Testing the Track Plan: Simulated Operating Session

All of the ties have been glued to the benchwork of my shelf layout, so this is the first time that I’ve actually seen the track plan laid out so clearly.  I spent a couple of days referring to the aerial photos of the paper plant and imagining how an operating session would unfold.

To do that, I placed a locomotive, some specifically selected rolling stock, and a caboose on either the run-around track or the main.  I also placed a couple of cars in some of their spots.  With a switch list scribbled onto a scrap of paper, I moved things around to simulate the moves required to spot inbound and pull outbound cars.  Because there are no rails anywhere, it resembles a big chess game (or a battle game with trains instead of military pieces).

Overall, the track plan seems to work well.  It’s become apparent that some strategic blocking will be necessary when I stage the inbound train.  If the inbound train has cars for more than one siding, they should be blocked in a particular order in the train.  Five locations are facing point, and two are trailing, for an inbound train.  There is also a limit to the number of cars that can be moved around without gumming everything up.  For instance, it would require some pretty hokey moves to have a train remove and replace a car in every possible spot.  That’s unrealistic anyway, so I don’t have to worry about capacity issues.  Photos I’ve seen show from one to eight cars on inbound trains.  My run-around holds seven cars and a caboose, so I think train sizes of around 4 or 5 cars would be the sweet spot.

The caboose is still the wild card.  I’m not sure what the crews did with the caboose when they got to the plant.  There are a number of different ways to deal with it, but for the purpose of simulating how an operating session might play out, I’ve been running around the train, pulling the caboose off the tail end, and placing at the far end of the runout track after the runaround switch.  It seems reasonable.

Satisfied that I like the track plan, I turned my attention back to the buildings.  When I first started layout out the track plan with switch templates, I used empty cardboard boxes to represent the various buildings in the plant complex.  Now that the track plan is laid out in ties, I decided to build mockups of most of the buildings, in order to get a better sense the size and shape of the various buildings, and to be sure that I didn’t need to move some track in order to fit a building into a scene.

I’ve built crude mock-ups from foam board and painted them in a few different colours to represent the different colours that show up in the prototype photos.  In the photo below, notice that the mockups are simplistic representations, intended only to test whether a building of approximately the same proportions can fit into the space I have and still look proportional.

IMG_0243Progressing from the foreground to the farthest buildings, one moves from the paper making machine and calendaring/coating processes to the two brown/yellow buildings in the distance that represent the paper finishing and warehouse buildings.  The chemical storage, and pulping facilities will be out of the photo on the left.  Woodchip unloading will happen off the layout in staging.

I’ve mocked up about 3/4 of the large buildings.  I’ve not mocked up any of the various tanks required for the works in the foreground. At this point, it looks like my buildings will fit onto the layout the way I envisioned them when I was working with switch templates and pieces of flex track.  I’ll throw together a few more mockups, and once I’m satisfied I won’t be moving tracks around, I’ll finish staining all of the ties.


  1. Hi Hunter:
    It’s looking great. I’m a firm believer in building high-quality mock-ups (as you have done) rather than using old cereal boxes, empty cans and the like. Those mock-ups may be with you a while as you work on track, wiring, and then building the permanent structures – so you might as well use something that provides a sense of the finished scene. They will help you – and more importantly, your guests – to visualize the finished layout.
    I’m looking forward to seeing this in person at some point and moving the chess pieces around – perhaps even under their own power.


  2. Thanks for the feedback gentlemen.

    When I envisioned this part of the larger layout scheme, my aim was to recreate the variety of carloads that I could see in the aerial photos of the original industry. I like how things are unfolding so far.

    The combination of the my simulated ops and the building mock-ups have had me thinking about how to manage freight car forwarding. I was talking to Ted Kocyla yesterday about which method would be most appropriate and we agreed that computer generated switch lists would best reflect the way real crews operated here, and would also be the most logical way to manage car movements. Interesting challenges emerge at each step along the way.


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