As my personal struggle with layout design continues there is another aspect of freight yards that every modeler needs to consider. What are all those tracks for? A large yard is a maze of track and switches and the plan and purpose is hard to see. I remember my first couple of weeks as a fireman in Armourdale as a time of total confusion. I was never sure where we were, where we were going, or what we were going to do once we got to some section of the yard. This made it really interesting for the switch crew the first time an engineer allowed me at the throttle for some switching, but that’s another story. The point of all this is very simple. A major yard facility looks very confusing but there is a purpose behind each and every track within the yard limits and that purpose helps to determine location, access and size for each track.


Receiving Tracks

The first set of tracks to consider in designing a yard are the receiving tracks. These tracks do exactly what the name implies, they receive inbound freight trains. There should be at least two receiving tracks, one for eastbound trains and another for westbound. There may need to be more tracks if the number of trains arriving each day is large enough that switching operations will be unable to clear these tracks before the next trains arrive.
Receiving tracks are located immediately adjacent to the main line with easy access from the main into the yard. If the main line is double track, there have to be crossovers to allow trains into the yard. Also, the receiving tracks must be located so that access from the main does not block yard leads. In real life, railroads want to get trains into the yard as quickly as possible so that needed servicing and switching can be done and the next train sent on its way. If movement into the yard requires using a yard lead, the inbound freight might be held up by switching operations, thus blocking the mainline. Also, the time it takes for a long train to move into the yard will tie up the lead and hamper switching operations. Neither of these situations is one that leads to efficient operation and on the prototype would make the yardmaster and trainmaster very unhappy. Receiving tracks should be long enough to hold the longest train you intend to operate plus enough additional length to allow for engine movement. Inbound freights should be able to pull into the yard without having to make a cut to double part of the train over into a second track.
Typically, any moves made within the yard limits is done by a switch crew. Breaking an inbound freight would take extra time and tie up the yard. The additional room allows engines to cut off for movement to the service facility. This means that there also will have to be switches allowing access to a runaround track for road power to escape from the receiving tracks. Also, for those of us still operating in the days when a caboose was always present, the runaround track allows a switch crew to remove the caboose from the train and set it out on a caboose track. Once the road engines and caboose have been cut off and are out of the way, the inbound train is ready for switching. The road crew have done their job and now the yard crews take over.

Train Yard

The departure yard in Armourdale was called the train yard. It is really a yard within the yard and it is the heart and soul of railroad operations. Classification or sorting is done in the train yard, taking through loads from the receiving tracks and new loads received through interchange and assembling them into outbound trains. Within the train yard some tracks may be designated east and westbound to help clarify the direction the trains will travel on departure. But the train yard has many more tracks than just those designated for outbound freight. Additional classification tracks are needed to set out loads and empties for transfer to other roads, for repair, or for delivery to local industrial sidings or team track unloading.
The train yard lead needs to be as long as possible to allow the switch crew to pull the maximum number of cars out onto the lead for switching operations. The fewer cuts that have to be switched the more rapidly the switching operation can be accomplished. In the train yard the tracks nearest the main line are usually designated for outbound trains. Like the receiving tracks, these tracks need easy access to the east and west bound main line and in a way that does not tie up the yard lead as an outbound train pulls out onto the main. Ideally, departure tracks will be long enough to contain the longest freight — but they don't have to be. They should be as long as layout space will allow to limit the number of tracks that have to be coupled to make up that train. In railroading, time is money and each time you couple on to another block of cars it is necessary to pump up the air on the new cut. Also, while doubling is going on, the train yard lead will be in use which prevents switching operations. Yet another complication to consider while coupling adjacent tracks to make a train is this: the train yard lead and/or track extending from the lead must hold the entire train within the yard limits. An air test has to be completed before you are allowed out of the yard, blocking the main just isn’t done.
The number of tracks contained in the train yard is dependent on a number of factors. The first factor is the space available on the layout. If you have lots of space for a yard, then long tracks capable of holding entire trains is not a problem and you will need fewer tracks. If space is at a premium, as it is for most of us, then a larger number of shorter tracks becomes necessary. The second factor to consider is the number of departing trains. If you only plan to operate one or two trains in a session, then two outbound tracks will serve and it might be possible to get by with only one designated departure track. If you plan to send three or four trains out during an operating session then more tracks are needed. A final factor that has to be considered in yard design is where to place exchange loads, local deliveries, etc. In a large yard, some of the tracks in the train yard serve as temporary storage for these cars but there would be a separate set of yard tracks, known as the transfer yard, with its own lead to complete the classification process before these cars are delivered. The transfer yard is another complex operation in its own right and so will have to wait for another article. Until that time, keep the switch crews busy and the trains running on time.

