A Town Begins to Come Alive

Originally uploaded by BGTwinDad

Remember that Parvia stuff I was blogging about some time ago? Well, I haven’t forgotten about it, though I have been distracted and torn away from it for several reasons and excuses. I have been able to work on it a little bit from time to time – at least enough to begin putting together a small street scene…

Honestly, I think one of the problems is that I bought too much to start with. That’s a “me” thing, not a “Parvia” thing. But the generous allowance they gave me in exchange for a fair review turned out to provide quite a bit of product – so much that I’ve been a little overwhelmed and unsure just where to start.

In my railroad layout, I am getting dangerously close to being at a point where I cannot go forward without working on the town streets a little, so I have lately been eying these modular street pieces. I expect to be able to use them in some fashion to prototype out the town streets and get a feel for where things should go.

To that end, I took some measurements and built up some basic structures.  In the title picture above, you can see the basic elements… the street blocks are a pavement gray and come pre-painted with a dashed yellow center line.  There are also solid gray or brown pieces that can be used, as well as various curves, angles and intersections.  The street pieces also have sockets along the edges to which various types of sidewalks or borders can be added to complete the streets.  I have not made use of them yet, but details galore are also available – everything from street lamps to mailboxes, from bus stops to trees.

Typical Parvia Street Segment

Critical to using the street pieces in planning a town is how closely they match the intended scale width of the planned town streets.  The parts as given are 3-3/4″ (50 scale feet) wide, and 1-7/8″ (25 scale feet) long, equalling two by four of the basic Parvia “squares”.

The border pieces vary according to their design.  The grassy sidewalk segments shown here are 12 scale feet wide each – roughly a 4-foot sidewalk in between two 4-foot grass areas.  This leaves a net 26 scale feet for the street, or two 13-scale-foot lanes.

13 foot lanes sound generous, but this street is remarkably similar to the residential street my house is on, down to the width of the grass between the street and sidewalk.

The set also came with narrower “city sidewalk” borders, which gives a correspondingly broader street… with the sidwalks being just shy of 6 scale feet (13/32″) each, the street is 38 feet wide.  With some creative striping, this would allow for two 7-foot wide parking lanes and two 12 foot driving lanes in a downtown district.

How does this tie in to my railroad layout?  Well, I have a tight space for my town.  I had therefore planned for 1/4″ (42 scale inch) wide sidewalks, a single 8 foot parking lane, and two 10-foot driving lanes.  That works out to only 35 scale feet, 15 scale feet narrower than the Parvia street.

There’s an important lesson here for folks planning realistic towns – especially modern ones – on their layouts.  Streets are wider than you think.  And the things that go along with them to make them look truly real are even wider.  Yes, there are narrow lane-and-a-half country roads out there, where you hope you don’t meet someone coming the other way at the wrong time.  But most town and city streets are actually quite broad.

Failing to account for this in the layout design, or to work out adequate compromises leads to unrealistically crowded street scenes, where parking is nonexistent, cars barely have room to maneuver, sidewalks are nonsensically narrow, and Heaven help us if there is a fire or a delivery to be made!

I won’t be able to fit my town using the comfortably broad Parvia streets, but I can lay out the streets, allowing for the space difference.  They will come in quite handy for roughing in where the main road will flow and for visualizing the overall streetscape. And, I’ve added another item for my “To-Do” list.  I normally use an open source layout design software package called XTrackCAD.  I think a parameter file add-on for this package that provides the various Parvia street pieces to proper scale would be a handy way to help layout designers work proper-width streets into their designs.  Especially since XTrackCAD has no internal method of “flowing” streets.

And then, with a little luck, my kids and I will finally have the time to sit around the table and dream up our own version of Key West, Florida…


New and Old (well, old and older)…



Originally uploaded by BGTwinDad

Caught this picture while wandering around South Charleston, WV taking pictures … of trains, of course…

The foreground locomotive, #1172, is an EMD MP15AC. On the track to its right is the slightly newer MP15T #1233 (basically a turbocharged MP15AC). Both of these “yard goat” switchers live at the CSX South Charleston, WV Yard, sorting cars and serving the nearby chemical plants.

