Saturday, April 29, 2017


Operations on my SP Cascade Line have settled into recognizable patterns with most operator roles defined.  With an upcoming regional operations event scheduled in May, the railroad will host a crew of guest operators.  Let’s take a tour of the railroad from the perspective of the jobs performed.  The photo illustrations are from several operating sessions in the Winter of 2017, so several operators will appear in different positions.


We begin the tour in the Dispatcher’s Office.  The Dispatcher works with the line-up of trains and notifications of availability of both crew and train.  His orders (granting mainline block authority) authorize trains to proceed across the railroad.  The SP Cascade Line currently uses Direct Traffic Control (DTC), which was Southern Pacific’s system for train control using radio.  It is similar to Track Warrant Control, but is limited to authorization for block occupancy. 

Mike Y. dispatches a recent session.

The Dispatcher’s tools include a radio, a clock (fast time used), Dispatcher’s Train Sheet and Block Authority Sheet, and a track schematic panel.  The train line-up lists the trains to be run, their priorities, and call times. 

The Dispatcher’s Panel displays a track schematic for the mainline and sidings.  The mainline is the central continuous straight line.  Sidings are displayed on the appropriate side of the mainline.  Yards are rendered simply, with incomplete detail.  Vertical lines (in blue) separate the named blocks.  Magnetic tags are available to display basic train information and can be moved as mainline block authority is granted. 


Over the past year, it became evident that an additional level of “management” was needed for the operation.  The Assistant Chief Dispatcher (ACD) oversees the operation of the railroad and works with the Dispatcher, Yardmasters, and Crews to keep trains rolling while the layout owner trouble-shoots problems.  The ACD also serves as the Crew Caller.

Assistant Chief Dispatcher Rick K. confers with Dispatcher Dave H.


As with the SP prototype, the Eugene Yard serves as the hub of operations, commanding a sizeable crew.  The Yardmaster oversees a crew of two yard switch crews, the Santa Clara Tower Operator and the Eugene City Switcher.  His principal concern is with Classification Yard activities, while the Santa Clara Tower Operator oversees operations in the Arrival/Departure Yard and the yard throat track complex.  The Yardmaster needs to be mindful of the track needs of the Eugene City Switcher and coordinate exchange of cars between that job and the classification yard.


The Eugene Yardmaster has responsibility for oversight of all Eugene area operations.  As noted above, his principal interactions are with his West and East Yard Switch crews.  He needs to work with the train line-up to ensure local freights are ready for their call times and cuts of cars for the appropriate destinations are made and transferred to the Arrival/Departure Yard.  As with any yard, he needs to keep the mainline mostly clear of his yard traffic—especially when First Class trains are due. For the 1984 nominal operating year used right now, the only First Class trains are the AMTRAK Coast Starlight, Trains 11 and 14.  Though not formal First Class trains on the timetable, he should be particularly mindful of trains with “F” and “T” symbols, as well.  Those are trains SP Headquarters wants moved expeditiously.

Eugene Yardmaster Dave H. (wearing hat and radio headset) confers with his yard switch crews while the Eugene City Switcher, Mike L. (right) looks on.  The Classification Yard has eight tracks close to the aisle.  Two City Yard tracks are further in (to the left), followed by the Mainline and the WP Siding (closest to the depot).

The two City Yard tracks serve both the City Switcher and are used as the arrival/departure tracks for local freights.  A crossover is in the middle of these tracks. 


Two yard switch crews normally work the Eugene Classification Yard.  Nominally they are a West and an East Switcher.  They classify blocks of cars per instructions of the Yardmaster. They also transfer car blocks between the Classification Yard and the Arriva/Departure Yard.  They move cabooses between the caboose track and local freights.

East Switcher Scott B. brings a block of cars out of the Arrival/Departure Yard toward the Classification Yard.  The caboose track is behind Scott, to his left.


The Eugene City Switcher serves the industries near the depot in Eugene.  Normal practice has the switcher pulling cars from industry first and then spotting new cars from a block of cars transferred from the Classification Yard.  The City Switcher needs to be particularly careful to keep the Mainline as clear as possible, though some occupancy is needed, all within Yard Limits.

Eugene City Switcher Rick K. (center) works industries at the RR-West end of the depot.  Yardmaster Rick A. (left) watches both of his yard crews off to the RR-East end of the yard.


The Santa Clara Tower Operator works the switch panels controlling switches on both sides of the reverse loop yard ladders for the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard plus the rest of the complex trackage in the throat area between the A/D Yard and the Depot and Classification Yard.  This role effectively makes him the gate-keeper for the RR-East end of the railroad.  He prepares RR-West trains by ensuring they are filled out to capacity (normally 25 fifty-foot cars) and have locomotives and caboose coupled on.  He works with the Eugene Yardmaster to get the car cuts he needs in a timely manner.  He also breaks up inbound (terminating) trains so the Eugene Yard crew can access cars needed in the Classification Yard.

