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  • The Passenger Train Oriented Layout - Part 4

    by Robert A. Clark

    Illustrations by Steve Andrews

    This is Chicago's Dearborn Station. In the left rear can be seen the tower at Grand Central Station with the B&O sign and clock. Across the background run tracks leading into La Salle Street Station (which wound up serving Rock Island commuter traffic). The shed flanked by the Chicago and Western Indiana switchers (the terminal company serving Dearborn) handled express for the former Erie, CGW, Monon and C&WI users.
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    To design a layout that satisfies your needs, create an operations scenario. What kind of trains, what era, what length, what function on the railroad(s) modeled are you interested in? The opening premise of this article was that a passenger train ori ented layout could be built (and operated) just as well as the traditional freight dominated one.


    The era modeled will impact train length and composition, as follows:

    1930s - Shorter consists as the depression has reduced train lengths. Local trains disappear as automobile use expands. Pullmans and coaches air conditioned resulting in roof "bubbles."

    1935-1941 - New lightweight streamlined cars replace equipment on top name trains. All-coach streamliners appear.

    1942-1946 - War and demobilization result in very heavy traffic: every car in use with long consists.

    1946-1955 - New streamlined cars and trains slowly come off production lines. More locals disappear.

    1955-1967 - Passenger traffic declines rapidly, losing ground to jets and autos. Fewer trains with fewer RPOs. Loss of mail and railway express revenues greatly reduces passenger trains.

    1967-1971 - (Amtrak) Only one short train left on major routes.

    Consist Information

    This chronology and its impacts on consists is well described in Twilight of the Great Trains by Frailey which covers consists in the ten years prior to Amtrak (1971). The section of the bibliography titled Description of Name Trains will help you select consists for your passenger trains. Recommended especially for insight into marketing of passenger services are Welsh, By Streamliner: New York to Florida, and Stegmaier, Baltimore and Ohio Passenger Service 1945-1971 , two volumes. These two books cover the postwar era, illustrating the gradual transition from heavyweights to lightweights and the attrition of passenger service. There are an increasing number of similar, useful books for many railroads listed in the bibliography.

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    Wayner has published two books on actual consists: Passenger Train Consists of the 1940s and Passenger Train Consists 1923 to 1973. For the first five years of Amtrak, see Frailey's Zephyrs, Chiefs and Other Orphans, which contains detailed rosters of each train for several post-1971 dates, illustrating the mixture of cars from railroads all over the system and explaining Amtrak's marketing logic for each consist.


    Contemporary layout design emphasizes the use of staging tracks to suggest traffic flow from beyond the visible limits of the layout. In the case of a passenger train oriented layout, the flow of trains into and out of the terminal and its supporting coach yard and related tracks, could come from and go to staging yards (see Figure 1). In the case of a major terminal with trains of several railroads being served (e.g., Dearborn in Chicago with seven railroads: Santa F e, Grand Trunk Western, Chicago and Eastern Illinois, Erie, Wabash, Monon and the terminal switching line, Chicago and Western Indiana), the designer is free to operate a large and diverse set of passenger trains. For an example of an outstanding model railroad featuring Santa Fe passenger service through Kansas City, see Chuck Hitchcocks layout. It has appeared in articles and a videotape in the Keller series. See the attached bibliography.

    Layout Design Elements

    As a start on envisioning and selecting the layout design elements from which selection can be made, break down the components or elements into two broad classes: functions located in or near the terminal and those located at a more remote location - the coach yard. The following refers primarily to stub-end stations. At the terminal, there might be (in addition to the terminal building and train shed), facilities for United States Post Office traffic, for the Railway Express Agency, and private or railroad business cars. In the coach yard would be such specialized facilities as a car washer, a commissary for supplying dining cars, Pullman Company facilities for servicing sleeping cars, a service track for each train, and a group of buildings housing the craft shops needed to keep the cars in repair along with drop pits for changing out wheelsets. These might be supplemented - depending upon the space a vailable for your layout - by a coach yard for commuter trains, a power plant to supply steam, electricity and compressed air, and a major car shop. Note that in some cases, the coach yard was adjacent to the terminal, such as in St. Louis.

    Through stations also could incorporate tracks for set-out cars (see Figure 2). For a stimulating example of a through station, see Armstrong, Track Planning for Realistic Operation, Figure 1-10, online passenger train switching.

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    Turning Trains

    A means for turning the train is needed because many passenger cars, particularly P ullmans/sleepers and observation cars, were designed to be run in one direction o nly. Pullman cars often were arranged i nternally so that the corridor side faced the track in the opposite direction (cutting down noise from passing trains) and giving the passenger the view of the right-hand side of the line. A loop track, often with the coach yard encircled, was common (see Figure 3). At some terminals, whole trains were turned on a wye arrangement. From a modelers standpoint, a loop probably is more advantageous because the coach yard can be placed inside the loop and the move through a loop is less likely to result in derailments occasioned by the backing moves required by a wye. See Armstrongs Track Planning for Realistic Operation (Figure 1-14) for a large number of examples of prototype terminal track patterns relating the terminal tracks to the mainline including loops and wyes.

