Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Operation VS Timetable

Timetable are extremely useful to understand how a railway line works. It gives you indications about stations, trackage, speed, schedule, type of motive power and special instructions to crews.

These special instructions are extremely useful to piece together how the line was operated. You remember I said recently I was a little bit puzzled by Ciment St-Laurent and its interaction with the rest of the layout. Durin  the open house, Jean-Pierre Veilleux told us the special cement train was mainly a thing from the 60s and early 70s, when Hydro-Quebec and Quebec government were in the middle of a construction spree. That traffic dwindled later and was handled by regular freight trains servign the Murray Bay Sub.

Interestingly, the 1994 CFC (Chemin de fer Charlevoix / Charlevoix Railway) Timetable gives us a few hints about operation at the cement plant. Also, it is good to know CFC used the same CN train numbers (522/523). In fact, to some extent, CFC didn't change the formula when they took over the subdivision. Thus, we can base our assumptions on their timetable with a high degree of confidence to try to figure out how CN operated the line back in the mid 80s.

Jean-François Dumont was kind enough to send me a copy of his personal archives. Here's a translated version of the special instructions:

  1. At Limoilou, pick up the train on "Fl 01 to Fl 08" or "Cl 71 to Cl 73". [TN: these are tracks located in Limoilou Yard]
  2. At Villeneuve, spot cars on track T 2.
  3. Léo Cauchon, set out and pick up cars "eastbound. T 11.
  4. At Beaupré, set out cars on track T27.
  5. At Clermont, set out cars on track U 93 and surplus cars on tracks U 94, U 79 and U 81. Pick up cars on track U 95 and surplus cars on U94.
  6. Don't leave Clermont before 11:00 AM if cars are not ready.
  7. At Wieland, report work done on the 522 to CSC, inquire of the work to be done on the 523 and provide rotation for 523.
  8. On return trip to Beaupré's "Donohue", pick up cars on track T 27 and wait until 2 P.M. if cars are not ready.
  9. At Villeneuve, the company can make us wait up to 3 P.M.
Generally speaking, this is almost how we operate the layout, with the notable exception of Ciment St-Laurent.

It is in fact very interesting to see trains 522/523 handled that traffic on a regular basis. It means we could add Villeneuve as a regular stop on our actual operations. It would means slightly longer trains which isn't a bad thing in itself. Also, that means traffic at the plant would no longer be unit trains, but rather small cuts of varied cars. It would make switching there more interesting and in fact, it means the local switcher would have to complete its task before train 523 is back in Villeneuve.

I think including the cement plant as a regular customer on 522/523 round trip is the most effective way to bring life in this part of the layout. It doesn't mean we won't run extra trains from time to time as required, but that there will be more variety in switching moves, as occured on the real prototype.


  1. Matthieu

    Interesting comments. I've been a pretty pure TTTO guy, using detailed train instructions with car cards and waybills to drive pulls and spots. But I've recently reviewed that protocol, introducing a switch list, with 12 or 15 entries/moves for the main yard; crews seem to like it. I've also been considering a pulls, moves and spotting list from the Plant Manager of the burlap plant. My reasoning is that the Plant Manager knows what he wants done, not the railroad. A local DC area friend, Mat Thompson, has instituted just such a form for his very large Swift Meat plant, a turn that usually takes the full three hours of a session, with all moves being spelled out by the Swift Plant Mgr. The crew picks up this instruction from a "mail box" near the lead switch.

    All of this certainly slows down the crews.

    I enjoy your blog

    1. Thank you for your insight Roger!

      I tried to implement a sophisticated waybill system, but abandoned halfway when I found out it was overkill for this small layout. Our main operator Jérôme wasn't excited about it and prefered to stick with a switchlist.

      We only have 3 industries + a team track, after a while, you know every customers and their needs by heart. Before working a plant, he often ask me which cars are loaded or empty and if there's some special move to do. In fact, I'm the defacto plant manager.

      Until I got a copy of the 1994 timetable, I thought we were lazy, but my perception changed. That document list 9 common tasks a crew will perform at various places on the line. At the major customers, it is made clear to get further instructions from the plant. If required, a train can be delayed to adjust to the customer's need.

      Mat Thomson's idea is very interesting, efficient and easy to implement. Writing down instructions to a crew is faster and more interesting than shuffling cards and waybills.

      I also think our industries are too often faceless. Having real interaction with the plant add a layer of realism and a sense of purpose. I guess we too often overlook the customer's role while replicating railroading practice.