Monday, June 23, 2014

Adding a Fifth Dimension to Passenger Operations

Those of us who operate model railroads are playing what my friend an mentor, Paul Catapono, calls four dimensional chess.  Paul calls Time Table & Train Order operations that because of our three dimensional models and the movement of them over the layout over time.  I posit that Paul is correct about the game, but it has a Fifth Dimension: Purpose.  Why did we move a string of empty hoppers to the mines?  Why did we pick up a flat with a transformer load?  We all do it.  And those of us doing it with freight cars use a variety of techniques to direct our car movements.  Some of them ignore the content and tell us to move all the red box cars to siding A and orange reefers to industry C, but even the simplest and least detailed methods has at its root a Purpose for getting some car to some spot on the RR.  More advance schemes add varying levels of detail, but the Purpose remains the same: a reason to move Car A from B to C. 

Well, what about Passenger Ops?  Most folks with operating layouts use freight ops as their basis and passenger trains as something to add interest by providing something for the local to dodge out of the way of.  Or they use them as a way to break in newbies to their form of operation, be it CTC or TT&TO.  A superior train getting High Greens all around is a great way to see and experience a large, complicated layout the first time and learn which station follow which.  But what about an experienced crew?  You may find that your passenger trains go late in the bid because they lack interest.  What follows is a proposal of a scaleable way to add that Fifth Dimension of Purpose to your Passenger Operation.

To add realism to your operation and “Play Value” to your operators, many, including Andy Sperandeo, have advocated adding switching operations to your passenger trains.  This is great for locations like Kansas City, Tracy or Barstow where Train A would leave a car for train C, cars would be set out for diverging routes, etc.  But what about operations on a branch or in the middle of a main line division with no consist changes?  Fresno did see regular drop offs of Baggage and Express cars in the Oakland bound trains from Barstow, but what about other points?  The contents of the rail cars provided the purpose behind moving them. 

What did the contents of our prototype RRs use to get from A to Z?  Freight traveled on a Way Bill, Passengers traveled on a Ticket.  In both cases, the Conductor took possession of the travel document while on the train.  Today, it might be an electronic copy read from the screen of your smart phone or a computer generated train manifest.  In the past it was a physical copy of the document, often the original that would be used for accounting purposes.  In the model freight system using Car Cards and Waybills, the Waybill contains the destination of the car and often some description of the contents, even if it is “Empty for Loading”.  That fully describes the Purpose of moving that car.  Our scale passengers also have some purpose of moving from A to Z over our layouts.  Their full scale prototypes purchased tickets or had passes to keep from getting thrown off the train for bumming a ride.  We can use this to our advantage as a starting point to add the Fifth Dimension to our passenger ops.

Real trains had real tickets for each passenger or group.  We can selectively compress that into passengers who are through for the entire run, and those who get on or off on the modeled portion of our layout.  So for a train with two 52 seat coaches and three Pullmans of varying capacities, we have reduced the number of tickets from about 150 (way too in the weeds for our part time hobbiest conductors) to a half or a third depending on the traffic you model.  We can further compress that into the number of station stops on the layout.  We now have a very modelable level of detail for our conductors to work with.  Passenger trains run by schedule regardless of operating authority.  This allows the public to know when they have to be there to catch a train.  Whether CTC, DTC, TT&TO, passenger trains did not leave scheduled stops early.  They also needed appropriate authority to occupy the Main Track, but that is not the point of this discussion.  So our model now has a ticket representing a passenger or a group of passengers for each destination.  Destinations with no debarking passengers have no tickets in the conductor’s purse.  At each scheduled stop, the conductor picks up tickets from the waiting room and drops off the tickets for those getting off there.  If you have a diverging route, some passengers may debark and reboard a train to a destination on that diverging route.  The conductor puts that ticket in the waiting room and the train going to the diverging route picks up the passenger and ticket.  For a passenger going to a FLAG stop, the conductor will inform the engineer that he has a customer for Port Chicago if you are using a two man crew.  Since the number of passengers did vary on the prototype, you can vary the number of tickets you model.  This is where the scalability comes in.  For an orientation level run, make it one ticket with all through passengers or only a couple to show how passengers get handled at a single, scheduled stop.  As your operators gain experience with the idea of simulating passenger traffic, increase the complexity.  Its supposed to be FUN.  At some point, introduce the FLAG STOP Pickup.  At one of your flag stops, place a Ticket in the waiting room for a passenger to a destination served by your passenger train and display a flag to signal the train to stop.

Example Flag for Flag Stops

Setting up “Waiting Rooms” at Stations. 

This can be as simple as putting a cardboard divider into an existing bill box at your freight stations.  Put the passenger tickets behind the divider and you are ready to add passenger ops.  You can add dedicated “Waiting Rooms” as another dedicated bill box at appropriate stations.  You can divide them into East bound and West bound to simplify things for your crews.  You can add the complexity of a multi-spot stop at a short station by using coach and Pullman tickets, spotting first one, then the other at the short platform to embark and discharge passengers.  For diverging routes, you can have separate waiting rooms for each diverging direction. 

Sample Passenger Ticket
The Age of Aquarius is upon us, suddenly there’s an understanding. . .

Welcome to the Fifth Dimension of Passenger Operations.

John Barry
Cameron Park, CA

23 June 2014

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