Thursday, August 11, 2016

Accommodating Operations: Extending Track 6

One of the down up sides of operating sessions is that problems which had only been latent - and therefore easy to ignore (if noticed at all) - become All Too Apparent. At least to your operators. I've touched on this before. unFortunately, I have another recent example . . .

"Track 6" in Old Saybrook is commonly known as the "Balloon" track, since it bulges behind the station. See below:

Our operating sessions are based on our best guess as to how trains operated here (at least until somebody can please supply more accurate information) and a typical session has PDX-1 (the New Haven/New London local) coming into town from the west (which is from the right on my layout) and getting off the eastbound main (track 2) by going into track 6. The local uses track 6 to store its train and to work the bulk track (track 8) and the house track (track 10), all while staying off the mainline.

On the prototype, track 6 is verrrrry long (not sure how long, but long). On my model - eees not so very long.  See below:

But it's worked pretty well, using part of the reverse loop as a "lead" on the west end (to the right, as you're looking at the photos). To orient you, here's the trackplan for Old Saybrook:

Remember, you can always click on an image for a larger view
Eastbound trains come from the right/west end staging (accessed through switch #36) go past switch #35 and through crossover #34 to get to eastbound track 2. If it's a local that needs to go into the balloon track (track 6), it takes the diverging route through switch #33. Those two parallel tracks that go off to the right ("To New Haven") actually connect, making a reverse loop. It's that reverse loop - specifically the "top" side - that PDX-1 has been using as a switch lead into track 6. As you can see following the trackplan above, this avoids fouling the mainline operationally.

However, after a recent ops session (and after realizing that to even come close to simulating the heavy mainline traffic in Old Saybrook) it became very apparent that we'd need to use the reverse loop for (fairly) continuous running of trains (there's no way I can make the staging yards large enough to make this unnecessary). So PDX-1 would no longer be able to use the reverse loop as its lead. It'd have to be totally off any main track while doing its switching.

To address this, "all I'd have to do" is move one turnout and extend track 6 . . .

From here . . .

To here .  . .
Now, mind you, this only became apparent after the track is all corked and glued down, and after the control panel has been done not once, but twice already. Well, after much consideration - and reconsideration - and consulting with trusted advisers - and a couple glasses of wine, I decided NOT to modify the control panel (not yet anyway), but would at least move the turnout and extend the track. Operationally, the actual physical location of that track 2/track 6 switch/turnout (switch #33) shouldn't make much of a difference on the panel. I guess we'll see.

But at least track 6 is extended now . . .

The turnout to track 6 had been just to the right of the crossover. Here you see I've already started extending the cork roadbed.

And here - though it's tough to see (it was even tougher to work in here!) - you can see the new turnout position.
Since I had to rip up part of the reverse loop anyway, I decided in for a penny, in for a pound and ripped up the whole thing. Long time readers will recall that this reverse loop (aka the West End Loop) has given me fits for a while - from kinks that had to be fixed (resulting in multiple sections of flextrak - and additional rail joints), to a made-to-be-curved turnout that hasn't ever operated quite as well as I'd hoped.

Thanks to an actual-honest-to-goodness curved turnout from PeteL, and yet-more-flextrack from Tom's Trains, I relaid the West End Loop - and the approach to the staging yard - as I should have done in the first place. But, of course, this didn't happen without a little bit of head scratching first.

(re)Laying the curve between the turnouts (the new turnout to track 6 and the new curved one going to staging) was pretty straightforward - just be sure to solder the joints with the track straight before curving the track so you get a nice, gentle, kinkless curve. That is very important. Bonus: since I was installing just two new sections of flextrack, I was able to reduce said joints from 3 (6 soldering points) to just 2. It's a MUCH smoother curve now.

However, replacing my "franken-turnout" with an actual curved turnout was much less straightforward since it was impossible to put it in a position that didn't significantly change the geometry of the approach to the staging yard.

"All you have to do is . . ." I swear, I'm going to ban this phrase from my basement - especially when uttered in relation to the layout. %^) Sure, all I have to do is "drop in" the new curved turnout, which requires me to move the staging yard turnouts, which requires me to move all of the staging yard tracks, all while trying to avoid the front wall of the staging yard box - and having to remove said wall and widen the staging yard benchwork. Adding more cork roadbed under it all isn't even worth mentioning.

But all the work that ended up being necessary was worth it in the end. I was able to just fit the yard throat past the box wall (after beveling the vertical edge with my saber saw and a rasp for some added clearance), and my yard throat track radii didn't change as much as I'd feared. Other than the time/work involved, the only other downside is that the change pushed all my fouling points back a few inches - but not enough to diminish staging track capacity significantly. Whew!

The new curved turnout works MUCH better and more reliably than the previous made-up turnout. Lesson learned: while Micro-Engineering turnouts are slightly curveable to make your trackwork flow better, don't try to make one into an actual curved turnout. Get what you really need for the situation.

As you can see above, I'm still fussing with the curve a bit by shimming the outside rail. While running passenger trains back and forth over the new trackwork, I discovered that the trailing truck on my I-5 Hudson would tend to climb up the outside rail when running backwards. Fortunately, the only time the I-5 will be running backwards is when backing back into staging, but since I plan to (re)cover this curve with fascia (and, eventually, scenery), I'd like to get the trackwork as bulletproof as possible.

So, another major modification done. I can't recommend highly enough that you operate your railroad as soon as possible - well before scenery. As I've discovered, it's often only then that you realize that you need to make some trackwork changes. You're in good company though - the prototype had to change its track arrangements from time to time too!


  1. Chris, I feel your pain! I've laid and re-laid and re-laid again the throat to my float yard, as better operational track changes became apparent via research (photos), then for better physical mechanical operation, and then again for better operation. I "think" I have it down now, now I've found I need to redo my staging throat! Luckily, other than yards and yards and pounds of cinder ballast, there's not much scenery ever to be contemplated on the LV Harbor Terminal!

    - Ralph

    1. Glad to know I'm not alone! I'm just glad it's been (relatively) easy (so far) since I've discovered the changes needed before I ballasted.