I started to learn using the Operations feature of JMRI this week. While I thought the learning curve would be steep, I was surprised to find very similar to a vintage computer game from the 90s called Transportation Tycoon Deluxe (TTD). Six or seven years ago, a friend introduced me the open source version of this game called OpenTTD. The interesting thing about this new version what that fan of the game completely rebuilt it and better, they developed the railroad operations a lot to be more realistic.
Some poeple will wonder why I'm talking about that old game, but the reason is simple. Back then, I only cared about the aesthetic aspect of trains. I didn't gave that much thoughts to realistic operations as long as the trains did "look" realistic.
I played this game a lot when my modelling interest dwindled. It was a good occasion to go outside modelling the component of a railway to focus "modelling" virtually the operation and traffic patterns. Sure, OpenTDD had a lot of limitation, however, it was good enough to proove me operations were fun and understand perfectly what your trains does too. Modelling the purpose became a new interest of me and I would go as far as saying it helped me to shape my minimal approach to this hobby.
Right now, working my way up in JMRI Operations - with its quite dated Java interface - I must admit I'm at home. While the software is much more complex than OpenTTD, I recognize the same logic I came to appreciate in that old game.
The interesting fact is that a very simplistic layout like Hedley-Junction (with 5 industries and no real interchange) can become quickly complex and varied. Since we've never been fan of card system and don't have the time to set one with our very limited time at the layout, JMRI Operations is a viable and manageable option for us. We've always run the layout using switchlist and this is a nice software to generate them with a real sense of purpose. Who would have thought an irresponsible guy like me would find solace in dispatching... thought an old computer game!