume it has to handle and could make life difficult for even an experienced yardmaster unless they can stay on top of it.  Neil will learn to do that and very soon I think. 

Jim Schweitzer did a great job at the Dispatcher position, as he always does.  He was helping out the crews understand and interpret the timetable and train orders as needed.  He is such a valuable asset, I’m always glad when he can make it for a session.  The only problem we had with Jim was my fault, I neglected to give him a copy of the train lineup before we began (I thought it was right there on the desk, it wasn’t) and that affected how he was able to identify and call the many different extra trains.  As a result, it ended up being a fairly light schedule with not more than one or two trains on the road at a time, most of the time.  It may also have been due to the lack of crews available as well.

Henry did fine at Wilson Point, though I believe there were some delays having to do with passenger trains not getting turned quickly enough to make the next schedule early on.  I know he was fighting with a balky locomotive and idler cars that were too light, but eventually he picked a smoother engine, and I saw that he found a heavier flatcar to work with as an idler (he actually replaced the wheelsets and couplers on it during a lull in the action so he could use it).  As he said later, “Better to do something about it than to sit there and complain”. 

Henry had plenty to say after the session about car weight, which I had to agree with a lot of.  There are too many cars on the layout that have not been ‘shopped’ yet, meaning pulled off the layout and checked for weight, coupler height, wheel gauge, free-rolling trucks, and so on.  This is causing problems and needs to be addressed right away.  He offered to take a bunch home and do that for me, and I may yet take him up on that at some point.  I could sure use the help.

Tom Callan did a good job in the Mole Staging area, getting trains built up and turned around for us.  At one point we even got him out of there for a while, when the northbound priority Manifest couldn’t get out of Dock Yard with its train.  Tom came out and manned a helper locomotive, and he and I took the train all the way up the railroad together.  That was really fun, and I think Tom enjoyed it too.  We did miss a few carfloat sailings, though.  I probably didn’t stress that enough with him, in fact I know I didn’t explain it clearly.  Usually I take on the harbormaster job during the session but since I was busy I couldn’t.

David, Ted and Tom B. got to run a lot of trains through the day, so I would imagine they had a really good time.  I think David got to run two of the three local turns, the Standard Oil job and the Georgetown Turn, which ran so late it almost outlawed and got stranded on the layout.  Except for Neil getting a bit flustered, everyone seemed to have a really good time and we ran a full 12 hours on the clock.  I have another list of problems to fix as long as my arm, but with every session that list gets a little shorter.  Hopefully sometime soon we’ll get most of the issues squared away, and we can concentrate more on the finer aspects of the operations!

August 17, 2007

Op Session Number Three!  After seven months of renovations to the layout, we had another operating session tonight.  Where nearly everyone had a good time, there were a couple of problems that still need to be ironed out.  But for the most part the session was a big success and I was very glad for it.  Pictures from the session are at the end of this blog entry.

The attendees were:

Craig Bisgeier - Trainmaster
Jim Schweitzer - Dispatcher
Jonathan Jones - Operator
Dock Yard Yardmaster - Phil Monat
Wilson Point Yardmaster - Ray Louis
Wilson Point Shifter - Mark Guffrie
Gopher - Jay Held
Mole Operator - Tom Schmeider
Scott Dunlap - Road crew
Ted Pamperin - Road Crew
Tom Callan - Road Crew
Mike and Mike Jr. Sicurella - Road Crew

Jeff Ward was supposed to be attending but had a family emergency.  We ended up with only four road crews but we managed to get through things.  A lot of my regular operators were not available for this session but the new guys stepped in and did a great job

We started off a little late because we waited for everyone to arrive, and spent about 20 minutes going through the rulebook very briefly and diagnosing an engine problem, but the clock went on at about 8:15 pm.  Things seemed to go very smoothly for the first 15-20 minutes, until Phil found there were some serious electrical problems in Dock Yard with frogs that were acting dead, even though every one of them was wired up with the new switch machines.  Apparently there needs to be a lot of adjustments here before the next session.

