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Layout Operation - Some Definitions


Ravenser

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This arises from the recent thread on Ally Pally.

 

Blacklade's modest experiences at the show are matter for another post, but one aspect of the post-show discussion was the claim by several people that many or most of the layouts were not running trains, and somewhere [probably at post 358] the idea arose that this was because the layouts and their operators were using timetables or sequences or something of that kind.

 

As will be evident from the subsequent discussion http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/117493-london-festival-of-railway-modelling-alexandra-palace-2526-march-2017/page-17 there was some confusion as to exactly what was meant , what it is called, and what might or might not have been going on.

 

I've no wish to blow on the embers of an almost dead argument; but by that stage the discussion was largely about general principles, rather than the specifics of a particular layout or even show. And as the issue and argument seems to recur I think a few definitions and clarifications are useful, in the interests of light, rather than heat.

 

"Timetable" operation I understand to mean that there is a WTT with actual times at which a train runs. And there is some kind of clock, and the train does not run until the clock shows the correct time for it . Moreover the times of the trains are almost certainly derived prototypically, from an actual timetable for the full-size prototype, or from how long it would take to make the move in reality.
The Yanks do this quite a bit I believe on their big basement permanent layouts, which are designed for private operation by a team of operators. A "fast clock" - running several times faster than real time - is often employed (Apparently the NCE Powercab has a built-in fast-clock function)
For obvious reasons this is extremely rare, if not unheard-of at British exhibitions. I've never encountered such a layout in over 20 years of visiting shows. (I believe the Sherwood Section and Crewechester may have worked like this but those layouts had a lot in common with the big US basement empires in their concept). Post 426 notes that Heckmondwyke tried it once - and then reverted to operating a sequence.

 

Suggestions that some operators /layouts at Ally Pally were standing around waiting until it was the right time according to their timetable to run the next train were at best extremely sarcastic (and at worst misleading - some people evidently started to think that there were actually layouts at Ally Pally running to a timed timetable . To the best of my knowledge there were none.)

 

Running to "a sequence" is a much more common practice. There is a list of each movement to be run, in correct order, and traction and stock is allocated to each. There may well be a list of what points have to be set. But, critically, there is no clock. Once you've run move 22, you then run move 23 . You don't wait until it is "the right time" (If you have to wait until someone else has finished doing something else , then the operator's instructions will say so - "Wait until move 21 shunting is complete, then run move 23")

 

The sequence may be based on the prototype timetable, suitably condensed - or in the case of a rural branchline, augmented - and the time the real thing ran at may be noted in the sequence - "Move 22 - 3:10pm Peterborough-Grimsby semi-fast". Some layouts display the move and its details somewhere on the layout , so that spectators know what they are seeing. But none of this makes a sequence into a timetable. There is no clock, and no "waiting for time" - Move 23 still follows Move 22 as soon as practical.

 

This point is worth stressing, because it seems some people are under the impression that running a sequence slows down the operation of a layout, and results in periods - perhaps frequent periods - of inaction.

 

On the contrary, a sequence should speed up operation. You cut out all the "head-scratching time" while the operator tries to work out what is possible given the current state of the layout and how he can or should make his next move. In fact this is probably the only practical way to operate a large layout with junctions that set up conflicting routes at all intensively . Otherwise you end up tripping over your own bootlaces at regular intervals and operating becomes limited and erratic to avoid the possibility of conflicts.

 

But if a sequence is in place, operators can make the next move quickly and confidently, knowing exactly what they are supposed to do, and having full confidence that the move won't conflict with anything else. All the thinking has been done for them by the person who developed the sequence.

 

A good sequence will allow your "party piece" operations to be shown to the public on a regular repeatable basis, as well as ensuring a good variety of stock appears front of house and your choicest models.

