Replicating prototypical operations is high on my list of things that I enjoy about the hobby. I strive to operate realistically and make gentle couplings while following many of the prototype rules and procedures. If you watch a professional railroad crew switching cars it takes time to set the hand brakes, perform safety stops, hook up air hoses, and perform numerous other procedures. You’ll notice in my videos that I use a conductor figure to replicate what a prototype conductor would be doing during switching operations. I have found that by using the conductor it helps modelers understand that there is more involved than just quickly picking up or dropping off a car and moving on to the next job, there are prototype procedures that should be followed.
Anthony operates the GP9 using the ProtoThrottle and performs a safety stop prior to coupling to the cars in the yard.
Recently I had my good friend Anthony stop by for an operating session. Anthony works for a local railroad and knows the prototype rules and procedures very well. I always learn a new bit of information from him about prototype railroading, from which type of cars the crew prefers to have on the head end of a consist, to how a crew prefers to switch specific industries. Fortunately I got to work as a Trainman on a scenic railroad and was able to experience prototype operations first hand. When I operate with a professional railroader we are “speaking the same language” and it makes for a very enjoyable ops session. Having friends that are professional railroaders or personally working on a railroad is a huge advantage for model railroaders and allows us to better understand and replicate some prototype procedures on our layouts. If you don’t have friends that are professional railroaders, how do you learn more about operations? Some of the answers can be found on YouTube.
YouTube has many train videos that demonstrate switching operations and provide excellent information for the modeler. A few of my favorite channels are Distant Signal, Delay in Block Productions, and GottliebPins. Recently Danny Harmon, who produces outstanding videos for his Distant Signal YouTube channel, posted a video featuring switching operations on the Florida Central Railroad. The video includes the radio communications between the crew as they switch the cars and commentary on the switching operations. Below is a link to the video.
Many of the procedures highlighted in the video can be followed during model railroad operating sessions. I prefer to operate with a two person crew, one acting as engineer and the other as conductor. This allows each person to concentrate on their job and also provides a chance for the crew to communicate in much the same manner as they do on the prototype. The conductor can count down the car lengths to stops and couplings, basically becoming the engineer’s eyes as he controls the locomotive a distance away from the conductor on the ground. My YouTube video with Tim Garland highlights this type of communication during an operating session on my layout. Below is a link to the video.
The ops session crew can also take short pauses to simulate setting the hand brakes, conducting brake tests and working in the “Red Zone” or “Three Step” (a dangerous location on or between cars that requires the engineer to take steps to prevent any movement of the train). Ed Kapuscinski has designed a program that provides sound effects and time factors for various switching operations. Here is a link to his website.
In addition, the crew can perform “safety stops” which requires a stop one car length short of any car that will be coupled to and have the conductor check that it is safe to couple to the car.
Many may see following these procedures on their model railroad as unnecessary and a waste of time. My answer is simply, “What’s the hurry?” My primary objective of an operating session is to enjoy the session while operating as realistically as possible. After spending time and effort to build a layout and then have crews race through an operating session it takes some of the fun out of it. Yes, it can be taken too far. No one really wants to stop for 10 to 15 fast clock minutes to simulate conducting a brake test, but just pausing for a few seconds while the crew plans their next move and simulates a brake test is time well spent. By following many of the procedures employed on the prototype our operating sessions become more realistic and as a bonus add time to an operating session making a small layout operate like a much larger one.