Tucked in behind #1172 is a relic of the past… C&O bay window Caboose #904124. These days, it is used as a “shoving platform” – basically a safety spacer car between the switcher and the cars that it is moving. This is particularly important when moving potentially dangerous chemical tank cars. FRA regulations require a safety car.

CSXT 1172 lived a former life for Seaboard Coast Lines as SCL 4202, as you can see in this picture from Trainweb.org, and it was built in February 1978 as EMD serial # 777032-3.  Its partner #1233 – former Seaboard #1233 (also courtesy Trainweb.org) – is EMD serial # 857074-11, built a little later in 1985.

Here is a better photo of the caboose…

C&O Caboose #904124

And so we see here a relic of the past – a caboose – still serving a vital function alongside the much “newer” technology of the MP15 class Diesel switcher locomotive – a “new” technology that is nearly as old as the author.


Unstoppable movie photo
Photo (C) 2010 TC Fox. All Rights Reserved.

My wife treated me to a matinee show of the new movie “Unstoppable” at the theater today.  If you haven’t seen the previews, it’s about a large freight train (# 777) with hazardous cargo that gets loose from a yard in Southern Pennsylvania and threatens a medium-sized city.  Frank, a veteran engineer (Denzel Washington), and Will, a rookie conductor (Chris Pine), have to chase the train down and save the day.

(View the Trailer on YouTube…)

My short review:  GO SEE THIS MOVIE.  It is a great action flick, full of nail biting moments and good dialogue, a riveting story line and some decent character development.  It’s not Oscar material, but it’s a good popcorn film.  Even my wife and kids enjoyed it!

The movie is PG-13, and there is a fair amount of “cussing” – more than I really would have preferred my 10 year olds hear, but not so much that it wasn’t tolerable.  We simply discussed that bit briefly after the movie.  There is no sexual content, except for some restaurant views of Frank’s daughters and their co-workers – at Hooters,  and all of the violence is of the “ooh! he almost fell off the train!” variety.

As for the storyline, it is somewhat formulaic, but not too badly so.  You have the grizzled veteran, the rookie, the bumbling fool, the tough-as-nails woman, the cold, money-focused corporate VP, the redneck in a pickup, and so on… You have to think of it as the action flick version of the “romantic comedy”.  You know generally what’s going to happen, but it ends up being an entertaining story anyway.

My railfan friends will be wondering about how accurate the railroad stuff is.  I left more than satisfied.  The rail footage alone is worth the movie, and while they certainly got some things wrong, they did not stretch credulity to the breaking point.  The most obvious technical errors mostly had to do with speed.  If you look close you’ll note that some of the “high speed” footage was obviously filmed at a slow, safe speed (and not sped up), especially where major characters are concerned. Watch the shots where Will  is guiding Frank to couple on the back of the runaway train for an example.

In another scene, they try to slow the runaway by coupling two locomotives to the front of the train.  In the scene where the “chase” locos pull in front of the runaway, the relative closing rates of the trains don’t match the storyline.  The runaway is barrelling down on the lead trains at (supposedly) nearly 70 MPH, and the chase engines are entering the mainline at what appears to be 5-10 MPH.  The runaway should have closed the apparent separation distance in seconds and smashed into the slowly accelerating chasers.  Somehow the chase engine accelerated to a matching speed almost instantly…

I’m sure there are plenty of other “goofs” that railfans will catch that are beyond me, but as a relative “layman” I would deem them minor.  One thing that did bother me was that nobody seemed to realize that locomotives can be boarded from the back.  Some might wonder if it’s even possible for a train to get loose like that in the first place.  This is, perhaps, the most “real” part of the whole story – it’s based on a very real train that got free from a yard in Ohio in much the same way #777 gets loose.

In all, I think they did a pretty good job.  It’s an entertaining film with believable characters, gripping action, a good story and some great railroad action.

Certainly worth a matinee, at least, and probably a second look at the dollar theater.

