Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Can I - should I use a Switch back?

2464 views
24 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
SBX
  • Member since
    March, 2008
  • From: Ipswich, UK
  • 93 posts
Can I - should I use a Switch back?
Posted by SBX on Thursday, April 20, 2017 1:33 PM

I keep reading that no full size railroad would ever use a "switch back". By this I mean something like the following:

Switchback

Then, I see others post Google images of just such a layout.

I am building a 2' wide L shaped layout 9' x 8' 3". In investigating similar layours in the MR database, nearly every one has a switchback because it enables you to use space better.  If both of the above came off the main, the layout would need extra length to get the same spur lengths. On the other hand capacity is lost in the spur with Industry A as room must be allowed for a loco and a car to reverse back into Industry B. A dilemma.

Thoughts and helpful suggestions please?

Long Haired David
A.K.A. David Pennington
main man on the Sunset and North Eastern R.R.
from the UK

  • Member since
    February, 2008
  • 5,825 posts
Posted by maxman on Thursday, April 20, 2017 1:55 PM

SBX
nearly every one has a switchback because it enables you to use space better.

Yes, maybe.  But it also works to make a smaller railroad seem bigger because it takes longer to do the switching.

Personally I hate the darn things, as they seem to be a carryover from old time model railroad layout planning.  Every layout had to have one.

I belong to a club that used to have a bunch of them, but they were rarely switched because of the frustration they generated.  It was fun to switch them the first time, but after that they always seemed like a lot of useless, contrived work.  I think we're down to one remaining right now.

Whenever there is a new layout plan in MR, I always check to see if the owner managed to incorporate one of them.  Sometimes you can find two or three.  Most disappointing.

Oh, did I mention that I hate the things?

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: Northern CA Bay Area
  • 3,601 posts
Posted by cuyama on Thursday, April 20, 2017 2:02 PM

SBX
In investigating similar layours in the MR database, nearly every one has a switchback because it enables you to use space better.

In real life, railroads avoid switchbacks where cars from one industry must be moved to switch an unrelated industry. This is to avoid damage to lading in partially loaded or unloaded cars – and because folks at “ABC Lumber” don’t want to stop work for an hour while cars for “XYZ Brewery” are switched into the adjacent "wing." Yes, there are exceptions, but they are rare. This is also kind of tedious on the model for many.

Published plans don't necessarily match prototype practices. And you, too, can ignore typical prototype practices if you wish – it’s your layout.

In a similar situation, real-life railroads would usually use a switching lead that has no industries, as in this HO layout (the track labeled “Switch Lead”)

 

 

Or, they would use a crossing, as shown in this HO layout.

 

Good luck with your layout.

Byron

Tags: Switchback
  • Member since
    February, 2005
  • From: Vancouver Island, BC
  • 20,961 posts
Posted by selector on Thursday, April 20, 2017 5:27 PM

Switchbacks are used in the 1:1 world of railroading everywhere except when running linearly through valleys and up them, over passes, and down into another when the grade can be kept to a reasonable one, say 2%-ish.

I grew up in Peru, and know that switchbacks exist in all mountain railroads where the right-of-way must be confined to the side of one hill, where making a bridge is deemed too costly for a horsehoe path to the other side to continue gaining altitude, or when a tunnel is out of the question.  Sometimes it makes economic sense to build the fancier rights-of-way, the more direct route, but if the terrain permits, a switchback works very well.

It happens that in Peru, in a place called Bella Vista (baya veesta), the train came around a bend, just further down the river from us, maybe 500 yards, went past our house on the opposite side of the Rimac River a short distance, did a horseshoe across to our side of the river, and then continued up the 3% grade, working very hard, but now a whopping 100' above us.  My brother and I undertook once to climb to those tracks, at the tender ages of 10 and 9, and we walked the 1000 yards to where there was a switchback.  It was the best geometry because crossing the narrow valley with another horseshoe curve would have required a curved trestle about 300 feet above the river, but now 600 yards in arc at the required radius.  The switchback kept the costs to less than 1/4 of the cost of a bridge.