But even worse, there was a critical turnout (north entrance to the Dock Yard siding) that was causing the entire layout to shut down anytime a train ran over it.  This was a very serious problem, one that I probably introduced by doing some last-minute wire hookups in that area right before the session.  Phil and I debated whether or not I should remove the connections but it was decided to let it be, just in case it made the problem worse.  Between that and the other dead frog issues, Phil had a difficult time running the yard all night, which I felt really bad about.  But he took it in stride and did the best he could.

The first bunch of passenger trains seemed to run smoothly, everyone reading their timetables and the meets all came off pretty well.  The first real problem was when the Milk Train showed up in Wilson point without the milk cars it was supposed to pick up in Wilton!  Fortunately another passenger train was just coming south through Georgetown and the Dispatcher managed to stop him at Wilton and give hin instructions to stop at the creamery just ahead and pick up the milk cars.  Minor disaster averted, and the milk cars still got to Wilson Point, just a little delayed.  This was the first time we got to use the Train Order boards on the clock panels in action, and they worked perfectly!

Then it was time to start the freight movements.  Tom Schmeider put a lot of work into the job and did really well, getting as much use out of the cars he had and building.  Of course, almost all the freights are extras, and needed orders and clearances to run.  Some of the operators were a little confused at first on how it all worked, but everyone seemed to be catching on fairly quickly.  Guys were signing the registers at Branchville and Wilson Point, reading their orders, and checking the timetables so as not to get in the way of the first class trains.  I was really pleased about that.

Because several of my regulars who normally bring extra throttles didn't make it, we eventually reached a point where we ran out, and had some issues with the passenger trains starting to fall down on their schedules.  It also had to do with not having enough road crew operators, we could have used one more guy.  I tried to step in at one point and run a train but couldn't because all the cabs were in use.  Oh, well.  (I did run a train later in the session and had a good time with it, though.) 

One of the great parts of the session was getting to watch Mike Sicurella and his son taking a train around the layout.  Neither one had operated before and they had a shaky start, but by the middle of the session they were going gangbusters.  They worked with each other to remember to OS their train, sign the registers and read their orders, and were having a great time doing it.  Mike Jr. was really getting into it, and dad had a huge grin on his face all through the session.  It felt really good to sit back for a few minutes and watch them.  I would love to have had a relationship with my dad like that.  I hope they remember having fun together like that for a long time.

Back to the session.  I had really put a lot of work into the paperwork for the layout over the last couple of months for the session and it really came through.  I got good marks from Jim on the tools he needed to work with as a dispatcher, The road crews used the timetables and had done some homework on the rules, and the yard guys were happy with their custom train lineups at each location.  But it looks like I need to be more clear about how traffic on this part of the layout is supposed to be handled. 

There were a lot of instances where cars that should have stayed at Dock Yard to go on a local train ended up going out to staging, where they would ping-pong right back to the yard on the next train south.  I will have to add a section to the rulebook explaining that cars bound for South Norwalk, Winnipauk, Wilton and Georgetown have to go to Dock Yard to end up on the Georgetown Turn (a local freight train) to get to their destinations.  Cars for Branchville, Ridgefield, Bethel and Danbury go to Danbury to get on the Branchville Turn, which serves those locations (or at least it will when the upper deck gets built). 

There was also some confusion about the difference between Dock Yard and South Norwalk.  Apparently it was not clear that Dock Yard is located in beautiful downtown South Norwalk, and that most industries there are served through the team tracks and freight house located next to, almost within, the yard.  Cars bound for these location are billed as South Norwalk and not Dock Yard, so they were not sure where to send them.  Once this was explained to the yard crews (especially at Wilson Point), everything ran a little more smoothly.

The guys at Wilson Point were both new to the job, and it took them a little while to get the jist of things.  There were a few mistakes made (again because of a lack of good paperwork - sorry guys) that screwed up some movements a bit and put extra pressure on Dock Yard, and things got behind a bit down at the water's edge.  But eventually they caught up and got things under control.  The heavy southward volume of commuter trains in the morning is a problem for Wilson Point, as several sets of passenger cars and baggage cars have to lay over there for 2-3 hours before the evening rush where they all go north again.  It becomes a problem trying to find a place to stash the equipment without fouling the float yard.  This is only going to get worse as we add more baggage and passenger cars to the layout.