CH&FR Expands Equipment Roster

Originally uploaded by BGTwinDad

Dateline Glover’s Bend, November 10, 2010

When the CH&FR Railroad’s recent uptick in traffic left them short of rolling stock to serve their customers, they looked North. Far North. All the way to Canada.

The Rail Operations Department reported today that they acquired three “new” 40 foot standard boxcars from Canadian Pacific Railway (formerly CP Rail), and five new 90-ton coal hoppers from Canadian National Railway.

The hoppers will help with the increased demand for the ultra-low sulfur coal mined at the nearby Glover’s Bend Mine, and the 40-foot boxcars will allow the railroad to more efficiently package and carry the specialty electronics products being produced by TEC, Inc. for the automotive industry.

Along with the deal came a classic 8-window steel side cupola caboose from the CP. The caboose will be part of the CHHiPS Museum collection. Plans are in the works to repaint it in CH&FR colors, as a similar car was used years ago on the railroad.

Operations: Thinking Out Loud

It occurred to me this morning that one of the reasons I don’t post very often is that I have this mental hangup that I need to have some thing “finished” to “present” in order to have a blog entry.  That’s not really so.  I just have to have something to say that may be of interest to my reader.  In fact, having some “unfinished” things as blog entries may actually be better because it gives something for my reader to give input on, rather than being passive.

Today’s topic, and I expect it to be an ongoing series, is about an operations plan.  I’ve posted a little bit in the past on this, but not much.  Basically, I would like to have what amounts to a daily timetable showing which trains run where, when, around which I can create an operating session plan to follow.  In the words of Admiral Painter in The Hunt for Red October, “The Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.”  Neither do the railroads.

First we need to define where “here” and “there” are.  For now, we have four trips to make:

  • The Town Branch, to pick up products and set off supplies.
  • The Mine Branch, to drop off empties and pick up coal loads.
  • Russell, KY, to drop off Westbound traffic (or anything CSX-bound)
  • Williamson, WV, to drop off Eastbound traffic (or anything NS-bound)

For the time being we will ignore bridge traffic between Russell and Williamson, and we will ignore traffic to/from Chestnut Hill and Frost River as well.

Now, let’s assume that the big railroads aren’t going to bother sending trains down to Glover’s Bend to make deliveries, and so we will have to go to their yards to interchange.  So that’s (at least) one trip per day to each town, not counting coal runs (we’ll just set them aside, too, for the moment).  We want to take outbound stuff out and bring inbound stuff back so that we’re running full trains both ways (minimizing MTs).

Oh, for the non-railroad-geek, a few abbreviations and “lingo” terms:

  • “Turn” – a regular trip out and back to a given location.
  • “MT” – short for “empty car”.  Also “MTY”.
  • “SO” – “Set out”.  To remove a car from a train and leave it, usually at an interchange, for someone else to PK or for some other purpose.
  • “PK” – “Pick up”.  To pick up a car that has been SO.
  • “Spot” (n) – a designated location to place a car for loading, unloading, or some other purpose. (v) – to place a car for loading/unloading/etc. at a spot.
  • “Interchange” (n) a common siding or yard where two railroads trade cars. (v) The act of passing a car or cars from one railroad to another, usually at an interchange location.
  • “A/D Track” – the yard track to and from which trains (usually) Arrive and Depart.

There will be plenty more of those as we go along.  Back to the subject at hand.

Let’s pretend for a moment we only have two things to do… Interchange at Russell, and switching the Town Branch.  It’s a little hard to talk about an ongoing process, so let’s assume this is a once daily cycle, and it’s Tuesday.  A few rules:

  • Our local customers want their supplies in the morning, and want to load their shipments at the end of the day.
  • CSX can have our deliveries whenever, but they only want to fool with us daily.
  • By convention, “deliveries” are things coming into Glover’s Bend from elsewhere, and “shipments” are leaving Glover’s Bend for the world at large.

So here’s the base scheme:

  • Tuesday AM: Town Branch Turn makes Tuesday deliveries and picks up Monday shipments.
  • Tuesday PM: Russell Turn takes Monday shipments to Russell, and returns with Wednesday deliveries.
  • Wednesday AM: Town Branch Turn makes Wednesday deliveries and picks up Tuesday shipments.

