On Sheet – Battle Plans

On Sheet – Battle Plans

o plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces. Only the layman believes that in the course of a campaign he sees the consistent implementation of an original thought that has been considered in advance in every detail and retained to the end.

— Helmuth von Moltke

I’m a member of the operations committee in our club. I’ve designed the freight forwarding system (all three versions). I’ve come up with the trains, the timetable (for passengers) and the crew start times for everything else. I’ve suggested changes to track alignments to improve operations. Been involved in this for years.

As our operations grow and succeed, the committee has expanded to include others. So we’ve got a young guy who is very excited about operations. He’s trying to get rack trains and intermodals running. I was more for running them as hotshot extras that run whenever (that’s they way it’s been for decades). But he wants start times and has manufactured a  string diagram showing all the critical meets that have to take place, like a Blue Angel maneuver, to make this work.

I’ve told him what good old Helmuth says about this. When you design a timetable, you need to leave a lot of elbow room in it. There are a number of things that can leap out and bite you.

For example, engine failures. Someone might be all ready to run and then their engines crap out. Or their wife calls and tells him she just set the kitchen ablaze. If you are depending on a train being out of staging or in a siding at a specific time, it might not happen. Not every train will be able to start off.

Or someone might want to run an extra train that gums up the works. How can you say no when a younger member with a hard bedtime would like to run in ops (and some of them are pretty good)?

Or someone just isn’t there to run your critical train. Sometimes we have light attendance (like around the holidays). Suddenly you are having problems getting four new trains staffed (not to mention the critical dozen we already have).

Or you might face crew delays. Some crews can’t do yard switching very quickly. Or they might vanish for a critical bathroom break. Or them might have to help someone else. Either way, come 10am on the clock, you might find that the critical eastbound train in your hardball meet isn’t close to being there.

There are so many things that can go wrong (as von Moltke noted). So I’ve told him that I have my misgivings on his ability to make this work, not only for the inaugural try but in our month-to-month running. But hey, next Wednesday I’ll be in a local switcher, working an industrial track well away from our (in my mind) overtight schedule. Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. But I’m just going to run a throttle that night and let him face whatever demon he might summon.

I wish him well.

I’m sure, either way, there’s a blog in this.