On Sheet – It’s about time!

On Sheet – It’s about time!

uestion: Why is there time and space?

There is time so that everything doesn’t happen at once, and there is space so that everything doesn’t happen to you.

When it comes to time, fast-time in model railroads get a bit of a bum rap. People think that the sole purpose of a fast clock is to generate all sorts of undue stress, like speeding up a production line to make the workers produce more.


Time (and fast-time) is nothing more than a measure of where we are at in the operations sequence. If there is stress all around, that’s a failure of the host and his goals, not you. Sure, running a job for the first time can be a little stressful (I sure felt it on the FEC when I ran the trim job last week as mentioned HERE). But if you’ve run the job a couple of times and know what you are doing and still can’t complete, again, that’s a failure of the host’s expectations, not the operator’s abilities.

When designing an op session, the first thing you do (after figuring out the basics) is… well… run the trains. Without worrying about any fast clocks, just see what the layout can easily handle. Sure, there will be an effort made to simulate the prototype, but for the most part, all you and your testers are trying to do is to comfortably run your railroad.

When you are through, check the time on your wristwatch. How long did it take? Two hours? Three hours?

Once you run the sequence a few times and have it down, see what real time elapsed. Give yourself a comfortable margin of slack; you’ll want to run extras and solve occasional switching dilemmas. But by now, you know how long your session should last.

And now? Instead of saying it’s a three hour session, multiply everything by eight (so that your three-hour session now translates to a twenty-four hour day), write up a timetable and try it again. But note this – nothing has changed. you are still running the same trains in the same amount of “real time”. It’s just that you are measuring the session by a fast clock, not a real clock. You will still finish in three hours, but you’ll have run the full “day”.

I tell people that most of the home layouts in Orlando run on a 10:1 fast clock. To most operators, that’s an abomination. But for us, it’s just right. It gives us a two-and-a-half hour “day” (meaning we start at 7pm and complete at 9:30pm or so (perfect for those people who need to work the next day)). And generally, the number of trains we run on the layout is not too much. Of course, the dispatcher will be rather busy and need to stay on the ball, but nobody is over-stressed and everyone gets at least one run.

Think about it – our yardmaster needs to switch out six trains and do a little sorting. That is not asking much in two-point-five hours.

The the locals, they go out and exchange six to ten cars in their dedicated industrial yards. Even the newest of the new can compete and come home in two-point-five.

In fact, all the fast clock does is tell us when the freights should depart staging and give the passenger trains a schedule (comfortably paced, with mid-run station stops to allow them to catch up if behind).

Sure, we can have new dispatchers (like HERE) and too many extras, but really, the outcome would be no different at all  if we threw away the fast clocks and ran standard. Everything would still play out the same. We’d still finish at 9:30pm.

So go ahead and run your layout off standard time, but consider converting your timetable over to a fast-clock version. Set up a session and see if it makes any difference at all. Remember, the real railroad should be able to run its timetable reliably day after day. If you can’t, look to other problems, not your clock speed.

Still not convinced? On your next session, instead of starting at 1pm or something, say you are starting at 1 Apple. 2pm is 2 Apple. And so on. That’s is the exact same thing as running a fast clock.

Good luck!