I believe the Cass logging railway uses switchbacks extensively, as would most mountain locations requiring rail service.

I like them because I lived near them.  I appreciate them more than most as a result.  My layouts have at least one.  They confine the movements of the train to one area on the layout, if stretched out a bit due to the requisite tail(s).  I am even building one currently that will service an industry at the end of the tail and another further up the other direction via a turnout.  Why lay more track when much of what I need to gain altitude is already in place, and the mine/logging/grain facility is further up the same slope?

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: Northern CA Bay Area
  • 3,601 posts
Posted by cuyama on Thursday, April 20, 2017 5:59 PM

selector
I believe the Cass logging railway uses switchbacks extensively, as would most mountain locations requiring rail service.

The Original Poster is not talking about switchbacks on the mainline to deal with grades, as you are. He's talking about industrial areas where the cars from one industry must be removed to switch another unrelated industry.

Pretty big difference.

 

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 423 posts
Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Thursday, April 20, 2017 6:03 PM

maxman

Yes, maybe.  But it also works to make a smaller railroad seem bigger because it takes longer to do the switching.

Personally I hate the darn things, as they seem to be a carryover from old time model railroad layout planning.  Every layout had to have one.

I belong to a club that used to have a bunch of them, but they were rarely switched because of the frustration they generated.  It was fun to switch them the first time, but after that they always seemed like a lot of useless, contrived work.  I think we're down to one remaining right now.

Whenever there is a new layout plan in MR, I always check to see if the owner managed to incorporate one of them.  Sometimes you can find two or three.  Most disappointing.

Oh, did I mention that I hate the things?

My new layout has a switchback, sometimes known as a dreaded switchback. It features two separate and completely different industries on either end, and they must coordinate activities and share switch leads with each other. I included it in my design on purpose, knowing that I broke one of the cardinal rules of good layout design. I didn't do this to poke a finger in anyone's eye. I did it because it fit well into the assigned space and it serves my prupose. And, I think, it looks pretty good, too. Here's a sketch:

N-scale. The gray grid lines form 12" squares. The peninsula is served by a double mainline, and the switchback design element occupies what is essentially an 18" deep by 17' long shelf. The light blue line is a skyboard backdrop scenic divider. From end-to-end, runaround-to-runaround, the cursed siding is about 15' long.

While not excusing my blasphemy, I arranged the design thinking I eliminated many of the problems hated by the anti-switchback crowd: traffic to and from the main is effected by both facing- and trailing points, the spurs themselves are double tracks with runarounds at both ends, and the whole shebang is long enough to provide plenty of elbow room for loading and storage. Yes, each has to encroach on the other's territory on a routine basis, but minimal coordination of the work should not cause any particular headaches. I think a part-time yardmaster can solve any problems that may arise. I'd be curious what others on the forum think. Construction of the layout is underway, well underway, but no track or roadbed has been laid in this area.

The industry on the left is Georgia Pacific Forest Products and the traffic is almost exclusively cordwood in bulkhead flat cars and/or long logs in staked flatcars. The industry on the right is Western Grain and Sugar, loosely based on the Coors barley operation at Ralston, Wyoming with a few buildings and structures thrown in from the sugar beet processing plants at Worland and Lovell. Typical traffic is various grains delivered in airslide or pressure-aide hoppers and liquid products (such as high-fructose corn syrup, sunflower oil, or even ethanol or biodiesel) delivered in tank cars. I think in the long run, normal operations will see two or three times as much traffic generated by WG&S as GP.

Constructive comments are welcome. Thanks.

Robert

LINK to SNSR Blog

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 23,094 posts
Posted by rrinker on Thursday, April 20, 2017 6:15 PM

 If you put a crossover from the inside main tot he outside main, somewhere to the right of the right industy, you can use the inner track from the rutnout on the left below the pulpwood operation to that crossover as a switching lead and you would be able to switch both industries without ever needing to disturb the other's cars.

