Northern Rails op session and leadup

I didn’t forget about my blog! It’s just hard to make interesting posts sometimes.

After the redesign, I had an op session. It went well. I went back to doing some scenery – I might do a post on that later. That’s not what this one is about.

With Cranbrook in, I took another look at Nelson sub. operations. I decided to keep the 2 Cranbrook-Nelson freights each way, but get Creston in the mix. I didn’t have time to lay all of Creston so I laid the necessaries – main, siding, backtrack, and a temporarily extended sawmill track.

Ops sequences for the first session were essentially the same as before, and I tested them out to make sure everything ran smoothly. An 0600 call for a west crew out of Cranbrook started the session, but they had work in Creston – a theoretically quick lift from and drop to the back track. However, I hadn’t thought things through and had too many cars on the back track that were supposedly at industries. Additionally, they had to stay out of the way of 11. That train ended up coming into Nelson around 0830 or so – but it had a ton of cars for train 87, due out at 0830, and needing to be blocked. Clearly that wasn’t working. Major changes were needed.

The goal was now twofold. Firstly, unclog Nelson. It was a switching hell. Cars scattered across so many tracks and in no order. Second, get rid of sequential events that could cause chain reactions that caused sessions to grind to a halt waiting for a single train.

New order:

0630: All crews on duty / Nelson yard starts blocking No. 87

0700: East wayfreight departs Midway, No. 11 departs Cranbrook.

0830: 87 departs Nelson.

1000: Nelson wayfreight departs Cranbrook (cars for 81 and 87 the next session), 11 arrives Midway, crew to 81

1100: Creston switcher on duty to move cars from the back track to industries and vice-versa. (Need more track for this to be more than an 0-5-0 assignment!)

1130: 81 departs Nelson, leaving space for the Nelson wayfreight to enter yard

1150: 984, now timetabled from Castlegar to Nelson (previously only on the Nelson sub) departs Castlegar

1215: 984 departs Nelson

1300: 90 departs Nelson with previous day’s cars, lifts and drops at Creston

1500: West freight Cranbrook to Nelson (cars for 81 and 87 for the next session)

1600: No 91 departs Cranbrook for Nelson – now timetabled as fourth class on the Nelson sub

1700: No 91 departs Nelson for Trail

1640: 12 departs Midway

1600-1800: East boundary wayfreight arrives Nelson

1830: 92, mostly boundary loads, runs Nelson to Cranbrook

In this list, only 1 thing needs to happen for another in the session – 92 carries cars that are dropped by the eastbound Boundary sub wayfreight. That’s it. All the other moves between the Nelson and Boundary subs are inter-sessional.

A little change was adding photo printed speed signs to the fascia. Previously the speed limits were buried in the time table, and without little mileposts flying by, it was very hard to know how fast you should go. I went with this style of my own design.

So I called back my faithful crew to whom I am very grateful for another session the following week, and was incredibly pleased with how it ran. I’ve never seen my layout operate so well! I ended up dispatching myself, and it was quiet. Pretty much everything ran per timetable and very few orders were issued. The craziest thing that happened was that the Kraft switcher’s power (GP7 8423, H16-44 8552) couldn’t manage the train back to Nelson from Castlegar. Here’s some photos that I managed to grab in the first and second sessions when I had a free moment!

OS Creston: No. 92 through at 1844. 4240 is a Life Like C424 that I installed LokSound in – it sounds fantastic. It’s going to emerge from the paint shop with correct details in Action Red later this year as 4216 as part of Operation MEGACHUGG.

OS Creston: No. 12 out at 1905.

Remember the 4° curve I mentioned in my last post? It looks FAB. I can’t overstate how pleased I am with it! In that previous photo, I tried to recreate the view from Sunset Seed that I’ve seen multiple photos taken from. Here’s the information sign on the former sawmill site in real life.

East of Creston, I have the temporary Canyon bridge in. I suspect this will be here for many years as it’s such a good stand-in!

Next session I had much more time for photos.

