Running Around

I’ve not seen one in ages, but model railroad magazines used to publish switching puzzles. They would present a situation where a train arrived on a scene and had to deliver some cars and pick up others. The game was to complete the job in as few moves as possible.

Over the years, these switching puzzles taught me to complete a runaround by dropping the car in the siding, reversing past it, and then pushing it through the siding. It takes five moves.

With such a small layout, the locomotive is forever running around the combine. But despite years of training, the more realistic turnout controls have taught me a more realistic way to make the move. Even without locks to fiddle with, the action of lifting the lever and rotating the quadrant, demands that I get close to the control. I can’t just reach over and push a button to change tracks. Although the two switches on Pembroke’s short runaround are less than a metre apart, that seems to be far enough that, like a real brakeman, I want to stay close to the last turnout thrown.

I can’t reach the far turnout to throw it without moving, so I tend to pull the combine back. This takes an extra “move,” but I’m convinced it is the more natural way to run around a real car.

10 thoughts on “Running Around

  1. Your way also has the advantage of leaving the route lined normal behind you without having to stop to get the west switch. Another consideration when you’re thinking about who might be pounding the lead to do this work.

    1. Thanks Brian. I find it difficult to remember to do the extra stops that aren’t mandated by the system. For example, I’ve not stopped for water in weeks!

  2. This is such a crucial point. If we slow down and walk the job along with the crew we reveal a level of reality that is much more subtle than the network logic of paper and pencil alone. Model railroaders have long been attracted to the challenge of building control panels that are neat and fun, but frequently distort our connection to the operation we are working so hard to model. It’s all good, but I’ve also come to prefer the sense of immersion that comes from less automation rather than more. Great post.

  3. I think you’re right about it being more realistic (at least it is when I work) operating a single switch at a time is preferable because the trainmen don’t have to walk to the other switch.

      1. Greg can confirm, but often the joke on the railroad with yard crews is that the laziest switchman are often the best. In other words, they make the work come to them vs them going to the work.

  4. Rene, I like your thought process here. It’s valuable to consider where crew members would be positioned as moves are being made. It’s also valuable to consider the time consumed by crew members moving around.

    As Craig mentioned, experienced railroaders seek to minimize moves and footsteps. One thing that stands out to me, studying your puzzle, is the fact that the car and engine begin at the far left. Unless there’s a reason to start there, the crew missed an opportunity to uncouple the combine between the switches on their way to the far left.

    By dropping the car “between the switches” on the way by, the engine can then traverse the runaround track. The brakeman could open and close the left switch then ride the rear of the engine through the runaround. The conductor could drop off at the right end of the car, anticipating the coupling. The brakeman could open and close the right switch and then ride the engine down to the coupling. Once the runaround move is complete, they could shove the car to the far left to complete the task.

    There are several ways to accomplish this and “two of a trade seldom agree,” so even among railroaders there would be differences of opinion and execution. Back to my underlying point, I would encourage you to continue to cultivate the practice of considering the crew members, their actions, and positioning as the “work” unfolds.

    1. Thanks Jeff. I should have mentioned that the reason my train starts on the left is it has just finished its run into the depot. Pembroke had no escape track, and so, after letting the passengers off, they would have had to back up to the nearest unoccupied siding.

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