Christopher Brimley updated April 14, 2011


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  • Passenger Servicing Facilities: Part 1

    by V. S. Roseman

    Photos by the author

    We often watch graceful streamliners go by without thinking of what is necessary to outfit, clean and resupply them after each trip. These operations require facilities that can generate nearly as much action for your passenger trains as interchanges and industries do for your freight traffic. Here is a coachyard, complete with a Whiting mechanical car washer.
    Model Railroading - May 2002 - Page 44

    It surprises me that so many model train layouts have detailed and specific methods of dealing with freight cars and yet passenger trains of all types are run from one point to another and then turned to do the same thing again. Dining cars are not replenished, sleeping cars do not get their mattresses aired nor do they get fresh linens for the return trip, and passenger trains nearly never go through a car washer. While car knockers do work in terminals, they were sometimes seen far more frequently along the tracks of a coach yard. On model train layouts the passenger train is lucky even to have some yard space among the freight cars. In fact, the activities in passenger servicing yards can be simulated, and trains run more like the real ones.

    Bob Clarks excellent series on Passenger Train Operations in the January through April 2002 issues covered the prototypical aspects of passenger operations and pro vided many useful ideas on incorporating passenger operations into a layout. Because the series didnt specifically cover the actual modeling of passenger facilities, our editor, Randy, asked if I could do a followup article on modeling those facilities. So, although I will address prototype operations, what follows is intended to provide some practical modeling examples.

    Coach Yards

    The "street" side of the Sunnyside Yard passenger servicing complex. The purposes of many of the structures changed over the years, but the farthest building at left is a power plant. Some of the other buildings include a battery house, railroad YMCA, commissary, railroad storage for linens, and at one time the Pullman Company offices and storage rooms.
    Model Railroading - May 2002 - Page 45

    Coach yards and their passenger servicing facilities are usually set up as centralized distribution points for the special accessories and consumables that are unique to passenger trains. Linens for tablecloths and napkins in the dining cars; mattresses, bedsheets and blankets for sleeping cars; a ntimacassars (headrest covers) for long distance coaches, and so many other items. In the case of trains travelling between two major cities such as New York and Chi cago, a train could be stocked at either end of the run. Where, however, a train such as one from a major city that dropped cars at a number of resort towns, the train would l ikely be resupplied only at the city end and thus would carry supplies for a round trip. Of course it depended on the length of the trip; sometimes dining cars or other equipment would be restocked en route. On some roads there was a centralized laundry for all services, and trains would receive their linens when the trains stopped at that city. On other roads, the linens or other supplies would be loaded into express cars and would be distributed to passenger service facilities all over the railroad. In still other instances, commercial laundries or other facilities were used.

    Pennsys Sunnyside Yard

    Much has been published on the Sunnyside Yard of the Pennsylvania Railroad which was built in open fields in the wilds of Long Island City as part of the New York Penn Station Project which opened in 1910. P enn Station in Manhattan was accessed from the South and West via tunnels under the Hudson River, which continued through the station and through tunnels under the East River to Sunnyside. This is still one of the largest railroad passenger facilities in the nation and has complete servicing facilities for passenger trains. Most of the original yard is still in operation handling Amtrak and NJ Transit trains that operate into Penn Station, New York.

    In Sunnyside Yard (as built), locomotive-hauled trains (as opposed to commuter MU trains) would enter through the balloon tracks for the entry tracks actually folded upon themselves by circumnavigating the east end of the yard. Mechanical car washers (installed a number of years after the yard was first built) were located on the balloon tracks so that trains entering the yard could be automatically washed, turned and stored ready for departure to the South and West running back through to Penn Station in Manhattan.