 

And for exhibition use it's essential that the sequence returns all the stock to their starting positions, so you can repeat it.


t-b-g notes that Narrow Road operated to a sequence that lasted an hour, and as part of this there were often multiple trains moving at once, sometimes up to five at once. You can only do that sort of thing with a sequence - and also quite a few operators, since controlling two different trains simultaneously is extremely difficult. Since operators' accommodation is the most expensive thing for a show on the layout side, there are practical restrictions on having large layouts with clouds of operators [And at post 442 we seem to have a witness to the famous comment about Heckmondwyke, with its authentic block-bells to offer trains - "the bells ring but the bloody trains don't run!".]

 

For the record there was another well-known 1970s continuous circuit mainline layout, Winton, which managed a kind of hybrid between the timetable and the sequence. The layout ran to a sequence, but instead of using flip-cards they recorded a commentary/explanation on cassette tape for the public, and the operators had to keep up with the tape... It was written up for the Railway Modeller in the late Seventies, but nobody since has dared to attempt anything like it since.

 

One caveat is that a complex sequence is not something operators can be expected to deliver on the fly first time. You do need a team of operators who have practiced, so they know what they are doing . Effectively, you are putting on a model railway play, called "a day at......." and like any play you need rehearsals before attempting a performance. That implies a team of regular operators, and opportunities to erect and run the layout away from shows. 

 

Now such sessions can be rewarding in their own right. In fact - heresy of heresies - it is entirely possible that such sessions, not public exhibition, can be the main object of building a layout. That was the whole raison d'etre of layouts like Sherwood and Crewechester , two generations ago. I was fortunate to be invited along several times to a big coarse scale Gauge O garden railway that had several operating days a year , and ran to a sequence loosely representing a secondary MR main line

 

And lest we assume that operational layouts are some kind of crude and primitive form of the hobby that went out with spring-drive , it's worth remembering that Peter Denny's Buckingham GC operated with several operators to a complex sequence covering both the Buckingham line and its minor branches for several decades. Buckingham GC didn't fade away when the constructional articles stopped - it was operated, for Peter Denny's pleasure, over many years. It's just that the British hobby, focused on finescale construction and exhibiting , wasn't really interested in that.

 

In the US , on the other hand, operating a layout is very much the core of the hobby. Indeed I sometimes think that in some ways Buckingham was a rather American layout - it's just that Peter Denny was modelling the GC in the Home Counties, not some subdivision of the Union Pacific in the Rockies.

 

But I digress......

 

The next group of ways of operating a layout might be labelled "task-based operating". This can take a variety of forms, moving from the switching micro up to the basement empire; but what links these forms of operating as a group is that there isn't a set list of choreographed moves. Instead the operator is working ad-lib, but to perform a set task or tasks within rules and parameters.

 

 

"Shunting puzzles" are the most obvious example, but all shunting layouts work on this broad principle. A train runs in, you shunt and sort the wagons into the sidings, and then you form up another train to go out. The arrival and dispatch of trains is a peripheral, vestigial activity - there is no sequence, just a "rest of the world" to send wagons out to and receive from. In some respects this is a game of model railway patience played with wagons rather than cards - and each train in or out is a shuffle of the cards.

 

Canada Wharf at Ally Pally was obviously being operated on this basis, and so was Kirkmellington Most branchline layouts also tend to work on this principle. The main task is shunting the pickup goods, which can take quite a while - subsidiary tasks are running some passenger trains and maybe one or two "special" trains. Leysdown seems to have run on this basis .

 

The fact is that shunting a train can provide hours of innocent amusement for all the family - in sharp contrast to what I was once told, that "You can't shunt on an exhibition layout. We never shunted on X"

 

The big US basement empires commonly fall under this heading. It's startling to discover that a 40' x 25' basement empire with twelve operators for a session lasting a half a day may in fact only run 8-10 trains. However, in U.S. prototype style each train (with 2 operators per train) wanders around the layout, shunting a whole series of separate locations in accordance with prototype rules. This is task-based operating with a vengeance.

