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  • The Passenger Train Oriented Layout - Part 1

    by Robert A. Clark

    This is usually what we think of when we think of a big city passenger terminal. We focus on the station building and the related loading platforms. We forget the backstage facilities needed to make the cars ready. Here is the railroad office tower over the passenger station with its ticket offices, waiting rooms, etc. The passengers board under butterfly sheds. The train shown is New York Central's #46, the Interstate Express, arriving from Chicago on September 7, 1953, at Detroits Michigan Central Station. The electric engines will pull the trains under the river to Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
    Model Railroading - January 2002 - Page 48

    Passenger trains have been discounted as the basis for a personal size layout largely because scale 85' passenger equipment does not look good on the small radius curves used by many modelers. Most track plans minimize passenger train service trackage. This is common to virtually all writings on layout design and leads to the usual layout with its two- or three-track passenger station with the tracks being used for car storage as well as arrivals, departures and servicing. This is selective compression with a vengeance.

    Although there have been a few articles on passenger train operation on model railroads and some published track plans emphasizing passenger terminals, model railroading (much as the prototype) has concentrated on the freight train. This article concentrates on the specialized tracks, yards and facilities associated with passenger trains and terminals, because the subject appears to have been neglected. Much of the situation may be due to a lack of information as the era is past. This article deals mostly with the time periods preceding Amtrak. The focus is on modeling a major passenger terminal complex in a large city. Walthers has recognized the need for these types of structures and has announced a line of passenger related structures that will make modeling passenger operations much easier.

    Freight trains appear to offer a lot of switching possibilities compared to passenger trains because most model rails think of passenger service as it is today. Fixed consists that are run from originating city to destination city undisturbed by switching en route are now normal, although they were once quite rare. As late as 1967 you might have found yourself riding in a car switched into as many as five trains in a through service between Dallas and Los Angeles operated by the Santa Fe, which necessitated much switching en route.

    Here is another big city terminal - Illinois Central's Central Station in Chicago. But we are looking down from a spire on the terminal building at the backstage components that enable the railroad to put together passenger trains. We see a mail and express facility in the right foreground, coach yard in the left background, and the passenger sheds on the left. The tracks in left center (string of baggage/mail storage cars with a diesel switcher on one string) may be for baggage loading. Under the smoke stacks in the center will probably be found a commissary - kitchens and storerooms for stocking diners, and a laundry for washing linens. Judging from the autos, the photo dates about 1949.
    Model Railroading - January 2002 - Page 49

    However, other than the widespread practice of neglecting passenger trains in model railroading, there appears to be no reason a layout should not feature passenger train terminals and operation as an alternative to freight. Freight traffic and yards could be included in a subordinate status just as easily as passenger service is now. Traction modelers have been doing just this all along.

    Passenger Terminal Facilities

    Terminal switching, track design, and building construction opportunities on a passenger-oriented layout should be excellent if the coach yards and related service facilities are modeled more fully than usual, in keeping with prototype rather than model railroad practices. What are the specialized service facilities that would be appropriate? The following list is suggestive only. Functions of these facilities will be explained in a following section:

    • Passenger station trackage and structures
    • Related baggage facilities
    • Express company facilities
    • Mail (post office) facilities
    • Private or business car tracks
    • Coach yard
    • Commissary
    • Pullman Company facilities 
    • Extra and pool car storage yard 
    • Repair tracks 
    • Car wash 
    • Inspection pits 
    • Commuter coach yard (if appropriate)

    Why is there a perhaps unexpected diversity of single-purpose trackage and facilities for passenger cars? Most of the techniques for terminal operation were developed during the era of heavyweight cars, between 1910 and 1950, although much the same patterns of trackage and facilities were used in the lightweight-car era between 1935 and Amtrak. Modeling the period of overlap between heavyweight and streamlined cars would be most interesting because of the contrast and diversity of equipment used, often mixed in the same train. Heavy weight equipment was used right up until Amtrak took over most of the services; a heavyweight diner was a regular car on the GM&O's otherwise streamlined (but much rebuilt) Abraham Lincoln.