                                     --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: Northern CA Bay Area
  • 3,601 posts
Posted by cuyama on Thursday, April 20, 2017 6:38 PM

ROBERT PETRICK
My new layout has a switchback, sometimes known as a dreaded switchback.

That's not the type of switchback that folks (like me) advise against -- the area you're showing does not require one industry to be emptied to switch the other. 

ROBERT PETRICK
Yes, each has to encroach on the other's territory on a routine basis, but minimal coordination of the work should not cause any particular headaches.

I may be missing it, but I don't see why there would be an encroachment. Either industry may be switched from the main without affecting the other. A real railroad might have handled the situation a little differently, but if each industry can be switched without disturbing the other, it eliminates the major concern of the Original Poster’s sketch.

  • Member since
    December, 2008
  • From: In the heart of Georgia
  • 2,287 posts
Posted by Doughless on Thursday, April 20, 2017 7:00 PM

Real railroads are linear...long and skinny.  Because of space constraints, our model layouts tend to be short and fat.  Think of a 4x8.  In order to fill up the fat space with track, modelers overuse switchbacks.

ROW engineers wouldn't normally design switchbacks in most circumstances, but any railroad can have a switchback, especially if its the result of track that was little used, abandoned, reworked, put back into use etc.  Its cheaper to use what is there than to tear everything out and lay fresh track, depending upon how often the spur is used and what the customer is.

In your example, I would want Industry A or B to have only a one or two car spot.  The train entering into spur B needs enough space to clear the switch and not foul the car(s) that are parked at A.  Having to move the car(s) at A in order to switch B is something that ROW engineers would try to avoid when designing brand new ROWs, IMO, so it would be a bit unrealistic to operate your layout that way.  If that matters to you.

An example of how track arrangement and useage evolves over time:  Industry A is abandoned but B is a new customer that wants rail service.  The railroad would serve B by building the switchback off of A's existing unused spur instead of tearing it all out and redesiging a new spur off the main to serve B.

- Douglas

  • Member since
    January, 2004
  • From: Canada, eh?
  • 7,645 posts
Posted by doctorwayne on Thursday, April 20, 2017 10:13 PM

Doughless
...Real railroads are linear...long and skinny.  Because of space constraints, our model layouts tend to be short and fat.  Think of a 4x8.  In order to fill up the fat space with track, modelers overuse switchbacks.....

My around-the-room layout's quite a bit larger than 4'x8', but because of the room's odd shape (10 corners), much of the mainline is on curves and, because I planned to add a partial second level (in service now), there are a lot of grades, too.
Because of those constraints, all four towns on the main level have some industries on switchbacks, and at least one town on the upper level will, too.
While these could be considered a nuisance, most trains have to "work" the towns through which they pass, dropping off or picking up cars.  Since I'm the sole operator, though, I view it as a way to increase operational interest.

Wayne

  • Member since
    May, 2010
  • 1,847 posts
Posted by mbinsewi on Thursday, April 20, 2017 11:14 PM

I think of switch backs as a way of dealing with sharp grade changes.  Your switching "switch backs", for industrial areas, work fine. 

To switch both A and B at the same time, switcher moving R to L, cars for A would need to be in front, with cars for B, behind.

Switcher going to L to R, just the opposite,  A cars in back, B cars in front.

Either way, the lead to A needs to be long enough for a switch lead, to work the track to B.

Just thought this, if you have the room for a siding, preferably on the same side as your leads to A and B, long enough to hold the cars for A and B, you could use this as a run around track, and keep the loco at the front, either running long hood or short hood, depending on the direction.

Mike.

SBX
  • Member since
    March, 2008
  • From: Ipswich, UK
  • 93 posts
Posted by SBX on Friday, April 21, 2017 8:43 AM

It is planned to be on a runaround. I have been thinking though and maybe the best solution is the one shown here:

 

Crossover

The trouble is that Peco only make #6 crossover and I only have 1 x #6 points so I would not only have to buy the crossover but also a new point. My budget is just about shot having taken down the old railroad and put up a new one. Is this really an improvement or should I just stick with the switchback?

