This time we'll look at a beverage company that receives tank cars of corn syrup. 

The track layout is very simple.

Here we are looking north.  The middle track is the main.  To the left (west) is the appropriately named "west siding".  This double-ended siding serves as a storage track for loaded cars and can hold about 26 tanks.  The track on the right (east) is where tanks are actually spotted for unloading.  This track is also a double ended siding (switches at both ends).

The east siding has three spots where tank cars are actually unloaded.  There is room to store six more cars between the unloading spots and the north switch.  


Tank cars move in a continuous, conveyor-like fashion from the interchange, to the west siding, then across to the east siding for unloading, then back to the interchange. 

The cars show up at the interchange in spurts.  One week will see four or five cars arrive; the next week twenty will come in.  It all depends on the ebb and flow of the plant's ordering process.  Tanks are taken up the line based on tonnage, i.e. how many cars the locomotives can pull up the grades, factoring in such things as snow, leaves, wet rail etc.  

Like water flowing to the sea, all tanks eventually make their way from the interchange to the west siding at the plant.  Crews try to keep cars on the west siding lined up in date order...with older cars at the north end and newer cars to the south..but this is not always possible.  
The track here is on a grade. On a good day, the locomotives can pull a dozen or so tanks out the north end of the west siding.  Remember this track holds just under thirty cars, so digging out the oldest cars can make for some interesting switching.  For instance, sometimes the oldest cars will be on the south end of the siding, buried behind a dozen newer cars.  The simple move would be to pull everything out of the siding, set out the old cars on the main, then place the newer cars back into the siding.  The problem is, the locomotives can't pull all those cars out of the siding.  So instead, the block of old cars is shoved out the south end switch onto the main, the locomotives will then pull the remaining cars back into the siding, cut off, go out the north end of the siding, then back down the main to couple on to the cut.  See what I mean about interesting moves? 

Two geeps dig in to pull a heavy cut of corn syrup tanks off the west siding track.

It's not unheard of for the local to shove tanks ahead of the locomotive from the previous town, so that day's newer cars can be placed on the siding from the south switch.  This avoids having to pull too many cars uphill out of the north end when getting them in order.   All of this would make for interesting scenarios on a model railroad, keeping crews busy and on their toes. 

When a crew arrives at the plant, they check a mailbox located near the east siding.  In the box will be paperwork telling the conductor which cars are empty.  It could be one, two or all three cars.  After pulling chocks and making sure all steam hoses are disconnected, a conductor will couple all the cars together. 

Cars on spot are separated by about five feet, sometimes less, depending on how the car's manway lines up with the walkway platform.  Once coupled, the cars  are shoved down to the south end of the siding.  The empties are set out here for pickup later in the day when the crew comes back south through town.  Once the empties are set-off, the crew pulls north again to respot/spot the loaded cars.  

Views of the gangways at the unloading spots.

The plant always unloads the three spotted cars from south to north.  So say two cars are empty and the northern-most car is not yet fully unloaded.  The crew shoves everything down to the south end of the siding, drops the two empties, then pulls back north with the partial load and it becomes the new southern-most car.  Two new cars are then spotted for unloading above it. 

Remember that the east track can hold nine cars total: three on spot and six more stored above them.  After several days, all nine of those cars will be unloaded and the crew brings another block over from the west siding.  And so it goes.

The crew comes off the north end of the east siding (unloading track).  They have just shoved today's empties down to the south end and then pulled back north spotting the new loads.  Once all the cars on the east track are empty, nine more will be brought over from the west siding.   

The steam unloading facility is quite simple and would be easy to model.


Cars are spotted on a pretty good grade, so a smart conductor will spot the car so the manways align with the plant gangways; close the angle cock on the car ahead; then walk back and put the car into emergency by opening the angle cock on the rear of the car he just spotted.  After reclosing the angle cock, he'll place the chocks; tie up the handbrake; then cut away and spot the next car.


When switching is completed, plant personnel replace their blue flags and reattach the steam lines.


January 23, 2010

It's been a busy week, so not much layout progress to report on.  As a test, I raised the elevation of the warehouse track using a  Woodland Scenics 2% incline and 1/2" foam roadbed.  I like the visual contrast that the elevation difference offers, and it follows many prototype situations. 

I once saw a similar raised spur at a Georgia Pacific mill, with a low cut-stone retaining wall separating the tracks.  Perhaps I'll incorporate something like that.

Because the NCIR is a small switching layout, I can weigh my cars pretty heavy.  The additional weight helps the cars track better and nicely simulates the mass of the real thing.  Another benefit, as you can see below, is that cars will not roll when spotted on a slight grade.