Towards the end of the session, Tom Schmeider managed to get some seriously long freight trains together and ran them out on the line.  One with 15 cars, one with 18 cars!  I was shocked he was able to to that, I didn't think there were enough cars on the layout to manage it.  But there they were!  Phil managed to get a few longer trains out of Dock Yard going north as well.  I was wondering if we were going to have our first incident of having to double the hill between Winnipauk and Wilton, but the locomotive handled the task without failing. 

We finally stopped the clock about midnight, just shy of having run a 12 hour session.  We never got around to the sweeper trains, though the last couple of passenger runs before the big northward push in the late afternoon did get run.  There was no time for a bull session afterward because folks wanted to get home, but a couple of the guys stuck around for a while and we talked about some of the good and bad things that happened.  All in all a good time was had by nearly everyone, and except for the yard troubles the layout and my crews surpassed my expectations.  I'm really looking forward to next month when we will try it again.  I have some things to fix before that time but I think I'm starting to get the upper hand on a lot of the issues.  I expect that we'll have the layout running smoothly before Xmas.

Jimmy (Dispatcher) and Jonathan (Operator) getting ready before the clock goes on Scott brings the Milk Train into Wilton. Don't forget those Milk cars at the Creamery, Scott. Ted P has his orders and a clearance, now he just needs his passenger train. Mike & Mike Jr. Getting ready to run Passenger Train #8.

Tom S. has some questions about loading up the NYC Carfloat. I thought YOU were working on the carfloat... An extra freight train enters Wilson Point. Phil does his best to run Dock Yard through a host of electical problems.

Jay brings another cut of cars down to Wilson Point. Milk train - but where are the milk cars from Wilton...? Mike and Mike Jr. pick up the slack and grab the missing milk cars. Jimmy's having fun dispatching the layout.

Tom C. and Scott have a meet at Winnipauk.  Scott is waiting for a passenger train to pass, while Tom has to find another place to hide. Yes, every now and then I do get my hands dirty on my own layout. Tom S. gets another passenger train ready to go in the mole staging yard. Mark and Ray are finally getting the hang of things at Wilson Point later in the session.

Jar runs the Gopher as it switches out the South Norwalk freight fouse.

August 6th, 2007

I wrote this to help explain to a potential operator what the experience of operating under Timetable and train order rules on the Housatonic would be like.  I later thought this would be a good addition to the Ops journal for anyone to read and get a feel for how an engineer works under timetable and train order.  So here it is!

Running On a Timetable & Train Order Layout from the Engineer's Perspective

For purposes of this example, you will be running a second-class southbound mixed train from Danbury to Wilson Point. This will not correspond to any actual train in the current timetable but I think you'll understand how it all works in the end.

Starting off - The crew caller calls for you to start getting ready for your train. Hopefully this will be some time before it is actually due out. Get a throttle and report to the yard or staging yard where you will pick up your train. In this case it is the Staging yard representing Danbury. You'll be given the locomotive number you'll be driving. Plug in your throttle and acquire the locomotive.

From a paperwork perspective, you will need several things before you can leave.

The staging operator or Yardmaster will give you a deck of car cards with a train instruction cover. The cover will explain a bit about your train, listing origin and destination, Name or Number, basic instructions about what your train will do. Behind that will be the car cards representing the cars in your train. Almost every car card will have a waybill in its pocket. You may want to familiarize yourself with the waybills to see if you need to do anything with these cars during your trip. All the cards are kept in a binder clip to keep them together.

Before you can depart you will need a Clearance Form A from the operator, which is your authorization to occupy the main track. The clearance form will list whether you have any orders that apply to you and will be included with the clearance. You must read these orders and understand them before departing, and do what they tel you to do. Train orders supercede the timetable. In this case, you have no orders and now you may depart. Remember trains in the time table do not require train orders to move, the timetable give you the right. But you do need a clearance form to get the authority to occupy the main.

But before you do, check the timetable and make sure you do not have any conflicts. You look across the page at all the rows and do not see any trains that will conflict with your schedule for the first couple of stations. You need to know the current time and also know you have to be in the clear of opposing superior trains by the time they arrive at the next station in front of you, and by five minutes for superior trains coming up behind you.