Before the session started, I had to run another train into Nelson to beef up the car count for the outbound freights – this would be the 0500 Extra 8596 West.

With much less time pressure, the Nelson sub wayfreight would be powered by a 4-unit CLC consist and run as Extra 4104 West. The work at Creston was much easier this time.

A bit later, fourth class No. 81 is scheduled to arrive into Castlegar at 1150, with a bolded meet with superior second class No. 984. 81 (Engine 8549) slid into Castlegar at 11:40, just in time to be clear, while the conductor stepped off 5742 to get a coffee and clearance from the station.

I don’t remember exactly what happened to get 4240 over the summit to Midway, but get there she did. Here she is climbing out of Fife.

12 is by the grain elevators at Creston – the fire truck belongs to ACU, who spent some of the summer here and got a lot of Kootenay time in!

Where is ACU, you might ask? His favorite place, plugging away at the Kraft.

I added a bit more fun to the Kraft, 8423 is the newest unit on the rails with Loksound.

Amazingly, all trains for the day were run (save for the GN turn due to lack of manpower)
Here’s No. 92, running on schedule!

Here’s the train sheet so you can see how everything ran. Almost everything is within an hour of timetable, which is pretty good for me.

Okay, great test, everyone! Let’s do Northern Rails, my layout is in prime condition!

The unfortunate few file in to find all their paperwork ready to go…

I blocked all the trains out of staging because that’s cruel to do operators during a session. Out of Cranbrook, the two extra wests are ready for Nelson, and 91 has 8909 on the lead. Presumably it’s heading back to Trail to get grimy in Tadanac.

The GN turn into Grand Forks was still left over from the previous session, and I decided to occupy Cal S. with this until 0830 when the Kraft was on.

Back in the dispatcher’s office, Mike S. confers with Brian D, our dispatcher for the day.

Nelson yard was hard at work right away – 50ish cars total needed to be blocked and ready for trains 87 and 81 before 0830 and 1130, respectively. Glen P. was the yardmaster, and I was lucky to have Brian K (of the Wolverine Lynx) to help get that started.

The eastbound Boundary sub. wayfreight was a bit earlier into Grand Forks than expected and held short of the west siding switch until the GN turn had finished their work. West of the siding switch is the swing gate. Please, nobody open it.

Extra 8696 West today was the Nelson sub wayfreight. Here it is lifting 1 and dropping 12 at Creston.

8602 has been conspicuously absent for the past 2 sessions. It was sidelined with decoder issues and slated as the first member of Operation ULTRATHRUMM – Sound in Kaslo H16-44s. Not an easy task, and this will drag on considering the current Atlas factory situation!

Here it’s arrived at Castlegar. Today, 81 didn’t manage to slip in before 984’s departure.

This is when things started to get WILD. I was running 984 and didn’t get to watch all the proceedings, but things went south in a hurry.

81 was over tonnage for the hill, and we had to decide whether to run pushers down from Farron or have him double. John G, engineer, decided to double. It’s a long way up the hill – 4 scale miles! Luckily (?) extra 4105 East, the eastbound Boundary wayfreight, was struggling with the sheer amount of switching required in Grand Forks.

The first clue everything was going sideways was that both the order boards in Farron were dropped.

81 squared half their train out of the way in Castlegar. I knew I built that yard for something.

Next I saw, they had their train up at Farron and were ready to come back down. The dispatcher was furiously typing up orders to both 81 and X4105E – 81 was to work between Farron and Castlegar, grab the rest of his train, and run up to the shorter siding at Shields and take the siding for X4105E to meet him.

In the midst of all this, a complication. No. 12, the Kettle Valley Express, was due soon and running 15 minutes late. Everyone needed to move for the varnish! Knowing the siding at Farron was occupied, X4105E was held at Grand Forks until 12 was past. 35mph can turn into a blur quickly.

12’s tail was barely past the bridge when 4105’s head end brakeman threw the switch and they started pulling onto the main – but there were complications, they couldn’t get a good joint between an open hopper and the next car.

