Model Railroad Operations

A small crew of guests operating my Chesapeake & Atlantic Model Railroad.
Train movements are generated using a computer program and the Manifests are printed out beforehand.

Once you have your layout built to a point where you can run some trains on it, you do.  If you do not know about operations, then you will just run your trains around and around.  Soon, you will become bored with it and begin to ask yourself if that is all there is to Model Railroading.  Well, let me tell you its not.  Those of us who have been in Model Railroading for a good while and built more than a couple of layouts, have learned that actually operating our layouts similar to a real railroad is where the fun really is.  Sure there is fun in building the layout, but the real fun comes when you can invite a few friends over and actually OPERATE the layout.  And your layout doesn't have to be complete or finished.  As long as trains are running, it can be set up for some operations.

So what IS model railroad Operations and how is it done?  Well, you have to set up your layout, define your industries, determine where they ship cars to, and set up some positions for your guests to operate at.  This can seem intimidating at first, particularly if you have not done it before.  Then you and your guests run trains, taking cars to and from the industries on your layout according to a train Manifest or Switch list, not just randomly with no purpose.  Definitely not round and round continuous running.  

There are two major camps for Operations.  One group advocates Car Cards, and the other group advocates Computerized Switch Lists.  Both take about the same work in setting them up, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages.  Here are a few photos of the two types.

Car Cards and Waybills for one train The pockets required on a layout for organization at each switching location The Industry File

Photo by Mike Lehman

Photo by Mike Lehman

Photo by Mike Lehman

For switching purposes, you must carry around all the Cards for the train that you are running.
At each stop, you must sort through the Cards to determine what cars are to be set out,
then sort through the Cards in the layout boxes and determine what cars are to be picked up.  
Then switch the cars and also change out the Car Cards you are carrying.

A single Manifest clipped to the layout for one train A Manifest for one train.  The towns the train goes through are listed in order. (One sheet of paper)

For switching purposes, you carry one sheet of paper.  
For each stop it tells you what cars to set out and what cars to pick up.
You switch the cars around and then depart for the next town.

To help get you started, I have written a couple of articles that you can download and read.  Is this a complete guide?  No.  You should read other things about model railroad operations also, but these articles are a good place to start.  The articles are in PDF form, so you will need Adobe reader.  Click on the icons below to open / download the articles.  

  1 - Why Model Railroad Operations.  Deals with what railroads do and basic track planning for operations.
   2 - Operations Set Up.  Deals with how to implement operations on a model railroad.