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The Optimal Model Train Consist

Trevor asks:

“I think I’ve got it right putting my heavy or larger cars at the front of the train and positioning the other cars behind with the lightest cars closest to the caboose? I have both diesels at the front facing the same direction nose to tail, or should I runs my diesels tail to tail? What’s right or is it just a preference thing?”

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7 Responses to The Optimal Model Train Consist

  • Hervey says:

    Trevor,
    From your question it is hard to discern what you are modelling, passenger, freight or combination. weigh would be one consideration another would be materiel be handled. Flammables would not normally be right behind the locos. As to the diesel locos tail to tail would eliminate turning the locos when sending the locos back from whence they came.

  • phil johnson says:

    A lot depends on curve radius and if the cars are properly weighted. I enjoy running 60-75 car freights on club layout and the only cars that aren’t happy campers, sometimes are 89′ piggyback flats on the front. Your preference. Observe the prototype.

  • Frank B says:

    I don’t know what the practice is on the real thing, but particularly in a long train, having the heavier cars close to the loco may help to avoid derailments caused by light cars being pulled inwards off the track on curves.

  • Frank B says:

    As Hervey says, the reason for running a pair of diesel locos tail-to-tail is that it enables the power consist to be moved to the other end of a train for the return journey simply by using a passing track (siding), and the engineer (driver) then only has to move to the other cab.

    Otherwise a balloon or triangle turning track would be required to turn to the locos, which takes up a lot more space.

    The alternative solution, used on some passenger trains, is to have a loco with a cab at each end, either cab being able to control both locos. Some passenger trains have just a cab at the tail end (which then becomes the front) from which the loco at the rear can be controlled.

  • leon zaharis says:

    Hello Trevor,

    Having the locomotives tail to tail follows the prototype use to allow easier running on single track lines and allows for easier switching as the first customers load or loads on a local or job would be the first cars after the locomotives or a lumber spine car was placed on the front of a train and pushed into the lumber yard with the train broken up between crossings which created a huge headache for the parties involved.

    The mine where where I retired from had this situation where the entire string of 40 empty covered hopper cars was used to pull out the 40 loaded ones 10 cars at a time making; 4 switching moves to pull the loads out of the stub sidings.

    After the entire string of 40 loads was pulled out in 7 switching moves and then backed down the main track after the siding switch on the main was moved west these loads were uncoupled and were left on the single track with one or two of the cars tied down while they switched the forty empties.
    After the siding switch was moved west the train pulled the 40 empties past the siding switch and then moved the siding switch west to allow the train to begin switching the empty covered hopper cars into the four 10 car stub sidings.

    They pushed the string of empties into the siding switching stub track number one to push in the first 10 empties and tied down one or two cars.

    They uncoupled from the ten cars in the number one stub siding and pulled the 30 empties back past the switch for the number one and two stub sidings and and then moved the switch west to stub siding track number two and pushed the string of 30 empties into stub siding track number 2.

    When ten empties were pushed into the siding they stopped and uncoupled the cars after they tied down two cars.

    They uncoupled from second group of 10 empties and pulled the remaining 20 empty cars out past lower stub siding switch and then past the upper switch and stopped.

    The upper switch was moved west to allow switching the remaining 20 empties into stub tracks 3 and 4.

    After this they pushed the remaining 20 empties into siding track number 3 they stopping when ten empties were in siding track number 3.

    They tied down one or two cars and then uncoupled the remaining empties from the tied down empties on stub siding number 3.

    Once this was done they pulled the remaining 10 empties past the stub siding switch for stub sidings 3 and 4 and stopped.

    The stub siding switch for sidings 3 and four was moved west to allow the last ten empty hopper cars to be pushed into stub siding number 4.

    After this one or two cars were tied down and the south facing locomotive was uncoupled from the first empty hopper car.

    Then the locomotives moved past the lower switch for tracks 3 and 4 and left it switched west and then they passed the upper switch leaving it switched to the west and then passed through the siding switch off the single track.

    The railroads siding switch on the secondary main was moved west and then locked.

    After this they backed down and coupled to the forty loads and connected the air lines on the hopper cars and then the air line to the south facing locomotive and aired up the train.

    After sufficient air pressure was obtained they released the brakes and headed north to the siding track where they switched the entire train in the siding and uncoupled the locomotives and passed through the north switch and then stopped.

    They moved the north switch to the east and locked it and then backed down the track to the south switch and then passed the south switch and stopped.

    The south switch was moved west to allow the locomotives to enter the siding once more.

    The locomotives were backed down to the string of forty loads and then the 3 locomotives were coupled to the 40 loads and the air line from the north facing locomotive was connected to the string of forty loaded hopper cars. The train was again aired up and the hand brakes released on the hopper cars.

    The conductor then radioed the dispatcher for permission to move the train south and after receiving permission to move the train they departed the siding leaving the south switch facing east.

    The odd local job is where they have to shove loads into a stub siding which amounts to a little ballet as the rest of the local has to be tied down before they can switch the loads for empties if they have empties in the stub siding.

    Everything became so much more complicated when they moved 110 coal loads along with the empty hopper cars and every day for weeks on this single track dead end line in dark territory.

    It caused considerable traffic delays as the train passed through town in both directions as the railroad company was finally told that they must notify the city when they are switching cars in the siding in the city as well as when they moved the 140 car trains north or south to allow the city to position fire trucks on the west side road access.

    At times they had to drop bad order cars on the city siding which caused a great deal of trouble backing up traffic and also preventing ambulances from accessing the hospital.

  • David Stokes says:

    I always thought the word “consist” applied to locomotives.
    What goes behind depends on where the wagons or cars end up around the layout, whether you just run a train around the layout for effect, or you’re just playing trains rather than running a railway. All are valid uses. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

  • Timothy Morlok says:

    After 30+ yrs working mainly as a yard switch crew foreman, I build and took apart many train consists.
    There are three basic types of trains:
    Unit trains – one destination/shipper all the same commodity and car type;
    Thru freight – blocks of cars placed in order destination usually in station order from the headend.
    The exception is when they will be removed from the consist by a switch crew from
    the rear end at an intermediate yard. The block is placed at the rear of the train
    ahead of the caboose.

    Local freight – cars are placed in the order that they are to be spotted at an industry or set out at
    a station.
    When handling hazardous loads they must be separated from the engines or an occupied car by at least one buffer car. Open top loads, except unit trains, should not be placed directly ahead of an occupied car, caboose or loaded stock car. We also tried to avoid placing an empty flat car between two heavy loads as this could cause a derailment due to slack action (unequal breaking) or tight curves.

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