12 was fine, though.

Things got a bit busy and so a few photos are missing. Eventually X4105E departed Grand Forks, but like so many before, missed their work at Fife and had to back down! They also had work at Farron. 12 met the second part of 81 at Castlegar, and they boogied back up to Shields to patiently wait for X4105E as the meet had been prescribed and they had no choice. 81 was into Shields at 1600, 12 was through around 1800, and 4105 finally boogied through around 2000.

The Kraft Switcher was in Nelson by 1748. That was ridiculously fast, and I’m well impressed.

4105 OS’d into Nelson at 2059. Luckily, the only train contingent on its arrival was No. 92, scheduled out at 1830, but which was annulled. There will be an extra east to move power and cars , either prior to the start of the next session, or at the start.

Flights needed to depart, and we had to call an end to the session. 81 tied up in Grand Forks, making sure to split the crossings. The clock was stopped, but a fresh crew will be taxied in from Nelson to finish the run and make sure everything doesn’t get too bogged down before the next session!

Nelson yard is running incredibly smoothly. Too smoothly? There’s an amazing ebb and flow, it empties nearly completely during the day and fills back up at night for the morning departures.

I was especially impressed by Brian’s dispatching. Many of the operators here are part of the Vancouver group, and while my layout is the only one in Calgary that runs on time table and train order, there are a good number in the Lower Mainland that use it. They all keep in practice while we develop rust and barnacles.

Some things that went wrong – There were some issues with the phone system that I’ve never seen before and wasn’t able to replicate after. I want to add another power district so Nelson yard is on its own. There’s a few more signs I’d like to put in. I still want to blast out a foundation wall and expand aisles. Lots of quick, easy fixes and one that is absolutely not.

Here’s the train sheet, all in all, a good session!


Dust off your switchers – September op session

Remember my last post? My last op session? Seems like forever ago. I’ve been extraordinarily busy since, well, February. In that time I’ve done a few things:

-Added a valence

-Carved some sweet rocks

-Commissioned 8 more H16-44s

I’ll blog about those later. I spent the better part of last week cleaning up – not much has changed operationally, but I’ll go into the changes at the end.

This was an unremarkable and fairly smooth session. With a total of 4 operators and myself dispatching, it was as quiet day on the Kootenay Division. I didn’t have much time for photos, dispatching and all…

We started on time, and Cam took out extra 3001 West on the dawn freight from Cranbrook to Nelson.


Cranbrook Roll-By

I had Brian kicking cars and taking names (or at least reporting marks) on the Nelson east switch job. Main complaint: Previous yard crews leaving cars on the wrong track!

Next up, Cam was given the Boundary sub east wayfreight – Extra 8602 East. Lots of freight from Midway and the remains of the Carmi sub today, lots of blocking to do!

Rule 93. Within yard limits the main track may be used clearing the time of first and second class trains at the next station where time is shown.

Brian steers clear of Rule 93 as No. 11 arrives, 2 minutes behind.

11 at Tunnel, flying by some dank rocks.

Jon’s 11 at Paulson Gap, in DB coming down the 2.7% grade past some future dank rocks.

Cam’s picking up and setting out chips at Grand Forks Sawmills with 8602, the current pride of the fleet, on point.

Along with 4 others that I’ve yet to DCC, 8602 is a Kaslo kit (out of production) that was assembled by Jeff Briggs, an absolute master of resin.

Meanwhile, Al took No. 87, the kraft switcher, the most challenging and unpopular job (and my personal favorite!) Here he’s running around the train to drop a loose car at car spot A2, the Castlegar side ramp.

I put reference photos all along the fascia. This one hit close to home.

Here, I’ve got the hotshot, since nobody else was available. (I’m not complaining!) I ended up running almost perfectly below X8602E.

