Operations Primer - Staging

Following are the topics/questions discussed in this section of the OpSig PRIMER. You can click on a question to jump directly to that topic. You are invited to address further questions or comments (please refer to question number) to webmaster@opsig.org.

Question 1: I've read a great deal on the merits and importance of including 'hidden staging' in a model railroad layout. I plan to add this concept which sounds most useful in creating that 'beyond the basement' feeling.

What I haven't been able to discern is just how one schedules trains to exit to and return from staging. Do you collect a number of cars via their waybill assignment and then drag that consist off to hidden staging with some engine from the enginehouse?

I'm unsure how the hidden staging area delays the re-entrance of a car or an entire train in the same way a car is delayed on a siding for loading or unloading via the card bins:

1) Is it also a carcard scenario with card bins on the staging fascia once the train arrives in the hidden staging area?

2) Does it involve an entire train, or individual cars reentering?

3) Do the engines also assume a delay, or do you simply attach the engine to the next train about to reenter the layout? I ask because the entire train enters staging as a unit.

4) Would a train or its cars stay in staging until the next operating session in most or all cases?

Answer 1: There are variations, but think about it this way: you are modeling the XYZ railroad which runs from A (east) to Z (west). However your basement is only big enough to model the part from H to P. So east staging will represent all the stations from A through G, and west staging will represent all the stations from Q through Z.

Let's say that H is a division point yard. So trains from the east come out of staging (arriving from A) with an 'H block' of cars on the headend which are destined for stations H through P, and a 'Q block' of cars on the rear which stay on the train. The train might or might not change engines, but it sets out the H-P cars and picks up any cars in the yard destined for Q-Z. It departs and runs to west staging 'en route to Z.' Of course similar trains come from Z, set out and pick up on the layout, and go on to A.

The staging yard can be a set of dead-end tracks, but since the trains will eventually need to come back it could also be in the form of a reversing loop; or 'west' staging and 'east' staging could be the two ends of the same hidden double-ended yard so that a train could run A-Z-A-Z repeatedly. This could be handy for loaded coal trains in one direction and empties in the other, for example.

Individual carcards/waybills will indicate destinations, or interchanges to connecting lines, at A-Z. Cars on the modeled part of the railroad are handled with waybill boxes at each station, etc. For the off-layout destinations, the entire train terminates on a track in the staging yard and its cards/waybills are all put in one pocket corresponding to the track, or sometimes they are just hung from a hook if held together by a clip. Before the train returns (later in this session, or not until next session) the waybills will have to be turned to their next position. Now the train may need to be reblocked so that the (now) H-P cars are on the head end and the Q-Z cars behind, for example. If the reblocking (or swapping of cars to and from storage drawers) is to take place during the session, that staging area needs to be accessible without interfering with operations. Some layouts have a regular operator (the 'mole') who does nothing but stay in the hidden staging area and make 'new' trains. They swear this is just as interesting a job as the regular operators if you're into that sort of thing, since you get to surprise the rest of the crew with what appears. The mole may also change engines to perpetuate the idea that no one has seen this train before.

Staging is called staging because the modeled part of the railroad has been likened to the actors the audience sees on the open theater stage. They appear from the 'rest of the world' when they 'enter stage left,' and disappear when they 'exit stage right.'

Q2: Is the four box scenario used in staging:





Train 1 arrives in staging. Its carcards/waybills are placed [as one group] in the ARRIVE bin.

Train 2 arrives in staging.

Train 1 carcards/waybills now move to the HOLD bin.

Train 3 arrives in staging.

Train 1 carcards/waybills now move to the UNLOAD/LOAD bin.

Train 4 arrives in staging.

Train 1 carcards/waybills now move to the PICK UP bin.

Train 5 arrives in staging.

Train 1 is sent out of staging and back onto the visible layout.

That's five trains before one moves out of staging, four trains if you use one less pocket in the bin rotation. Presumably you have another group of trains running along the rails and doing their thing.

A2: Oops, no, staging is like a switching yard, there would be one pocket or hook) for each track in staging. (Classification yards usually have a pocket for each track and one moves the cards to the proper pocket in parallel with switching the cars.) The 'industry delay' concept isn't used for staging. So there is no particular relationship between when trains arrive and when they depart, except of course there have to be enough tracks empty for the arrivals. This often dictates the sequence of operations on the railroad, but card pockets aren't any limitation.

Q3: What's a typical or normal number of operating trains per lineal foot of track?

A3: I don't know of any particular relationship between feet of track and number of trains, although on single track there pretty much needs to be at least one more passing siding than the number of trains moving at one time.

Q4: Let's assume Train 6 is moving along making dropoffs and pickups. Some of the pickups have waybills that direct that particular car to staging. When Train 6 completes its assigned duties it returns to the yard with two waybills destined for staging. Train 7 is also on its way back to the yard and it has three waybills for staging. Train 8 is coming in with one waybill destined for staging.

So I gather the yardmaster classifies these six cars for staging. He/she assigns an engine to this staging consist and the train disappears from the visible layout and arrives in staging as Train 1.

How do I as layout owner calculate the number of waybills needed that call for staging as one of the movements so as to be sure that I create enough demand in the yard to warrant a mole to be needed? And does the mole combine consists if they arrive in varying sizes, or does the mole always treat each arriving train as a separate entity regardless of how large or small the consist happens to be?

A4: Your example is ok with the yardmaster deciding to run a train to staging when he accumulates a worthwhile number of cars headed that way. More often, though, the railroad has a schedule of (more or less) regular trains that are planned to run each day at about the same time, hopefully after the local switch trains have returned with their connecting cars. They might originate at this yard (as in your example) or they might come from the other end of the railroad (maybe the other staging yard), possibly drop off some cars for 'tomorrow's' locals, and pick up today's cars headed for staging.

Now, how may waybills? One approach suggests that since each waybill 'side' comes up every 4th session, and presumably staging 'turns over' once per session, you can have up to 4 waybill 'sides' in circulation for each carlength of track in staging. At industries, if cars average staying at industries for two sessions, you can have (up to) two waybill 'sides' in circulation for each industry track spot in addition to the staging bills. And if there are cars en route at the end of a session (for example, sitting in the classification yard), there can be 4 times that number of waybill sides too (they would have destinations in proportion to the staging/industry mix above). Naturally the number of carcards and cars on the layout is 1/4 of the above total, not counting the cars swapped out of storage drawers.

There's no hard and fast rule, but I imagine that most often a train into staging is turned back as about the same size and usually with all of the exact same cars. The waybills would have been turned and probably the blocking adjusted reflecting the new set of destinations. However, especially if there is an active 'mole' during a session, he might decide to shorten extra-long trains or add to shorties. It's entirely optional, the criterion being what helps the visible railroad to function best. Always remember, the concept is that the cars that came into staging are on their way to places all over the country, so they won't be seen again for several days if at all ever. If you think you are seeing a similar car later on, it's probably only a coincidence (but it's good to minimize the times this is noticeable, which is part of the mole's job).