Since you are a second class timetable train on the southbound (superior) direction, the only trains you have to clear up for are first class trains in either direction. You are superior to Northbound second class trains and all third class and extra trains.  They are responsible for getting out of your way. There are no Southbound first class trains to worry about (last one went by two hours ago), and there is a northbound first class train (15) that you will have to clear up for at some point. In fact, there is a hard (timetable-defined) meet at Winnipauk, so you will be meeting him there later.

But wait - are you certain the earlier southbound actually has passed? If he's running late and still behind you, he could appear out of nowhere while you're taking the main and a collision would ensue. How can you know if it is safe? By checking the train register at Danbury. You look at the register and see that yes, he went by on time, so he is accounted for. If he had not gone by you'd have to wait until he does, as his schedule is still valid for 12 hours and technically the railroad still belongs to him. But it's OK, he's been through, his schedule has been fulfilled and so has every other train you might need to worry about.

Finally, check your departure time in the timetable and make sure you do not leave early. You can always arrive early, but NEVER leave a station before the timetable says you should.

So finally everything is OK and you are ready to go. You sign the register, writing down your train #, locomotive #, direction, signals (none) and the time departed. You give the whistle two long blasts, telling your brakemen to release brakes, and set out from Danbury. It's an uneventful trip, and soon you are pulling into Georgetown, and you see that there is an order board in the red position for you. That means you will be getting orders here. You slow down the train by giving a single short blast of the whistle (brakemen set brakes) and check near the train order board panel. There are orders clipped to the fascia with a binder clip here. You take then and see if they are addressed to your train, they are. The order reads as follows:

Train Order # 7 August 7 1892

To C&E Train 34 Eng 11 at Georgetown  (C&E means Conductor & Engineer, Eng is Engine)
To C&E Train 15 Eng 38 at Winnipauk
To C&E Train Second 15 Eng 56 at Dock Yard

Train 15 display markers and run as First 15 on schedule.
Train Second 15 run 20 minutes behind First 15.
Train First 15 meet train 34 at Wilton instead of Winnipauk.
Train Second 15 meet Train 34 At Winnipauk.

Made complete 10:31 AM CJB (dispatchers initials).

You also get a Clearance Form A with this, indicating you have one train order, # 7.

So what does this mean? The dispatcher has put out an order that amends the timetable. He is running a second train as a section of # 15 on the same schedule, but 20 minutes later. Your hard meet with train 15 (now First 15) in the timetable has been changed to Wilton instead, and you'll be meeting train Second 15 at Winnipauk. Train First 15 got (or will get) an identical copy of this order when it arrives at Winnipauk, Second 15 is likely getting it at Dock Yard as it is leaving. The clearance form again gives you authority to continue to occupy the main, and also serves as backup letting you know you got the right orders. You signal to release brakes again and continue on your way to Wilton. As you pass Georgetown, you switch hats for a moment and call the operator to OS your train by Georgetown.

As you approach Wilton, you signal set brakes to slow the train and prepare to stop on the Siding track across from the station. Your head-end brakeman swings down and runs ahead to unlock and theow the Notrh switch to the siding, allowing you to slowly move into it.  You cruise in and make your stop in front of the station, and wait for First 15 to get here.  You call in to the operator and let him know you are clear in the siding at Wilton, and he notes that in his book.  As you are talking , your brakeman throws the North switch back to the main once you are clear of it. 

If # 15 is on schedule It will probably be about 10-15 minutes until he gets here, plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee.   You buy a newspaper from the local news butcher on the platform and ask him to get you a cop of joe from the kitchen.  As you relax with your coffee, you check the timetable to ensure nothing will be in your way as you head south.  But it looks good, the next scheduled Northbound train doesn't leave Dock Yard for another hour, and you'll be at Wilson Point by then, assuming there aren't any more delays.

As you down your last swallow, First 15 comes round the bend and glides into Wilton for its station stop.  The train is pulled by engine 38 and is displaying green flags on the smokebox.  Your head end brakeman has been waiting by the South switch for this.  Once First 15 is clear of it he throws it to the siding and waves to give you the highball signal.  You toss the news butcher a dime and the coffee cup, and put away the paper.  For a moment you switch hats again and call the operator to OS that you are out of Wilton as the last car clears the platform. Moments later, the crew of First 15 also calls the operator to tell him they are out of Wilton.  The first part of Train order #7 has been fulfilled.