Dank Rocks, Pt. 2

With 81 being scheduled and 8602 east being an extra, the UCOR is clear – 8602 is to wait in the siding at Farron for 81’s 1425 arrival. However, 81 missed a car in Castlegar, so it took until almost 1600 for that to happen! The UCOR remains clear – 8602 has to wait until 81 shows up, or until 0225 rolls around and its schedule is cancelled.

Cam called me over for this “foamer moment”, as he put it.

Jon is seeing having PTSD flashbacks to last session, when he neglected to line a switch to normal, causing a…very nasty wreck. That did not happen today.

A successful session, all trains ended up where they should be (save for late night No. 96)

From the dispatcher’s desk, not much work! No orders were issued at non-terminal stations, all meets were done by the timetable, so it was basically just watching things happen. A few times are missing on my dispatch sheet because I was attending to emergencies, or running the trains myself.

The tweaks I made were pretty minor. A few sessions ago I added a Rossland sub wayfreight, unprototypical, but a way to solve some issues with the hotshot – notably the unpredictable length was messing up my JMRI kernals. That didn’t work, so I went back to having the hotshot handle a bit of work – it handles one leg of a closed loop of acid cars that shuttle back and forth between the Trail smelter and Celgar, as well as some limestone hoppers that originate at Fife and end up at the smelter. I’ve made it so these come off as a block at Nelson, that way the hotshot doesn’t need to work at Castlegar, and it’s all very speedy and becoming of a second class train. Seemed to work well, and the length doesn’t fluctuate more than 3 cars now.

Well, another op session done!


A Tale of 3 Op Sessions

It’s been fairly quiet on this site recently. Don’t worry, I’ve been doing a LOT of photography, which is great for the ol’ train budget.

In April, I hosted 3 op sessions in 4 weeks, plus another in May. (The first session is chronicled in this post)  They were all markedly different!

Op Session the First

The first run was with non-train friends – two couples. It went very well, all the trains were run and, for the most part, everything went smoothly. Two hiccups…the crew of No. 81 ran out of cares to have, so they didn’t switch grand forks, instead leaving the drops unorganized in the yard. That wasn’t too bad.

The other problem was that X4104 East was switching Fife, which requires a handbrake at the end of the train to prevent a runaway. Unfortunately, the engineer, going dutifully about his work and unfamiliar with clearance points, left his train fouling the track he was backing down. With 6400hp of engines on his train to tackle the 2.7% grade to Farron, he sideswiped the first car, and pushed the whole train back into the tail end handbrake, scattering loaded ore cars left and right! It was then I decided to finish the scenery in that section.

All in all, it was a lot of fun, and I think these non-train folk will come back for another round! Unfortunately, I neglected to take photos. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Op Session the Second

The second run…where to begin. It was for out of town people attending Supertrain. It had 8 people, including 4 IRL railroaders – a CP engineer, retired CN engineer, SRY conductor, and CP trainmaster. You’d think this would be an asset, but it turned into a serious liability, very quickly.

The session started late due to slow service at a nearby pub. Things went immediately haywire after everyone arrived…I couldn’t tell you what we were running on, MBS or OCS, but it sure wasn’t timetable and train order.

In retrospect, I should have been tipped off by the piles of rejected and crumpled forms around the dispatchers desk. It told the story of how so few orders and clearances were issued.

At Nelson, Rob begs for the sweet, merciful embrace of death. Or a ride home.

Adam’s in the yard. It’s not going well for him, either. Never put a trainmaster behind the throttle.

In his defense, Nelson was PACKED. Here, the power for No. 87, the Kraft Switcher, is attempting to head out to the west end, but finds a flatcar in their path.

Ken, a former CN engineer who worked with TT&TO, knows how to wait, and wait he did. His Extra 8610 is ready to go with a full CLC consist, but won’t get clearance for another couple hours. Just like the real thing!

87 finally gets clearance to depart, thankfully – Matthew has a lot of work ahead of him. This was after the dispatcher hung up on him several times, breaking his heart.

A side note – there are two kinds of people: Those who would rather run anything than the Kraft, and those who talk big about how they’ll do it better and faster than anyone else.

