Thursday, September 1, 2016

Fun with a Fast Clock - Train Times, Aug. 25, 1947 (2016)

The four primary trains on my layout (and the only trains I'm currently running) are four local freights which technically have no schedule. Sure, according to certain railroad documents there's some sort of rough schedule (time on duty, approximate time of arrival at each location), and the locals should try and get to certain places by a certain time (if only to pick up or set out hot cars or make a connection with another train), but the only real time they have to worry about is the "16 hour rule" when they have to take themselves out of service (or "outlaw").

Despite this, I use a fast clock during my operating sessions ("there's an app for that") since I really like the feeling of the "day" going by. I haven't (yet) gotten sophisticated enough to simulate the passage of the sun across the sky (though I do hope someday to have nighttime ops, and structures with interior lighting), but you'd be surprised at how effective a fast clock is in giving you a similar feeling. It also gives you the "times" you can record on Train Orders, Switchlists and other paperwork and keeping track of such things increases the level of realism.

Case in point - a few observations from my most recent ops session, where I used a 4:1 fast clock ratio:

  • The local from Cedar Hill yard to New London (PDX-1) took "3hrs 15mins" and spent over "2 hours" switching Old Saybrook and exchanging cars with its counterpart (PDX-2). In actual, real time it took less than an hour.
  • The Airline local took a little over 8 hours to do its work (2hrs 10mins real time), but unfortunately about 4-5 of those hours (1 actual hour) were spent in Middletown - much of it just waiting. I need to figure out how to fix that. It's nice for the Airline crew to be able to socialize and such, but I'm sure they came to run a train not stand around waiting (at least until there's more scenery and other interesting stuff to look at...)
  • The local that goes from New London, exchanges cars with PDX-1 in Old Saybrook, goes up the Valley branch, and continues on to Cedar Hill yard took over "10 1/2 hours" to do its work (2hrs 45mins real time).
  • Finally, our namesake and persistently outlawing Valley Local took almost "12 hours" to get from Hartford down to East Haddam and back, working all the towns en route and doing a lot of switching in Middletown. In real time, it took 3 hours, but thanks to the 4:1 clock the "fast time" is actually pretty close to the prototype amount of time this job took back in 1947. It didn't outlaw, but it was - and continues to be - the train that takes the longest amount of time.
One of the primary reasons I decided to expand my layout beyond just "The Valley Local" (with cameo appearance by the Airline Local) was to include the other two local freights in the lower CT river valley and, consequently, to double the number of folks I could host for an operating session. It only took a few ops sessions on the original layout to discover that "more would make even merrier." So now, instead of just 4 guys (two crews) in addition to me acting as layout host and A-O, I can have 8 guys over (for a total of 10, including me and an assistant superintendent - usually Randy).

But I'm discovering that keeping all those guys busy for the whole session is a challenge, despite having 4 trains now. As you can see above, the Shoreline and Airline locals don't have near the amount of work as the two locals serving the Valley Line (north and south ends). This isn't too surprising since the amount of work is directly related to the amount of real estate/layout involved: HDX-12 has only Somerset and Mill Hollow to worry about (depending on how much we require it to do in Middletown) and PDX-1 really has only Old Saybrook to deal with.

So, a couple of options I plan to try, at least until I can get around to adding mainline trains:
  • While not prototypically correct, I could have the Airline local do all the switching in Middletown. That would actually address two needs: increasing its work/time, and reducing the work/time of the Valley local.
  • I could have one crew work both the Shoreline local (PDX-1) and the Airline local. For example, given the timing, the Shoreline local's work could be done while the Airline local is waiting in Middletown (thought that waiting isn't very prototypical either).
  • A variation on the above: One crew works both locals, but sequentially rather than while one is waiting. Have the Airline local get in/out of Middletown prototypically (without waiting for HDX-7) and then operate PDX-1. Or the other way around, whichever sequence makes sense.
While the last option is most prototypical, the first option retains the maximum number of crew members. But like everything else on a model railroad, there are inevitable compromises with the prototype - some sessions I may just choose to follow the prototype a little less than fully. And that's ok.

For those of you interested in such things (and especially for my regular crew members), you may enjoy the following raw data which is a schedule of each trains' "fast" and actual times. I'd appreciate hearing any thoughts you might have on it. In the meantime, the tweaking continues....

PDX-1 “Shoreline Local”
On Duty at Cedar Hill
Old Saybrook
Off Duty at New London
PDX-2 “Haddam Local”
On Duty at New London
Old Saybrook
East Haddam
Deep River
Old Saybrook
Off Duty at Cedar Hill
HDX-7 “Valley Local”
On Duty at Hartford
Rocky Hill/Dividend
East Haddam
Middletown (depart)
Rocky Hill
Off Duty at Hartford
HDX-12 “Airline Local”
On Duty at Cedar Hill
Mill Hollow
Middletown (depart)
Off Duty at Cedar Hill


  1. Just remember that if the Airline Local crew was running another train, the Airline Local itself wouldn't just be waiting. It would be servicing Portland to Colchester. Returning to Cedar Hill immediately after reaching Middletown would be unprototypical.

    1. So maybe have the train hide somewhere to simulate that part of the run....