Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Monday, June 29, 2015

First Op Session Success!

On Wednesday night I had a group of 6 local model railroaders, experienced at layout building and operations, over to conduct the first formal Op Session on the Northeast Kingdom. This has been a long time coming, having started the layout 12 years ago. The last few months have all been final preparations to make for a successful session.

Did I get everything done on my check list? No, I did not. But probably the best thing I did was send out invites on June 1st, setting a target date of 6/24. This helped me use the time available to just focus on the must-haves - the absolutes that would otherwise prevent trains from running.

I had to scale some things back, and eliminate certain trains, like the Central Vermont runs 537/538, St. Albans to Richford and return, because of missing track in Sheldon Jct. to make them serve any real purpose. But all in all it was enough to fill more than 3 hours, and left me with 3 trains out of 28 scheduled that did not run at the end of the ssession. Some schedule adjustments and better informational aids for the crews will help address this, allowing all trains to run and keeping the session at a reasonable length.

Once everyone assembled, we went over some basic info, and I explained the waybills and the train cards to the operators. A lot of good feedback regarding operational aids was received, things like linear maps, additional info on the yard instruction sheet and the like will be easily implemented to help.

I assigned 2 people to the St. Johnsbury yard position. This was a recent idea, and I am glad I did. It is very busy there, and having a yardmaster as well as an engineer really helped keep things flowing well.

 Joe Calderone (front) and Mark Fryzstacki (back) volunteered for St. Johnsbury duty. 
 Mark and Joe ran things very well and picked up quickly on the operating scheme. There were some issues, mostly being unfamiliar with the layout and lacking some operational instructions that would help, but they did a great job. The yard itself was a bit different than they expected as it is really an interchange yard and not a traditional arrival/departure yard that an operator might expect. With trains from 3 railroads and tracks heading N, S, E and W, it takes a little bit of an adjustment. One issue was the planned CP MLW S2 for yard power died a few days earlier. The replacement RS2 lacked the weight needed to handle large cuts of cars. Getting the S2 back in service should alleviate that issue.

John Rahenkamp operated a number of road and local freights.
 Three operators were assigned to road duties, which included locals, a paper mill switcher and general run through freights. I found that I will need to keep track of start/stop times and develop a balance of when trains should be released for operation to help keep things flowing nicely. There was a little too much down time here and there for the road crews that could be eliminated with some schedule adjustments.

Bruce Barrett (left) and Bill Howard (right) working together in Morrisville, VT.
 Bill signed up for Lamoille Valley yard duty. Bill picked up things quickly and got things done efficiently. The schedule affected Bill a little with some down time. We discussed some ideas to address this and Bill had good input. It is very interesting to start to get input from others who experience your layout and start to understand how you are modeling the prototype. In fact it is one of the real rewards in having an Op session, seeing the operators bring your layout to life, and use terminology for your trains and locations.

Jim Homoki (left) checks his waybills for CP job RS-1 before switching Lyndonville, VT.
 Jim did a great job as well, quickly understanding the work needed for the first train of the night, Maine Central's RY-2. He also had no issue throwing some of the remotely controlled Tortoise machines that operate as DCC addresses of off the DT400 throttle. This was a little concern for me, and I do want to put up track diagrams with instructions for throwing the switches. There are not too many, but I want each operator to feel comfortable in routing the turnouts.

John waits while the yard crew reviews the train that he just brought in, MEC TY-2 from North Stratford.
 One thing that will help alleviate road crew down time, and perhaps give St. operators a little break and a chance to grab a snack, will be getting the remaining trackwork in place in North Stratford, Beecher Falls, Lyndonville and Sheldon Jct. This is not to big of a task and even if just the track is in without ground throws, the operators can deal with this until the time is available to finish things like that. Getting that track in adds work for a number of trains, and work = time, and fun, for the operators.

With the 3 road crews occupied with other jobs, Bill ran the LVRC freight to St. Albans, VT, which included switching the feed mill (with the stand in elevator, until I build a more appropriate New England style elevator!)

Bruce ran the Maine Central local YQ-1, which is shown here switching cars at Giman, VT.
 One big change will be establishing a paper mill switch job for Gilman. This is very much a case where strictly following the prototype does not always scale down well on a model railroad. The prototype ran a local out of St. Johnsbury, switched the paper mill at Gilman, ran on to Whitefield to interchange with the B&M and then headed back to St. J.

Initially this train left too late as I did not indicate it's importance properly to the St. J yard crew. And then, because of switching work, it takes a long time to operate. This is not an operator issue, it is just the reality of having to do a lot of back and forth, throwing of switches, dropping and picking up cars. On the prototype they had something like an 8 hour window to do the work. Most of this time was not running between towns, which on a model railroad is scaled down. It is the switching work that takes so much time, and same thing on a model railroad. Meanwhile planned trains get stacked up waiting for YQ-1 to complete.

So the solution I will implement is to establish a Gilman paper mill switch job, This job can do advance work to gather outbound loads, and then handle drops that will get left by YQ-1. This will allow YQ-1 to proceed to Whitefield and do work there. On the return trip as QY-2, the Gilman switch job will have spotted all outbound cars on the passing siding for a quick pickup.

The benefit will not only be a shorter time period for YQ-1/QY-2 but also a new operating job for the Gilman paper mill. It will need collaboration with the road crew, which also adds fun and interest. This was not what the Maine Central did in 1980, but for my model railroad, it will work better.

All in all it was a great experience. The layout ran really well, which was a relief. There were some issues that were put on the hit list, but that was to be expected. A few cars need couplers or trucks adjusted, but again, expected.

But I also have a long list of things to address to make for a better session, outside of the physical layout. Schedule change, paperwork, operational aids, some crew comfort items, and staging adjustments that I make to balance freight cars, will go a long way to making session 2 an even better experience. I plan to try to get that one scheduled sometime in August, so no time to waste on getting things started!


Trevor said...

Congratulations on hosting your first formal ops session and thanks for sharing the report here. It made for very interesting reading.
As you discovered, there's nothing like a session deadline to really light the fire under you - and it sure does help you set priorities on the layout.
There's also nothing like a session to prove a layout's concept, and it sounds like yours has been a success - so well done! At the same time, it's amazing how much you learn about how you thought the layout would operate, and how it actually does. That's great - because it allows you to tweak plans to make the next session even better.
I hope you continue to host regular operating sessions and blog about them here.
- Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

Mike McNamara said...

Thanks Trevor. I'll probably have some more observations to share. Of note, looking at the layout last night I see a few cars did not get to their proper destinations. I take this as a deficiency in the waybill instructions, so I'll need to work on that.

It was very interesting to see how operators handled movements in the St. J yard. They did things I would not have thought of at all, you are right!