Thursday, February 16, 2017

More Typical Operation in Charlevoix...

Train #522 assigned motive power ready to pick up the consist bound to Clermont.

Today, we review another job scheduled during the last operating session. Yet again, nothing fancy, but you'll see that spicing up the game doesn't require to add more track or industry...

Train #522 includes many cotton boxcars for Dominion Textile.

When I staged train #522 eastbound to Clermont. Jérôme was on duty and he asked for some "challenge" which was a clear miscalculation on his part. But well, I've learned since a long time you can throw the worst puzzle to this guy and he will find his way out: he's a professional after all.

And several empty newsprint boxcars for Donohue.

The scenerio I created was based on what was available on the layout. Remember two weeks ago I brought a series of 40ft boxcars to photograph them on the layout. They were stored on Clermont passing track and I thought it would be a nice idea to keep them there. Imagine they were extra cars stored there. Also, Coop Agrivoix still had the wrong covered hopper spotted on their track and waited to get a correct grain boxcar. Meanwhille, Donohue was full capacity and so was Dominion Textile... I could already sense working the area would be slightly more challenging than usual.

Train #522 slowly crawl along Charlevoix's coves.

To make things more complicated, train #522 had 16 cars, clearly 8 cars too long for the runaround at the end of the line... and that didn't count the 7 extra cars cluttering the said runaround in Clermont. 

Only to find Clermont "yard" is already full of extra cars.

Power was provided by a pair of powerful Atlas RS18. They would have to pull a train weighing about 8 lbs. We knew it would be enough for the job even if the 23.5" radius and 1.5% short grade on the peninsula could cause problems.

Some serious work has to be done to clear the mess.

As should be expected from Jérôme, he overcame the challenge nicely and decided that every extra cars in Clermont should be returned to Limoilou yard. This element of creativity was the only way to solve the puzzle and would make a lot of sense from a railway company's perspective.

At the end of the day, Coop Agrivoix finally gets two full grain boxcars.

Ninety minutes later, train #523 rumbled through Villeneuve at notch 8, pulling 21 cars and weighing about 10.5 lbs after a hard day... The train disappeared in Limoilou and every cars went back into the drawers.

After intensive switching at the paper mill, train #523 leaves Clermont.

Incidently, it was a good occasion to rearrange the drawers, pulling out every cars that had nothing to do with the layout and bringing more order into the "Team Track" drawer to make it more user friendly.

En route for Québec City...

Simplicity and Informal Operation

We often stage such informal operation sessions. Rarely use the formal recipe used when we have visitors because it would require a lot of work for something we are already accustomed. We will explore why in the following paragraphs, but you should know our club meetings are generally one evening per week with a big part of time dedicated to building the layout and improving rolling stock and locomotives. Often, one member will operate while others do something else. In that regard, keeping things simple and easy to set make sure operation can be done on the spot when desirable.

In our case studies, each operation session was set in less than 5 minutes and didn't require any switch list or written order. Instructions were given prior to departure including the jobs to do at each location. Additional instructions were given on the the spot in the same manner a plan manager would have done.

Sure, I'd like to implement a switchlist system with cars selected automatically by a computer, but for the moment, it is not required, at least not when operating with our club core members. Some would say we are doign informal operation, but that's not the case wince every move and cars have well-defined purposed. However, the layout is very simple, the customer routines are well-established and the pool of cars is quite self-explanatory. The only element to determine is if a car is ready to leave or must stay on spot. And that can be done quite easily by playing the customer's role when required.

My point here is that "serious" and prototypical operation doesn't always require extensive paperwork, particularly when your layout didn't reach that stage yet. It can be achieved by simply following the railroad practices as required by the situation. In our case, writing a switchlist for Jérôme or myself is a pure waste of time. We know the layout by heart. Only a computer-generated switchlist could be interesting because it is unpredictable. Being human, I'm bound to create recurring patterns inconsciously, which isn't the case with the computer. However, the patterns have never had a significative impact on a session enjoyment. Most Murray Bay trains of the 80s were highly predictable anyway. But I must admit I have a tendency to forget some irregular customers such as Béton Charlevoix, General Cables and other invisible team track customers. JMRI wouldn't overlook these as much as I do.

We also came to the conclusion most visitors aren't actually interested in prototypical operation. A big part of the crowd just want to run long trains... which can't be achieved on our point-to-point layout. I've been curious to see if this is a mainstream approach, but I often get the hunch not that much people are interested by the operation aspect of trains in Quebec. I'm well aware I could be highly biased due to  my personal experience though. The echo chamber can be extremely deceptive on such a subject matter. But I'd say I know much more people I'd call "runners" than "operators". Running a prototypically correct consists matters more than operating it. And I'm not judging anybody here since both are interesting activities that bring their share of joy.

That said, I'm pretty sure designing a large club layout to suit the divergent tastes of many model railroaders must be a soul crushing inferno made of compromise... not sure I'd like to venture there...