If you look closely at the bottom of the photo above, you'll see that I began shaping contours at the front edge of the layout.  I am AMAZED at how much a slight upward slope draws the eye into the scene. 

Playing with the camera settings:-)

I'm working on a new post describing switching operations at a beverage plant.  Stay tuned...


Photo journal of today's operating brass RS11 really needs some paint and weathering!

The 318 is parked at its usual spot behind McMinn Asphalt

Heading east across Commerce Street...

and passing Dal-Tile.  No work here today...

Our crew pauses at Packaging Corporation of America to unlock and remove derails.  The storage siding is in the foreground, dock track is to the rear.

The 318 ties onto today's inbound cars, left on the interchange by CSXT. 

Watching from Ann Street as the crew inspects the cars and performs a brake test

The crew pulls the inbounds down to the fouling point, then uncouples.

They grab the two CSXT boxcars off the siding...

and couple them to the inbounds.

With all the loads now coupled together into one string, the crew begins classifying cars using the main and siding.  The starch hopper is not needed today; it goes onto the siding.  The GT car is to be spotted at the dock, and it too goes onto the siding temporarily.

The FBOX goes to the warehouse; it is set out on the main.

The CN car goes to the dock.  The ELS box is not needed.  Both go on the siding for now.

Finally, the two CSX boxcars (both going to the warehouse) are coupled to the FBOX.  The crew shoves the three loads down the main, clear of the warehouse switch.  They leave room for one more car between the three cars and the switch. 

They left room on the main because this CSXT hi-cube spotted at the warehouse is a partial load that needs respotted.  The crew pulls this car from the warehouse and throws it out on the main with the other loads.

With the CSXT respot out of the way, the crew can pull the empties from the warehouse spur.

They couple back to the loads on the main, then spot them at the warehouse.  Some jockeying is required to get the car doors lined up with the warehouse doors.

Still holding on to the empties from the warehouse, the crew goes down to the dock to pull two more empties there.

Making the joint...

All the empties are now set out on the interchange for pickup by CSXT.

Having dropped the empties, the crew returns to the siding.  They uncouple the starch car and leave it on the siding, taking the three boxcars with them.

Now it's a simple move to spot the GT and CN cars at the dock.

Finally, the crew pulls back with the ELS car (remember it wasn't requested today)...

and places it back on the siding with the starch hopper.

The crew shuts down the 318 and climbs off.  They'll complete their day at another switching operation across town.


I always enjoyed switching Inland Container in Biglerville, Pennsylvania.  I  decided early on to make such a facility the main industry on my industrial switching layout.  Thus my entire railroad is based upon this design element.  

Inland manufactures raw paper into various types of cardboard packaging material.  The manufacturing process is quite interesting.  Read more about Corrugated Cardboard Manufacturing and have a look at the video below.

Paper rolls arrive at Inland via a steady stream of boxcars.  Corn starch, an ingredient in the adhesive used in the manufacturing process, arrives in covered hoppers.  Finally, Inland reloads several empty boxcars per week with scrap paper to be recycled by the paper mills.

There's always a virtual kaleidoscope of boxcars at Inland.  Switching the plant is complex, despite the simple track arrangement.

Here is an AERIAL VIEW of the plant.

Track consists of a mainline, two storage sidings and two spurs serving the plant.  The storage tracks hold loaded cars off-spot until needed by the plant.  (Often one siding is used to store Inland cars and the other used to store corn syrup tank cars for another industry).

Here is a simplified schematic of the plant:

Looking south down the mainline.  Two storage tracks are at left.  The Upper Dock spur curves off the main and continues upgrade into the warehouse. 

A closer view of the upper dock (warehouse).  Note the boxcar spotted outside the door for scrap paper loading.

Looking northwest at the lower dock.


Up to four cars may be spotted at the lower dock and four more at the upper dock (inside the warehouse).  The plant typically unloads four to eight boxcars of paper per day. Often, one or more boxcars are only partially unloaded and need to be respotted.

The plant unloads one or two hoppers of starch each week.  Due to the location of the starch silo, the hoppers must be placed as the next-to-last car on the upper dock spur. These starch cars usually take two days to unload.

Finally, the plant reloads previously emptied boxcars with scrap paper.  These reloads are spotted on the upper dock spur, outside of the warehouse.  Inland will specify which empty car(s) are to be respotted for scrap loading.

Here are a couple video clips from our locomotive:

Inland is usually switched daily, and sometimes twice per day.  The plant often requests cars from the day's inbound interchange as well as off the storage tracks.  Crews will drill cars into spot-order using the storage tracks and main.  Once the spots are in order, crews will pull empties from the plant.  Lastly, the crew will spot the inbounds.  Switching can get complicated respotting partial loads back into the plant, respotting empties for scrap paper loading and digging specific cars off the storage tracks (classifying them for either the upper or lower dock).  

