Layout Lessons

David Colvin attended to 2011 ProRail meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. After that visit David has the following lessons for us to think about:



Just because you think you can have that many positions, you don't necessarily need that many positions or someone is going to do a lot of sitting. 

On more than one railroad, I sat and waited as much as I ran.  The reason?  Overcrewing. 

I saw yards given 2 yardmaster positions and they weren't really needed.  Not to mention that there then becomes a "who's in charge?" problem.  1 yard = 1 yardmaster.  

The other overcrewing came with mainlines.  They generally needed a 20% reduction in the number of mainliners. 

Ridiculous.  Especially when you consider people are spending an average of $200 -$400 to visit each layout (airfare/travel/hotel/food, etc.), the crews should have been leaner to keep people busier. 

I have detected that people were using number of crew to sort of impress the size of the layout.  It was usually false and has no bearing on the "fun factor". 

In fact, the more people in the room usually did just the opposite.  Idle people talk.   Talking takes away from being able to hear the radios and is a distraction for others.  And, the impression someone has was whether they worked or not/had something to do.

Thus, when I think of a visiting experienced crew to the Sue Line, I have to consider the following:

1 - Dispatcher  (not a guest position)

1 - Blanchard Yardmaster

1 - AEX yardmaster

1 - SPB

1 - SCO

1 - MOP

5 or 6 mainline crews divided between Regular and EXTRA board

That means the Sue Line is a 10 or 11 guest railroad.  I have witnessed people running out of work on the Sue Line on the MOP when there are two people.  I know for a fact that AEX just needs one experienced operator.  Our regulars often have some quiet time there.  Blanchard works with just one person. 

Certainly, the third district will allow for 2 more (and no more than that) operators in the future.


Too Many Helpers:

Again, we ran into a situation where layouts would have 2 or 3 helpers which I nicknamed "hinderers".  They hindered because they stayed and added to the noise and body count of the room.  Hinderers often were the source of extraneous conversation and overall just getting in the way. 

I know there can be a concern about hurting the local guys feelings, but I can assure you the visitors will not be back or desire to come back if too much of this goes on. 

In an ideal situation, a fixed position operator needs

(1) a small, simple guidesheet and

(2) a brief overview of the area..and then be LEFT ALONE. 

Mainliners, just need an orientation on direction, how to throw switches and a radio etiquette and then be LEFT ALONE.

In other words, one or two people upstairs acting as "helpers" is all we need.  Anymore than that and it becomes a hindrance. 


Keep It Simple:

Crew briefing.  People should go upstairs and look around, but the actual pre-session briefing should be done downstairs. 

Then fixed positions go up and get started 15 minutes before the mainliners.  SCO should take 30 seconds to brief (on mainline with DS permission and get cars ready).  etc.

So when session starts, fixed positions get a moment to breath.  Initial crew call can be by dispatcher from downstairs.  it won't take long to get things going, but the fixed guys need just a minute.  Any local hinderers on the fixed position should then evacuate the area!


Keep Body Count Down: 

Even with 5 foot aisles, you can get too many people in a room.  See Lession 1.  Two man crews, etc. sound like you can involve more people, but it really just adds to the chaos.


Layout Must Run Mechanically:

The SUE LINE has an Achilles heel and it is mechanical.  We have an embarrasing number of shorts usually caused by operator error.  That is not doing the decoders or system any good. But most of it is simply operators not paying attention to switches, etc.  But if we have track work and signal system issues, we really need to address those before moving further along. 

So there are the first 5 lessons.....that I learned.  I saw more and did more....but that is the first part.

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