Staging track design

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Contents

1. Introduction.

Staging is the practice of preparing and storing trains off of the visible portion of the layout until they are needed. The train can be prepared during the operating session or long before. During operation, the train awaits its turn or scheduled time to run on the visible part of the layout, at which time it is run out of the staging area and through the layout, perhaps to terminate at a location on the layout, perhaps to run completely through the layout to another staging area. A train which starts on the visible portion of the layout can also be run through the layout and off into staging.

The idea of staging trains is related to the concept of model railroading as theater, first set forth by Frank Ellison. Model railroading performed with staging has many parallels to theater:

  • the 'actors', our trains, wait in the wings until they are cued to enter.
  • the visible portion, the stage in theater and the layout in model railroading, attempts to create an artificial world in which the actors participate; this is the play in theater, the operating session in model railroading.
  • only the visible portion, our artificial world, includes scenery, buildings, and the like.
  • the off-stage portion, the wings in theater and the staging areas in model railroading, is not part of the artificial world, part of the set; it only exists to service the needs of the play.
  • the off-stage portion, the wings in theater and the staging areas in model railroading, is where much of the effort goes on that makes the play work.

2. Why Staging?

Staging areas were not included in many of the famous model railroads of years past, but they are a part of many new operational layouts and are being added to other layouts that never had them. What does staging give you that it is now considered so important?

Consider that, no matter how large a portion of a prototype railroad you model, you almost never model the whole thing. Even those who model a small shortline do not model the major railroads with which this shortline interchanges. Staging on a model railroad then, like the wings of the stage, represents 'the rest of the world'. When an actor returns to the scene from an off-stage location, he walks in from the wings; similarly, when our trains return from some location off the model railroad, in the greater world, they come in from staging.

The need for staging to model prototype operations is simple. No matter how large a section of a prototype railroad you model, a large portion of the traffic on that portion originates, terminates, or both, at a location outside of the portion of interest. If staging is not provided, both ends of the model railroad layout become the end of the line, responsible to originate and terminate all the traffic of the railroad. Staging represents the rest of the world, from which and to which much of our traffic is run.

The second point is that it is impossible within the confines of a model railroad to originate and terminate as many trains as we generally want to run over our main lines. We simply do not have enough room to model enough industries, and large enough industries, to justify all that traffic. Staging also represents the rest of these industries, giving us as many industries as we want, and as large as we want.

Finally, even if we can model our entire prototype, interchange with other railroads is responsible for a great portion of traffic. Staging represents the rest of the world here as well, allowing us to interchange with the rest of the railroad world, without having to model a continental system.

Staging allows us to choose a workable portion of our prototype of interest, while operating as a much larger railroad. We can carry prototypical traffic loads on our main lines, from many more industries, and interchange with many other railroads, if sufficient staging is built into our layout. This is why many operations oriented layouts now include large staging areas.

3. Different Kinds of Staging.

While there are many ways to implement staging, there are really only three basic kinds of staging:

  • double-ended staging.
  • stub-ended staging.
  • serial staging.

Double-ended staging, in which a double-ended yard is used, is very common. Double-ended staging has the advantage that it allows any train to be taken out at any time, and trains do not need to be turned between operating sessions; trains can even be used again within the same operating session. Double-ended staging has the disadvantage that it takes up more room because it has a yard ladder at both ends. Double-ended staging is therefore best used when a lot of space is available.

Stub-ended staging, in which a stub-ended yard is used, is probably the most common. Stub-ended staging has the advantage that any train can be taken out at anytime, and that it takes less room than double- ended staging because it only has a yard ladder on one end. Stub- ended staging has a major disadvantage, that once a train is run into staging, it has to be backed out and turned for the next operating session, or the head-end and end-of-train equipment must be turned and swapped. Stub-ended staging is therefore best used when there is no need to run the same train twice in an operating session, and there is enough time between operating sessions to turn equipment.

