Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Op Session #2 Lessons Learned

Op Session #2 went pretty smoothly last week and I am very happy with the results. Definite progress in getting the operations plan tweaked, and a few things learned to help going forward.

We had 1 extra guy, making a crew of 7 plus myself. I think it probably runs better with 6 guys, but all in all, things went pretty well. I think when the schedule is balanced better and the guys are more familiar with the layout, things will run well. But good to know I can accommodate an extra guy if that happens. And if we only had 5, I would probably have to jump in to help, as just 2 road operators would slow things down. There are also a few trains on the schedule that could be skipped if necessary, without disrupting other trains.

First time attendee Rick B. is dropping some cars from MEC RY-2 at the interchange in Whitefield for the B&M.

We started rolling trains at 7:45 and finished up about 11:30. Ideally I'd like to be done by 11 so it is not too late for the guys heading home. As there was still a fair bit of instruction to get things started, I do know that time will be shaved off at the start as we do this more often. Normally it will not take 45 minutes from when guys arrive to when we start running, even with a bit of socializing.

Three trains did not run. The Amtrak and CP TOFC trains could have run - these need to run near the same time as they must pass each other in St. Johnsbury. I held these trains as things were pretty busy enough in St. Johnsbury without additional trains coming through. Ideally these will run at a time when the yard quiets down, perhaps when the yard crew guys are grabbing a snack. And the CP 904 northbound train which is scheduled to depart late in the session did not run again. This was really just a time issue as it was too late.

The Crew Call Sheet at the end of the night.

I tried to be as accurate as possible in recording train times for started and ended. Some of the crew helped out too filling this in as they came off duty and returned the train card. I made some on-the-fly changes in the schedule to keep things balanced and will use that in sequencing the trains for next time. I also will fill in start times for trains based on the info from this session. I'll update this with actual times during the next session to see how it compares.

The goal will be to get a good spacing of trains and allow crews a little down time to snack and socialize, knowing what else is coming up. This works well on other area layouts, and hopefully I can get there after a few more sessions. 

Mark F. and Joe C. held down St. J yard duties again. I thought it would be helpful not to start moving people to different assignments yet as I try to get the operating plan nailed down.
The guys were still having some trouble with the waybills and I had to do some explaining now and again. I thought about the questions they were asking and ways that I might address some of those issues encountered.

One of the things I have on my waybills is information about where the car is coming from and going to off the layout. For example, a car of cement might be coming from Howes Cave in New York, and the waybill reflects that.

While this is pretty cool (at least I think so!), in the heat of operations, guys are pretty much just wanting to know where does the car go NEXT. That can be difficult not knowing as much about the layout, the railroads modeled and the geography of the area as I do. What is easy for me to figure out is not quite the same for everyone else.

With that in mind I am making some subtle changes to the waybills to assist. First, on the To and From boxes, I am using only actual layout locations. This will assist yard crew in figuring out which cars go on which trains. For example, if a To destination is East Deerfield, that car needs to get onto CP 917 heading south, the only train heading to that destination. Even if the car is later destined for Howes Cave NY, that is off the layout and does not really concern the crew in St. Johnsbury. As much as it is nice to have waybills that are more prototypical, if it does not help the crew get the job done, then that is an issue during operations

The other change will be to highlight the Consignee destination box for any car that will be spotted locally on the layout, i.e. a car that will not end up in staging. This is just one more helpful hint to assist the operator.

An updated waybill, the To and From are layout destinations now, while the Shipper and Consignee contain some of the prototype info that I want to include on waybills (and used to be in the To and From boxes). This car will be set out locally at Ciment Quebec, which the highlighted box helps convey.

It is now easier to tell the crew to just look at the colored sections of the waybill: The upper right color assists yard crews in sorting trains (orange is a MEC destination), the highlighted To box is where this car is going next, and if highlighted, the Consignee box indicates the 'local' industry receiving the car.

I also know that the turnout controls operated via DCC with the throttles are slowing things down too much, and are not making for a good experience for the crew. This is another thing that worked well when it was just me operating the layout, but does not work as well for a visiting Ops crew. This I already have started to address and will write up in a new post later.

There was also a few mechanical type layout issues (a dead frog, a short circuit issue, some cars not operating well) that are normal things to fix on the layout, but are not necessarily an issue with the operations plan.

For now, a couple more pictures from the last session. As always, I wanted to take more, but when things get busy, I just forget to do so!

Bill H. again handled duties at Morrisville, keeping the Lamoille Valley humming right along. Bill provides good feedback and has helped me in refining the operations plan.

John R. ran the MEC local YQ-1, seen here spotting cars at Ciment Quebec and Maple Grove Farms in East St. Johnsbury. In the back is another newcomer, Phil D., handling the paper mill switch job on the B&M at Groveton.


Tom Patterson said...


It sounds like you had a successful session- congratulations! I can relate to your comments about the waybills. While I agree that it's neat to include all of the information about the car contents and routing, it often gets lost on the crews in the heat of the session. I think the changes you've made to the waybills will be a big help.

It's great to see that you're making progress on operating the layout.

Tom Patterson

railtrax said...

Hi Mike. 2nd time on your site 2day. Great to see you had good operating session. All your hard work to create such an outstanding layout pays off when you actually get to run the layout prototypicaly. I'm all for using waybills so I'll be viewing your site more often to see how this type of operation is going. Thanks.
Peter Hann.