Operations Primer - Switchlists

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'm clear on carcards and waybills, but I don't understand how to create a 'switchlist' to support the carcard system being used, and I'm unsure why you'd need or want both systems being used together?

Answer 1: A switchlist as you might expect is a list of cars (sometimes abbreviated, for example without initials and/or only the last 3 of the (up to) 6 numerical digits), together with a notation of where each one goes. In a switch yard 'where' would be a particular classification track for cars all going the same place, the list having been made up by a yard clerk and marked up by the yardmaster for use by the switch crew. A slightly different situation is switching at a town or industrial area, where the industry, the local agent or conductor may make up a list for the crew listing not only the cars to be set out, and where including maybe the specific spot at an industry, but also cars already there to be picked up.

In a model situation, some people feel that cards just aren't realistic, or are a nuisance to deal with, so they use only lists. Since it would be laborious to make up the lists by hand usually they are prepared ahead of time by computer using software such as ShipIt or ProTrak. The computer also permits more flexibility, eg. no 'permanent' itineraries, each car's trip is chosen at random following various rules. Yard switching is generally a weakness of switchlist systems. Cards vs switchlists is one of those perpetual debates like Ford vs Chevy which isn't likely to ever be resolved.

Card users treat a packet of cards as though it is a 'list' on a sheet of paper; the cards can even be 'fanned' so several can be read at once. However, there are some cases where carcard users may make up switchlists, probably by hand. Some yardmasters prefer to make up switchlists from the carcards, just the way real YMs do from the real waybills. This is certainly more realistic but opinions differ on whether it's worth the effort.

Another situation is switching a town. If the area is large or complicated it can be worthwhile to stop before beginning work and make a list of the cars in town by location plus the cars you brought by where they go. Then you can flag the cars to be pulled and know where the others, plus the new setouts, are to be put back. Otherwise it's easy to either get totally confused, or fill up the scenery with carcards, which isn't very attractive either. As moves are completed they are checked off the list, and when you're done the carcards are put in the card boxes as usual and the list can be thrown away.

Q2: In the 10/99 Dispatcher an article titled, 'Switching by the List' by Andy Sperandeo recapped his experience operating Ron Copher's Lake Erie & Southern RR as the YM. I perfectly understand the article and the procedure as described by Andy. The addition of a scanned image of the actual PUSH/PULL switch list they used was very helpful.

What has me confused is the purpose for the moves he was actually making and describing. He describes in detail the whole process of shuffling cars around the classification tracks in preparation for their departure. 'Pull 8 from track 4, LE&S 006 - ATSF 718, Push 2 onto track 3, GN 227 - ATSF 718, and so on. I understand this re-shuffling. What has me confused is why would he need to do this??? I was under the impression that cars are 'blocked' as they arrive in the yard. Classifying cars is therefore done at arrival time, and the classification tracks are now blocked and ready to depart with the assigned engine/train per some schedule, etc.

What is Andy doing? It seems that he is correcting [or re-doing] previous classification and blocking efforts in the yard. I would have thought the ONLY thing left to do once cars are blocked and classified might be to pull more than one classification track to build an outgoing train at the time of departure should that departing train be assigned more than one classification track of blocked cars.

A2: I think what Andy described was the process of getting cars classified upon arrival. That is, when an inbound train comes into the yard he would make up a list (or get a list from the inbound conductor) and mark it up for the switch crew. Through trains are generally blocked in the sense that all the cars for 'this' yard should be together, and separate from cars the train takes somewhere else, so it can make its setout in one move. However, the cars for 'here' still have to be sorted out for various locals, switch runs, service tracks, etc. Local freights coming back to the yard would not typically be sorted in any particular order, since the yard is usually more efficient at classification than a train on the road.

The yard should keep the tracks classified and ready for departures, but often the yard has more separations to make than it has separate tracks to accumulate each one, so there is usually a 'sluff' or 'for now' track where cars are put that aren't needed immediately but will have to be resorted later.

Finally, in the model world, although it shouldn't be this way, it's not unusual to start a session finding the yard unorganized (a 'dog's breakfast') and having to start classifying almost everything. It sounds like that's what Andy was dealing with in the article.