Size of freight car fleets gets quite a lot of attention from people. Some railroads require more than others, numbering into the thousands of cars sometimes depending on the size. One of the things I really wanted to do when I converted to P48 from HO in the earlier part of the year was to shrink the number of cars that I need to build from about 200-250 to what I’ve quoted at various times as a guess of about 40 or 50” cars. To finally start to figure out if my guess numbers were realistic, I thought it was time to start doing some operation planning.
As elsewhere I’m working on the Merced Ice & Cold Storage along with cars to service that industry on the layout, that made the logical place to start working. I created a spreadsheet version of an On-Line Industry Planning form that Model Railroader Video Plus published a few years ago on their website when they did a series on operating their expanded Milwaukee Road Beer Line. I started sorting out what would come into the ice house, and what would go out, and then realized that the answer was somewhat different than I was assuming.
The size of the Merced Ice & Cold Storage facility is rather limiting. I could create a scenario where fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy are all coming into the facility for distribution in Merced and for reloading for transit up the Yosemite Valley to points along the line but especially to El Portal for the hotel there and for use in the National Park. Additionally the consumers ice would be shipped in other reefers. Sounds fantastic, right?
Then I look at the size of the building. The cold storage portion of the facility does not warrant all that traffic. Fruits, vegetables, meats if they’re coming in, and all those other things have to be almost LCL service. California having lots of agriculture and farming, I’m guessing that quite a lot of what I could send to the ice house didn’t go there.
So, I decided to approach operational planning somewhat differently. I decided that I would approach setting up operating by determine a “where” cars were on the layout, and a destination for those cars. What this gave me was a chance to envision the moves, and to retain the idea that a car may only be moved by a train crew once, (but a second crew might move a car again if the required number of hours had passed between spotting and pulling moves for the car to unload. I’ll demonstrate this in a moment.
What I wound up with is a car routing plan that sometimes leaves the facility empty, sometimes leaves it full, sometimes leaves the door to the ice storage occupied and sometimes leaves the cold storage and other goods door occupied. The plan I created covers a 10 session cycle, meaning that even if I operated weekly, it would be more than two months before a repeat routing happened.
To make things interesting, I created one day where a car isn’t left at the ice house. The directions for that day will include to spot a loaded reefer at the facility, which should be done early by the Merced crew. Later in the day, as the El Portal Local arrives and switches their train, they’ll check the clock, and if 6 hours have passed between spotting and the current time, they’ll be instructed to pull the empty car and return it to the SP.
With this idea now, I can work along through other industries in Merced, Merced Falls, and other points on the YV, to determine car routings. Some industries might get the same 10 session cycle, but I could start them a different points in the cycle, so the ice house is on cycle 1, while the Freight House is on cycle 5 and the house track is on cycle 6. This way I can vary the traffic. The benefit here, too, is that I can determine if my construction plans for rolling stock are on-par with my needs, or if I should be adjusting my plans for rolling stock.
I’m also avoiding using car cards or other routing software. When filling out the waybills for operating, I’ll be able to have some fun with what I fill in as the items shipped, and I get to find out where things were being shipped from in 1928, which will also be great fun to research and learn about.