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Helpful tips for efficient yard operations


Yard operations can be the success or the downfall of an operating session. When the yards get backed up it creates a domino effect on the rest of the layout operations. Running a yard can be stressful if you don’t stay ahead of the game and have to make multiple moves to get the cars where they need to be. Here are a few tips that you can apply to yard operations that might make your next yard job flow smoothly and more enjoyable.


Look at your paperwork prior to the ops session and make notes so that you know what jobs need to be done and in what order. Also look at your inbound cars and identify what trains they are going out on, or if they are staying in the yard. You want to have a plan so that you are not switching one car at a time, but working a train as a block of cars sorting them into the appropriate yard tracks. Before an ops session I look at my switch list and make a note for each inbound car as to which outbound train they are assigned.

With only three yard tracks in Copperhill Yard and five outbound trains, cars have to be doubled up on some yard tracks. Train 47 is awaiting it's departure time on the Arrival/Departure Track.


Determine how many outbound trains you are going to have and assign them a yard track. You may need to double them up on some yard tracks. It is nice to have a complete yard track for each train, but that is not always the case for a yard. If possible, have northbound trains blocked on one track while southbound trains are on another. You also want to have easy access to the cars for the direction that they are going to depart. Place earlier trains at the head of the siding, while those that depart later at the tail end of yard tracks.

Try to keep your Arrival/Departure (A/D) track open for the inbound trains. Once they arrive, use your switch engine to pull the cars and sort them into the proper track based on destination. A good yard design is critical for efficient flow of trains into and out of the yard. When designing a yard, think about how the yard crew will do their work and keep things simple. When setting up an ops session, a yard that is half capacity at the start of an ops session is actually “full”. If you have a yard that is completely packed at the beginning there is no place to put the inbound cars and your yard will quickly be clogged. The number of cars will ebb and flow during the ops session so you need to have space to work the trains and keep tracks open for inbound cars.


Using job aids helps identify trains in a busy yard. It is easy for the crew of each train to see where their train is in the yard and reduces confusion when sorting cars for each train.


Reading car numbers in a tightly packed yard is difficult. One way to make it easier is to make “job aids” that indicate the train number for each train a car can be assigned to, that way you don't have to keep trying to read the car numbers in the yard. These job aids can be small pieces of styrene or card stock paper that have the train number on them. The train number is placed on top of the cut of cars for that train, and as cars are sorted it is easy to tell where the cars go, especially if you have more than one cut of cars on a yard track. While these types of job aids may not be prototypical, they greatly increase the efficiency of the yard crew. One other benefit is that train crews can easily find their train in the yard just by looking for the train number. The train number job aid cards are removed just prior to departure from the yard.

The yard crew should check the numbers of all the cars and that they are placed in the proper station order prior to calling for the train crew. It is embarrassing to find that you missed a car immediately after the train departs the yard. Local switch crews appreciate if their cars are blocked in an order to make their switching down the line easier. If the yard crew has time, they can check with the local crew and make any adjustments to the consist. Rules on the prototype specify what work is done by yard crews, and many times the local must depart the yard with the cars in a specific order. If the local crew wants to make adjustments to their consist, they will find an open siding outside of yard limits and then block their train to make their work easier once they reach the industries. This is all dependent on the railroad and time period you model, but it does give you more operational possibilities that are prototypical.


As the operating session progresses keep track of any delays and make adjustments to your operating plan. One of the biggest tips is to remain flexible and try to keep trains from being delayed in your yard. Invariably things will happen that you can’t control, have a contingency plan and get trains out of the yard as you can. A good attitude goes a long way with keeping the stress level down.

Not everyone can operate a yard. It certainly is not a job for someone that is new to operations and your layout. If possible, have a potential yard operator work with an experienced yard person for a couple of ops sessions so that they see how things are done. Working a yard takes a specific attitude, don’t force someone into a yard job just to fill a spot.

While some of this may sound intimidating, working a yard can be a lot of fun. If you like to stay busy for an entire operating session, then a yard job is good fit for you. I hope that some of these tips help you at your next ops session.

Until next time, stay safe and keep model railroading.

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