You will need to decide what types of trains to run on your layout. There are four types of train that I will discuss: passenger trains, express freight trains, local freight trains, and mixed trains. You will also need to decide on a maximum length for your trains.
Passenger trains consist of one or more locomotives, one or more passenger cars. A passenger train may also carry a combine for luggage or small freight loads and/or a mail car. A local passenger train will stop at every station, while an express passenger train will only stop at selected stations. A passenger train may switch some cars at an interchange with another rail line. Here, passenger cars are moved from one passenger train to another. Passenger trains offer the least opportunity for car switching of all train types. Express passenger trains have highest priority. All other trains must clear the line for them. Local passenger trains have priority over all other trains except express passenger trains and, perhaps, express freight trains.
Express freight trains generally run one end of a line to the other, stopping to switch only at interchanges with other rail lines. If the two ends of the line are also exchanges, then express freights have the same opportunities for switching as passenger trains. However, since express freights drop off all cars and pick up all new cars at the ends of the line, they may have more opportunities for switching than passenger trains. Express freights usually have priority over all other trains except express passenger trains.
Local freight trains switch every town and siding they pass. These trains provide maximum switching opportunities. Local freights take priority over no other trains. They must clear the mainline to make way for all passenger trains, express freights, and mixed trains.
Mixed trains are usually local freight trains that also include a passenger car at the rear of the train. They typically switch all towns, but do not switch sidings between towns. The passenger car is parked in front of the station while the train switches cars in a town. Mixed trains have priority only over local freights.
When two trains of the same priority meet, for example two local freights, priority is usually decided by direction. You might set up your operations so that eastbound trains have priority, or so that westbound trains have priority. On the Lake Town & Shire, we have our largest yard with an interchange at Rivendell in the middle of the layout. This is where traffic becomes most congested. So our rule is that trains moving away from Rivendell toward either end of the layout have priority over trains traveling toward Rivendell.
Every train is either included in a timetable or it is not. Any train that is not on the timetable is called a special. Since they do not have a timetable, specials operate according to train orders issued by station masters. With operators as young as six years, we do not try to use a timetable on the Lake Town & Shire. All of our trains are specials. Our train orders are verbal. A train does not leave any town until the station master gives it permission to proceed to the next town, switching any sidings along the way. If we do not have station masters, then before a train leaves a town the conductor must check to make sure there is no train about to leave the next town. If there is a conflict, then the conductors negotiate who will have the right-of-way, always keeping in mind that trains traveling away from Rivendell have priority. This is necessary since the Lake Town & Shire is single-track between the reverse loops at the ends of the layout. With double-track, this would not be a problem.
We usually do not run passenger trains, express freights, or mixed trains. Our operators enjoy switching cars. Since local freights provide the most opportunity to switch cars, we usually run only local freights on the Lake Town & Shire.
Maximum train length is determined by the number of trains you want to run, your layout design, and the length of your passing sidings. If you want to run only one train at a time, or if your layout has double-track, then in principle you can run trains as long as your motive power can pull. The same is true if you have a loop layout, all your trains move in the same direction, and no train ever passes another train. That works fine for passenger trains and express freight trains. For local freight trains, though, you may want to keep your trains shorter. It is very difficult to back a long train through a turnout with a derailment. Of course, if two trains ever meet, or if one train ever passes another, then you will want to make sure that at least one of the two trains involved will fit on the available passing siding. There are complicated movements that will allow two trains, both too long to fit on the passing siding, to pass each other, but you probably don't want to try that - especially with young operators. One the Lake Town & Shire, every passing siding will hold a locomotive and tender, a caboose, and three freight cars. So that is the maximum train length we allow for local freights. We could allow one express freight or one passenger train at a time on the mainline that was longer than this if we chose.
Every real passenger train has an engineer and a conductor. If it is pulled by a steam locomotive, then a real passenger train will also have a fireman. On a model railroad, you don't need the conductor or the fireman. So a passenger train on a garden railroad has a crew of one: the engineer. I don't have any more to say about crews for passenger trains.
Every real freight train has an engineer, a conductor, and one or more brakemen. If it is pulled by a steam locomotive, then a real freight train will also have a fireman. On a model railroad, you don't need the fireman. So a freight train on a garden railroad has a crew of one, two, or three taking on the roles of engineer, conductor, and brakeman.
The engineer is the one who drives the locomotive. He needs to know how to operate the throttle properly. He needs to know how to move the train slowly during switching operations so the train does not derail. The engineer should always check every turnout before moving his train over it to make sure it is set in the right direction. He should never leave his train unless it is set on a siding and he has informed the dispatcher.
The brakeman is responsible for setting the turnouts in the right direction and for coupling and uncoupling cars. If cars are set out on a siding that is not completely level, the brakeman is responsible for setting the brakes. On the Lake Town & Shire, we use orange marking flags that can be bought at Lowe's or Home Depot as brakes. These are stuck through the rails into the ground at the downhill end of a string of cars to keep them from rolling away. The flags are very conspicuous, making it less likely that one will be left in place when it is time to move the cars. The brakeman should always set turnouts back to the mainline after all switching movements are finished.
The conductor is the boss on the train. He determines which cars will be set out and picked up at each siding that is served by the train. He also takes care of any paperwork involved in the car movement system in use on the railroad. He should always be thinking ahead about what towns and sidings are coming up next.
One person can run a freight train, filling all three jobs. On the Lake Town & Shire, we usually have crews of at least two operators. One operator is the engineer and the other is both conductor and brakeman. When we have a lot of operators, we use crews of three: an engineer, a conductor, and a brakeman.
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