On Sheet- Crowd Fumbling

On Sheet- Crowd Fumbling

o I used to play Sid Meier’s Railroad Typcoon . Loved it and stayed up too many nights playing it. It was great to have my own rail empire with little computer trains running through their assignments, flawlessly. So much order and control.

And I’ve found that real world model train operations are anything but.

To push the positive, model railroading operation on a club layout is one of the grandest games there is. In this crafted miniature world, we run our little trains along agreed-upon rules. It’s a massive cooperative effort, and unlike that lonely solo computer game, everyone shares in the success of the endeavor. We all win or we all lose, collectively.

But some people are still a pain in the ass.

Examples: In the sessions that have taken place for two decades, it’s a dispatcher delight to run 202 out of Cincinnati along the river-level route. Silver Bullet 2 follows thirty minutes behind. In the model railroad, it’s easy for the freight to stay ahead – both trains are pretty much going the same speed across the layout. But we dispatchers love to always order 202 into the hole at Zanesville, to let the varnish flash past. It is an unnecessary move but a very classic one. After the pass, 202 will follow the passenger train east, diving off the main at Martin. And the facing AM locals will all take sidings to let the pair past, with secondary orders to only proceed after 202 goes by. On good nights, it’s a glorious thing to set up.

But more often then not, someone gets a new passenger set and signs up for SB2 without any testing at all. So the warrants go out, the clock hits 12:31 AM, and SB2 promptly dies. Sometimes it is an equipment failure. Or the engineer didn’t remember the chip address. Or his grandwhatever called on his phone and wants to talk to grand-papa. And suddenly every crew on the western subdivision is standing around, and the dispatcher is having to rewrite everything if only to get trains moving again.

Test your chips, your address, and your equipment before you take on the express. Otherwise, not only are you irritating the dispatcher but all the people delayed by your thoughtlessness.

And then there is the time we had an NMRA convention in town. Our layout was one that people could pay bucks to operate a session on. Since I’m the most senior dispatcher, I’d take the seat for the night. My crews would help “conduct” for the guests. The other operators would fill in the timetable, providing plenty of traffic to interact with. And so it was a perfect time for one of our members to set up an untested sixty car coal train to run Bound Brook to Cincinnati, end-to-end. This is over twice the length of our drag freights. And he didn’t even mention this excess when calling for  initial paper.

Of course, the long 3% grade over Harris Glen put a lot of strain on his couplers. He broke away constantly. He stringlined through our tunnel helix. Trains started to stack up. Thankfully another operator told me about this stupid stunt so I didn’t try to saw two trains by at Red Rock (a long siding but not that long). Another derailment or two coming down the hill, with the train bunching and pressing under its own weight.

But the true disaster happened in Pittsburgh. Here, the double track main loops around and crosses itself at a quadruple diamond. It can hold fifty car trains with engines in the loop, but only just. I knew he was long but I didn’t have a count (whenever I called for a length-check, he was rerailing hoppers). I gave him permission to run through Pittsburgh on Track 2 (the through track that avoids the yard entrances). But when he got there, and knowing he wouldn’t make the loop without running into his own tail, he bypassed down the passenger lead without any notification at all, swinging around the terminal tracks (and some God-awful facing point turnouts that we finally just replaced). And here’s where, like a great yet aging elephant, he died.

And there were our cash-paying guests with borrowed and staffed passenger trains, who’d had the fun of running dead on the timetabled-dot for the first half of the session, only to get trapped in Pittsburgh station and this guy derailed every car on the ladder, one at a time, in his idiotic loop. It was an unnecessary show-stopper that didn’t impress anyone and frustrated everyone. And in the end, after all the guests left (we ran until 1am, another half fast-day so everyone got to run lots of trains) he came into my dimly-lit office, to face my “What the $^#* were you thinking?” question. His answer: Real railroads run long coal trains. And this is an answer he maintains to this day. Well, at least he moved to the other side of the planet and I don’t have to deal with his stupid stunts anymore.

So in conclusion, keep in mind that while operations with all your friends are fun, there are still moments of frustration ahead. There always will be. I don’t think, in all my years of operations, that I’ve ever had a flawless session.

Or maybe I’m the common denominator in this. Who knows?