 

One potential problem with shunting is the question of "what do I shunt, and why?" In the US it is normal to answer this question by implementing a system of wagon waybill cards, whereby each location has defined traffic generation, in or out, and cards are produced representing the movement instructions for a wagon to satisfy this. Thus each train is accompanied by a fistful of cards - each one representing a wagon in the train, with its load, and telling the operators where the wagon is to go to, and what is to be done with it thereafter. At each location, the operators find cards for wagons already there, with instructions on what is to happen to them.

 

Effectively the train runs much like the real thing, and the second operator is there to deal with the paperwork, much like the conductor on a real US freight.

 

You can do something like this on a British layout - in fact PD Hancock apparently implemented a wagon waybill system on Craigshire in its later years. But in Britain card/waybill systems and other such practices are things tolerated between consenting adults in private but not to be mentioned in front of the children.

 

Essex Belt Lines seems to have been running a US style operation at All Pally, with a central dispatcher calling the shots and individual train crews working around a series of locations, but I think they had left the car waybills at home.

 

The very simple layout where the operator performs the same basic operational task over and over again belongs in this group as well.

 

Finally we have what I think of as the "cavalcade" style of operation. In this style of operation, normally found only on a big continuous circuit layout, there is no timetable , sequence, or tasks - just a socking great 14 road fiddle yard at the back, filled with trains. The operators simply fire out a series of trains from the fiddle yard round the circuit in each direction. Some layouts may run them round once, some may send them round for two or three circuits. Then they run another train . This goes on all day

 

I have to admit that the cavalcade is not really my cup of tea - certainly it's not what I want to do for myself with my own layout, and I don't have a 36' x 12' space in which to do it. But there is no doubt it is what a significant section of exhibition goers want to see, and some tend to regard anything else as in some sense a fraud on the public perpetrated by the layout operators . As I was once told by a member of another club, "You must remember that people don't go to exhibitions to look at the layouts. They're there to look at the stock". And therefore in his view the actual layout should be as nondescript as possible - the set should not distract attention from the star actors .

 

For this reason the cavalcade is the natural layout format for those folk who are essentially stock-builders. They simply want a stage on which they can display the trains they have built to the public.

 

I find I can happily took at a cavalcade layout providing there is enough high quality structural modelling interest around it. Layouts like Gresley Beat, Dewsbury Midland, and Sydney Gardens are fine by me - I am effectively admiring a high-quality scenic model with the trains as an agreeable supplement. It's when the stage is nearly bare that I start losing interest.

 

It's worth pointing out that a layout running a sequence might look like a cavalcade layout to the punters. I strongly suspect, for example, that Stoke Summit ran to a sequence - it featured authentic ECML services with authentic formations, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they ran in a set order, roughly corresponding to the time of day they ran on the real thing. But the average punter was probably unaware of these subtilties - he just saw a continuing passing parade of trains on a simple 4 track section. It was a very popular layout.

 

At this point I ought to declare my own hand.

 

I have 3 layouts (okay Tramlink has been dormant for years...). I've always tried to design in as much operational interest as possible, so that I have something to do with it when it's finished. All three in practice fall under the heading "task-based operation"

 

The boxfile is a shunting puzzle. You have four wagons on-, and three off-stage. You have to work the three off-stage wagons on, under the hoist, and to the correct spot, and work off the three empties. You swap an empty for a full behind the scenes. Working your way through this can take over an hour. And there is a panel on the flap giving "The Rules of the Game"

 

Tramlink, and to a certain extent Blacklade, were designed to work on the same principle as those puzzles where you have 8 tiles in a 3 x 3 frame , and one gap. With Tramlink there are two sidings on each board, and it was designed to operate with 3 LRVs, and one empty siding. So you have an empty slot, and a choice of two possible LRVs on the other board to run into it. Soon your choice is constrained (I've just run this in , so I must run the other out...) 

 

Blacklade has 3 platforms on the station board and 4 roads on the fiddle yard board, one of which (the fuelling point) can only be accessed from the front two platforms. So you play the same game with DMUs, and in the BR Blue period (as we ran at Ally Pally) with a Loco-hauled Substitute - 2 coaches, worked Minories-style by two Type 2s . This can only really fit in the long back platform , and the long front fiddle yard road, with comfort. 