    The Pullman servicing tracks had platforms with umbrella sheds. Sleeping cars a nd Pullman parlor cars (in the days of opening windows) would have their mat tresses aired by hanging them out of the windows under the shed roof. Alternatively, they (along with rugs) could be aired out on wooden racks that were provided under the umbrella sheds. This practice pretty much ended after the introduction of steel Pull man cars, as they did not require as much care as the old varnished wooden cars. Pullmans were still washed and wiped down by hand, as were coaches and dining cars on their respective tracks in those days. The switching moves needed to sort cars out to specialized tracks was very expensive; so, as time passed, fewer cars were taken out of their trains at the terminals. By the 30s, whole strings of matched streamliner cars would be serviced as complete trains in their assigned places in the yard. Express cars were an exception to this and would always be switched out of trains and delivered to the express terminal tracks; this continued right up to the end of the express contracts around the start of Amtrak.

    Model Railroading - May 2002 - Page 46

    An interesting part of the operation of this huge yard was the several satellite yards operated by the Pennsylvania around Sunnyside. Up until the mid-50s so many trains came in and out of this facility that a number of them, including important Florida trains like the East and West Coast Champi-ons, were turned on the balloon track and then run out to the yard along Borden Avenue near the Long Island RRs Long Island City Terminal. No facilities were available there s o whatever was needed was brought in from the main yard in Sunnyside. A pair of Pennsylvania Railroad L-1 Mikados were converted to burn oil (to meet smoke abatement laws for New York City) and were used to keep the streamliners warm in the winter. Other provisions were trucked in or were brought in by train.

    In Sunnyside itself, electric wagons, such as those used for baggage with the operator standing on a front platform and driving by means of levers, would be used to deliver supplies such as linens to trains. Another electric vehicle sometimes referred to as a mechanical horse resembling a riding l awn mower or small tractor would haul wagons out to service a train. In some cases an employee would haul a wagon out to the cars by hand. The wagons themselves varied greatly, but most resembled the fourwheeled baggage or express wagons used at train stations.

    Setting Up Coach Yard Tracks

    I have shown a couple of diagrams that show the position and general arrangement of some important coach yards at Sunnyside. The double-ended configuration of tracks is the best if you have room, because you can move equipment using both end ladders at the same time.

    Tracks in passenger yards were often laid in pairs with a wide platform or at least a driveway between every track pair.

    Passenger trains were cleaned and serviced at main terminals having complete facilities and were often set up for round trips. This eliminated the need for servicing at outlying points, except perhaps for picking up stray newspapers from coaches, and a general cleaning up by Pullman Porters in sleeping and parlor cars. On commuter lines this trend changed around the end of World War Two. At that time the outlying terminals for trains started receiving mechanical train washers, and servicing was done on cars at night and weekend layovers while the cars were idle. Previously the local cars had been serviced and restocked at the city terminal while out of use between the rush hours.

    Tracks can be arranged with low platforms up to 15' wide surfaced with macadam or concrete. There are crossings either of the same material or of wooden planks. These level track crossings are placed near the ends of the tracks so as to clear trains, and often at other intervals as necessary. At intervals there are water spigots, air, steam and electrical outlets. Sunnyside had pairs of tracks close together alternating with the wide platforms.

    One class of cars that had to be cut out of trains would be the head-end mail and express equipment. The entire insides of t hese cars had to be loaded or unloaded and it was still most practical to do this at the express or mail handling platforms in the coach yard. I am not aware of any mail facility at Sunnyside because the Penn sylvania cars were handled at platforms in Penn Station, New York, that extended right under GPO, the main post office for Manhattan. Express traffic, which was done by Railway Express from 1929-1975, was handled at a huge modern building at the northeast corner of Sunnyside, known as PXT, one of the main Railway Express depots for New York City.

    Union Station in Washington, DC, was designed with an interesting arrangement for their express car tracks. To maximize the available space along the side of the building, tracks were laid at a 13 angle diagonal to the side of the structure so that c ars could be parked and accessed more easily. This makes for interesting model operation but requires more turnouts than required for a few long tracks parallel to the express house.