Serial staging, in which multiple trains are staged one after the other on a single track, is not used very often. Serial staging has the advantage that it costs the least per train and uses the least space, because there are no yard ladders at all, just one long single track. Serial staging has the disadvantage that trains can only be taken out of staging in the order they were put into staging, so trains must be staged carefully and there can be no spontaneity in the way trains are retrieved from staging. Serial staging is therefore best used when space or money is at a premium.

A variation of serial staging is implemented as a multiple train passing track. If multiple crossovers from the staging track to a separate running track are provided, then trains can be taken out of staging in any order. This requires more switches than simple serial staging, so it is not as inexpensive as simple serial staging, but there is still an advantage in that the space used is very long and narrow, which may be better for particular layouts.

4. Different Places for Staging

The placement and topology of the staging yards determines a lot about the kind of operation that a model railroad can support. We will talk about the most common ways to provide staging for a layout. There are a lot of ways to provide staging, but they must be carefully considered so that you can be sure they will accommodate your operating preferences.

Note that a double-ended staging yard or serial staging can be used to model additional distance between points on a model railroad. Trains enter staging, where they must wait a period of time depending on the train speed, the additional distance modeled, and the obstruction of other trains. This is really an issue of space compression, though, and not staging, so we won't talk about this anymore here.

Staging is most often configured in one of the following ways:

In a point-to-loop or loop-to-loop plan, the loop can be implemented as a double-ended staging yard. One common plan is a loop-to- loop topology in which both loops are double-ended staging yards. The advantage is that any train at either end can be run onto and through the layout at any time, but once the train is at one end, it must be run back to the other. This is very good for passenger operations, and closed freight cars, in that the train can run as its return section during the same operating session without extra tinkering. An open-loads railroad may require running coals to Newcastle between operating sessions, however.

In a point-to-point or point-to-loop plan, the point can be implemented as a stub-ended staging yard. One common plan is point-to-point implemented as staging to staging, with stub-ended yards at both ends. Once a train is run into staging, it must be turned to be able to re-enter the layout, so a lot of tinkering between operating sessions is necessary. As a special case, if both staging yards are near each other, a special reversing track within the staging area may be provided to back a train from head-in in staging yard A to head-out in staging yard B without the train ever venturing back into the layout area. This particular implementation works very well on an open-loads railroad, as the loads always head the same way. Passenger operations and closed freight cars require modeling the return section as a separate train, however.

In a point-to-point plan, both points can be implemented as a single double-ended staging yard. The advantage is that any train can be run onto and through the layout at any time, but always in the same direction. This particular implementation works very well on an open-loads railroad, as the loads always head the same way. Passenger operations and closed freight cars require modeling the return section as a separate train, however. As a special case, if a reversing wye or loop which can accommodate an entire train is provided in the staging area, then any train can be run onto and through the layout at any time, in any direction.

In a continuous loop plan, the back part of the loop can be implemented as serial staging. In this plan, the front track of the loop traverses the layout through the visible portion of the layout, while staged trains occupy the back, hidden track of the loop. This can also be thought of as a point-to-point plan, where the serial staging track models both points. Again trains always run in the same direction unless a reversing mechanism is provided. Additionally, trains must come back onto the layout in the order they were staged, unless multiple crossovers to a separate running track are provided.

In plans with helixes, the helix can be used as serial staging. The helix may join the two ends of the main line, in which case the helix looks much like the use of serial staging on a loop plan. The helix may separate the railroad into two separate pieces of main line, in which case the helix looks much like the use of serial staging to model additional distance between points along the main line.

Finally, in plans with helixes, the helix can be used to provide access to multiple stub-ended or double-ended staging yards. Together with reversing loops, this plan can make any train available at either end of the helix. It is very versatile, and accommodates operations with open loads as well as passenger and closed freight car operations with return sections. The disadvantage is that it is expensive and complicated to build, and requires a lot of space.

