Thursday, December 15, 2011

5th Operating Session Recap

It was an interesting session with a few ups and downs, but all in all, we did fairly well.

I had 5 folks come and crew the railroad:
Charles C
Dick M
Keith P
Doug B

This was the first session without help from the Division Assistant Supervisor/Chief Mech Officer. Doug and Keith P ran Acca Yard, Dick dispatched while Wayland and Charles were the road crews. Your host tried to play hostler and run trains, with limited success.

Ran a fast clock for the dispatcher only which seemed to help according to the Dispatcher, but there need to be visible displays throughout the railroad. The superintendent has that for action.

The computer running the JMRI panels crashed 3 or so times, prompting a PC swap mid session. The panel didn't transfer correctly to the other PC, so lots of icons were wrong, making it very challenging for Dick, but to his credit he stuck with it and made it work. The new monitor
looked good and put an end to having to scroll one way or another to see the entire panel.

Signals were mostly correct, but there is a need for some sort of Yard override so trains just don't show up in the yard, blocking anything southbound from leaving.

Traffic is way unbalanced, but that is probably more my fault than anything else. The outbound cars to the NS interchange have somehow disappeared. They aren't on track 5 as per SOP and they surely aren't on the interchange track, as I got a call from the NS supervisor asking where his inbounds were.. Oops!

Now, a few pictures, graciously provided by Wayland and Charles, as I was so busy that I didn't take a single snap!

Yard crew brief (needed to be a bit more definitive here)

Amtrak P98 (with Engineer and Conductor) overtake merchandise freight between Colonial Heights and South Richmond

Dispatcher hard at work:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

4th Operating Session Done

The 4th Operating Session of the Richmond Terminal Railroad is complete.

In attendance we had 4 new operators and 3 "old heads" returning; this was the first session with the yard job as a separate position and I think that part of it worked out well.

Dick M - Dispatcher in training
Keith S - YM
Jerry R - AYM (new operator)
Bob B - Yard Job (new)
Mike K - Road engineer (new)
Mike P - Road engineer
Phil T - Road engineer (new)

The railroad ran fairly well, though we were a bit behind schedule in the beginning since it was probably a bit too informal at the start. I think next session, I'll try to pre-brief everybody better and maybe start using a fast clock to give a reference point on where we are on the schedule.

Follow ups for next session:

Assigning folks to jobs - should I ask for job preference for individual jobs before the session, assign people as they sign up or something else? I'd like to hear what you think about this.

Waybills. This is where I'm not sure what I want to do; I hope my operators will give me some feedback on the current system and I can figure something out.

I will update the dispatcher and yard master's train sheets to put all the information in one place on the sheet; also, I will change around and make sure there is a listing of industries on the railroad for reference. Maybe this is something I can tape to the back of the small clipboards that crews can carry with them?

Signal cheat sheet - same idea; maybe on the back of train instructions or taped to the back of the clipboard?

I'll try to get all the instructions put up to the website here.

Turnout control in Acca: I'm going to investigate changing over some of the bullfrog turnout controls to the blue points; I've got 1 blue point down on the NS interchange track and really like it. As time is going along, the bullfrogs just don't seem to cut it.

Also need to figure out a way to give the yard crew a paperwork area to keep the waybills off the railroad.

Signals - I will work on getting more signals setup and I'll either put a mirror or repeater so everybody can see the signal leaving staging heading north toward Acca.

I have a couple of things to tweak for the dispatcher on the panel.

(And yes, a few pictures will be forthcoming)


Monday, October 10, 2011

3rd Operating Session in the books

Every time I think I have it figured out, I realize I haven't the foggiest.

At least there wasn't a hurricane.

Big thanks to:
Mike P, Mike G, Wayland, Dick, Doug and Scott for coming to run trains.

Things that worked:
Track (mostly; I've got some Atlas turnouts to fix)
signals (mostly)

Things that worked, but not the way I wanted:
Operating scheme and waybills (OOPS!)
Scheduling trains
staging the layout (Didn't do enough of this)

Lessons Learned:
This is like sight reading music, but on an instrument you barely know
Waybills need to be truly 4 cycle
Train sizes need to be stated so that locals don't get sent out with 10 cars for 5 spots
All crews/trains need instructions for what they are expected to do (got this halfway)
A better brief before starting is required at this stage of the Ops game
The yard crew needs to start 10 minutes early

So far, I've tweaked the schedule a bunch and updated instructions. I've started changing waybills (only 150 more to go!) and I'll get the layout back to where it needs to be for session number 4.