    Model Railroading - May 2002 - Page 47

    Washington Union Station and St. Louis Union are both set up on diverging routes and have the main passenger servicing facilities located out on the various tenant roads own tracks. Only the Pullman building and Express building are located on the terminal railroads as only Pullmans and express cars operate on all of the tenant roads.

    Now, I would like to introduce a number of easy-to-build plastic structures that can provide starting points for passenger service facilities. I did some small modifications to most of these, and you will be able to see how easily these buildings have been changed from their manufacturers original intentions to service passenger trains.

    Mechanical Car Washer

    These units are still in use today keeping train equipment clean. The prototype for the model shown in the lead photo is by Stewart Models; it represents a Whiting s ix-brush unit. When activated, sprayers wet down the car with water and cleaning a gents, while the motors on top of each tower begin to spin the big brushes. Arms at the top and bottom of each brush unit are engaged and swing toward the cars as the train passes slowly through the washing unit. Sometimes, in cleaning up a really dirty train the crew might pass the cars t hrough extra slowly and despite all the promises of the cleaning solution manufacturers, the washer would start taking lettering and paint off the car sides. The tall pipe units at the end of the unit are the sprayers. Instructions with the kit outline how you can actually move the arms by means of a cam to bring them into contact with the car sides as you wash a train. A solenoid or other mechanical means could do this electrically if you want to do a little more design work.

    Dining Cars and the Commissary

    It is nearly forgotten today that at one time nearly every long distance train had a dining car. In fact, the top limiteds had two one would be operated to serve simpler economy meals while the other served as a fine restaurant, the equal of many three-and four-star restaurants in big cities. To provision the diners the commissary had freezers for some foods, stocks of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat that was brought in daily, plus stores of cooking oil, butter and the like. On most railroads even cakes and pies were baked in the commissary and served fresh that day on the trains, or on some trains pastries would be made right in the dining car kitchen. There was great esprit de corps among dining car personnel, and this lasted surprisingly late in passenger train operation on a few railroads. On the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio and some other roads, in fact, the dining cars were top notch right up to the coming of Amtrak in 1971.

    Unfortunately, most of the top dining car services began to be taken off line, were downsized or simplified by use of snack cars or automat (machines dispensing pre-fabricated sandwiches) by the mid to late 1950s.

    Dining cars would be shifted to the commissary tracks in the old days, but by the 40s many diners were simply left in their trains to be serviced. As the Pennsylvania ran its own dining service they had their own commissary force that would restock the cars. Again, cars were classed, with the fancy diners for the Broadway Limited and Spirit of St. Louis getting the best food and f anciest furniture and accessories. Prob ably on the same level would be the service to Florida which included the East and West Coast Champion, the other top Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard and Florida East Coast trains. The Southern Crescent and other trains also using Pennsylvania diners rated the best cars and food. Some of the other diners were slightly lower in the order An overhead view of the Whiting six-brush mechanical car washer. and might have higher seating capacity and simpler menus. The rating of the cars and menus was not a real change in quality until you got down to what was known as a snack b ar coach in the 1960s, which offered essentially pre-wrapped sandwiches, coffee and fountain beverages.

    Generally, sleeping cars and diners w ere assigned to specific services, such as a Pennsylvania Railroad diner being for the Congressional pool of equipment, or a particular type of sleeper going only into the Florida pool or being used only on the Broadway Limited. I suspect that this was a common practice on most or all larger passenger roads because the B&O had the s ame kind of assignment pecking order beginning with the Capitol and National Limited trains.

    This type of operation was very efficient but required a great deal of organization. A specific car type might then be serviced at only two or three terminals and would be familiar to the personnel at all the shops. There were always exceptions and substitutions so a Chicago car might on some occasions end up at Cleveland or some other city.

