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Operations SIG Operations PRIMER (FAQ)

Passenger Operations

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 Primer@OpSIG.org.

Question: Tell me about passenger [cars/service] on a model railroad. We had not really considered the option until some recent reading on operations. It seems to be a nice means of creating more interesting track rights and time scheduling. I was perusing the Walthers catalog and they appear to have a fairly substantial offering of BUDD-BUILT streamliners ranging from a simple coach to a postoffice car with a variety of sleeper and dining cars in between.

1. My first question would be how they are used along with freight trains. I assume a passenger train uses another form of tracking system vs the car cards and waybills utilized by the freight trains for delaying their set out times and their travel itinerary.

2. I am unclear how a passenger train is incorporated into staging as part of the overall operating scheme on the model railroad.

3. Are there several types of passenger trains to be decided on as a modeler: commuter, long distance, and/or working pseudo freight]? I ask because of the large variety of streamliner cars available in the Walthers catalog: Coach, Lounge, Baggage, Sleeper, Diner, Dormitory, Postoffice.

Answer: Passenger trains do add an enjoyable additional dimension to layout operations, but are rather era- and railroad-specific in their different patterns. As you know Amtrak has operated (virtually) all passenger service since 1971 and it has a rather plain pattern of fixed consists of pretty uniform cars running from origin to destination. In the 1960s the railroads lost the mail and express businesses as well as much passenger travel and were busy cutting back service as quickly as they could, so that period isn't too interesting either, though it is still a good counterpoint to freight runs. The 1950s back into the late 1930s was the most interesting era of the passenger business because there was a full complement of types of trains and interchange of cars between trains and railroads and therefore the most operations potential. Incidentally the Walthers Budd-type cars are representative of trains from the 1950s on into Amtrak.

If one is modeling a particular railroad and era of course that would be what to emulate, but here are some ideas about 'generic' passenger operations. Quite commonly there would be one or two best or 'flagship' trains each direction, maybe one in daytime and one overnight. These would have the fastest schedules, with minimal stops only at major cities, and would carry primarily coaches, Pullmans, lounges, a diner and maybe a mail-baggage car. (Dormitory cars were a postwar provision for passenger-service crew personnel on long-distance trains.)

The next step down would be the 'fast mail' or the 'accommodation' which would include many RPO (Railway Post Office), mail storage, and express cars and one or a few coaches. This would make most station stops and not infrequently set out or pick up mail or express cars en route. Railroads like Boston & Maine ran milk trains which picked up milk cars and stopped to load milk in cans on the way to the 'big city' and brought them back empty the other way, usually also with a coach or two. Commuter trains, of course, run 'in' in the morning and 'out' in the evening with fixed coach-only consists. Lowest of the low were branchlines and shortlines which might run a mixed train, ie. a local freight with a coach or combination coach-baggage-mail car behind a string of freightcars. Self-powered gas-electric cars or the postwar Budd RDC equivalents make interesting variations on some of these.

The fun part is when these trains pick up or drop off cars -- passenger cars like coaches, diners, and Pullmans -- to be swapped en route from one train to another. This was usually at junction points or large/medium cities. In model operations this would usually be handled with a card for each car (or switchlist) indicating where it would be PU/SO. Since the routine was usually about the same every day and a given car would usually go back and forth over a fixed routing, the card could be turned over for the return trip. Except for perhaps storage mail or express cars, there would be no need for waybill pockets and separate waybill cards a la freight. A terminal where passenger trains originate and terminate is pretty space-consuming so it isn't frequently modeled unless it is the primary theme of the layout, or is a reduced version at the end of a branchline for example. Therefore passenger trains would often if not usually appear from staging at one end of the mainline, run across the railroad (with appropriate work along the way) and disappear into staging at the other end. This would happen at about the same time(s) each day, and they would be in east-west pairs. With provision for reversing, the same consist (or almost the same) could go 'west' in the morning and reappear 'eastbound' in the evening (with the carcards turned appropriately).

A nice aspect of adding passenger trains is that they are almost always superior to freight so that adds a welcome wrinkle to getting the freights over the road. And of course they are fun to see. The specifics would depend on the particular layout, but in their own way there can be as much interest to passenger operations as to the freights.


Page updated: 2006 January 21
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