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Lights, sound, and… action!

Brian Moore describes how the Western Union group in Plymouth is taking model railroad operations to more prototypical levels.


The Western Union’s HO club layout, Anson Yard, has been in steady development for Anson dispatcher alights from her sports carseveral years, and presently comprises a straight 36 feet stretch of scenic boards, two sets of half-circle corners and a long seven-track storage yard on the other side of the oval. All storage tracks are capable of holding over 40 cars and several locomotives. The layout represents a reasonably modern secondary single-track line somewhere in the north west of the USA, and features a main line, a 32 foot passing siding, a three-track yard, a small MPD, two grain elevators served by two sidings, and a third siding which serves a small manufacturer. A branch line comes off the yard at the left-hand end, and there’s a helper pocket on the main line which is used to add additional power to heavy trains. A short MOW/team track siding is also present on the main line, and we’ve yet to decide if we’ll place a Depot nearby. The whole layout is transported using four cars and a trailer, and is erected every month at our meet in Hilltop Community Centre, Tamerton Foliot, in Plymouth. All stock is supplied by club members.

The scenic boards are owned and have been built by Steve Smith, the club owns the curves and the storage yard, Rob Mallett undertook a lot of scenic work and Brian Moore knocked together most of the buildings and structures. Mike Ruby, Peter Lloyd-Jones and Steve are responsible for the electronic and software side of things. The club has been running on DCC since 2002, and Anson Yard is controlled by a Lenz DCC set-up using the JMRI system; all main line and storage yard switches are operated from a laptop and are interlocked with fully operational light signals. The yard switches are also DCC-controlled, but from individual handsets to represent their real-life manually operated equivalents.
SP 7788 comes off the branchEvery locomotive used on the layout is DCC and sound equipped, all feature correctly functioning light packages, and all have 28-step custom speed-curves. The stock represents a variety of scenarios, from block 40-car coal, grain and container trains to a multitude of boxcars of all descriptions. It‘s our firm opinion that you won’t find many layouts of this size that feature all of the above “this side of the pond”.

It became apparent to us that the layout just cried out to be run “properly”; to this end, we’re now developing prototypical operations using timetables and waybills, all controlled by a designated Dispatcher. We’ve been greatly influenced by the DVDs of Joe Fugate, and would strongly recommend that anyone who is interested in more prototypical running check these out – you won’t regret it: indeed, your views on club-sized model railroading may be transformed forever, once you have supped from this particular cup. Another prime source of information is the Kalmbach publication Realistic Model Railroad Operation by Tony Koester.

Dispatcher and Anson switcherAn essential tool for realistic operation is the two-way radio headset; the Dispatcher and anyone else operating on Anson Yard are required to wear one. By requiring all train orders, requests and movements to be passed through the clearing house of the controlling Dispatcher, we ensure that trains operate both prototypically and safely. This is done in conjunction with a set of written operating rules. On Anson, the Dispatcher is in charge of all main line running, plus storage tracks; additionally, he’s able to set specific routes involving the changing of many switches and signal lights through one click of the mouse on the laptop. The Dispatcher uses his headset to keep in two-way contact with engineers of all running trains, and they must seek instruction from him in connection with every move, as well as inform him of their progress – just like the real thing, as the Airfix box used to say. There’s also an Anson Yard Master job, and his task is to keep things flowing in the small yard and MPD; he has supervisory control over the Yard Switcher job, and they both work together as a team, again in conjunction with the Dispatcher. Both have headsets. The Yard Switcher can freely run anywhere within Yard Limits, but must request permission from the Dispatcher to venture onto the long siding track or the main line. Although we eventually aim to have a full timetable, we presently rely on the Dispatcher to call up available trains and allocate jobs as and when the need arises.