On a real railroad, the conductor on a train has sets of papers called way bills which tell him where to pick up and drop off cars. We don't use papers on our railroad. We use colored letters to tell the conductor where to deliver a car. These letters are painted on large metal washers. We glue magnets into the roof of each of our boxcars, reefers, and stock cars. When you place one of the metal washers on top of the car, the magnet holds it in place. Now anyone can see the waybill for the car just by looking at the car. Of course, a coal car, an ore car, or a flat car doesn't have a roof. We put loads of coal, ore, or lumber on these cars and the letter is already on the load.
Most of the letters on the washers or car loads are the first letters in the name of the towns on the railroad. So if a car has an H on it, it nees to be taken to Hobbiton. But there are three different sidings in Hobbiton where a car might be left. It might be left on the siding where all of the stores in Hobbiton pick up freight they are receiving. A track like this that is used by several different receivers is called a team track. Or it might be left at the siding for the grain elevator. Or it might be left at the siding for the produce company. This is where the color of the letter is important. We use a black letter whenever a car is supposed to be delivered to the team track in the town. We use another color for other sidings in the town. So we use a red H for the grain elevator in Hobbiton, and we use a green H for the produce company in Hobbiton.
Some washers do not have a letter on them. This means that the car is empty and should be taken to a location where it can be loaded. Where you take it depends on what type of car it is. You wouldn't leave an empty reefer at the lumber mill or an empty coal car at the grain elevator. The lumber mill only loads lumber on flatcars, and the grain elevator only loads bags of grain on boxcars. So you need to know what kind of car is used at each location on the railroad.
There are thirteen different sidings where a car could be dropped off. It would be hard to remember which kind of car is loaded at each of these sidings. To make all of this easier, we use siding labels. Here is the siding label for the grain elevator in Hobbiton:
This label is made out of plastic and is placed on the siding between the rails. This label tells the train crews two things. First, it tells them that they can drop off any car with a red H at this siding. Second, it tells them that they can drop any empty boxcar at this siding. Remember that a car is empty if it has a plain gray washer with no letter on it. And those are the only cars that should be dropped off at this siding: you MUST drop off any car with a red H here, and you MAY drop off any BOXCAR with a blank washer here.
When you are on a train crew, you use the markers on the cars and the siding labels to decide which cars you pick up and drop off at each siding as you come to it. Picking cars up and dropping cars off at a siding is called switching the siding. We have a rule that you shouldn't leave a town with more than three cars and your caboose on the train. This is because you may have to pass another train and our passing sidings will only hold short trains.
Here are the five steps for deciding which cars to pick up and drop off at a siding.
1. Are you going in the right direction to switch the siding? If you aren't then keep going and switch the siding when you come back from the other direction. If you are going in the right direction, switch the siding.
2. Look at the colored letter on the siding label. If you have any cars with the same letter on them, drop them off.
3. L ook at the car type code on the label. If you have any cars of the right car type with blank washers, and if if there is room for them on the siding, drop them off.
4. L ook at any the cars on the siding that have washers with colored letters on them. If you will have room on your train, then pick them up.
5. Look at ANY empty cars on the siding that have blank washers on them. If you will have room on your train, pick them up. If you have room on your train, you should pick up ALL car types with blank washers on them whether or not their type matches the code on the siding lable. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Empty cars MUST be moved to locations where they can be loaded or all operations will stop.
You come to a siding with the label [ D | FL ]. You are going the the right direction to switch this siding. All of the questions below are about what you should do at this siding.
1. You have a car with a black D on it. Can you drop this car off at this siding?
2. You have two cars on your train and there is a car on this siding with a black L on it. Should you pick up this car?
3. You have three cars on you train and there is a car on this siding with a black G on it. Should you pick up this car?
4. You have a coal car with a blank washer on it. Should you drop it off at this siding?
5. You have one car on your train. There are two cars on this siding that have blank washers on them. One of these cars is a flat car and the other is a boxcar. Should you pick up either of these cars? Should you pick up both of them?
6. You have two cars on your train. There is a car on this siding with a black L on it. There is also a flat car on the siding with a blank washer on it. Should you pick up either of these cars? Should you pick up both of them?