Long Haired David
A.K.A. David Pennington
main man on the Sunset and North Eastern R.R.
from the UK

  • Member since
    February, 2008
  • From: Potomac Yard
  • 1,775 posts
Posted by NittanyLion on Friday, April 21, 2017 9:12 AM

I feel I should point out that they did exist in nature, though.  When studying pre-WWII maps of Pittsburgh, they weren't common, but a few were around.  That said, my suspicion is that the switchbacks were long enough that moving a car to Customer B did not require moving Customer A, or that Customer A was infrequently served.  The seemingly "model railroady" "use a diamond to get to sidings to cross," turns out, was freaking everywhere.

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: Northern CA Bay Area
  • 3,601 posts
Posted by cuyama on Friday, April 21, 2017 9:42 AM

SBX
The trouble is that Peco only make #6 crossover and I only have 1 x #6 points so I would not only have to buy the crossover but also a new point.

Small point to avoid confusion: in North American railroading terminology, it's a crossing, not a crossover. It’s also possible to use differently angled crossings and turnouts, as described in this thread:
http://cs.trains.com/mrr/f/11/t/260762.aspx

It would also be possible to use one of the PECO Code 75 crossings with PECO Code 83 turnouts after just a bit of shimming and filing.

SBX
Is this really an improvement

I think so.

SBX
or should I just stick with the switchback?

Since it’s your layout, you can do whatever you prefer.

Good luck with it.

Byron

 

  • Member since
    February, 2005
  • From: Vancouver Island, BC
  • 20,961 posts
Posted by selector on Friday, April 21, 2017 11:28 AM

"...If both of the above came off the main, the layout would need extra length to get the same spur lengths. On the other hand capacity is lost in the spur with Industry A as room must be allowed for a loco and a car to reverse back into Industry B. A dilemma..."

Could you not have a runaround track at Industry A?  It would be useful for placing not only the cars you need to situate at either segment/industry, but you can run the engine around or back cars from either industry onto it.

  • Member since
    December, 2008
  • From: In the heart of Georgia
  • 2,287 posts
Posted by Doughless on Friday, April 21, 2017 2:36 PM

SBX

It is planned to be on a runaround. I have been thinking though and maybe the best solution is the one shown here:

 

Crossover

The trouble is that Peco only make #6 crossover and I only have 1 x #6 points so I would not only have to buy the crossover but also a new point. My budget is just about shot having taken down the old railroad and put up a new one. Is this really an improvement or should I just stick with the switchback?

 

You've discovered what a real railroad would have discovered.  Its more expensive to switch two industries with two turnouts and a crossing than just two turnouts.

The railroad probaly would have used more land to have two separate spurs starting way off of you diagram...or...they would have used a switch back like your OP if they had land constraints.

I have an arrangement just like the above on my layout because I don't have enough space (land) to have a switchback with a long enough "tail" track to where I wouldn't have to move the three car spots I want to keep on it.

 

- Douglas

  • Member since
    December, 2008
  • From: In the heart of Georgia
  • 2,287 posts
Posted by Doughless on Friday, April 21, 2017 2:42 PM

doctorwayne

 

 
Doughless
...Real railroads are linear...long and skinny.  Because of space constraints, our model layouts tend to be short and fat.  Think of a 4x8.  In order to fill up the fat space with track, modelers overuse switchbacks.....

 

My around-the-room layout's quite a bit larger than 4'x8', but because of the room's odd shape (10 corners), much of the mainline is on curves and, because I planned to add a partial second level (in service now), there are a lot of grades, too.
Because of those constraints, all four towns on the main level have some industries on switchbacks, and at least one town on the upper level will, too.
While these could be considered a nuisance, most trains have to "work" the towns through which they pass, dropping off or picking up cars.  Since I'm the sole operator, though, I view it as a way to increase operational interest.

Wayne

 

Personally, I like switchbacks and agree they add interest.  My next layout will have at least one.  But, I don't much care for having to move one car to switch another, at least frequently, so that was the basis of my comment about the OP.  He's showing some short spurs to work with.