And so the pattern repeats.

Let’s make up some names (or acronyms) for the trains, as a shorthand:

  • “TBT” – Town Branch Turn
  • “RT” – Russell Turn
  • “WT” – Williamson Turn
  • “MBT” – Mine Branch Turn
  • “RCT” – Russell Coal Train
  • “WCT” – Williamson Coal Train

To make it even more interesting, let’s put a schedule around this.  For simplicity, let’s allot 2 hours round trip for each local run, and an hour to do the associated switching to build a train.  Russell, KY is about 85 miles from Glover’s Bend, which is a six hour round trip at 30mph average, plus another hour to switch the interchange.  We end up with something like this, just for the TBT and RT:

  • 8:00AM : TBT departs for town.
  • 10:00AM : TBT returns from town
  • 10:00-11:00 AM : Switcher builds RT.
  • 11:00AM : RT departs for Russell, KY
  • 11:30AM-12:30PM: Lunch Break
  • 6:00PM: RT returns from Russell, KY

We have a 5.5 hour window in the afternoon, but we need to handle traffic to Williamson as well.  So let’s introduce another train in the afternoon.  Williamson is much closer than Russell, so let’s assume the trip to Williamson takes 1 hour round trip, plus our customary hour for switching the interchange.

  • 8:00AM : TBT departs for town.
  • 10:00AM : TBT returns from town
  • 10:00-11:00 AM : Switcher builds RT.
  • 11:00AM : RT departs for Russell, KY
  • 11:30AM-12:30PM: Lunch Break
  • 12:30-1:30PM: Switcher builds WT
  • 1:30PM: WT departs for Williamson
  • 3:30PM: WT returns from Williamson
  • 3:30PM-4:30PM: Switcher clears the A/D track for the expected RT and pre-switches Williamson cars for tomorrow’s TBT.
  • 4:30-5:30PM: Afternoon break.
  • 6:00PM: RT returns from Russell, KY
  • 6:00PM-7:00PM: Switcher finishes building tomorrow’s TBT.

Whew!  An eleven hour day for the yard crew, but they get an hour for lunch and an hour long afternoon break.

But wait!  We can do better, I think!  Our local customers aren’t getting their morning deliveries until around 9:00, give or take, when they’ve been sitting in the yard all night long!  What if we run the TBT at the end of the day, and shift the schedule accordingly?

  • 8:00-9:00 AM : Switcher builds RT.
  • 9:00AM : RT departs for Russell, KY
  • 9:30-10:30AM Switcher builds WT
  • 10:30AM: WT departs from Williamson
  • 11:30-12:30PM: Lunch Break
  • 1:30PM: WT returns from Williamson (extra hour for crew lunch)
  • 1:30PM-2:30PM: Switcher clears the A/D track for the expected RT and pre-switches Williamson cars for tomorrow’s TBT.
  • 2:30-3:30PM: Afternoon break.
  • 4:00PM: RT returns from Russell, KY
  • 4:00PM-5:00PM: Switcher finishes building TBT.
  • 5:00PM : TBT departs for town.
  • 7:00PM : TBT returns from town

Now, our customers still have a full day to load their shipments, but they get Wednesday’s deliveries on Tuesday afternoon, not Wednesday.  And here’s another benefit.  The (day) yard crew can knock off at 5:00 when the TBT departs.  The TBT crew, on return, can drop the cars on the A/D track and park their engine without help, ready for the yard crew to start again the next morning.

If the night shift needs the A/D track, they can stow the TBT train or go ahead and switch it.

What about the coal trains?  Well, the vast bulk of the coal hauled will go directly from the mine to either Russell or Williamson.  We have two choices.  Either the trains can literally run directly to the two destinations, being switched at the mine, or we can handle the coal switching on the night shift.

The catch is that we only have 3 yard tracks unless we tie up the outer main.  At night maybe we can use the outer main for an hour or two to sort cars.