 

There is a run-round loop in the throat, but that can only really serve the short centre platform. So there's a parcels train that runs in at the start and is run round , before collecting a CCT van which arrives as tail traffic on a DMU. That is then replaced by another DMU. In theory , every item of traction should spend some time on the fuelling point to refuel - think of it as a scenic road of the fiddle yard - and there's a TTA of diesel which either needs to be worked onto the layout and back to the fuelling point, or else worked off, by a loco. Cue some shunting....

 

And for the first time at a show I managed to run the engineers' train, which comes on, runs round and goes back. That was at the end, when we were starting to box up the DMUs.

 

So there's plenty to keep you busy , and trains were worked back and forth in rapid succession throughout the show

 

But it's worth pointing out just how unprototypical all this intensive operation really is. In real life, Blacklade would see 5-7 movements an hour. So something would happen every 10 minutes or so.

 

That's on today's crowded high-frequency network. Things were a lot quieter in the days of steam.

 

In 1962 there were 5 trains a day each way between Kings Cross and Edinburgh, excluding sleepers. (In 1910 it was only 3, with two Scottish sleepers and the Aberdeen mail). By 1975 that had grown to 9 trains northbound and 10 southbound, and it went to 11 each way from 1978 with HSTs . It's a lot more today.

 

Louth was an important double junction on the GN secondary mainline from Peterborough to Grimsby. In the summer of 1922 it had a service of 13 trains a day each way, of which 6 were local shuttles between Louth and Grimsby and a further one a shuttle which ran through to Mablethorpe. There were 6 more trains each way to Mablethorpe, and 4 on the Bardney branch. The entire service on the E Lincs mainline south of Louth was 6 trains each way.

 

And on Sundays the branches were shut, and the mainline service comprised 2 trains each way.

 

Freight traffic in 1946 comprised 9 up trains a day and 13 down, plus a pick up goods on each branch.

 

That's 68 movements a day, spread between 4:00 am and 9:45pm. Almost 4 movements per hour, or an average of nearly two trains an hour each way.

 

For nearly all the day you could have sat on the platform at Louth for 20-30 minutes without seeing a train move.

 

This is for an important double junction on a secondary main line , with additional local services running in 3 directions.

 

An important part of the character of the steam-age rural railway in Britain was the long - often very long - periods of stillness when nothing at all seemed to happen on a sleeping deserted station. The Central Line in the rush hour - which is what people seem to want to see at shows, or else - it was not.

 

[edited to tidy up typos and commas]. And in a futile attempt to remove underlining...

Edited by Ravenser
Clean up of format , heading picture

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An excellent piece of definition, and illustration, of the various ways in which things can be worked on a layout, complete with a really clear line drawn between timetable and sequence working.  

 

Something BRM ought to copy and publish in my view in order to make it available to a wider audience.   It some ways it's a shame it's on a blog as posting it in a thread might lead to further debate  (although I can understand that could also be a very good reason for posting it in a blog).

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An excellent piece of definition, and illustration, of the various ways in which things can be worked on a layout, complete with a really clear line drawn between timetable and sequence working.  

 

Something BRM ought to copy and publish in my view in order to make it available to a wider audience.   It some ways it's a shame it's on a blog as posting it in a thread might lead to further debate  (although I can understand that could also be a very good reason for posting it in a blog).

 

Good thinking; I'll give it some thought how it could be utilised.

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Thanks for the comments. I'd be very happy for it to be reused somewhere. I admit I posted to a blog because it's a quieter, more reflective environment , not given to a bun-fight - and some people hold very strong views on the obligations of exhibitors to perform for the public at all times

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Yes, I agree, a lovely piece of writing, well thought out and balanced reasoning. Thanks for taking the time to jot down your thoughts.