- Douglas

  • Member since
    March, 2017
  • 4 posts
Posted by Geomaticsdude on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 5:47 PM

I'm in the process of building a small 22"x96" ON30 shelf-switcher based on a modifed Gum Stump and Snowshoe design, which is essentially a switch-back. It's designed to fit in a small "L-cove" in my home office. I chose this design because it's relatively compact yet can provide just enough operational activity to test my interest in model railroading before I launch into something more elaborate. The switchback design also dovetails nicely with my interest in early logging railroads and geared steam --- no need to run fast trains here.

Anyway, here's a progress snapshot...

Caricature Creek Lumber Co.

  • Member since
    October, 2001
  • From: OH
  • 15,919 posts
Posted by BRAKIE on Sunday, April 30, 2017 1:15 PM

Doughless
The railroad probaly would have used more land to have two separate spurs starting way off of you diagram...or...they would have used a switch back like your OP if they had land constraints.

A industrial spur is privately owned and maintained by the industry.

A switchback that requires moving another industry's car is laughable at best..

Here's why.

Do you think the company would want me to stand around while paying me my scale wages while the local switched another industry by using our track? I wouldn't mind a extra coffee break but,the company would hate the very idea since it would take up to 30-40 minutes for that crew to do the work and respot our car(s).

Here's the kicker.. I blued flagged the track and unless told to do so by my supervisor that blue flag would stay in place since their was strict rules in place and a supervisor and safety man would need to oversee that the rules was followed to the letter and the local crew would not violate that blue flag.

Larry

SSRy

Conductor

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: California
  • 3,996 posts
Posted by DSchmitt on Sunday, April 30, 2017 2:39 PM

BRAKIE:   Good points.

There are probably switchbacks where all the track is one industry.  But in that case they would probably do their owns switching and so have complete control on car movements.

An interesting situation:   While not a switchback - In Sacramento Ca there was a double ended track that directly served three customers.  There was the potential of needing to move cars at one of the outside customers to setout/pickup at the customer in the center.   They were all very small businesses so there were probably a lot of times there was no conflict, or the center customer could be served when an outside customers  was being to switched anyway.   The situation was futher complicated by the fact that the track in front of both outside customers was considered team track, while the track in front of the center customer was industry track.  

 

 

I tried to sell my two cents worth, but no one would give me a plug nickel for it.

I don't have a leg to stand on.

  • Member since
    December, 2008
  • From: In the heart of Georgia
  • 2,287 posts
Posted by Doughless on Monday, May 01, 2017 9:27 AM

BRAKIE

 

 
Doughless
The railroad probaly would have used more land to have two separate spurs starting way off of you diagram...or...they would have used a switch back like your OP if they had land constraints.

 

A industrial spur is privately owned and maintained by the industry.

A switchback that requires moving another industry's car is laughable at best..

Here's why.

Do you think the company would want me to stand around while paying me my scale wages while the local switched another industry by using our track? I wouldn't mind a extra coffee break but,the company would hate the very idea since it would take up to 30-40 minutes for that crew to do the work and respot our car(s).

Here's the kicker.. I blued flagged the track and unless told to do so by my supervisor that blue flag would stay in place since their was strict rules in place and a supervisor and safety man would need to oversee that the rules was followed to the letter and the local crew would not violate that blue flag.

 

 

I wasn't advocating locating an industry on a short "tail" track, as I think it would be a problem, but it would also depend upon the car demands of any industry on the "tail" track.  A single car team track might be a modeling solution. 

Or no industry at all, and the railroad uses it as locomotive servicing or parking way down at the end.

I assume the industry would be responsible for the expense of maintaining only the second leg of the total spur, especially if the first leg is a team track, but that might not be the case.

- Douglas

  • Member since
    October, 2001
  • From: OH
  • 15,919 posts
Posted by BRAKIE on Monday, May 01, 2017 10:29 AM

Doughless
I assume the industry would be responsible for the expense of maintaining only the second leg of the total spur, especially if the first leg is a team track, but that might not be the case.

