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What train length do most people run?

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  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 11,944 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 8:18 PM

Doughless

I think the point about visual appeal is important.  While real railroads run excessively long trains by our modeling standards, trying to mimic long trains in that way doesn't always appeal to me.  When a single 4 axle diesel pulls as many cars as the actual prototype often pulls, it can look a bit cartoonish and gives the appearance of mighty mouse dragging a house.

The previously mentioned ratio of 2 cars per locomotive axle is a good balance between space needs and visual appeal.

Also, in my switching layouts, I've tried to represent real industry spots by  halving the car spots relative to what the prototype needs.  IOW, if a prototype industry calls for 6 car spots, I'll halve that by spotting 3 cars. 

There is a protoype railroad that shunts woodchip cars to and from the chipper plant to the the paper mill only 16 miles away.  One train a day simply going back and forth with a captive cut of cars...usually 15.  I represent that with a 6 car train, effectively halving the prototype operation.  (I dont have the tail track length to fit 7, 71 foot long cars and a locomotive).  That is one of the trains I run in a normal op session.

 

I think layout size, theme, design are everything in this question.

The prototype does, and has always, run trains of every conceivable length based on situation and need.

Industrial switching layouts, or shortline layouts will generally have short trains based on that prototype situation.

Regional, and road specific operating practices also effect this.

But the two car per powered axle idea leaves me cold. Even on the steepest grades and worst conditions railroads like the WESTERN MARYLAND managed to move 10-14 50 ton cars per 50,000lbs of tractive effort (typical 2-8-0 or 1500 hp diesel).

I have a set of photos, not available digitally at the moment, that show four 2-8-0's and three ALCO RS3's, locos spaced front, mid and rear train, moving 100 loaded hoppers out of a mine branch with sharp curves and nearly 3% grades. Even that is 14 cars per locomotive. And we can consider those 2-8-0's roughly equal to those RS3's.

Era is a big factor as well.

I have researched train lengths in my modeled era and region. 

A typical mainline commodity mixed freight leaving Baltimore on the B&O in the 40's or 50's and heading west over the old mainline to Cincinnati would typically be 3500-4000 tons, or about 70-80 typical freght cars of that era.

For the first leg of its trip, it would have been pulled by two Mikados or four 1500hp diesels (GP7's, F3's, FA's, etc).

At Brunswick Maryland that power would be replaced by larger locos for the trip over the Appalachians. Two 2-8-8-0's or two 2-8-8-4's would be typical and those would require helpers later on in their trip.

Point is, 70 cars was a typical freight train in this region at that time. And two medium steam locos or four first generation diesels would be typical power in the areas of the Pedmont Plateau.

So my selectively compressed simulation of this kind of railroading, is half that train length - 35, 40, sometimes 50 cars. In an era when most freight cars were 40' long or less and 50' cars were just starting to apear in numbers.

And I have designed the layout to make trains of that length look in scale with their surroundings.

And my 2% grades are a fair compromise to the 1.5% ruling grade from Baltimore to Brunswick, part of the general region my layout hopes to simulate.

When I see one medium sized loco pulling a train on a model layout, no number of cars is too few. That's what the prototype would do if necessary.

But when I see three unit diesel consists pulling 12 cars, or even 20 cars, it looks a bit toy like.

Modern modelers have a real challenge on medium sized layouts with the massive size of modern rolling stock - I learned that lesson real quick with 85' piggyback cars way back in the day when I considered modeling the early 60's.

I decided then I was more interested in earlier railroading to include steam, with the side benefit of generally smaller rolling stock.

Even modeling 1954, I have a small fleet of the "brand new" 75' piggyback flats....

Lucky for me, modern railroading has no appeal for me.

Anyway, we all must adjust our "selective" compression to our space, theme, era, etc.

We will all arrive at slightly different results.

But two big articulated steamers pulling 50 or more 34' loaded hopper cars is way cool. 

And so is four ALCO FA's racing along with a 35 car hot shot of 50' piggybacks.

I will say that even on a big open space layout like I am planning, trains of this length, which is roughly 20 actual feet, are as long as trains need to be to have that "long train" visual effect and thereby justify the big power on the front. 

And then there are the passenger trains.

A string of 10 or 14 passenger cars, close coupled with working diaphrams, gliding carefully thru a mainline interlocking as it enter the passenger terminal is a sight to behold. A rolling thru the country side at a good clip is pretty nice too.

The B&O tended to keep their name trains short by the standard of other roads - 7 to 10 cars was pretty typical.