5. Different Methods of Staging Operation.

There are several ways to operate your staging yards, depending on the implementation of the yards, as we have just discussed. It pays to consider these from the operation point of view:

  • once out, once in per operating session.
  • next train out, same direction.
  • any train, same direction.
  • any train, alternate direction.
  • any train, any direction.

Once out, once in per operating session is the easiest method of staging operation. Trains are set up beforehand, run once through the layout, and disappear into staging. The order or direction they head into staging, and whether they will be available again, is unimportant. Trains are staged to appear properly, but when running trains into staging, the simple desire is to get them off the layout. This is probably the most common form of staging operation and works with any form of staging.

Next train out, same direction is the method of staging operation that results from simple serial staging. The trains can all be run more than once per operating session, as long as they are always run in order, and in the same direction. A train can run point X to point Y, point X to point Y, repeatedly, each time it is its turn to run.

Any train, same direction is the method of staging operation that results from a single double-ended staging yard used to model the two points in a point-to-point plan, two serial staging yards with a reversing track used to model the two points in a point-to-point plan, or a serial staging track with multiple crossovers used to complete the loop in a loop plan. A train can run point X to point Y, point X to point Y, repeatedly.

Any train, alternate direction is the method of staging operation that results from two double-ended staging yards used to model the two loops in a loop-to-loop plan. A train can run point X to point Y, point Y to point X, alternately.

Any train, any direction can be accommodated by using reversing mechanisms such as wyes and loops with staging arrangements in which the two ends of the railroad are connected. A train can run point X to point Y, followed by either point X to point Y or point Y to point X.

6. Special Case: Fiddle-Yard Operation.

A special case of staging operation is called fiddle yard operation. A fiddle yard can take any of the forms of staging yards already discussed, but it must be accessible to an operator. The fiddle yard operator can stage trains in any order and in any direction he wishes, by removing cars and locomotives from the track, reversing them, replacing them with other trains, or any other variation.

A fiddle yard is the simplest, least expensive way to get extremely versatile staging. A fiddle yard can accommodate any operating method, as long as the fiddle yard operators can build trains fast enough. Remember to place a large table nearby, or multiple shelves above, the fiddle yard, so all that loose equipment has somewhere to go.

7. Staging Yard Operator.

It is usually best to have a special person in the operating session who is the staging yard operator. Visiting operators, as well as the normal crew, are more likely to mess up when bringing trains out of or putting them into staging than at any other time. Of course, the downside risk to the operating session is greatest here, too.

As staging yards are not part of the visible operating part of the layout, the staging yard arrangements may be unprototypical in their layout and operation. This makes it easy for operators to mess up, because there is no experience of prototype track arrangements to draw on when operating the staging yard.

Furthermore, nothing messes up an operating session like having the wrong train appear at the wrong time. Sure, that happens on the prototype, too, when a train has been delayed, but it's more fun when you plan surprises like that for your dispatcher and yardmasters, if nothing else so that you know when to look to catch that wonderful look of surprise on their faces.

Finally, if trains taken into staging are placed on the wrong track, especially a short train on a long track or a long train on a short track, blocking the staging yard ladder, there may be not be any room for one or more subsequent trains to get into staging, blocking the main and preventing trains exiting staging in the other direction.

Many operating layouts use a trainmaster to keep track of crew assignments and to collect and pass out equipment like uncoupling tools, walkaround throttle hand units, and switch keys. The trainmaster may be a candidate for staging yard operator as well, as long as you are not operating the staging yard as a fiddle yard. For fiddle yard operation, at least one dedicated staging yard operator is a necessity.

8. Conclusion

Staging yards can make model railroad operations much more prototypical, and much more fun. Like many other aspects of layout design, staging yard design will affect the ways in which the model railroad can be operated. It pays to put significant design effort into planning the staging yards with your operational desires in mind.

About this content:
Original author: Rich Weyand of Weyand Associates. Last revised in 2000.
This LDSIG article is ©2000 by Rich Weyand (email).
Questions/comments may be posted in the discussion tab.

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