Operations is all about moving cars from one location to another. But railroads don't just randomly move cars from one siding to another. Every car movement has a purpose. A car movement system provides a way to determine which cars are moved from which sidings to which other sidings. It also pass this information along to train crews. Our emphasis is on a paperless system that is simple enough for young operators to understand and use. At the end of this article, I will also talk about some other car movement systems we have used on the Lake Town & Shire.


You start preparing for your car movement system even when you are designing your layout. You must decide which industries to model. Each industry should send, receive, or both send and receive goods by rail. You will have to decide what kinds of cars each industry will use to ship its products.

One versatile type of industrial siding is the interchange track. This is a siding where cars are swapped with other railroads. Since the interchange track represents a connection with the rest of the world, any kind of load can be sent to or received from an interchange track. With an end-to-end or a loop-to-loop railroad, it is common to locate an interchange track or two at each end of the railroad. This allows local industries to send goods to both ends of the railroad, allows local customers to receive goods from both ends of the railroad, and also allows through traffic to pass from one end to the other. On the LT&S, we have one interchange with the Middle Earth Railroad (MERR) in the center of the layout at Rivendell. This interchange is represented by two long spur sidings.

Another very useful kind of industrial siding to be included in your layout is the team track. Almost every town on a railroad had a team track. This was a siding that was used by a variety of producers and merchants. Often none of the customers who used the team track had a building along the track. Instead, there would be a loading dock and perhaps a small warehouse that was used by several customers. For example, a hardware store and a general merchandise store might receive goods on the town team track, and a small chair factory might load cars on the team track with chairs to be delivered to other towns. Five of the six towns on the Lake Town & Shire have combination team tracks. These are long tracks with an industry on them plus a loading dock for other customers to use. The sixth town on the LT&S has a team track that is not shared with any industry located on the siding.

Besides traffic too and from interchange tracks, you will probably want to model some car movement between local industries. To be realistic, you need to think about which industries serve which customers. Make a list of the industries you want to model. Include information about the destinations to which they will send products and the types of cars they will use. Here is an industry list I created for the LT&S.

Shire Grain (Hobbiton) boxcar All other team tracks, Stoutfoot Brewery, and MERR interchange
Farmer Maggot's Produce (Hobbiton) reefer All other team tracks
Stoutfoot Brewery (Bree) boxcar All other team tracks and MERR interchange
Cattle feed lot (Bree) stock car Gridley Meat Packers
Gimli & Sons Stamp Mill (Bree) boxcar MERR interchange
MERR interchange (Rivendell) boxcar, gondola All other team tracks
Misty Mountain Mills (Rivendell) boxcar All other team tracks and MERR interchange
Gridley Meat Packers (Gridley) reefer All other team tracks
Dragon Toy and Chair Co. (Dale) boxcar All other team tracks and MERR interchange
Mirkwood Lumber (Dale) flatcar All other team tracks and Dragon Toy and Chair Co.
Long Lake Cannery (Lake Town) boxcar All other team tracks and MERR interchange

As I mentioned before, the MERR interchange has two sidings. Each of these other industries has its own siding, and there is a separate team track at Hobbiton for a total of 13 industrial sidings. The Stoutfoot Brewery siding, the Misty Mountain Mills siding, the Gridley Meat Packers siding, the Dragon Toy and Chair Co. siding, and the Long lake Cannery siding also serve as team tracks for their respective towns.

This list tells us what kinds of cars we will be using on the LT&S. We have 6 boxcars, 5 flatcars, 3 reefers, 2 stock cars, and 2 gondolas. That's plenty of cars for our layout and operating sessions. Of course, you don't need to have this many industries, sidings, or cars to run effective operating sessions. But you do need to give some thought to the dynamics of your layout. You can get by without any industries modeled on your line. With an interchange track and two or three team tracks, you can generate a lot of traffic. Just invent some industries "out of sight" which send out goods using the team tracks. And of course you can any kind of industry you want shipping to your railroad through the interchange track. But whatever you do, prepare a list like the one above. If you have more than one industry in a town, give each one a different color as I have done here. I will explain how we use these colors in the next section.


Suppose we have a load of ale going from Stoutfoot Brewery in Bree to merchants in Hobbiton. On a real railroad, when the car was picked up at the Shire Grain siding, the conductor would receive a waybill. This would tell the conductor the shipper, the receiver, the location of the siding to which the car is to be delivered, the type of load, the car type, and the car number. All of this is important information for various purposes, but for our operations all we need to know is which car is to be delivered where. Just a piece of paper with the car number and the destination would serve us just fine. Now, how can we eliminate this piece of paper?

We turned the piece of paper into a large metal washer with a colored letter painted on it. The letter tells us to which town the car is going, and the color of the letter tells us to which siding in the town the car is going. Since our ale is going to Hobbiton, we will paint an H on the washer. In Hobbiton, we have a team track, the Shire Grain siding, and the Farmer Maggot's Produce siding. We have decided to use black paint for all team tracks. And as you can see from the list in the last section, we are using red for the Shire Grain siding and green for the Farmer Maggot's Produce siding. Since all the merchants in Hobbiton receive goods on the team track, we will want a washer with a black H on it to represent our waybill.

How do we put the car number on the waybill? Luckily, we don't have to. Instead, we attach the waybill (the metal washer with a black H on it) directly to the car. To do this, we use silicone cement to glue a small magnet to the inside of the top of the boxcar. Then when we place the washer on the car, the magnet will hold it in place. Anyone who looks at the car will see the washer and immediately know that it is to be delivered to the black siding (the team track) at Hobbiton.

