Dec 2012

The Agent has been Considered

I think the Holidays are a great time for playing with trains.
I have hosted two group operating sessions this Holiday season. My hope was to gain enough insight and get enough feedback from visiting operators to be able to go into the new year with a routine established that provides optimized use of the layout and a worthwhile experience for the crews.

Shannon brings the Winwood Turn into Cove

One of my primary goals was to revise the process of managing car forwarding so a visiting operator could do the job. My good friend Doug volunteered to attempt the task, and actually did the job very well. Lessons learned from teaching and observing Doug led to a revised, simpler system. Tom graciously volunteered to sit in the Agent’s seat for the second test. Tom was able to do the job and write switchlists for the crews, but after seeing two experienced operators do the job, I came away with a few impressions:

- In the process of simplifying the Agent’s job, it became not only easier to understand, but quicker to perform. The Agent was left with long stretches of time with nothing to do while the train crews were out on the line.

- I have always found the process developing and revising the Agent’s job interesting. The overlapping workflows, cause and effect interrelationships, and the balancing points that can only be determined by starting the system up and letting it run are a big part of the fun of having an operating layout. But getting acquainted with the front end of operation is not fun for everyone. Generally, attending an operating session means you will run trains. A desk job filling out paperwork is not many people’s idea of fun.

So I am giving up on the idea of having a visiting operator perform the Agent job. Not a big deal since I actually enjoy doing it myself.

Keith picks up an empty tank car on the fuel track.

Another issue which has come up during these operating sessions is how long they run. When I initially set up work for group operating sessions, I estimated it would take about an hour and a half to get through the cycle. In reality it takes at least twice that long, which is too long. The layout is small and the jobs are simple. If the session gets too long the work becomes tedious and operators start to feel time pressure to hurry. I have gotten some good feedback on job sequencing which could cut the length of an op session down considerably.

Mike works the Dust Mill.

One thing that contributes to op sessions running too long is inexperienced train crews. The simplicity of the trackplan can be a hinderance to a new operator who doesn’t immediately see the efficient way to work the sidings. Two man crews might be a good idea when visiting crew members are new to the layout.

Gerry works the Quarry Job

I greatly appreciate the time that visiting operators take out of their busy schedules to attend an op session. There is no substitute for having friends over to run trains. The operation of the layout must be reliable, the instructions must be clear, and the realistic nature of the work performed must be apparent. When everything looks good and runs smoothy, it is easy to stay focused on the task at hand, which makes running the layout a very effective form of recreation.

Thanks to everyone who has attended an op session on the East Blue Ridge. I hope to have you all back to run trains next year.