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What train length do most people run?

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Posted by jjdamnit on Sunday, October 2, 2022 12:51 PM

Hello All,

This subject seems to come up every so often...

Length of trains you run

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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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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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.

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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

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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

    

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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.
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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...

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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 

    

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Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 4:59 PM

I usually set up freight trains to run 12 to 24 freight cars plus a caboose. For box cars alone or mixed freight, i run 12 of them plus the caboose. For tank cars, I run 16 of them plus the caboose. For ore cars, I run 24 of them plus the caboose.

For passenger cars, I run 7 cars, usually a diner, observatory car, one or more coaches and one or more sleepers. I would run more passenger cars, but I am limited by the length of the station tracks even in my large "downtown" passenger train stations.

Rich

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Posted by PRR8259 on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 12:53 PM

I normally run what one engine can easily pull by itself without slipping or noticeable speed drop.  That for me is usually about a dozen freight cars or even sometimes as many as 20 for a single unit.  Depending upon the unit, at that point I need to start adding additional locos. 

I fairly often run 20 to 30 car freight trains pulled by two units.

My son prefers to run 50 or more freight cars in his trains; he has the motive power for that (2-8-8-4, DDA40X, and more modern Genesis 2.0 diesels).

John

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Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 10:44 AM

9 or 10 cars.. I model present day mainline. I find that if most cars are the same it discourages the viewer from counting and provides the illusion of length..i.e. 10 grain cars or 10 autoracks therefore looks longer than a train of 10 cars of different types. Some layout design also helps to give the illusion of length.. tunnels.. S curves.. really anything that prevents the viewer from seeing the train in its entirety. It is possible to make a train of 10 cars pulled by 2 modern AC locomotives look realistic.. the attempt in my view adds to the fun of building a little layout. 

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Posted by Doughless on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 10:25 AM

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.

- Douglas

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Posted by Water Level Route on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 6:15 AM

Freight trains of 8 40' cars plus a caboose, passenger trains of 5 cars.  

Mike

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Posted by Southgate 2 on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 1:40 AM

I run about 13 to 16 cars. I always doublehead the road engines because I like how it looks and it curtails electrical stalling greatly. My layout is 10x20 around the walls, with hidden staging,  and is basically an ISL on a branchline, Dan

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Posted by chris.mincemoyer on Monday, September 19, 2022 9:12 PM

I think it was Jim Hediger who recommened 2 cars per motive power axles. 4-axle loco would be 8 cars, 6 would be 12, etc....I will probably use this when I build my layout.

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Posted by Pruitt on Monday, September 19, 2022 8:49 PM

My layout's maximum train length for normal operation is 24 cars. Typical trains are 4-6 cars shorter. Most locals are 10-12 cars, simply because longer locals would take too long to complete. 

Passenger trains are 4-6 cars usually, but often a Doodlebug with a trailer will handle those trains.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, September 19, 2022 7:20 PM

John-NYBW

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

A sensible approach. Mine is similar in that I have one major city and yard although the east end staging yard is immediately beyond the city so there is no rural area to that side and I do have two small towns before reaching the west end staging yard. I did that because I wanted to run a peddler freight with switching along the line. The destinations are represented by the staging yards.

PS. I haven't forgetten the RDCs I'm going to send you. I have them packed up but I only go into town once or twice a week and I keep forgetting to bring them along so I can deliver them to the post office. 

 

Yes, we have spoken before about how our layout concepts are similar.

I do have few industries planned along the mainline "outside ot town", but elected to keep most of the industries near the main yard on a belt line of sorts. This creates a small ISL within the main layout that can be operated without crossing the main.

Not shown on the plan, partly because it will be built over some hidden trackage  so its plan was done seperately, there will also be a small street trackage urban industrial district not far to the left of the passenger station, but around the corner.

Those industries and the large auto assembly plant will require local trains to use the main for short distances.

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 do have several additional industry locations under consideration not shown on the plan. But I do like simulating the busy mainline traffic.

Thanks for the heads up on the RDC's, no worries. I do plan to add them to my fleet of B&O RDC's to model my own freelanced version of the Speedliner, as my passenger station will host B&O, C&O, WESTERN MARYLAND and ATLANTIC CENTRAL trains.

In fact, another element of the track plan is there are actually "escape tracks" near the passenger station that connect directly to the staging. These act as B&O interchange tracks for ops sessions but also provide display running cutoffs allowing four trains to circle the layout on seperate routes.

Take care,

Sheldon

    

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Posted by Pantherphil on Monday, September 19, 2022 6:19 PM

On my 4x8 N scale East Penn I run 9-10 40' freight cars and 5 car shorty passenger cars.  I have multiple passing sidings that accommodate these.  On my larger around the room North Penn and New England with a double track mainline I run 15-20 car freights and 6 heavyweight passenger cars.  The coal branch takes 9-10 hopper cars.  Just seems to look right.

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Posted by fwright on Monday, September 19, 2022 5:51 PM

I recall once reading the calculations for the length of a train that could be seen at one time.  A straight shelf, normal viewing distance of 3ft eye to track at center, and a 110 degree field of vision gives a visible actual train length of 8.5ft (doesn't matter what scale).  Any train that can't be seen all at once appears long, and the eye can't really tell how long without moving the head.  So trains of 9+ actual ft are going to appear long from a 3ft eyeball to track, and it really doesn't how much longer the train really is - unless you back up or swivel your head.

Passing siding length becomes another limiting factor, especially if runaround movements are needed for switching.  At 6 scale MPH switching speed in HO, you take 60 seconds to go 10ft.  So with a 10ft passing siding a runaround move takes 2 full minutes.  No wonder realistic scale speeds are usually exceeded on large layouts.

