Consider the Agent

My layout is designed for operation, and can keep two crews busy for over an hour. The size and scope of the railroad is somewhat limited, however. In order to add operational interest for visiting crews, I would like operators to not only cycle through the three train running jobs, but also spend some time in the Agent’s seat, writing orders and assembling switchlists for the crews out on the road.

I have come to the conclusion that I want the crews to use switchlists, as the average job involves moving less than 10 cars. Therefore, the physical writing of switchlists does not take long, and the overall scope of car forwarding on the layout is not complicated.

Car forwarding on the layout is easily managed using a conventional car card/waybill system similar to the one that been popular for decades among model railroaders that are interested in operation. The difference in how I use car cards and waybills is that I do not give them to the crews. The Agent uses them to keep track of car locations, and refers to them when writing switchlists.

Initially, my waybills were the same format as those normally used by crew members. It became clear that waybills for crew members are not well suited for an Agent. An Agent who is very familiar with the layout can use them (me), but they don’t provide a visitor with all the information they need to keep track of a car as it goes through the cycle of being consigned, then loaded, unloaded, and once again being available for consignment.

I had a very difficult time designing waybills for the Agent. They are not waybills at all, just a list of instructions for forwarding a specific car during that particular cycle. I fought gravitating back to conventional waybill cards, and tried hard to see the Agent’s job from the standpoint of a beginner with very little prior knowledge of the layout. I think I have come up with a format that works, and have printed out enough to get through an operating session. We’ll see in a few weeks if it is possible for a visiting operator to hold down the Agent job.