Unsurprisingly, things went downhill from there. Turns out that despite the time it took to build the trains, nothing was blocked, so the kraft switcher had an extra ~3000 moves ahead of it. On top of that, it left a dozen cars behind at Nelson! An hour later, Matt said “I’m done, going back to Nelson!” which was wholly unbelievable, as it takes me an hour and a half to do the job, and I know all the tricks and shortcuts! I find out all he did was pull the mill and dump his train…that’s not how the game works.

Don’t get me wrong, this was the most fun op session I’ve ever had. The dysfunction only added to the hilarity of getting this group together.

In the end, it was a long day, and the only train that actually made it to its destination was the sleeper freight to Nelson, which terminated at 0500, so I made the choice to reset the session rather than run it to its conclusion myself. Considering neither of the wayfreights made it to Grand Forks, where the bulk of their switching is, I regard that as the correct choice.

Op Session the Third

I figured it was time to give ops a rest after that debacle, but Andrew, a good friend, was driving through Calgary one weekday evening, and on short notice I managed to scrape together a small but experienced operating crew. Andrew had dibs on the Kraft, and I, for the first time ever, got to run a train during my own session!

It went very well. Andrew methodically and efficiently worked the Celgar and Pope & Talbot mills, while the other trains got around the layout in good time. I popped off to make some drinks for the crews while I waited for the 1600 call for No. 12, the Kettle Valley Express. This took a bit longer than I hoped, so 12 ran 15 minutes behind.

I entered Grand Forks as Jon wondered out loud where 12 was. He was working in the yard and had cleared the main 30 minutes ago as per UCOR rules, so was itching to get back to work.


This is what I found after hearing those words…

I’ve never knocked a unit off the track before. 81’s crew neglected to line the switch to normal, and 12 came into the siding for a cornfield meet at track speed.

The face of embarrassment:

Aside from that, the run went well. Every train made it to its destination, even No. 96 on the Nelson sub, which I usually run after everyone’s gone.

And with that, I’m off ops for a few months, I’ve got so much on my plate! I’ll be doing scenery and potentially lighting work in the near future, and I look forward to telling you all about my adventures getting plastered. Til next time!

April Ops and winter changes!

This is going to be a busy month for ops. I’ve got 3 sessions scheduled with 3 different groups of people. The first one was last weekend.

What’s changed since my last post? I’ve been tweaking the crap out of JMRI. I changed the tracks in Nelson so that 5-7 were each assigned to a particular train (5 is 81 west and 90 east, 6 is 87 west and 92 east, etc)

I changed the plan for Nelson yard – that’s detailed in This Post.

I’ve also been doing some more scenery. I finished off the fascia at Shields and put in the big fill – but my local dollar store changed their construction paper to something flimsier, so I’m having issues with the fill now 😦

West of Shields, the line comes out of Shields Creek valley, over a retaining wall, and through a tunnel, all high above Lower Arrow Lake. This is a scenic highlight that I’m very excited about. I haven’t got the time to work on it myself, but my dad chipped in a little and did some light scenicking on my behalf. Thanks, dad!

During the op session, not many people could make it. I tried dividing the jobs into different crews, so that people wouldn’t have nothing to do.

20170401 crew calls

There were 5 people, but this requires 6. (4 road crews, 1 yard, 1 dispatcher.) I decided to be crew D, just to get movements done.

The session started off around 0500 with me bringing the sleeper into Nelson, and the yard crew working away to get 87 out and about. Jon was crew C, so I gave him #11 to kill the real life hour before his first train was due. Here he is halfway up the hill at Shields. 4080’s headlight was burned out, but it’s the Kootenay Express, they can’t stop and wait!

In the yard, Brian was fantastic. Both trains 87 and 81 were ready to go on time, which was ironic, considering I removed them as scheduled trains.

The Kraft Switcher was running as No. 87, seen here crossing the Kootenay river at Taghum.

