Train operation begins for model railroaders when enough track is put down to move a model train of any length from one spot to the next. For many this occurs when an oval or circle of track is laid, either temporarily or permanently, and a train is moved around and around. The only variable for this configuration is speed and sooner or later boredom sets in and a search begins for something more interesting for the miniature train to do. If a station is placed near the track, the train now needs to make a stop either to pick up or drop freight or passengers. The installation of a turnout generates a little more interest, since the train can now drop or pick up a car at the end of a siding. A small industrial building placed near the siding creates the need for a freight car to be spotted there to be loaded with products for shipment to some other area on the railroad. A second station is placed on the other side of the area and another turnout and BINGO!-before you know it a model railroad has been created moving freight and passengers between two towns. This is the opposite of what happens when a real railroad is built. Usually, the towns and industries exist first and the railroad lays tracks to service them at a later time. This little railroad with its two stations and two turnouts however, operates in the same way as a real railroad. The only difference is the real railroad will make more moves and stops and probably run longer trains with larger locomotives. Train operation for both railroads consists of moving merchandise and people from one point to another.
A Shortline railroad is defined as a connecting railroad usually serving a remote area or town to interchange revenue traffic with a larger railroad. It is a common belief that all American rail systems began as Shortline railroads that were later merged or bought by a larger system to become the major railroads of the twentieth century. This fact is a great blueprint for model train operation. Even if you plan to construct a large 60 ft. by 30 ft. empire and have worked out the details and drawn a scale track plan with two large yards and long double-track mainline runs, it is a good idea to build it in sections that will enable you to get some trains running as soon as possible. A couple of small towns with yards of two or three tracks connected by a few feet of mainline will provide interesting train operation and inspiration while constructing the remaining areas of the empire. One beneficial side effect is always having a train nearby for test runs as you lay track and turnouts. As a starting point let’s assume we are building a shortline railroad in HO scale as a tabletop layout on a 4 ft. by 8 ft. sheet of plywood and we plan to expand it at some future date.
This railroad is aptly named the Northpoint and South Park R.R. and serves the industries which are located in the two small towns. The N & SP, as shown above, has 18 in. radius curves and no. 4 turnouts and can be either steam or diesel (or both) using small locomotives. Boxcars, hoppers, and flatcars would provide basic freight service while a single short coach or combine could carry passengers. A train from South Park to Northpoint could consist of 2 hopper cars of coal for the sand and coal company, 1 boxcar loaded with sacks of flour for the bakery, and a flat or boxcar of lumber for the cabinet maker. Northpoint has two tracks for car storage and a train bound to South Park could consist of empty cars for the industries there. A basic track plan with simple train operation between two small towns, but-with a few additional tracks the operating possibilities of this little railroad can become more complex and a lot more interesting.
Tracks at A and B are hidden staging tracks where trains from a larger class one railroad can be stored. As examples, a train at A could be a Baltimore and Ohio freight and a train at B could be from the Southern railroad. The length of the tracks can be as long as your space will allow. Most large layouts will also have four or more staging tracks for a greater variety of train types. The B & O train arriving at Northpoint could pickup and drop cars for both Northpoint and South Park. The same is true for the Southern train arriving at South Park, hence the need for the yard track at C. Now the N & SP functions as a real shortline railroad with both towns providing interchange service with two major railroads. The flour mill and lumber company at South Park provide goods for shipment but also require certain supplies to manufacture their products. A car loaded with wheat may arrive on the B & O local at Northpoint where it will be picked up by the next N & SP train for transport to the flour mill at South Park while a Southern freight could drop a load of rough lumber from some imaginary sawmill for the lumber company. Note that the B & O provides east-west traffic while the Southern is north-south giving a wider range of geographical access to the Northpoint and South Park R.R.
Be sure to name the industries and towns on your railroad to give a more accurate destination or origin for the routing of freight traffic. This includes yard track numbers where cars may be spotted for pickup at a later time. Not only will this help in switching moves but it also helps to establish the location and era of your pike. There is no doubt about the geographical location of an industry with the name “Dixie Coal Company” or “Northeastern Stone and Marble”. Populate the model railroad with complimentary industries such as the lumber supplier and cabinet maker in the above example. The most important factor to ensure good train operation of any model railroad is to keep the track clean and the rolling stock and motive power in top operating condition.
Train Operation for: