Modelling what might have been in southeast BC and northwest Wasington

Selective Compression of Operations

The idea of selectively compressing aspects of a model railroad has been around for a long time, but it has mostly been applied to physical things such as building size, number of windows, bridge length, etc. The motivation is that our model railroad layouts are significantly smaller than the prototype.To help compensate for this, we reduce the size or number of various elements to help make the layout seem bigger. The notion that this same idea can be applied to the operational aspects of running a model railroad has not been popular, but it will be explored here.

Model train sizes and distances are already vastly smaller that on the prototype, so we often operate with a “fast clock” to enhance the notion of time and distance, but there are a few more things that we can do from a timing perspective to enhance layout operations.

A prototype railroad moves cars around in order to effect shipments of goods from one place to another. No cars move without a very specific purpose. On a model railroad, none of the cars are actually carrying a real shipment, but we want to move the model cars in a way that gives some fun, and provides some illusion that the cars are fulfilling real shipments, instead of just being moved about randomly. Some aspects of prototype practice can diminish this illusion and reduce the so-called “Play Value” of a session if followed too rigidly. For example, cars on a model railroad that are being loaded or unloaded at an industry are in fact doing absolutely nothing, and no shipper will get upset if the cars get moved before the required simulated time has elapsed. On the contrary, if we can pick up a car that has been recently delivered, far sooner than is prototypical, then we will increase the play value for the people involved. The trick is to do this in such a way that it is not obvious that very little time has elapsed between delivery and pickup. One simple approach is to have a car delivered by one crew, but picked up soon after by a completely different crew. If done carefully, both crews are none the wiser that the car did not remain at the industry for the required time, and both crews are maximizing their play time by keeping busy switching cars.

Another area that can be compromised from prototype practice is the time of day or the number of times per day that an industry is switched. No plant manager will be placing irate phone calls to the railroad if multiple trains per day switch the same industry. From the perspective of each crew switching an industry, they are the only game in town when they are there, and what others do at a different time of the day is of no concern to them. This way we can extract far more play value from one set of industries in a given town. It is certainly possible to have some dwell time on some cars so that not all of the cars get picked up at the same time. A small amount of this will help to have some cars that are not to be moved by a given train and interfering with those that should move, thereby increasing the switching effort required, and hence the play value.

Another aspect of model railroad operations is that no one person can really grasp the entire ebb and flow of cars across a layout over multiple days, except possibly the owner who designed it. People usually participate in an operating session that lasts a few hours and represents a day or a part of a day. It will rarely be apparent to any individual if a given car has remained at an industry for the prototypically correct amount of time being loaded or unloaded. They will usually interact with a given car only once during that session as the car moves along its journey, so what it did before or after their involvement is not known and should be of no concern. What is important, is that the interactions of the operator with that car be prototypical over the duration of their involvement. For example, knowing the load, and the final destination of the car can enhance the illusion that the car is actually carrying a shipment someplace, rather than just being moved about randomly. All of this needs to be considered from the viewpoint of each operator and what their field of view is of the layout.

Having the flexibility to implement many of these operational compression schemes is difficult with traditional Car Cards and Waybills given that they are normally updated only between operating sessions. Using computer software to simulate these operations has no such limitations and opens up many new possibilities.