Now, the pictures:

Yes, that is a caboose in the middle of a bunch of cars on a local. Not exactly how I envisioned this working. (or listed in the instructions..)

Culprit of same:

In his defense, he DID get everything where it needed to go.

Yard crew on the right; with Doug at the left wondering how I talked him into running the internal yard local job.

Last two crew members talking about the now problematic double crossovers that nothing will go through without a reset. Ended up being a point power issue as the Atlas switches have worn to the point of not making good electrical contact. Jumper wires are in order here.

Everybody said they had a good time, so I won't argue. :)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Progress and Pictures...

Couple of pictures before I get to documenting the 3rd Operating session.

Yard tracks evened out:

Track going down in the Department of Defense Depot area:

Chief Mechanical Officer working a new addition to the fleet:

Additional power from GE on its test run:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Operating Session .2 Done

The second operating session was completed, in spite of the hurricane and power issues due to same.

The layout performed fairly well, and the session really showed that the layout needs to be 100% pre-staged and extra cars can't be left in the yard.

I have more signals to install and hopefully they will be much closer to operating correctly as I tweak JMRI. I found a couple of spots where the signals didn't set correctly during the session, so that is one more thing on the list.

Next session is the second Saturday of October, which is the 8th of October. I'll try to put a couple of pictures up in the next day or so.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Getting ready for 2nd Ops this Saturday

Finalizing a couple of things for the session on Saturday, assuming that the hurricane doesn't get us.

Still working on waybills. I had no idea there was so much paperwork to be done just to make operating easier.

I finished up the last bit of industrial trackage in the yard and got benchwork installed and ready for track on the last industrial spot off the mainline. Not sure if track will get done before the session or not.

Pictures will be forthcoming in the next day or so.

Did figure out that I need more power from the correct era - I've got 1 train powered by a F7A/B consist and 1 train that is going to be powered by an E6. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Getting Ready for the next Operating Session

Been putting lots of work into the railroad, so I've let the updates slide.

Some of the backdrops have been installed; probably around 30% of what will be needed, but it is a start and does really seem to make a couple of spots brighter.

Finished putting all the RTR car onto the layout and getting car cards made for everything. Now to start on the kits that I've got that don't need any painting. Found a couple of duplicate car numbers, so the dupes have been put aside until I get my hands on an airbrush. I've entertained the idea of hiring somebody to paint the undec engines I have, but I'm not sure that's worth the $ spent when I know I'll have more airbrush based tasks in the future.

Built a couple of car card boxes; installed others.

Created paperwork (car spot diagrams and spotting instructions) for one section of railroad; I need to finish up the next couple of pieces; probably do that this weekend while we have downtime.

Finally figured out signals; it helps to 1. Actually RTFM 2. Only signal blocks from the SE8c and do turnout direction via the switches on the tortoises; this saves you time and $.

A couple of pictures for your enjoyment..

Backdrops in the yard area

Car card box; built of styrene by hand and a try square. Not bad for a second time.

Reverse (Looking North) of Acca yard. This is after I put a train in staging and moved 2 A/D tracks into the class tracks, then parked the power.

CTC Signals showing Red to enter the next block. Very neat stuff!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Operating Session .1 Done!

I held the first operating session this Saturday, the 25th of June. I had a total of 4 attendees on the railroad running trains.

Here's 3 of the 4 in one shot - left to right: Scott Lull, Keith Stillman and Mike Pulaski.

Our final contestant and intrepid yardmaster in the red shirt at left, Dick Munnikhuysen (hope I spelled that right!)

We ran a bunch of through trains, a few locals, 2 interchange jobs and 1 passenger train (both NB and SB versions). I didn't get pictures as we ran through, since I was acting as host, dispatcher, operator, question answerer and other sundry duties. Here's a couple of shots after we had concluded actively running trains:

Staging tracks filling up - this shows the loaded and empty trains, the intermodal, the Auto train (you can barely make out the F40PH facing us in the distance) and a mixed merchandise train.

Yard sure looks empty! Need to deploy more cars, looks like:

A few shots out on the railroad, with cars in industry spots; second shot is the interchange track looking full:

After we finished running trains, the crew sat down and we had a debrief on the session. The crew as a whole thought the railroad ran well, from a functional standpoint with only a handful of derailments, uncouplings and the like. We did pick up a nice short in the yard when a frog gap closed, but some work with a dremel and we were back running.