    This type of organization was also important because of the several different air conditioning systems used in passenger c ars. Most steel heavyweight Pullmans r eceived ice air conditioning because it was the cheapest and most easily installed in the massive fleet of Pullman operated c ars. These cars required icing at predetermined locations to keep the cars cool. Generally local ice companies would supply predetermined amounts of ice at specific times of the day. As the B&O used the York mechanical system of air condi tioning it was only rarely that any of their trains required icing, such as when a foreign car was run up to Jersey City for turning instead of being handled in Washington or Baltimore as usual.

    On railroads contracting with Pullman to run dining service, the commissary w ould be run by the Pullman Company, and it would be Pullman employees who staffed the dining cars. Pullman might have their own commissary near the rail road-operated dining car service in the case of union stations where several railroads operated. At other times, such as when many extra dining cars would have to be operated, such as Kentucky Derby t ime or when there were summer camp specials, the road might contract with Pullman to operate the additional dining cars. In this case trains would be serviced from t he nearest available Pullman commis saries direct to trainside. At the end of railroad-operated passenger services, roads with only one or two trains with a dining car sometimes contracted out to Pullman rather than maintaining a whole commissary with full staff.

    The Dining Car Department Commissary was built from Walthers Lakeside Freight Transfer Co. kit. The photo shows provisions of various types being received and loaded into waiting dining cars.
    Model Railroading - May 2002 - Page 48

    Crew quarters were usually provided for car cleaners. In large installations these were often included as a few appropriate rooms with washing facilities and locker rooms in any of the following buildings. In some cases a small structure resembling a yard office might be used for this purpose. You could designate one door as crew quarters and create a sign for the door in decal lettering.

    Dining Car Service/Commissary

    The building as I have constructed it would make a nice express building or freight station or even a less-than-carload facility. With its doors along both sides and the office on the end with generous overhangs this building is typical of those seen all over.

    By walling off some rooms in the interior with freezers, refrigerators and shelves it could be an ideal railroad commissary. In addition to supplying the dining cars, it was common that the same facility would supply the menus to railroad-operated restaurants in the railroad terminal. This commissary could also supply foodstuffs to railroad-operated restaurants all over the system and so would make use of its generous size. And back in the heyday of trains, virtually every long distance train would have a dining car.

    You dont have to provide most of this interior detail, as it would not be seen even with the doors open. You could add some walls to divide the freight hall and offices up into proper storage rooms if you wish, using Evergreen or Plastruct styrene sheets.

    The Lakeside kit was a bit of a surprise to me as I was not aware that the two buildings could only be assembled at right angles to each other. The handsome tile roof panels had to be relegated to the spares box because one of these had a crossed gable that I did not like. This building had to be modified to build it as a free-standing structure, for as it comes it is tethered to the office building at a 90 orientation. I had to scrap the roof of this building and substitute student grade illustration board scribed to resemble a tar paper roof. Your favorite tile shingle or slate roof would also be appropriate, but most building plastics and papers should still be supported by a heavy base, such as illustration board. I painted the board before installing it to seal all surfaces and edges, and glued it in place with Duro contact cement applied with a toothpick in the narrow areas required for use in this kit. The generous flat areas of roof now sit in my spare parts box awaiting another project. You could use the roofs to build covered platforms for your coach yard.

    A building like this one could have lines of laundry trucks delivering or receiving tablecloths and napkins, provision trucks with canned food, stake trucks with fresh farm produce, refrigerator trucks, and even ice trucks. A room in the commissary might be used to store ice for a few hours until it could be trucked out to the dining cars. I built a small extension, which I describe below, for this purpose. By about 1955-1960 your dining cars might all have electrical refrigerators and freezers eliminating the need for ice delivery.

    A Funaro & Camerlengo speeder shanty kit was used to model an ice house.
    Model Railroading - May 2002 - Page 49

    I almost painted this building brick red, but as there were some railroad buildings that were light gray or other colors I decided to leave it in the blonde color it was molded in, only painting the concrete foundations gray. I used a modeling preparation called Mortar and Scenery Base in light gray color. Roberts Products of Milwaukee makes a very similar product. The goop is applied with a spatula, damp cloth or a cheap brush - dont use a good brush for this work. The still-moist mortar is then wiped off with a clean damp cloth. The effect is very striking and makes red brick show up beautifully. Even the blonde brick gains a delicate texture that I think adds to the models realism. White mortar is commonly used with such light brick.