The eastbound Boundary sub. wayfreight departs Midway early, at 0730, so their work at Grand Forks, which is 90% of switching, is done before the westbound wayfreight arrives. Here Doug is, working on Grand Forks with Extra 8610 East, while 87 crosses the Kootenay below.

A first for the Kootenay Division, Cam actually finished the Kraft job. It took from 0830 to 2130, but he did it! Hardly heard a peep from him the whole session, though.

The east and west Boundary sub wayfreights met perfectly at Farron – I love it when a plan comes together. Too bad I was running 92.

8610 arriving in Castlegar:

81 working Grand Forks Sawmills, the main industry in the area and within GF yard limits (inspires creativity!)

After 81 and 92, the eastbound Cranbrook freight from Nelson were made up and departed on time, Brian had a lull in the yard while waiting for Extra 8610 and Extra 8647 to arrive back. Out came a through freight from Penticton and other points west. Must be a mudslide on the mainline! Extra 4072 East following Extra 8610 down the hill.

The last train of the day was 12. It ran right to schedule east from Midway to Cranbrook.

Finally, all trains made it into Nelson, leaving just the sleeper to be thrown together. The session lasted from 0500 to 2230 on the 4:1 fast clock, about 12:30 to 5:30 real time. The Kootenays are pretty grueling.

The takeaway from this session was encouraging. With 4 road crews, few meets were necessary, and the dispatcher’s position was manageable despite the time it takes to dictate train orders.

My new timetable has instructions on wording (meet vs pass, run vs permission to go from A to B) so there wasn’t any confusion. Nobody had to back up!

Additionally, I finally got everyone signing the registers!

I’ll be tweaking the design before the next session to make them more clear.

Over at the dispatcher’s desk, things look busy.

Enough paper for you? I finally got my own copy of the 1962 UCOR, which has helped me hone my train order protocol.

Train sheet and train order record

Two more changes: Stick-on arrow tabs to indicate where trains are. Dispatchers tend to forget about the Boundary sub wayfreights during the hour or more that they’re in Grand Forks. This helps! The arrow indicates direction.

I also got more phones so that there’s always one within reach if necessary. (Justification: There’s a phone in a shack in Celgar, and another in the station at Procter despite it losing its operator)

Lastly, a pile of train orders.

A good session, all in all. Up next: A non-train-people guest session, and a session for out of town folk during Supertrain. Can’t wait to see how those go!


Changes to Nelson Yard, Part 1

Two things led me to make some fairly major changes to Nelson, the largest yard on the layout, and one that has its own assigned switch crew (and possibly 2 in the future)

The first was a comment from the yard crew, mixed in with others from my last op session, that it would be nice if Nelson had a yard lead so the switch job wouldn’t need to clear the main. No problem!

I decided to pull out 2 of the 3 switches at the east end of Nelson, push the main track outside of where it previously met with the yard lead, and effectively double track it through Procter. I also put a crossover in where the east siding switch previously was.

Removing the 2 switches from the east end was easy, but turned out to be fantastic, as even though they were cut to fit a specific space, they fit perfectly in with the new switches in Procter!

Original position. At left is an industry track to various warehouses, centre is the main, the MLW S2s are on the yard lead, and to the right is the shops.

With switches carefully removed…

…I took them to their new position, and cut out that precise length of track.

Then I installed them by sliding the rail joiners completely onto the turnouts, and then sliding them back once in place.

Mission complete!

Now, the crossover was difficult. I couldn’t fit a pair of turnouts into the space available as a traditional crossover, so I opted to use a curved turnout on the main. A Fast Tracks 30″/20″ radius #8 turnout would fit, but I wouldn’t want to spend $150 on a fixture for a single turnout. So I downloaded their template, printed it out, and went at it! I made sure to bend all the rails to just the right curvature and shape before soldering them down.

It ended up being very sexy, even though it took more than twice as long to build as a regular turnout! I installed it across from a normal #8, making the S curve very gentle.

