I like shifting railcars. Whether we are talking the real thing or simply models on a layout, I get a rush out of drilling cars into their proper order and spotting-up industries. Given a choice, I will take a switch-heavy job over a road job any day.
Of course, some industries are more interesting to shift than others. In my opinion, switching interest = tracks available for shifting + number of specific car spots + variety. Let’s explore each parameter.
Tracks Available for Shifting: Simply, the trackplan at the industry. Form-follows-function is the key phrase here. Track and switches cost money to install and maintain, so railroads and customers do not overindulge. All you need is a place to spot cars; a place to store extra cars waiting to be spotted; and an area in which to drill cars into order. Sounds like a lot of space required, but consider this example of a corrugated box plant:
Here we have everything needed using just three tracks and two switches! The passing siding (the track at left with boxcars) is used to store cars off-spot until needed. Crews dig cars out of the siding and drill them into spot-order using the main. Finally, loads/empties are swapped out on the customer’s spur. (Cars are spotted at the warehouse dock at the upper right of the photo) Simple huh?
Number of Specific Car Spots: Multiple car spots add switching interest as you are now digging more cars out of the storage track (or your train). Locating a single boxcar amongst a string of cars on a siding is straightforward; digging three specific boxcars out of that same siding makes things interesting; finding three specific CSX boxcars amongst eight CSX cars on that siding makes things very interesting!
Multiple spots also allows (1) the respotting of certain cars that have not been fully unloaded the previous shift and (2) introducing different commodities (hence freight car types) to the scene. Let’s take another look at our box plant:
The plant typically unloads four boxcars of pulpboard per day. Often, one or more boxcars are only partially unloaded and need to stay. The plant also receives a hopper car of starch every few days. Due to the location of the unloading hoses, starch cars must be the next-to-last car on the spur. Finally, the plant reloads previously emptied boxcars with scrap cardboard. These reloads get spotted on the spur in front of the dock. The plant will specify which empty car(s) at the dock are to be respotted for scrap loading.
So, our single spur track now provides spots for loaded boxcars of paper; loaded covered hoppers of starch; and MTY boxcars to be reloaded with scrap cardboard.
Variety: We have already discussed variety in the form of multiple carspots and commodities. However, variety can also mean the number of cars to be spotted on a particular day; the number of respots; and the amount of cars on the storage track etc. All add up to give the industry a distinctive “ebb and flow.”
So that’s how a simple yet functional track plan, which serves a multiple car/commodity industry that calls for a variety of switching scenarios makes for a very interesting place to shift!
Next up: Translating my modeling philosophy into a layout design…stay tuned!