    As this building had a blank wall at one end, I decided to add some additional warehouse space. I built a structure of four panels of Design Preservation wall modules in a square, and I used a pair of foundation panels cut down to make gables. I then covered the roof with illustration board to match the main building. I painted the building in a yellow gray that would not exactly match the main building so it would look like a later addition. You might want to match the building because it does add interest to the blind end of the building. You could use panels with windows to add office space if you like or you could add louvers (a piece of clapboard simulated wood or plastic).

    Ice And Ice Houses

    Ice was a necessary commodity even before its use in air conditioning. The railroads used ice for refrigerator cars, and often had ice houses available for use in passenger cars as well. As these were usually built to service freight cars, I have only modeled a temporary ice storage shed.

    The simplest installation at a terminal might be a room set aside for this purpose, with clean smooth floor and a drain. Alternatively, a more conveniently positioned location might be found between the street and the coach yard; here a small shed about t he size of a handcar house or a garage would be adequate. Ice would be delivered once or more times a day from either the railroads own ice houses or ice plants or else from a local ice supplier if the rail roads supply was not convenient to use. The amount of loss in the size of the ice cakes for the short time it sat before being loaded into ice chests below the cars for air conditioning or with small cakes being l oaded into water coolers or dining car freezer units was not significant. Ice would be trucked on wagons, either hand hauled or moved by electric horse or other similar tractor to train side.

    At important division points such as Tucumcari, New Mexico, the junction of the Rock Island and the Southern Pacific, through trains from Chicago to Los Angeles such as the Golden State would roll to a stop. Strings of wagons would be rolled out alongside the train to ice the chests below the cars to keep them cool in the days of ice air conditioning.

    Ice houses themselves often had capacities of 150 to 2,000 tons. Until the advent of economical mechanical ice making after about 1890, railroads would harvest ice from frozen lakes in winter time and store it in insulated ice houses that generally looked like a barn with small windows and doors on several levels. As the ice pile inside was depleted, lower doors were used for unloading. In a properly designed ice house the loss over a whole season might be about 10% of the volume of ice. Mechanical ice makers pretty much made this whole procedure of harvesting obsolete early in the 20th Century. If you are modeling recent times, you might just put a garage-type structure n ear the street closest to your passenger yard and let the local ice distributor make deliveries a couple of times a day if you are modeling the 40s through about the end of the 1950s. After that most air conditioning and water coolers were electro-mechanical and no longer required icing.

    Some relative sizes of ice houses listed in Buildings and Structures of American Railroads, 1895:

    • 150-ton, Lehigh Valley, 18' x 32' x 12' tall
    • 700-ton, Northern Pacific, 30' x 50'
    • 1,200-ton, Pennsylvania, 33' x 93'

    My ice house is the Funaro & Camerlengo garage/tool shed kit as I am modeling the 50s in an area where it was common to have frequent commercial ice deliveries when needed. There are several kits for ice houses available and while usually found in the freight yard, there is no reason they could not dispatch wagons or trucks over to the passenger yard for icing trains when needed.

    Next month, we will continue with a look at how I modeled Pullman Company operations and facilities.

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  • Paul Coats
    Paul Coats Excellent, something I had not thought of before. Actually, for a train such as City of New Orleans, from New Orleans to Chicago and back, it would be more like operating a hotel... on rails. Much food for thought here. Thanks, guy!
    April 15, 2011
  • Chris Mears
    Chris Mears Great article and some great ideas for layout design. Chuck Hitchcock published some great articles on modelling passenger operations too and their modelling potential. I look forward to seeing more content like this.
    May 10, 2011