I use Ribbonrail track alignment gauges on my curves, and in this case, I used it to keep the curve flowing properly into the switch as I laid it.

Looking good!

I throw my turnouts with servos controlled by Tam Valley Octopus IIIa boards, and to save on outputs, my crossovers are thrown by a single output together.

So far, it’s been operating nearly flawlessly. Huzzah!

There are more changes to tracks that haven’t been laid yet. Let’s look at the plan again.

I’ve had issues with JMRI not being able to move all the cars it should, and it’s due to limitations within the yard. Look just below the diesel shops and left of the roundhouse, and you’ll see the RIP (Repair In Place) yard. I had 2 tracks in the original plan, and I was simply going to put bad ordered cars there until I could get to them.

Instead, I moved things around so that there were 4 tracks of the maximum length that fit (#5 ladder) to use as an overflow for the class yard. I may even end up building the shorter trains, such as the Creston turn and my Tadanac wayfreight on them. (The second may be short lived, however.)

I also moved the drop-down wye further into the aisle. It’s still up in the air whether it will be built as such.

Lastly, I moved the top right tracks a bit. In real life, the merchandise terminal is on the north (aisle) side of its tracks, but I moved it to the far side so the switch crew could actually reach it!

Time to have an op session to test this out.

Annual Ops Session?

Annual? Maybe, sure seems like it!

I made one major operational change before the session. I felt the Hotshot to Trail wasn’t working in its current configuration. I had to lose too many cars off it to give it the room in its consist to pick up random cars from Nelson and Castlegar and still fit into the shortish (1700′) staging track at Trail, so I made a new train that simply runs from Nelson to Trail and back at a different time. I think this killed Nelson yard, but that’s a story for another day.

Of note is that the session was the first to run with the full Nelson yard and Nelson sub/east staging, albeit without the passing track at Creston.

There were a total of 11 guys in the basement. 9 operators, the dispatcher, and myself. This acted as a stress test for the layout, and it performed well – no electrical issues, only capacity issues!

We made it through most of the session, although with so much traffic, some trains did get left behind at the end of the day.

Off to a good start, Cam’s got Extra 4104 East in the hole at Grand Forks, picking up most everything from the yard.


Extra 4072 East, a hot cool train full of Okanagan fruit from the Kettle Valley Division, passes 4104.


4072 is over the summit, and this pleases Al.


I’ve got Tunnel mocked up to an extent. I’ve decided it’s going to be a recently removed siding (prototype was pulled in the late 60s) with some buildings still in place. I’m excited for this scene.


Speaking of scenes, here’s a familiar one. Dispatcher hard at work.


The eastbound Rossland wayfreight, as mentioned in the first post, is working at Castlegar, dropping off acid tank cars for the pulp mill at Celgar from the smelter at Trail. 11, the Kootenay Express, is on the mainline, braking as it comes to its station stop. 20170108-07

By this point, we’re deep in confusion. Not many photos are happening, everyone’s trying to talk to the dispatcher, and not many trains are moving!


That’s it for photos. In the end, I found some major bottlenecks. I put so much into this session that I burned myself out, and simply haven’t felt like working on the layout, especially with such major operational issues staring me in the face.

Notably, there are 4 sidings over 2000′ on the entire railway:




-Grand Forks

Nelson is frequently used by the yard crews to build the Kraft switcher, and is difficult to keep free.

The Kraft Switcher has orders to keep the siding at Castlegar clear during most of the session, but every operator I’ve had found that too challenging.

Grand Forks is occupied for much of the session by either of the two Boundary wayfreights.

Having these sidings all occupied makes having meets extremely difficult. Add into the mix the challenge of getting crews to OS their train (hard) and sign station registers (bloody impossible) means that, in essence, nobody has the faintest clue where anybody else is. On top of all that, late trains that haven’t been modified by TO, or trains that aren’t running but haven’t been annulled are in the timetable and (for those impressive enough to pay attention to it) will make you wait indefinitely.