Since my Digitrax system includes only the duplex radio functionality, most folks had to run from UP5 panel to the next and we identified a few spots to install additional UP5 panels. Mike Pulaski was able to use the IR on his throttle to control his train and throw turnouts, which was neat. Turnout had to be either thrown on a DT400 or by the dispatcher. Keith recommended that some sort of toggle arrangement be setup so that the crew switching can throw turnouts for themselves and not bother the dispatcher. The operating manager took this item for research and action. A few staging turnouts ended up being reversed, so that closed was actually thrown, and those were noted for remediation.

The operating scheme worked okay for a first session, but we are going to continue to develop a car card based operation scheme. We have the card cards ready, but have been unable to develop the waybills needed.

Some additional power is needed to ease the need to reuse power sets and forgo a stop at the service terminal that would simulate getting refueled, resanded, etc. and give a more realistic feel for the delay in getting locomotives tied to a train and ready.

The double slip control was functional, but not intuitive. The electrical gang has that for review.

Next session will be in August; hopefully we will have a formal dispatcher spot ready to go, more cars on the railroad, car cards and waybills and a couple of signals!

Derelict in my blogging..

Well, the railroad is operating and the first session has already been run; a update on that in a separate post coming shortly.

I managed to lose my camera, so I don't have any pictures from the last update until yesterday's session, so I will just run down the work that has been done to get the railroad to this state.

Additional feeders were connected, gaps were cut and blocks wired in preparation for the first session. Once the BDL168 breakout board I designed arrived, block detection will be available for the dispatcher. A couple of dead spots were found and rectified as well as test trains were run back in forth.

The final 3 yard tracks were completed, thanks to help from Keith Stillman, who was nice enough to come for a weeknight work session. The drill track was completed and turnout controls were installed so that positive point control was ready in the yard. The double slip tortoises were wired up and a quick control panel was put together.

Creature Comforts
The basement bathroom was finished with only a couple of equipment delays and 1 leak, that was fixed after a new shutoff valve was installed.

From the last update, approximately 40 hours of work was put into the railroad and basement to get ready for the first session. Big thanks to my folks for help out here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pictures as promised

The benchwork completion for the main level:

The bridge to the helix:

Crossover in process (gluing to ties):

Cars in the to-be-RIPed (coupler replacement and standards check):

More over the next week.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lower and Main Level Benchwork Done!

Finished up benchwork for the main and lower levels this past weekend.

The helix will be getting finished up and the other half of the yard (industry, storage and coach yard) and start doing some testing.

Operations in May.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Progress Update XVII

Over the last 2 weeks and change, have just done a couple of things, as the next big part requires more benchwork and I am trying to stop creating so much sawdust in the basement.

Industry tracks in:

Main to yard crossover installed and connected:

Put your turnouts down and measure at least 3 times before you go and drill holes for turnout controls..


Pictures didn't get up the weekend after the previous post since that evening, I received a call that a good friend had passed away.

No fun.

I will be putting some up in a new post shortly, so here's something to tide you over:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yard Progress

No pictures on this update yet; probably have some over the weekend.

I have finished most of the track laying tasks for the classification part of the yard. What I have left to do is to build and lay a crossover from track 5 to 6, finish up soldering the rail joints and then drop feeders.

The yard ladder run around track with it's industry access is next on the list and then I will extend the main line, A/D track and drill track across the remaining space to approach the helix area.

I'll need to cut in some cork since I need to place a main to a/d crossover and sand ramps down to yard level. Hopefully, the cork glued down previously with the latex caulk will come up without too much trouble..

Friday, February 11, 2011


The helix is coming along very well; the subroadbed is complete and once another 30 feet of track is laid, it will be complete.

Some progress pictures follow.

Test fitting the sub-roadbed.

This is a great overview picture, showing how the helix fits into the space and the first circle and a half build. Also in the picture are some #8 Atlas RH turnouts that I modified to give a slight curve to; works pretty well I'd say.

Status as of today; the sub roadbed is complete and the track has just a bit more that half a circle to go.

I purchased a custom helix kit from Ashlin designs; I specified a 34" and 36" radius for my helix. The cost was just a little more than the stock designs offered for HO scale, but I felt that my average rolling stock would look pretty silly and have some performance issues, and with the thought of having intermodal, autoracks and Amtrak Superliners running up and down the helix, I figured I was better off going large to start with and not having to rip it out later.