Now it should be obvious how to proceed. We get a supply of large metal washers and paint an H, a B, an R, a G, a D, or an L on each of them in either black, green, or red paint. We also glue magnets into the tops of all our cars. You can by round magnets at Lowe's or Home Depot that work great. I actually put two magnets, on on each side of the car above the doors, to make it easier to find a spot to attach the washers. If you have two towns beginning with the same letter, then figure something out. We now have a paperless car movement system. To "load" a car, just put an appropriate washer on it.

What about cars without roofs, like gondolas or flatcars? You don't need a magnet to hold a washer in a gondola, and I have found washers will ride around on a flatcar without any problems also. But there is another method you can use. On the LT&S, we ship coal on gondolas and lumber on flatcars. I built some coal loads out of Styrofoam with colored gravel on top, and I built lumber loads out of stacks of scale lumber glued together. For the coal loads, a destination letter can be painted inside a white circle directly onto the coal or lumber loads. I have seen lumber on trains wrapper in paper or some other material with the name of the company printed on the paper. I taped paper around my lumber loads with Mirkwood Lumber on the sides and the destination letter on top. To ship coal or lumber, we just place a load on the car. It is already labeled. When the load is delivered, someone takes the load back to the originating source to be used to load another car later.

Suppose a flatcar of lumber is delivered to the team track in Bree. The only industry using this track for shipping is Stoutfoot Brewery, and they don't use flatcars. So we want this car to be picked up empty and delivered to some siding where it can be used. To show that a car is empty and ready to be moved to another siding, we place a blank washer on it. Then the next train crew that has room on its train will pick up this car and take it to the next siding where an industry can use it.


While the car movement system I have described is paperless, it sounds as if the operators will have to memorize a lot of information. First, they will have to memorize the names of the towns. That's not too much to expect. But they will also have to memorize the colors for each siding, and they will have to memorize which type of car is used by each industry. Without this last bit of information, they would not know where to leave empty cars.

We get around this by creating siding labels. Each label has three kinds of information on it. First, the label tells you at which siding you are looking. Second, the label tells you which car types the local industry uses. Third, the label tells you to which destinations the local industry ships. Here is an example of a siding label


BOX -> B R R G D L

The large red H tells us that this is the Shire Grain siding in Hobbiton (see the list in the first section of this article.) Any car with a red H on it should be delivered to this siding. The letters BOX tells us that the local industry uses boxcars. If a train has an empty boxcar on it, that is, a boxcar with the blank washer attached, then it can be left at this siding. The small letters (the black B, R, G, D, and L, and the green R) tell us that this industry ships to the team tracks in Bree, Rivendell, Gridley, Dale, and Lake Town, and to the MERR interchange tracks in Rivendell.

The only information the train crews need to consider are the large red H and the letters BOX. This tells them which cars to deliver to this siding: all cars with a red H and any boxcar with a black washer. The other information is used by the shipper. This is the operator who comes along and puts new washers on the cars so the train crews know they ready to pick up. To any boxcar on the siding, the shipper should attach a black B, R, G, D, or L, or a green R. For any car other than a boxcar, the shipper should attach a blank washer.

At the beginning of an operating session, a shipper places appropriate washers (or marked loads) on every car on the layout. As crews deliver cars, they remove the washers (or the marked loads) and take them to the dispatcher who keeps a tally of how many cars have been delivered. The shipper then goes around the layout during the operating session and remarks any cars that have no washers on them.

It still helps if all of your operators know the names of the towns on the layout and their relative locations. You don't want to pick up a car bound for Hobbiton if that is the town you just left and you are now moving away from it. You want to leave that car for the next crew going in the other direction to pick up. Otherwise, you will have to take the car all the way to the other end of the line and back again before you can deliver it. However, neither the train crews nor the shipper will need to memorize anything else all the rest of the information they need is either on the washers or on the siding labels.

I print the siding labels on an ink-jet printer and tape them to pieces of thick sheet styrene. The styrene is painted black and cut to fit between the rails on the track. Before each operating session, the labels are placed on the sidings. The ink-jet printing fades or is affected by moisture after some time. It is easy to print new labels and replace the old ones on the styrene sheet. This also allows me to change labels easily if we add an industry to our layout.


We used two other car movement systems on the LT&S before we adopted the system described above. Both of these worked okay, but they were not paperless.

The first system involved a two-part waybill. One part was a car card. We made up simple cards with the car type and car number for each car on the layout. The other part was a destination card. These were smaller cards with the names of a town and a customer on each card. An appropriate destination card was paper-clipped to a car card to make a waybill. The waybill was then left near the car on the siding. A train going by would pick up the car and the conductor would pick up the waybill. When the car was delivered, the waybill was left with the car on the siding. The shipper would come around, check the waybills, and change the destination cards where necessary.

The second system used a simplified paper waybill. We created a card for each car as before. But we also printed a series of destinations on each card. This should be a logical sequence of movements that a car of that type would make. To create a waybill, a paper-clip was placed on an appropriate destination on the car card. The waybill was left with the car on the siding. A train crew would pick the car and waybill up and deliver it to the correct destination. Then the conductor would move the paper-clip to the next destination on the car card and leave the "new" waybill with the car on the siding. This system did not need a shipper.

Although I did not think of the siding labels until we were using the car marker system described earlier in this article, they would have been helpful for either of these other two car movement systems. We had some trouble with out young operators losing the paper waybills using these systems. We also found it is easier to teach the current system to our operators, and that our operators deliver more cars during a session with this system.


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