Now I understand why nobody here operates with TT&TO.

Next up: Scenery, I guess?

So I tried something new…

I ran an operating session solely with people who know little to nothing about trains.

Believe it or not, I’m planning to do it again, but first, why it all fell apart!

Here’s the premise – make up a guide that covers everything to do with my operation, have people read it over, and all will be well. Was it? Well…considering said guide was 11 pages long, I don’t think people remembered it.

This was to be a trial run with time table and train orders with new train order panels I put in (more on that in another post), but a dispatcher needs to be knowledgeable about the operation, so that job fell to me.

I had also wanted to work the yard, since this would be the first proper op session it would be in operation. The yard is the centre of the railway, and if it gets behind, all the trains do, as well. So I could do both, I set up the dispatcher’s paperwork and phone in the yard.


I set up new clipboards that I added extra clips to at the terminals to hold a register, clearances, and train orders. Nobody signed these. I think everyone was in a hurry! I’m also in the midst of converting my train orders to look 1970s-ish. I have the wrong form here, but I was in a hurry.


I had 6 persons operating. This occupied roughly 138% of my time, trying to help them and troubleshoot.

So, those were the main difficulties…then more went wrong. I had installed new switch panels around the top deck to match the fascia that I recently painted. Surprise, nearly all the switches on the Grand Forks panel were shorting out, and a major switch Grand Forks Sawmills was dead. Further to that, the switch list I had generated in JMRI was incorrect – cars were listed to be picked up that already had been. Definitely my fault, but when? This is when I told the operator of the GN Grand Forks turn to park in the runaround and get another train.


I set him up on a worry-free through freight and turned my attention to Grand Forks. In the name of fun, I frantically ripped out the DCC feeders to the toggle switches that route power to the frogs. It didn’t work. Everyone had questions. The session was crumbling around me. One person felt tired and that couple left. Stress was winning. The worry-free freight train was stalling on the hill and derailing often. My manifests were confusing. Grand Forks was still shorting out.

Somehow, everyone but me was still having fun.


The 4:1 fast clock was started at 0530, with the first train running at 0550. We were markedly behind, and I stopped it at 0840. By 3 hours in, we made it to about 1030 – not too shabby considering how hectic and broken everything was. I would have hoped to make it to 1730 by that point, but a shade under half wasn’t that bad, considering.

So, what went wrong?

I’m going to have more sessions with non-train-people. However, I think these things are important:

  1. You need to have no technical issues.

Derailments were caused by new cars that had wheelsets with huge flanges and low hanging trip pins. Easy to eliminate, and everything should be tested before it’s given to someone. The yard crew worked very well, except for a couple of underweight cars with truck mounted couplers that derailed often when shoving long cuts

2. You need to be available to help people.

Trying to keep a railway running smoothly made it feel as if I was leaving people in the lurch, and if I was responsive to issues, I saw all trains grind to a halt. Don’t take on too many jobs.

3. Keep the numbers low.

I felt like 4 was a manageable number. That’s half of what I might expect for a full op session with train people. Everyone will need more help, and you don’t want to be overwhelmed. (See #2)

So, I’ll let you know how the next session goes!

Epilogue: Troubleshooting Grand Forks

Finding the incorrect wheelsets and wires that had come off toggles in the sawmill was the easy part. Grand Forks caused considerable consternation. The frogs are powered, which means that when the toggle is thrown, DCC power is routed through it. The same toggles also actuate the servos through Octopus III controllers. So, with my system set to be 13V across the rails, one should see 13V from one rail to the frog, and 0V from the other to the frog. What I ended up seeing was 14.5V from one rail to the frog, and 0V for the other – even though track power was only 13V, and the DC power supplies for the Octopuses were turned off! There was, in fact, a wire soldered incorrectly. The B rail of the DCC system was connected to the common wire to the Octopus’s control inputs, and somehow that transformed it up to 14.5V at the frog. Only took me 5 hours to fix all the above issues! The layout should be good to go now…