Following the construction and commissioning of the new towns of Carson and Curlew with their new industries, a new operating scheme was developed to include service to these new towns. It was a simple extension of the one used before, whereby trains from all four compass points would exchange cars in Grand Forks. The local industries were switched as part of the classification switcher duties at an appropriate point in time. This proved quite successful and was used at VanRail 2017 for two sessions.
With the addition of significantly more industries wanting cars, it was expected that the classification role at Grand Forks would need to become a full time position, with the local industries being switched by a different job.
With more places to spot cars, more cars were needed on the layout. A quick test with 60 extra dummy cars proved that the layout could absorb that many, as it settled into a nice stable pattern after about 15 days. There were only 28 extra actual cars available for the layout, so these were added and it settled into a nice stable pattern after about seven days. The operating session was based on the eighth day after stability was reached.
The nature of the Grand Forks yard is that there are more places needed to group and hold cars than there are individual tracks. This means that a dynamic location assignment scheme needs to be used, much as is used in many yards, whereby the groups of cars for one specific destination might have to be moved around over time as the number of cars ebbs and flows. The physical location of these groups is maintained by using a magnetic track diagram and moveable labels for the groups. This approach has worked well for three years when there have been fewer cars and the crews could keep up with the traffic.
With the addition of 28 (and even the test 60) extra cars, it turns out that there is in fact still sufficient room in total in the Grand Forks yard, but the increased necessity to move the various blocks of cars around and the sheer number of cars getting in the way of moves, proved to be too much for the local crew on their first attempt to switch the yard, resulting in significant frustration and lack of enjoyment.
One concern with the earlier operating scheme was that there was not sufficient work to keep a dedicated classification switcher busy full time. With the addition of more downstream industries, it was felt that the increase in cars needed on the layout would generate more interchanges at Grand Forks, thereby enhancing the classification job into a full time position. The resulting increased traffic through Grand Forks, and the additional cars being switched at the new industries has proven this true, but unfortunately the limited space at Grand Forks has made the physical task of classification not manageable in practice.
One very positive outcome of these tests is a confirmation of the program’s capability to handle the classification style of yard switching, as opposed to other programs that have no such ability. The program was able to process more cars through the yard using a prototypical switching style, whereby blocks of arriving cars are immediately classified into their respective outgoing blocks, thereby avoiding “cherry picking” by subsequent departing trains. It was able to handle complex car moves up to the full capacity of the yard without a problem, to the point that the resulting physical moves became close to impossible to carry out.
What this implies is that a different approach to running the Grand Forks yard is needed, especially as additional future towns with even more industries are contemplated. The method of processing cars in the yard is the correct one and very prototypical, except that the number of cars being handled is more than can be comfortably managed by a person, given the total space available to work in. Technically, it all fits, but it ends up being much too complicated in practice. The number of cars needing to be interchanged could be reduced by fiddling with the shipment information, but the fact remains that there will be an increasing need for significantly more cars available to be switched at the current and future towns, so this is not a viable solution.
Therefore, the main conclusion seems to be that the space at Grand Forks is far too limited to try to operate it as a classification yard in the full sense of the word. Some limited interchange is desirable and should be possible, but this would be accomplished by the various road trains that visit the town, and not by a dedicated classification switcher.
To be continued…