Transfer Yards

Large Operation

The train yard has a dedicated switch crew. Their only task is to block and build outbound trains. In the midst of the cars they work with are cars and/or blocks of cars which will not be going onward. When these cars are encountered in switching, the crew sets them aside into one or two empty tracks in the train yard for other crews. Many of these cars are to be transferred to another road for delivery. In the late 50’s and early 60’s there were at least 10 railroads that the Rock Island interchanged with from Armourdale. The switching operation for these deliveries took place on a separate yard lead from the train yard. This was commonly referred to as the transfer yard. I don’t remember how many tracks there were, but I know there were more than ten. The transfer yard also had a dedicated switch crew whose only task was to collect cars set aside in the train yard, pull them into the transfer yard, and complete the sorting for delivery to other roads. The switching operation in the transfer yard was fairly simple.
Each track was designated to receive cars for a specific railroad such as the MoPac, GM&O, CB&Q, etc. The yardmaster provided a switch list to the crew foreman. This list spelled out what cars (by road and car number) were going to which roads. With that list in hand the switching operations begin. The only criterion for switching here was the receiving railroad. No blocking was necessary. The main concern was speed. Get the cars sorted and transferred. The longer you had these cars the more it cost you. It is the task of the receiving road to determine whether these cars were for local, wayfreight, or through freight delivery. That is a job for the yardmaster and switch crews on the receiving road.
In a perfect world with unlimited space for a yard (prototype or model) there would be room for a dedicated track for every single railroad which would be served by the transfer yard. In reality space is costly. This results in some tracks being used solely for one railroad while other tracks might serve as many as three different roads. The determining factor for this decision is the amount of interchange traffic a particular road generated. In Kansas City, I made numerous transfer drags to the MoPac and the "Q" but relatively few hauls to KCS or C&NW. We had tracks assigned to the MOP and the "Q" but used a single track to handle both the other roads at the same time. In operations it was common to make two or three drags to the MOP in 24 hours while making only one trip to the KCS in that same time. And if the KCS had a delivery to make to the Rock Island and the timing was right then their crew would take the cars from our yard.

Small Operation

Not every yard is an Armourdale. The Rock Island’s yard at Carrie Avenue in St. Louis was small, especially when compared to Kansas City. While I never worked Carrie Ave. as a switchman or fireman, I did spend a couple of summers working on the section crew out of there and had plenty of opportunity to observe yard operations. The traffic into and out of Carrie was relatively light. There was only one switch crew working at Carrie and no more than a couple of trains received and dispatched along with at least one westbound local and some transfer traffic. This is based on 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. observations since the section crew only worked nights when there was a catastrophe, like the flood and washouts at Gumbo flats in June of 1957, but that’s another story. Carrie Avenue probably had a designated receiving track but the rest of the yard consisted of numbered tracks (numbers start with the first yard track closest to the main and go up from there) used for outbound classification, building the local, and setting out transfers. Priority would depend on the schedule. If you have an outbound freight due to leave two hours after an inbound arrival then the crew would be working fast to get it ready. If there were five or six hours before departure but the early local was due out then it would get priority. No pressure on for local, wayfreight, or through freights meant that the crew set up interchange traffic, spotted the freight house or riptrack, or some other small jobs that always needed doing.

Factors for Transfer Yard Design

The same factors shaping the prototype yard should play a major role in yard design and operations on a model railroad. The same questions apply. Who are the interchange roads? How many cars per day are you receiving that will need transfer? How much motive power do you have for transfer operations? How often will you make a drag to an off layout road? If you are modeling the Arkansas/Louisiana Division of the CRI&P, the answers to these questions come from sources like employee timetables (which show crossings and interchanges with other roads), annual reports, and other printed materials prepared by the CRI&P. If your railroad is freelance then there is a need from somewhat more research. It’s necessary to find out what railroads operated in the part of the country you model in the time you are modeling. Then you have to consider the route you are following and determine which roads would be likely for interchange.
Another factor which adds interest to the whole process of interchange is finding others whose model railroads also operate in the same area and establishing interchange freight with them. I know that the eL&eL (our freelance railroad) will interchange with Bob Amsler’s railroad, based on the MoPac, and Richard Schumacher’s road, the St. Louis Southern, which is freelanced. Ultimately this may mean a yard track dedicated to the MOP because of considerable interchange traffic, but Schumacher’s cars will be mixed in with those of the Reader (a short, short line in the swamps of southern Arkansas) and other roads which won’t generate much traffic on the eL&eL.

Train Frequency

One last issue to consider in designing and operating a model railroad yard is the frequency of trains. If you plan to run 4, 5, or 6 mainline through freights on every eight hour shift then the receiving yard and train yard are will have to be "huge" and your train yard crew is going to be racing constantly to keep up with the demands of mainline traffic. Then consider how may wayfreights will be scheduled in the same period. Add local freights to that and then add interchange to that. Every time you add one of these freight moves to the timetable the workload will increase and the number of crews needed will also increase. To enable crews to get the job done one lead or yard ladder won’t work in a heavy traffic yard. Every time there is a departure from the yard the switching lead will be tied up and operation in the yard will shut down. Shutting down means the crew falls behind, trains are delayed, customers are upset, and revenues drop off. Determining the size of a yard is very complex issue and I still haven’t covered all the tracks found in a yard. But that is material for another issue.
Until next time, keep the crews happy and the trains on time.