On Sheet – Codedancers

On Sheet – Codedancers

t all started two decades ago when a lot of people died.

Well, not real people. Model railroad pretend people. Back then, our club used to use a big metal board (about six feet long) to keep track of trains (which were magnets). The dispatcher would move these about and dictate warrants from the situation he saw.

A major problem occurs when you try this. I liked to write “hyperspace” warrants for passenger trains. You know, with the line clear, I’d write a warrant to get that train moving and stay moving across the division. The problem is that I only had one magnet to mark him (usually at his last position). And that run might take five minutes or more. And in that time, I could forget what he was doing (since he didn’t show any indication except his end point).

And forgot I did, and allowed a local to pull out right in front of him. Death and destruction. All my fault.

In response, I wrote a dispatching program. It was in Excel but allowed a crude double-click to move ‘magnets’ across your railroad. It didn’t worry about conflicts and such, but it did show you occupying all along the assigned track. It was actually pretty helpful and has been modified so a user can enter his own route. I’ve been using it to keep trains untangled (mostly successful) for years.

Now, suddenly, new versions are cropping up at our club. One young coder is reworking it in some software language I don’t know anything about. I sat with members of YPDT (Young People Design Team) last night and got a review. Interesting – it actually writes up the warrant so you can dictate it.

And then today, in a downtown coffee shop, one of my older compatriots (forming the OPDT) showed me what he is working on, an Access project that ALSO writes the warrant and prevents any lap orders from being issued.

Yes, they are both pretty slick and don’t rely on that touchy double-clicking that excel required. Both write your warrant, and both have slick advantages (one will tie directly into the layout clock, and the other uses a receipt printer to auto-print the warrant.


Maybe I’m like one of those old-time Time Table & Train Order dispatchers who saw the railroads switching out to warrants. I like the way I dispatch. But I figure soon enough, I’ll be forced to use everyone’s software that will write my warrants for me. Not sure if I like that. For all my adult life, I’ve been amazing crews at how fast I can kick out warrants (I usually dictate them as I write them initially out).

God knows when someone will set up AI to do it for us.

And run the trains.

The world changes and we cannot stop it.