Santa Clara Tower Operator Vic N. shows John D. procedures for this yard and position.

Road crews awaiting assignment at the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard, as ACD John B. (left) looks on.


Switch Control Panels used by the Santa Clara Tower Operator.


Train crews are called for road freights, AMTRAK, local freights, and helper locomotives.  Road trains arrive and depart from the Eugene A/D Yard (RR-East end) and Crescent Lake (RR-West end). All local freights originate at Eugene, typically from the Classification Yard area, and return there.  Helper engineers entrain at Oakridge, assist road freights to Cascade Summit, and then return light to Oakridge.  Given enough crew members, we prefer to have two-man crews on the local freights, followed by doubling up on the road trains.  Helpers typically work single man.

Tom D. and Harry B-H. work the First Springfield local.  This train works the depot side of the mainline.  The Second Springfield Turn works the aisle side of the mainline. 

Bill M. works the Oakridge Turn solo.  He is using the Pope and Talbot spur as a switch lead, staying off the mainline.  His train arrived on yard track four (caboose showing).  Tracks at Oakridge, left to right are House, Siding, Main, Yard 1 – 4, Engine Lead.  Normal Oakridge operations have the Turn using yard tracks three and four.  Most road freights use yard track two, which provides the best placement of the helper using the crossover from yard track one.


The road crews handle trains between Eugene Arrival/Departure and Crescent Lake—the full length of the modeled railroad.  RR-West trains enter the yard at Oakridge to cut in a helper.  The desired helper position is two thirds of the way back, leaving about eight cars behind the helper.  The crossovers among the four yard tracks at Oakridge allow helpers to cut in without using the mainline.  Helpers are cut out at Cascade Summit.  Trains proceed from there westbound into the Crescent Lake staging tracks.   RR-East (downhill) trains originate at Crescent Lake and proceed downhill to Oakridge and then on to the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard.

Joe B. and John R. guide a Roseville train (PFE reefers at the head end) RR-West through the RR-West end of Springfield.

A RR-West train enters Oakridge as the Oakridge Turn holds in the yard.

Helper Engineer Bob Y. (right) brings his power down Oakridge Yard Track One, preparing to entrain in an arriving train.  Meanwhile, the Oakridge Turn occupies Yard Track Four as its Conductor, Pete J. (center), looks on.

A meet at McCredie Springs.  The RR-West (uphill) train has taken the siding.  We see its caboose.  The RR-East train coming downhill is on the main track.  This is normal practice, supported by the DTC blocks.  It is easier to get a train restarted uphill than to get the brakes recharged for a downhill train stopped on the mountain grade.

A wider view of that meet at McCredie Springs.  Norm A. (left) is the helper engineer.  Joe B. (right) is the conductor for the RR-West train.  Sometimes railroading involves a lot of waiting.

A RR-West train has made it to Wicopee, just short of the Salt Creek Trestle.  The full crew consists of Dave C. (center) Dick E. (to the right) and Helper Engineer Norm A. (right).  Above in the background is a RR-East train descending the grade with Greg P. as Conductor (red shirt).

Continuing a meet set up for Wicopee.  Conductor Greg P. (left) is getting his block authorization from the Dispatcher while Engineer Rodger C. (behind him) guides their RR-East train down through Cruzatte.  The RR-West train and crew await them down at Wicopee. 

Normal practice is to prioritize the RR-East trains so they do not need to brake to a full stop on the mountain grade.  This preference carries over into the block limit designations on the mountain grade.  The Wicopee DTC Block extends from the RR-East (downhill) switch for Cruzatte (in front of Engineer Rodger C. in the photo above) down through Wicopee to just short of the RR-East switch at Wicopee (just behind Greg P. in the photo above).  The RR-West train had the McCredie Springs DTC block and either was instructed to take siding or did so on their own authority.  Without authority for the Wicopee mainline DTC Block, they had to get off the mainline into the siding.  Their McCredie Springs DTC Block authority allowed them to do so.

Every once in a while, I get called into service on my own railroad!  I am guiding AMTRAK No. 14 through Cruzatte.

Engineer Gary N. (left) guides his RR-West train into the Mountain Siding at Cascade Summit while Helper Engineer Scot B. watches the slack point in the train.

A helper is cutting out at Cascade Summit.  The train is on the Mountain (West) Siding.  The helper is crossing over to the mainline and soon will cross over to the Lake Siding (closest to the operator platform). And then likely into the Beattie Spur (actually a short siding) used to collect helpers before sending them downgrade back to Oakridge.

Engineer Brigg F. is pulling a train out of Crescent Lake into Cascade Summit.  He is standing on the Cascade Summit operator platform.

Engineer Gary N. and Conductor Dick K. are preparing to take a RR-East train out of Crescent Lake.

Crescent Lake switch control panel.  The throat switch at the far right now has LED direction indications.  Best practice for setting switches is to start with the track you want to use, then move your finger to the right, setting each switch for that route until you reach the throat switch as the last one set.

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