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Posted in Articles by Rob Chant. (Last activity on Friday, February 07, 2020 at 16:32:00 AST.)

ARTICLE: Making Reasonable Choices and Compromises

Anyone that has worked with me in the past will hopefully realize that I am not one to impose my views on another modeler. Your aims and goals in the hobby are no doubt different than mine, and I don't think anyone has the right to deter either of us from our chosen path. I have always been more of a "present me with the facts and I will make up my own mind" kinda guy. However, not wanting to be herded in a certain direction doesn't mean that I don't like hearing other or opposing views on a subject, because that's the only way I can decide what's the best choice for me and my layout.

Since layout design is all about compromises and choices driven by space restrictions, financial constraints, and personal skill levels, no one can provide you with a "one-size-fits-all" option. Your layout has to be tailored to fit you, your dreams, and your boundaries. That not only applies to the entire layout, but it also applies to the individual elements included within the design. Take the design of a freight yard for example, which is one of the biggest things to cause some confusion among any new track plan designer.

Why the confusion?

Over the years I have read enough on the subject of freight yards to have a good understanding of how to design one, and what things to avoid when designing one for a client. I have also researched how best to operate a large railway yard, even though I had very limited opportunity to apply that knowledge in real life (for what's it's worth, I have worked big yards in virtual reality). So, I feel that I have a good grasp of the concepts and working theories behind the freight yard design process.

For new layout designers confusion comes into play if they don't understand the threshold needed for a good freight yard blueprint. Obviously, if space and money constraints were not a factor, that wouldn't be an issue. But this is real life, and we both recognize space and money limitations for what they mean to us and our layouts. If you're anything like me, I am sure you know how long it takes to empty out your Amazon shopping cart after you see the total cost of the order you just spent the entire morning accumulating.

For me, whether a freight yard design is "good" or not, depends on how well the yard accomplishes its operational requirements using the least amount of track. Yeah, I know, that sounded rather vague to me as well, so let me explain where I am going with this by offering an example.

End-of-Branch Line Scenario

Let's say you're modeling a small end-of-line station that sees only one freight train per day with a consist of no more than ten car. The eastbound road freight comes into town, drops the inbound cars then picks up the outbound cars and departs back down the branch as a westbound. The local switcher then shuffles the cars in order for easier delivery to the local industries, then handles all local switching needed at the online customers. After the switching duties, the crew sorts the cars and makes up the outbound train for the next day before tying-up for the night.

So, what is a "good" yard design for the operational requirements of that scenario? Obviously, we are not going to need a full-fledged yard here with all the trimming and amenities by any means. The scope of operations is very limited, so a simple yard design should easily fill the bill. In fact, the swapping of the inbound and outbound cars could be accomplished with just a passing track alone with some extra moves done by the incoming freight train crew, but we want to simplify what the road crew has to do by using a small yard.

The One-Track Yard:

2020.02.07B-001.gif (3422 bytes)

Well, it doesn't get much simpler than that for a freight yard design now does it? Probably most might not even consider it a yard at all, and may in fact just label it a storage track or spur, but that is missing one important point from our scenario. The local switch crew will use that track for sorting cars for local deliver, not just for storage. And classifying cars by their destination is the purpose of a yard.

Of course, a few more yard tracks would be nice since there's probably more than one industry in town to switch, so the crew will no doubt have to use the passing track as a temporary yard track as well. You will also notice that the mainline has to be used while the crew is sorting cars which means the mainline will also do double- duty as the switching lead.

In situations like this where operations are very low-key, it is not a big problem fouling the mainline. If this was through station instead at the end of a branch line, fouling the main and obstructing the passing track with standing cars might become an issue, depending on the volume of trains coming through town.

Now, if you were to pick-up a book or article written about good freight yard design, you would see that what I presented here is a far cry from what some authors might consider as a "good" design. There's no dedicated switch-lead, no dedicated arrival/departure, no caboose track, not enough yard tracks, switching fouls the mainline, etc, etc.

I know any good designer could make an argument against my design, but when you place the yard design in the context of its intended purpose, it meets it operational requirements using a minimal amount of track, which I consider a good thing. As with most layout design issues you will encounter, the concept of what is a good design is very subjective. And as I mentioned already, it is never a "one-size-fits-all" opinion or choice.

However, you should also take note of the phrase "a few more yard tracks would be nice" because that will be an ongoing theme repeated throughout the design phase. And in the world of layout design, it will ALWAYS be nice to add something more, but we all know that it is just not possible or practical. The trick is to learn where the threshold is by studying your options, making reasonable choices, then have the discipline to stay within those limits no matter what the "experts" might say. It is your layout, and it only has to make YOU happy.

TAGS: Articles: Layout Design

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