You run downhill to Winnipauk at the fastest speed you dare, trying to make up for lost time on your schedule.  After just a few minutes at 40 mph, you have to call set brakes again as you are about to pull into Winnipauk.  The North switch is set to the siding for you, and second 15 is in the hole on the main.  The train is pulled by locomotive # 56, and is not showing any markers, which means this is the last section of # 15.  You notice that Second 15 is actually a freight train running late on the schedule of # 15, but this isn't unusual. Dispatchers often run sections after scheduled passenger trains to keep the freight moving and avoid having to write lots of extra orders.  You fold up Order # 7 and put it in your pocket because it is now completely fulfilled.  Without coming to a complete stop, your head-end brakie jumps off again and lines the South switch to the siding.  He'll grab onto the caboose as it passes and move back up to the loco the next time the train stops.  As you move out onto the main again you call in to the operator to tell him you are out of Winnipauk.

You blow through the rest of Winnipauk as fast as you can, blowing two longs and two shorts for the street crossing in the middle of town. You are almost back on your schedule.  Your next stop should be Dock Yard, where you will be dropping off a few cars on the tail end and may pick up a few to go to Wilson Point.

But as you round Hard Cider Curve, you can see the ball signal at Catherine Street ahead. It's down, which means you have to stop here. You blow the whistle for set brakes, and come to a stop clear of the street crossing. They must be busy in the yard, the yardmaster sets this signal when he needs headroom on the main to do switching in the yard. Hopefully he's putting a Northbound train together and you'll get down into the yard soon.  You have a carfloat from New York city to meet and the Superintendent won't be happy if you delay it, even if it isn't your fault.

Fortunately the delay is short, soon the crossing guard comes out and pulls the ball signal up. He waves to you with his good hand and goes back to his shanty as you call for release brakes and slowly head into the yard. Things are busy here, a Northbound extra train is waiting on the main as you come into the siding. The white flags on the smokebox that extra trains are required to displayare all you need to know, nothing to worry about here.  He calls the Operator and tells him he is leaving Dock Yard as the yard crew switches the North switch from the siding to the main once you are in. As he's pulling out, you call the operator yourself and tell him you are in Dock Yard and have some work here, and blow for set brakes to your brakies.

Once the extra has left, the yard switcher pulls out of the yard and onto the main track pulling three cars. He will be giving these to you to take to Wilson Point. In the meantime, you have checked your waybills and note you have two cars on the tail end that come off here. You send one of your brakies out to cut the train, and in short order the cars have been switched out. You exchange car cards with him, and double-check that these are indeed the cars you were given and that they are going to Wilson Point.

You are back together again, and only a couple of minutes behind on your schedule. There are no orders to be picked up here, and no timetable conflicts. You call for release brakes and set off down the line for Wilson Point after calling the Dispatcher and telling him you are out of Dock Yard. You must proceed at restricted speed, however, because since you passed Wall St. in South Norwalk you have been within yard limits, which means there could be a train ahead of you out on the line. They have to clear up for first class trains, but not for you (though they will probably try to).

All is well and there are no obstructions between Dock Yard and Wilson Point. As you pull in, you see the Gopher job over to the right working the freight transfer building, the WP yard switcher waiting for you on the float lead track and a passenger train waiting at the station. You pull your train into one of the two holding tracks and call the operator to tell him you have arrived at Wilson Point. He's pleased because you've almost made up all the time on your schedule and are only a few minutes late. 

After stopping you cut off the engine and are directed to bring it out the south yard lead, and then back it down to the roundhouse. The WP Yardmaster is already getting your train ready for the next float due in soon. You leave the loco on the roundhouse lead and turn it over to the hostler, and immediately dispatch the engine from your throttle. The final thing you do is sign the train register at Wilson Point, so other crews will know you have arrived and it is save for them to move out onto the main track themselves.

