Operations SIG Operations PRIMER (FAQ)
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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