Operations Primer - Transportation Plan

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 am looking for some 'templates' for lack of a better term, that will help me setup/organize an operating session. I have a car forwarding system that I like. But I don't have any idea of how to go about scheduling trains or writing up a list for car sorting in a yard. What else am I missing?

Answer 1: You have picked up on the relatively well documented car-forwarding part of the operations picture, good start. The piece still missing is 'what trains should run, when, and what will they do?' What you refer to as a template is often called a transportation plan or arranged freight service (we're omitting passengers for now).

To some extent of course the transportation plan depends on the kind of railroad you are modeling. If it's a shortline, branchline or industrial switching district then most likely there will be one train/switch run per day which will naturally deliver the inbound cars/waybills and pick up the outbounds. Even then there may be a need to define how the 'outbounds' are handled. For example there may be eastbound vs westbound cars, or cars for different connecting rrs vs cars that will be moved further by your railroad's mainline trains. Part of your crew's job is to separate the outbounds according to these different routings indicated by their waybills, and this is where sorting to specific yard tracks begins to come in.

On a larger railroad in addition to the local switchers there will be through trains which don't work individual industries but pick up and set out blocks of cars at main connecting points. The plan is worked out so there is a way for every car to get to its destination via these defined blocks and trains. Then the job of a particular yard along the way is to assemble these blocks for the through trains to handle, and to distribute their setout blocks to the connecting trains, locals and switch runs that also work out of this yard. Usually there will be defined classification tracks to accumulate cars for each of these ongoing trains and the arriving cars will be written up for sorting for these destinations in accordance with the transportation plan.

An obvious source of 'templates' would be the plan or schedule of the part of the prototype railroad you are modeling (why make it up when it exists?), but if you don't have access to that or if you are freelancing you would need to create your own, though having an example of a real one, even if it doesn't fit your railroad, would explain a lot.

Your railroad's transportation plan would probably be built around the predominant or the most competitive part of its traffic, for example, perishables moving from the southwest or southeast to the eastern markets, or steel from Pittsburgh. Or maybe your railroad competes for general traffic against several other similar midwest roads. These tend to define the 'hot' or priority trains. Then you would provide for the work to be done by the return trips of these same trains/crews, which might be lower priority and able to take care of other types of traffic. If there are diverging routes or important connecting lines then blocks will be needed to serve these. Finally there are the local switch runs; these would usually be set up to run shortly after the main blocks of their traffic arrive at the local's origin yard, and/or to return to the yard in time to connect with particular outbound trains. This may begin to sound like the airlines' 'hub and spoke' system where they build their schedules to allow travelers to reach all locations but favoring the most heavily traveled origins/destinations.

The plan is basically expressed in two complementary parts: for each train over its entire run (could be more than one crew district), what blocks of traffic does it handle, in what sequence in the train makeup, and where are they picked up and set out, as well as a rough time schedule and perhaps policies about how much power is assigned, etc. The other part is the same information from the perspective of each individual yard, listing (probably in time of day sequence) what trains stop there to set out and/or pick up and which blocks each particular train handles at that yard. A 'block' in this context means 'cars that will be handled together because they are going to or by way of a particular point.' For example, a train originating in Chicago might have blocks for Galesburg, Kansas City, and Albuquerque. Galesburg would remove cars for trains that operate out of that yard, and perhaps add cars from its area that are going to the Kansas City area or the Albuquerque area. And so forth.