And that, hopefully, is a fairly complete overview of how a trip over the railroad works under timetable and train order from the engineers' perspective. Hopefully I hit all the important points and didn't screw up on any of the technical stuff. But now you should see how a road crew is expected to handle moving a train along the line, and what is expected of you during the session. It isn't hard but it does require a little getting used to.

Operating session - January 5th, 2007

Dispatcher: Chris Lee.

Wilson Point Yardmaster: Ralph Heiss.  Wilson Point Assistant: Wayne Shortman.

Dock Yard Yardmaster: Neil Henning.

"Gopher": Jay Held.

Mole operator: Henry Freeman.

Road crews: Ray Louis, Matt Klemchalk, David Ramos, Ted DiIorio, Scott Dunlap, Tom Callan, Rob Purcell.

The January 5th session went well, considering that we were still lacking some important paperwork and the crews had very little experience.  It was as much a shakedown cruise as anything.  Work on the layout continued up to the last minute, I was still adjusting some switch machines under Standard Oil when everyone started arriving.  I did have timetables and route maps ready, as well as lineups for the mayor yards, and it was enough -- but we'll need more information for next time.  That's a mantra I expect to be chanting for months to come.

Chris Lee reluctantly agreed to be dispatcher, which I really appreciate.  I needed to be unfettered to run around and answer questions and fix problems, and there was no one else qualified to run the operation.  We will have to get a couple of people up to speed very soon so we have some options in case Chris doesn't make it, or wants to run a train or two.  Raplh and Wayne got the Dock Yard jobs, Jay took the Gopher, and Neil got the Dock Yard job.  I had pre-arranged with Henry to run the mole yard since he was the only one with experience at doing it besides me. 

Things started off slow, primarily because of the lack of instructions.  There was supposed to be several quick movements by the Gopher (whose job it is to shuttle cars from Wilson Point to Dock Yard and back) which did not happen because the instructions weren't very clear, and both yards and the gopher were trying to sort out what to do.  By the time that started to get straightened out, The time was lost and the first bunch of passenger trains were out on the road which put those transfers behind.  In a way this became a cascading failure that we never recovered from.  Confusion in Wilson Point, where the Northbound passenger trains originated, also put several of these trains behind schedule.

The first carfloat did not get out on time.  Neil, over at Dock Yard, did not know that the each carfloat had a different destination (Brooklyn, New York City, Oyster Bay) and sent all the carfloat traffic to Wilson Point at once.  Actually the notes were on the timetable but I did not fully explain it to Neil beforehand.  It took time to sort out the cars -- NY City and Long Island traffic had to be sent back to Dock Yard and then the float was finally loaded.  Then another mistake was made, the cars pulled from the first float remained in Wilson Point for some time, and they all missed getting onto the Georgetown Local out of Dock Yard and the early Northbound manifest (freight) trains. 

Speaking of the Northbound manifest trains, I screwed up here.  I had originally planned to have them originate at Wilson Point from the inbound float loads, and make a stop at Dock Yard to set out and pick up traffic before going North.  For some reason I forgot this and tried to have them originate at Dock Yard, after the Gopher had collected the cars from Wilson Point.  Apparently this put a lot of pressure on Neil, who struggled to keep up with things.  After the session several people noted this would have been smoother if the trains had originated at Wilson Point, and I remembered that that we the original idea.  We'll do it that way starting next time.  I'll have to see how we want to handle the Southbound Manifest trains, maybe do the same thing?  That would really free up the Gopher, maybe too much.  We'll have to see.

It came out after the session that Neil wasn't in contact with the Dispatcher by radio, and that led to a couple of times where as many as 6-7 trains (I'm told) ended up in Dock Yard at once.  Frankly I don't think that's actually possible but there were an awful lot of people in the aisle there.  Next time we'll have to make sure that the Dock Yard guy has a radio.  That would allow him to work with the DS and make sure Southbound trains are held at Winnipauk before coming down the hill and clogging the mainline up.