At the same time, switching with too short a train and very short passing sidings loses realism quickly.  I find that 8 cars is about minimum for enjoyable way freight switching operations.

In my modular operations planning (where passing track lengths are essentially unlimited) for 1900 era in HO, my preference would be for 8ft passing sidings which equals 15 36ft cars max plus engine and caboose.  On the narrow gauge side, 6ft sidings gives 12 32ft cars max plus engine and caboose.  The narrow gauge train length is quite realistic, the standard gauge is a little on the short side, but probably OK for short lines with light power.

Those are just my ideas and ideals, spatial realities interfere.

Fred W

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Posted by John-NYBW on Monday, September 19, 2022 5:45 PM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL

My new layout, and my previous layout, designed for transition era freight trains in the 35 to 50 car range. The visible freight yard and most of the staging tracks are over 22'-24' long.

The main passenger terminal is desigened to handle passenger trains in the 12-15 car range.

 

The layout was purposely designed to only depict one small city and the rural areas on either side of it with the specific goal of making longer trains look more realistic.

I gave up on the idea of trying to model an "origin" and "destination" decades ago in favor of the single stage with trains coming and going.

It allows you to model on one of each major feature, and make those features bigger, more realistic, and less "compressed".

Sheldon

 

 

 

A sensible approach. Mine is similar in that I have one major city and yard although the east end staging yard is immediately beyond the city so there is no rural area to that side and I do have two small towns before reaching the west end staging yard. I did that because I wanted to run a peddler freight with switching along the line. The destinations are represented by the staging yards.

PS. I haven't forgetten the RDCs I'm going to send you. I have them packed up but I only go into town once or twice a week and I keep forgetting to bring them along so I can deliver them to the post office. 

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Posted by dehusman on Monday, September 19, 2022 5:32 PM

I typically run between 10 and 15 cars on my layout, set in 1903.  The cars are mostly in the 34-36 ft range, so that gives trains between 6 and 8 ft long.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

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Posted by selector on Monday, September 19, 2022 5:13 PM

Transition era, multple types of steam and diesel for the 1940-1960 time-frame. My layout is a folded loop design with double tracks running a total of about 45' each.  I tend to simulate a 'limited' run like the Broadway Limited or the 20th Century Limited with up to six pax cars, mostly heavyweights, and at least two reefers rearward of the tender.  This makes my total train length about 9-10'.  My coal drags, headed by a BLI Y6b, run 22 cars plus a caboose up my nealry 3% grades.  I'm not sure the Y knows they're there, but that's another discussion. Cool  Smaller workhorses, like a Mike or a Mountain class, an RS-18, go between five cars and a caboose on the small side, to about 10 cars or more and a caboose, depending on the oomph of the locomotive.

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Posted by kasskaboose on Monday, September 19, 2022 4:29 PM

As others mentioned, there are plenty of factors to consider for train length.  Mine is prob 15-20 cars in the a layout from the early 1980s.  That comes out to about nine feet on the layout.  It's 12x8 in an "E" shape with a 5x6' peninsula in the middle. 

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, September 19, 2022 4:18 PM

My new layout, and my previous layout, designed for transition era freight trains in the 35 to 50 car range. The visible freight yard and most of the staging tracks are over 22'-24' long.

The main passenger terminal is desigened to handle passenger trains in the 12-15 car range.

 

The layout was purposely designed to only depict one small city and the rural areas on either side of it with the specific goal of making longer trains look more realistic.

I gave up on the idea of trying to model an "origin" and "destination" decades ago in favor of the single stage with trains coming and going.

It allows you to model only one of each major feature, and make those features bigger, more realistic, and less "compressed".

Sheldon

 

 

    

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, September 19, 2022 3:45 PM

I run HO in the late Transition Era.  I normally run freights of 8 to 10 cars, mostly 40-foot boxcars.  I have a few longer gons and flats, but the boxcars dominate.  Passenger trains can be 4 or 5 coaches and a couple of Railway Express high-speed reefers.

My layout was large enough to run two of these trains in opposite directions with passing sidings so this could be done carefully even though the main line is single track.  My relatively short trains make this possible.

I usually pulled each train with a pair of diesels.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by John-NYBW on Monday, September 19, 2022 3:28 PM

I designed my layout to accomodate 50 car freights (HO). I found that running train that long dwarfed the layout and led to operational issues. I now try to limit my trains to a maximum of 25 cars but 15 is more a more typical length. My fictional layout is based loosely on the New York, Ontario, and Western and in its final years, freight trains of that length were very common. That's probably why it went belly up. 

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Posted by Doughless on Monday, September 19, 2022 2:16 PM

Shortline Local service.  3 cars to about 9 cars, calibrated to factor in car length.  

More precise, 68 inch length maximum, which fits nicely into the two runarounds at each end of the layout.

- Douglas

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Posted by BATMAN on Monday, September 19, 2022 2:13 PM

My Hudson will pull a 30-car freight up the pass so generally, that is what I have going. A fifteen-car passenger train pulled by three FP-7s is also in the mix. I like really long trains as well but they need to be built on the main and there is nowhere to park them past about 35 cars.

Brent

It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

https://www.youtube.com/user/BATTRAIN1/videos 

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Posted by jjdamnit on Monday, September 19, 2022 1:30 PM

Hello All,

My pike has only approximately 18-feet of mainline in an oval in a 4'x8' space.

I've run thirty-two, 34-foot hoppers with a consist of 4 GP40s. It was practically nose-to-tail running and looked ridiculous.

On average I run a 16-car coal drag of 34-foot hoppers powered by a 4-unit consist of GP40s.

I also limit the length of rolling stock to no longer than 60-feet, with the exception of 85-foot passenger cars for the Royal Gorge Excursion train.

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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