Maybe I'm not clear on what you are saying but,will say this and hoping it helps.. 

The Industries owns the track from their derailer to the end of their track or so I was taught when I was a student brakeman.The rest of the track would be owned by the serving railroad. A team track is also owned by the serving railroad. OTOH the majority of today's larger transload track is owned by a contractor.

For those that might be interested here is the instructions for industrial sidings. This should help plan industrial areas or ISLs.

http://nscorp.com/content/dam/nscorp/ship/shipping-tools/ns-standard-siding-agreement.pdf

 

 

Larry

SSRy

Conductor

  • Member since
    January, 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 6,543 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, May 14, 2017 2:50 PM

I think detailed research will show that sidings that leave railroad property are owned and maintained by the industry, but that there are sidings where industrial buildings are built right against railroad property and the industry owns the building, the railroad owns the track - especially in older urban areas.

Regardless of exact track arrangement, I agree with Larry, having to move one customers cars to service another customer is not acceptable, and is VERY, VERY rare on the prototype.

Sheldon 

    

  • Member since
    February, 2017
  • 234 posts
Posted by NYBW-John on Sunday, May 14, 2017 3:52 PM

selector

Switchbacks are used in the 1:1 world of railroading everywhere except when running linearly through valleys and up them, over passes, and down into another when the grade can be kept to a reasonable one, say 2%-ish.

I grew up in Peru, and know that switchbacks exist in all mountain railroads where the right-of-way must be confined to the side of one hill, where making a bridge is deemed too costly for a horsehoe path to the other side to continue gaining altitude, or when a tunnel is out of the question.  Sometimes it makes economic sense to build the fancier rights-of-way, the more direct route, but if the terrain permits, a switchback works very well.

It happens that in Peru, in a place called Bella Vista (baya veesta), the train came around a bend, just further down the river from us, maybe 500 yards, went past our house on the opposite side of the Rimac River a short distance, did a horseshoe across to our side of the river, and then continued up the 3% grade, working very hard, but now a whopping 100' above us.  My brother and I undertook once to climb to those tracks, at the tender ages of 10 and 9, and we walked the 1000 yards to where there was a switchback.  It was the best geometry because crossing the narrow valley with another horseshoe curve would have required a curved trestle about 300 feet above the river, but now 600 yards in arc at the required radius.  The switchback kept the costs to less than 1/4 of the cost of a bridge.

I believe the Cass logging railway uses switchbacks extensively, as would most mountain locations requiring rail service.

I like them because I lived near them.  I appreciate them more than most as a result.  My layouts have at least one.  They confine the movements of the train to one area on the layout, if stretched out a bit due to the requisite tail(s).  I am even building one currently that will service an industry at the end of the tail and another further up the other direction via a turnout.  Why lay more track when much of what I need to gain altitude is already in place, and the mine/logging/grain facility is further up the same slope?

 

I rode the Cass Mountain railroad all the way to the top and it indeed used switchbacks. I am trying to emulate that on my branchline by using a switchback to reach a sawmill. I am still trying to work it out with pencil and paper to see if I have enough length to gain altitude and still have tail tracks of reasonable length (4-5 cars + loco).

I don't like the idea of switchbacks for industrial switching for the reasons already stated.

  • Member since
    October, 2001
  • From: US
  • 956 posts
Posted by jmbjmb on Sunday, May 14, 2017 10:21 PM

The town I grew up in had it's two main industries served by a switchback.  The railroad came into town on a long left curve into righthand switch.  From the engineers perspective straight ahead was a run around and then a tail into the depot.  Taking the switch crossed a mill race on a trestle leading to the switch back.  This short tail of the switchback served a cotton mill (and interestingly also had a minor switchback to a coal trestle.  The train had to enter the cotton mill to clear the switchback and back down the other way to deliver coal to a steam power plant (along with poles, transformers, etc). 

There were a couple others over in they county seat to serve another cotton mill and an interchange.  Growing up with them I thought that was normal railroad practice.

 

jim

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!
Popular on ModelRailroader.com
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
Find us on Facebook