On some days Inland requests only cars from the inbound interchange.  Other days, all requested cars come off the storage tracks.  Most days it is a mix of both.  I suspect that Inland is really unloading the cars in date order based on when they were initially loaded and released from the paper mills.  With different mills across the country supplying Inland, boxcars show up on the interchange in very random order.  I believe that the seemingly random car spotting requests is Inland sorting the inbound loads by mill and date shipped.

My 1/48 scale Packaging Corporation of America plant captures most of the operational elements of Inland Container.  I'm having a ball operating the layout!  No two days are ever the same, just as on the 1:1.  You'll notice my layout has only one storage track to hold cars off-spot, instead of the two tracks on the prototype.  However, as mentioned previously, the second track at Biglerville is often used to store cars for other industries along the railroad.

For more information, see my OPERATIONS and VIRTUAL SWITCHING pages.


Modern industrial railroading, up close and personal.  The size and mass of O scale allows one to capture this perspective on a layout, transporting operators into the scene.  The location is eastern Pennsylvania, but could be anywhere in the country. 
My NCIR has no specific geographical location, other than being in the eastern US.   This may seem like heresy when compared to popular layout design thinking, but I wanted prototypical operations and scenery without the limitation of one specific location.  My wife and I travel extensively and visit many interesting areas across the US and Canada.  My layout may be set in Pennsylvania for now.  Later, I may think of the NCIR being located on the Delmarva Peninsula.  A few years later the railroad may be in Virginia or in upstate New York.  

Industrial switching layouts (ISL's) are great for this type of "generic-prototype” modeling.  Modern industrial park architecture is often similar from one city to the next (those large shoebox designs are good for some things).  My scenery, while based on an actual industrial branch near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is generic enough to pass for many locations in the eastern US.  My second-hand locomotives are representative of those found on small switching operations today.  Since I stage inbound cars on the layout, there is no need to own locomotives for the connecting railroad.  As for the name New Castle Industrial Railroad: the Industrial Railroad part was easy enough; I happen to like the ring of New Castle and it is a name found on many state maps. 


The NCIR operates a short segment of industrial trackage spun off by a Class I railroad.  The line is one of many owned and managed by parent company Pioneer.   

Crews are dispatched to operate the NCIR on an as-needed basis, usually several times per week.  Operations can take anywhere from one to several hours. 
Pioneer will shuffle locomotives between divisions due to mechanical issues or changes in traffic levels.  Alco RS11 no. 318 (former Kankakee, Beaverville & Southern) is current power on the NCIR.  RS3m no. 102 (a former Conrail Altoona rebuild) seems to draw the NCIR assignment whenever the 318 is down for repairs. 
I should mention that there is a prototype New Castle Industrial Railroad, which operates north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The 1/48 scale NCIR, however, is a figment of my imagination blending ideas from several prototype operations. 


The drawing below illustrates my trackplan and industry location.  This no-frills illustration doesn't include scenic elements and finalized building footprints, which are currently being tested.    

Overall layout size is 25' x 10' with a minimum curve radius of 45".  All switches are #8's except the switch into Dal-Tile, which is a #6.

I'm using Atlas O sectional track to design and test the layout.  Final track will be handlaid to P48 standards using Right-O-Way Code 125 steel rail and wood ties.

For orientation, New Castle Junction is on the right.  Interchange takes place here between NCIR and its Class I connection (actual NCIR ownership ends at the Ann Street underpass).  The switch where my industrial lead diverges from the Class I is theoretically located a short distance east of Ann Street (off layout).

The New Castle Industrial Track once crossed the New Castle Secondary at grade near Ann Street and continued east to the Osram Sylvania glass plant.  The glass plant shut down and the crossing was partially removed just before the sale to NCIR.  A gravel lot at the end of this truncated track serves as a transload for Premier Chemical.  Premier transfers magnesium oxide powder from covered hoppers  to trucks.  Occasionally, NCIR will spot a tank car of liquid product here.  The remaining segment this track is used to store loaded cars off spot.    

West of the interchange is Packaging Corporation of America's large corrugating mill; the reason that this trackage exists today.  PCA receives boxcars of linerboard and covered hoppers of starch.   The mill also ships out scrap cardboard, which is recycled by the production mills located in the south and midwest.

From PCA the industrial track meanders west, curving through a wooded marsh, then entering the Commerce Street district.  Here, Dal-Tile Incorporated (DTI) receives inbound tank cars of kaolin slurry.  Track is out of service beginning a couple hundred yards west of the Commerce Street crossing.  NCIR's locomotive is kept at the current end of track west of Commerce Street, next to McMinn Asphalt's large storage yard.