So my passenger operations include lots of train lengths, 10 to 14 is pretty typical.

So you need a passenger terminal for 14 car trains....

Sheldon 

    

  • Member since
    February 2018
  • From: Danbury Freight Yard
  • 365 posts
Posted by OldEngineman on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 9:42 PM

My layout is small (4x8 with L-extension) so I keep the trains short.

11.30am job -- 4 cars and a caboose. 3.30pm job -- same. The 10.00pm job goes out with 7 cars and caboose...

  • Member since
    January 2019
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Posted by John-NYBW on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 6:01 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL

A study many prototypes will show efforts to avoid sidings along the mainline when possible and build belt lines for industries when practical - I tried to follow this theme.

 
I built this concept into my track plan. In my main city, there is a belt line one each side of the double track mainline near the classification yard. One of the first jobs in an operating session is for one of the switchers to gather the pickups along each belt and then do the set outs.
  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 6:16 AM

John-NYBW

 

 
ATLANTIC CENTRAL

A study many prototypes will show efforts to avoid sidings along the mainline when possible and build belt lines for industries when practical - I tried to follow this theme.

 

 

 
I built this concept into my track plan. In my main city, there is a belt line one each side of the double track mainline near the classification yard. One of the first jobs in an operating session is for one of the switchers to gather the pickups along each belt and then do the set outs.
 

Very nice.

Sheldon

    

  • Member since
    December 2008
  • From: Heart of Georgia
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Posted by Doughless on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 1:33 PM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
Point is, 70 cars was a typical freight train in this region at that time. And two medium steam locos or four first generation diesels would be typical power in the areas of the Pedmont Plateau. So my selectively compressed simulation of this kind of railroading, is half that train length - 35, 40, sometimes 50 cars.

To keep this simple.  Using the 2 cars per motive axle rule of thumb, that would be a 32 car train for 4 four axle diesels.

Sorry, I'm not following.  It looks like you got to the same ballpark but by a different method.  I don't think 50 cars would be visually off.  That's about 3 cars per axle.  Close enough to not debate it, IMO.

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
Lucky for me, modern railroading has no appeal for me. Anyway, we all must adjust our "selective" compression to our space, theme, era, etc. We will all arrive at slightly different results

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
When I see one medium sized loco pulling a train on a model layout, no number of cars is too few. That's what the prototype would do if necessary.
ATLANTIC CENTRAL
But when I see three unit diesel consists pulling 12 cars, or even 20 cars, it looks a bit toy like. Modern modelers have a real challenge on medium sized layouts with the massive size of modern rolling stock - I learned that lesson real quick with 85' piggyback cars way back in the day when I considered modeling the early 60's.

My original comment was about how locos can look dwarfed by the length of the train if we try to model them like the prototype.  Even if I had the space to properly model a 100 car train, 2 large six axle diesels at the head would look too light to me.  That's the motive power I see a lot these days. 

As far as using multiple locos to pull few cars.  That looks odd to me too...goes agains the 2 car rule of thumb I guess.

But, in modern Local service railroading though, that seems to be more of the norm.  Railroads seem to not want to run long hood forward....maybe because the locos are so damm long....so they double up back to back to always run long hood forward no matter how many cars are in the train.   Also, independent short lines carry a loco around in case the lead breaks down....if they don't have the finanical resources as others.  

So I think it looks odd, but it is actually pretty close to prototpical to have multiple locos for 8 to 12 cars....even fewer.  Its easier for the crew to run em together if they are already hooked up than to take time to bother separating them, just to hook em up again for the next bigger train. 

Don't model what would be wasted time for a crew. Just leave them mu'ed and do everything like that, despite the task or train length.  But that's modern times.

- Douglas

  • Member since
    January 2019
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Posted by John-NYBW on Friday, September 23, 2022 6:25 AM

My road diesels are mainly F units and I typically run an AB set to pull my 15-20 car freights or a single steamer. My fictional road is based loosely on the New York, Ontario, and Western which dieselized very early and pictures of freights from the 1950s typically had an AB set on their short freight trains, often less than 25 cars.

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 11,944 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Friday, September 23, 2022 3:38 PM

John-NYBW

My road diesels are mainly F units and I typically run an AB set to pull my 15-20 car freights or a single steamer. My fictional road is based loosely on the New York, Ontario, and Western which dieselized very early and pictures of freights from the 1950s typically had an AB set on their short freight trains, often less than 25 cars.

 

And that is a very believable match up. My typical freight is twice that le gth and twice that power, but not always.

I do run shorter trains as well.

Sheldon

    

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