 

As an aside, I was at an exhibition in Solihull 3 or 4 years ago, at which there was an N gauge layout that proudly proclaimed, via a notice on the front of the layout, that trains were running to a real-time timetable. A riveting display, it was not.

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You missed out the Tidal system, where the trains just come in and then go out again...

 

Seriously, as The Stationmaster said, this is in particular a very clear exposition of the difference between a timetable and a sequence as far as model railway operation is concerned. Thanks.

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t-b-g

Posted (edited)

Buckingham is mentioned in the past tense but is still operated week in week out by a small group. Although we have the speeded up clock in a working condition, we very often operate without it. We find it quite restrictive if we are particularly well organised in the shunting and preparation of trains and then have to either send it before its proper time or try to invent some extra shunting to fill the gap until it is time for the train to go. Other times the trains are timed too closely together and things get very hectic. So we find running to the sequence without the clock more enjoyable.

 

We do the same when we exhibit Leighton Buzzard. For less complex layouts, with only one route and perhaps single line, a sequence becomes less vital and I have layouts where we just improvise as we go along. All the various methods can work and produce interesting operation as long as the operators are on the ball and willing to put on an entertaining display rather than just treat a show as a day out with their friends.

Edited by t-b-g
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3 hours ago, St Enodoc said:

You missed out the Tidal system, where the trains just come in and then go out again...

 

Seriously, as The Stationmaster said, this is in particular a very clear exposition of the difference between a timetable and a sequence as far as model railway operation is concerned. Thanks.

As in doing one's best to empty the fiddle yard?

Both of my layouts, Cwmafon and Herculaneum Dock, largely work on the basis of real traffic to be worked, coal and steel shifting in both cases with some other goods as well. Passenger trains fitted in gaps between the goods trains.

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2 hours ago, Michael Edge said:

As in doing one's best to empty the fiddle yard?

Both of my layouts, Cwmafon and Herculaneum Dock, largely work on the basis of real traffic to be worked, coal and steel shifting in both cases with some other goods as well. Passenger trains fitted in gaps between the goods trains.

Of course - and running too many passenger trains. You were always telling me off for that on Cwmafon. Look forward to doing the same on Herculaneum one day.

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At least you won't be able to do it on Wentworth Junction - no passenger trains at all unless we have special or a diversion and no room at the front for all the stock in the fiddle yard.

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This is a very useful post, although the links don't work for me. Please excuse a small brain dump:

 

Hmmm ...

"As I was once told by a member of another club, "You must remember that people don't go to exhibitions to look at the layouts. They're there to look at the stock". And therefore in his view the actual layout should be as nondescript as possible - the set should not distract attention from the star actors"

 

I think your quote is good for a specific kind of layout, I'm thinking of the 00 layout built some years ago (David Jenkinson) for the NRM; these priorities are not universal. Members of the general public will enjoy the setting as well as the trains; the hobby lets people see model towns and landscapes rather well. Members of the hobby will enjoy seeing examples of what they have just made or want to make or buy, or what they want to "do" in terms of operations.

 

I accept an analogy of a theatre, with the layout (stage), trains (actors) and timetable or sequence (script), but sometimes one of these three aspects dominates and the layout is still enjoyable to look at. The script for a layout is not as important as for a play or film.

 

I often look at the layout first, and then the trains. I'll guess this is because nowadays so many layouts have RTR trains, and I want to see what people have made themselves. Or perhaps because the model railway layout is an excuse to built a scenic setting, and then bring it to life.

 

I expect my own layout will eventually have a sequence, but it will have many "runs when required" services thrown in. I can draw up a list of these based on either the stock I have, and what it might be carrying; or what my imaginary railway needs, and which stock might best fulfil this. For me, the idea of "runs when required" would be a sort of pre-determined and formalised version of a wagon-load freight train, but for others it might be the contents of a pick-up goods. I'm not sure if you can add a "runs when required" service to your list, or if it belongs with waybill operation but I think it deserves a mention.

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