Keystone OPS Approach

Model railroads run more trains and complete them more quickly than the prototype. Hence every model railroad must address common  layout and crew issues that impact OPS success.

One common layout issue is crews waiting for yards to prepare their trains in a timely manner. Of course switching cars into and out of classification tracks take time. Additionally, because yard trackage is always limited compared to desired traffic volumes, we resort to off layout storage as a form of staging for each of our four yards. Moving cars in and out of this offline storage takes time.

We want to run 20 trains in a 2.5 to 3 hour session. We estimate that a Yardmaster requires 20 minutes to make a train ready for the yard's Departure track. Our trains are typically less than 10 cars due to block length limitations. Including time for other arriving train car setouts for classification, pickups for continuing trains and rest breaks, this amounts to 5 or 6 trains each per session for the Reading and Philadelphia yards. The Erie staging yard has two advantages: an 0-5-0 and more room for pre-classified, pre-session cars. We estimate the Erie staging Yard, with occasional help from the Pottsville staging Yard, can support about 10 trains per session.

We tax time from our road crews to serve as Hostlers supporting the Pottsville Roundhouse Foreman. Thus while a Yardmaster is preparing a train, the crew-hostler will accept the Power (and Caboose when used)  from the Roundhouse Foreman and also return the Power after the train run is completed. We hope this alleviates crew boredom while waiting for their train to be ready to run.

Turning trains without obvious loops is a trackwork challenge. We use a WYE on the top level that also serves the Anthracite Coal Exporter industry and seems to be OK. We have hidden a reversing loop using a tunnel and other tricks on the lower level. We have a reversing loop in the Erie staging yard. We also have two 'shortcuts' that we prefer to disallow in OPS. One connects the lower level to the middle level and one connects the middle level to the upper level. These two shortcuts were made for museum or novice operator running.

Another common layout issue is road crews interfering with one another. We want to run an average of eight trains per real hour. Most of our session's trains are locals aka turns. On our railroad each industry is served by a specific homeyard. Unit trains are an Exception to this industry service rule. The Philadelphia yard is the homeyard to Industries in and around the city, Lancaster, and the Delaware river waterfront. The Reading Yard is homeyard for all other industries on the lower level except those served by the Philadelphia yard. Erie yard is the homeyard for all industries on the upper level and on the transition level. Hence locals will mostly stay out of each other's way except when two trains from the same yard are operating at the same time - which we try to avoid.

The manifest/fast/through trains are used to move full and empty cars among yards and interchanges. These trains will interfere with locals to some degree. Management of runaround track allocation is a Dispatcher's challenge to keep the trains moving on schedule. Having only three or four road crews active concurrently should minimize this interference.

Another issue is having enough industry spots to raise crew challenges. We have several dozens of spots defined for industry car setouts or pickups. There are 13 multi-industry spurs with 2 to 4 stops each, another 8 single industry spurs with one or more stops as well as many Less Than Carload (LCL) stops on Mainline and Bypass or Runaround tracks.

Limited sight distance is also desirable so that Dispatcher or Signal information is valued to avoid errors. We use six tunnels, a valley, two very tall skyscrapers and other well placed buildings, trees or other obstructions to limit sight distance in the small space of the Train Room.

While the above paragraphs focus on the upper limits of traffic, we must also be assured the amount of traffic is not too little or crew time will be lost. We have a large number of active industries both on and off the layout generating orders requiring rail shipment. Also, the CSX, NS, CN and CP interchanges are a type of staging which allow us to increase the traffic level by using an 0-5-0 to move cars on and off limited interchange track and so-called 'fiddle' boxes.

Space for crews is always an issue but is, perhaps, more so for the R&C railroad. There is ample space for one or two crew members in staging and one or two crew members in Dispatch. Stranding Operators on either side of the peninsula when their train enters a tunnel  will limit the number of active Operators in the Train room. Having five or six crew members operating in the Train room is tight unless all are thin. We shall see!

The Reading & Chesapeake Keystone Division employs mostly Class 1 trackwork owing to the #6 turnouts, several sharp curves, and lack of super-elevatied trackage. Hence, Freight and Passenger trains are limited to 10 mph on diverging turnout routes and on tight curves. The maximum speed on other track is 20 mph for Freight and 30 mph for Passenger trains.