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    If one has a large collection of passenger cars and wants to design a passenger-train-oriented layout, the proliferation of passenger service tracks for each type of car at terminals would become a virtue. The variety of service facilities to match each passenger car type is analogous to the freight terminal facilities such as icing platforms, freight house, stock pens, team tracks, piggyback tracks, etc., associated with various freight car types. No matter what sort of layout is designed, engine facilities will be needed. Nothing is lost in handling and display of the all-important motive power by reason of modeling a passenger pike.

    Passenger Train Consists

    To understand passenger terminals, we need to understand passenger train consists. Each type of car had to have a facility to service it. The consists of trains varied by function. Car types were picked with an eye to the services to be provided. The Pullman Company designed certain cars for particular classes of service, such as short overnight trips as distinguished from long transcontinental runs of more than one night. In the streamlined era, sleepers were often hand tailored to expected demand for sleeper space: this lead to such peculiar configurations as four section, seven duplex roomette, three bedroom, one compartment cars on GN's streamlined Empire Builder.

    Heavyweight Era Consists

    What types of passenger trains consists might be seen and what car types might be involved? The following are quite typical of the heavyweight era:

    • Commuter - coaches, with possibly a combine to offer limited baggage service off-peak, and maybe a club car for the tired, thirsty businessman on his way home in the evening.
    • Day express - through coaches, with a baggage car and possibly a railway post office car (RPO) on the head end, and some form of food service (diner-lounge, buffet-observation); possibly a parlor car or sleeper with space sold as parlor seats.
    • Mail and express - an RPO to work mail and several baggage-style cars used for mail storage (those next to the RPO open (end doors unlocked) so pouches and sacks can be worked en route), express (again in baggage-style cars), baggage cars, and perhaps express refrigerators or horse cars, with a rider coach to carry the crew and any hardy traveler who didn't mind a fast, rough ride.
    • Overnight service - a coach and sleeper train, with head-end cars (baggage and RPO), coaches, food service (full diner and separate lounge or diner-lounge), Pullmans for short-haul use (more single accommodations such as sections for businessmen instead of compartments for families and perhaps an observation with sleeping and lounge space. For a short, model railroad length train, try a baggage-RPO combine, two coaches, and Pullman sleeper-buffet-sunroom combination - the Depression-era Erie Limited.

    Reversing the elevated view of Illinois Central's Central Station in Chicago to look at the complex from ground level, the powerhouse appears in left foreground (don't forget to model the tank cars bringing in the fuel), with mail and express facilities behind the powerhouse, out of sight in this photo but seen in the preceding one. Passenger sheds appear in center. Passengers descended from a waiting room above track level for boarding the cars.
    Model Railroading - January 2002 - Page 52
    • Transcontinental service or prestige overnight train - this could be an all Pullman train, with head-end cars including express refrigerators (although many prestige named trains would not carry head-end cars), club baggage with barber chair, several Pullmans of varying configurations to cover all pocket books, a full diner, and an observation-sleeper-lounge.
    • Secondary long-haul service - most transcontinental and prestige trains had a companion run - slower, making more stops, with less elegant facilities and perhaps using equipment that previously had been used on the top train, with coaches added, possibly separate food and lounge space for the coach passengers who were barred from Pullman country which was marked by the diner for the first-class trade.
    • Day accommodation - how about an Eastern milk train with milk cars (some refrigerated), baggage and express cars, a few older coaches, and possibly a diner-lounge?

    In the heavyweight era, car styles changed about 1930 as higher train speeds forced open platform customers into the newly developed sunrooms (solariums) and the Depression caused the dropping or conversion of full diners in favor of combination cars for the lighter loads. In the '30s, many heavyweights were air conditioned, adding a roof bubble that changed car appearance. Some cars were rebuilt with a semi-streamlined roof and underfloor skirts to imitate the appearance of streamliners that were beginning to be bought.

    Baggage Cars

    One rather fine point in selecting headend equipment that some modelers may wish to note is that a baggage-type car was not necessarily used to carry baggage. According to the 1928 Car Builders Cyclopedia, baggage-type cars were classified as 2% mail storage, 15% express, 53% baggage and 30% various combinations. The mail storage car was loaded with mail sacks at the point of origin, and then either sealed and set out at a destination point, or coupled next to a railway post office car and kept open so that sacks of mail could be sorted en route, moving back and forth between the mail storage car and the RPO, until all mail for the mail storage cars destination had been "worked." Similarly, express cars, indistinguishable in appearance from baggage cars (except for lettering), could be either loaded and locked at origin and run through between end points ( e.g., a load of magazines printed in the East and shipped to the West for distribution there) or kept open to handle local traffic over the trains route.