As the session went on and everyone got more familiar with the flow of things, everything got smoother.  Naturally, this was when the DCC system started to flake out.  We had never run the railroad before with this many trains and throttles, and the system started buckling under the pressure.  Most of the Cab 04's stopped working, and even the ProCabs were losing contact with the command station.  This caused a great deal of consternation and frustration, and put everyone even farther behind.  Eventually I had to shut the system down to reset it.  We had everyone who wasn't actually running unplug their throttles also and that seemed to help as well.  Things calmed down after that and we didn't have too many control problems.  I've read that having long cab bus lines and many throttles attached require more power than the command station can supply.  I plan to address this by adding 12 volt power connections into the cab bus, so next session this should be fixed

The second carfloat also went out late.  This was a combination of the throttle problems, not clearing the float out when it first arrived, delays in getting the New York City-bound traffic out of Dock Yard, and then getting it onto the float.  Wayne and Ralph were trying to work through getting several passenger trains squared away and dealing with the Gopher trying to work around them, which slowed things down.  

Since we still only have one working carfloat, I acted as the 'ferry' removing cars from it and carrying them back to the mole yard in back, and bringing out the cars for the next float.  This didn't work out too badly, but I still want to get a few more floats built and operational in the next few months.  It was also my responsibility to arrive and depart the float (physically move it away from the bridge to prevent it from being loaded / unloaded early).

All during this time Henry was a bit bored over in Staging.  I had pre-staged three of the five passenger trains and two of the freights, and that actually didn't leave Henry much to do in the beginning.  Later in the session it got busier back there, and he was a little happier.  I guess that until we get more cars on the railroad it will be pretty quiet there.  When we get another 20-25 coal gondolas on the rails we'll be able to run 2-3 coal extras, and another 15-20 tank cars there will be more drag freight.  We're also hard pressed to get enough general merchandise cars on any of the trains because there are only about 80 cars on the railroad.  When we get that number up to 150 it will really help things out, but it's going to be a while before that happens.

There didn't seem to be too many problems with the Manifest freights once they got out of Dock Yard.  It sounded like the Dispatcher had things well under control North of Dock Yard.  The Standard Oil Turn and the Georgetown Turn both went out and returned without much trouble, and for the most part few problems were noted with the track, except in Dock Yard where we need to do some more work to eliminate some dips there.

In the end, there were problems but everyone took it in stride and said they had a good time.  I was pretty happy with the results and really glad everyone had a good time.  I have a page-long punch list of problems that need to be corrected that will take me most of the time between this session and the next to fix, but that's OK.  I will get these things fixed and improve the paperwork as best I can by the next session, and we'll see how much things improve.

My thanks to everyone who participated.

Photos From the Session - click on them to enlarge:

The Southbound Milk train is staged to leave before the clock starts. Ray and Rob discuss things as they wait for the session to get started. Henry Freeman runs the Mole Staging yard.  He talks with Scott Dunlap who's waiting for his train to be called. Getting the coal loads at Wilson Point ready

Ralph Heiss switches cars in Wilson Point while Ted tries to figure out how to wear his radio... Tom Callan, Matt Klemchalk and Wayne Shortman share a laugh at Wilson Point, probably at Scary Ted. Southbound Milk train switches the Creamery siding South of Wilton. And starring Jay Held as "The Gopher!"

First cut of cars is pulled from a carfloat at Wilson Point First cut of cars is pulled from a carfloat at Wilson Point. First Northbound manifest (freight) train leaves Dock Yard.  A bit late but better than never Ted DiIorio and Neil Henning discuss the weather at Dock Yard. It's going to get busy here really soon!

Scott Dunlap brings his passenger train North into Dock Yard Ralph hurries to get the second float loaded in time Another Northbound manifest train out of Dock Yard, this time the view is from Wall St. in South Norwalk. Dave Ramos drew the Georgetown Turn, the train that switches all the local industries. He had a good time.

Second Carfloat comes in to dock at Wilson Point Neil is holding up under the pressure. At one point they said he had nine trains in Dock Yard at once, but I can't believe that. Neil got a new nickname this night -- "Evil Neil".  I have no idea what went on over there. A meet between the Northbound drag freight and a southbound manifest at Dock Yard late in the session

Hard to fins a spot that has scenery and painted backdrop on the layout, but here is one! Rob Purcell marks up for another job at the sign-up sheet The Drag freight leaving Dock Yard

Next Session -- February 16. 2007

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