    The coach yard at Detroit's Michigan Central Station in June 1948 is full of both older heavyweight and modern lightweight (streamlined) coaches and Pullmans. This is a classic coach yard with wide rail-height platforms between the tracks for use by crews and their equipment to service and clean the cars between runs.
    Model Railroading - January 2002 - Page 53

    All three functions were handled in cars of similar construction and appearance, and probably generally interchangeable in use. However, your favorite railroad may have lettered some such cars as "mail storage" and others as "express" or "baggage." Photos of these cars commonly show "baggage" lettering on one end of a double-door car and "Railway Express Agency" (or one of its predecessors) on the other end. Cars used for these three purposes were railway-owned and supplied to the user (Post Office or Railway Express Agency) for a charge. Note that Railway Express also had its own wood or steel express refrigerator cars, and that many railroads had express refrigerator cars and express boxcars, painted in colors to match passenger equipment and lettered for the railroad to handle express. If you want to refine your passenger train operations, letter your baggage cars for one of these three uses, and place in the train or switch in your terminal appropriately: mail storage cars to the mail dock or post office building; express cars to the REA building; and baggage cars to the station track near the stations baggage room.

    Lightweight Consists

    In the lightweight, streamlined era, a more diverse and colorful train could be put together. A much wider variety of equipment evolved than before, such as dome cars, slumbercoaches, etc.. Streamlined trains were more colorful because of the break away from Pullman Green to varying paint schemes for each streamliner (even on the same railroad, e.g., Southern Pacific's City, Sunset , Daylight and Cascade schemes), and greater interchange of cars with other railroads with different colors (e.g., through B&O, NYC and PRR cars to the West). This mixture of colors was especially notable on the head-end. And dont forget the rainbow effect in Amtrak's first years of operation when equipment was dispersed across the country.

    Some possible lightweight consists are (the prior heavyweight consists are also appropriate):

    • All-coach streamliner - start with a baggage or baggage-dormitory (a new car type), add coaches before and after a two-car diner-kitchen set, a recreation or lounge car, and an observation-lounge on the rear. Dome cars can be placed anywhere in the consist.
    • Coach-sleeper streamliner - take the California Zephyr with baggage, home-road coach for short-haul passengers, dome coaches for through passengers, dome-snack bar (lounge)-dormitory car, diner, sleepers (three types: bedrooms and compartments, bedrooms and roomettes, sections and a dome-sleeper-lounge-observation bringing up the markers. On other lines, full-dome lounges, baggage-dormitories, dome-diners, dormitory-lounges, lunch-counter-diner (for coach passengers), dome sleepers, and other car types introduced in the streamline era could be substituted. The Santa Fe was unique in developing a coach streamliner (the El Capitan) with all high-level cars including the diner and the lounge. Most Western lines had one or more domes of varying types in their name trains, aimed at the tourist trade.

    Researching Consists

    It is difficult to determine what the consists of many passenger trains actually were. The Official Guides give timetable-style equipment lists that give a general idea of car types and sleeper accommodations included in a train, but often fail to define the exact configuration of Pullman cars used. Headend cars are not listed. Unless one can find car-by-car pictures of a train, or has a powerful reading glass to look at prints or slides, it is generally impossible to determine car names, numbers and type from train photos. The latter approach requires a good knowledge of how to determine car type from window patterns (or a vivid imagination!) A few fans have managed to obtain consist books that railroads issued to their passenger service and yard employees to tell them what kinds of cars went in each train on what days. These can be bought from railroadiana dealers (rarely), and a few consist books have been published. There is considerable research material available, but, in the end, the modeler may still feel that he hasn't really answered the question as to what cars might typically appear in a particular train at various points in time. If you freelance, your life is much easier.

    Next month well continue with how to design your passenger train facilities.

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