    A long and wide peninsula makes a good location for locating a terminal and its associated coach yard side by side, but separated by a view block between the two facilities in order to suggest that there is some distance between the two. Both could be reached from a wye off the mainline, which would provide the needed turning capability (see Figure 4). See Mallery, Design Handbook for Model Railroads, pp. 47-51. To suggest the urban nature of the terminal, the backdrop/view divider could feature a scene with high rise buildings for a major city on the terminal side. The coach yard side might be a warehouse/ industrial setting with lower height buildings in the background.

    How Many Tracks?

    More than one throat track is needed to facilitate the maneuvers suggested above. Parallel tracks would permit the switchers to move cars to and from the coach yard and to switch post office and Railway Express Agency tracks without blocking access to passenger platforms (see Figure 5).

    A key consideration in design of the terminal and the coach yard is the balance in capacity or trackage between the two areas. In the prototype, the passenger platform tracks in the terminal or station were not used for car or train storage (unlike some model railroads). Passenger train consists were moved to the coach yard as soon as passengers and any baggage, mail or express handled within the station, were unloaded. Typically, outgoing trains were backed down from the coach yard to the passenger platforms about a half-hour before departure time by a yard switcher. Then, mail and express cars were added and finally the road engine backed on.

    Therefore, the number of tracks in the coach yard would normally be a multiple of the number of passenger tracks in the station. Depending on the cycle of each train, the number of hours the basic train consist was in the coach yard might be as much as almost a full day. This is why on some routes, the railroads might have to provide as many as six consists to cover one route ( e.g., the California Zephyr) in order to ensure that there was adequate servicing time to turn the consist between arrival and departure. It was rare to provide as little as six hours to turn a name train.

    How Long Should Tracks Be?

    Model passenger cars are long when scale length cars (80'-85') are modeled. In HO, each full-length car will require about a foot. However, Con-Cor and Athearn make cars in the range of 70'-75' that have a satisfactory appearance if not mingled with those of prototype lengths. Harriman-style cars in 60' lengths are available from MDC/Roundhouse. Head-end cars typically are shorter from 60' to 70' and require less track length for their facilities.

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    The second variable in designing terminal and coach yard track lengths is consist length: how many cars do you plan to use in your passenger trains? An eight-car train (RPO, baggage, two coaches, diner, two sleepers, sleeper/lounge/observation) would require about 8', one foot per car, plus length for the motive power. Consists were discussed above in terms of trains for various prototype markets. Selective compression can be used to adjust train length to space. For example, use the winter-length California Zephyr instead of the summer peak to cut coaches from four to two, and sleepers from four or five (including a sleeper leased for the season from a foreign road) to just two between the diner and the dome observation. The number of head-end cars can also be reduced from multiple mail storage and express cars to one of each, which would still require switching to the two different buildings/ tracks. For additional discussions of consists, see Chubb, How to Operate Your Model Railroad, Chapter 4, pp. 39-42, and Mallery, The Complete Handbook of Model Railroad Operations, Chapter 9, Passenger Operations, pp. 181-191.

    Station trackage also needs to be long enough to accommodate the motive power. Three diesel E units will require almost a foot per unit.

    On a model railroad, a minimum number of tracks for a terminal would be two, one on each side of a common passenger platform (see Figure 6). This pair would accommodate one departing and one arriving train. If the assumed traffic level on t he layout was three trains a day each w ay, three coach yard tracks would be adequate assuming a servicing cycle of less than 12 hours. Trains would arrive in early morning, around noon and at dinnertime. Departures would be scheduled for 8 AM, late afternoon and about 9 PM. See Armstrongs Traffic Planning for Realistic Operation (Figure 1-11) for stub terminal trackage arrangements with more platforms and with and without engine escape crossover tracks. For the model railroad, engine escape crossovers increase complexity and space requirements without greatly improving operations. Note the suggestions for careful attention to design of the throat.

    Platform Design and Modeling

    Typically, each passenger platform had a track on either side. In American practice, such platforms were usually at track level, not raised to car floor level, although some railroads with heavy commuter traffic did use high level platforms. Baggage was handled from the baggage room in the station out to the checked baggage car by rolling carts or wagons out to the platform and placed alongside the baggage car(s). A track to hold one or two private or business cars might also be included in the station trackage pattern. The head house (station building) need only be a shallow facade with butterfly sheds over each platform or a massive train shed (but train sheds conceal the trains!). Many station and platform- shed kits are available in HO, although s ome have European characteristics that can be removed for US use.

    The following dimensions are given for the width of the passenger platforms within the station as recommended by the American Railway Engineering Association:

    Combined passengers and wagons: 20' Exclusive passengers: 17' Exclusive wagons: 11' Clearance between platform edge and obstructions such as stairs, elevators and ramps: 6'

    Mail and Express

    Also near the passenger platforms would be a post office with its tracks and a railway express building with its tracks. For a small layout, one or two tracks holding two or three cars such as RPOs, mail storage or express cars at the two buildings should be sufficient to handle the amount of mail and express being moved. The Railway Express Agency building typically would be brick, with the name painted on the building. The Post Office building might be concrete, with the name carved in the concrete over the front entrance. A typical placement of the post office and express tracks and buildings would be parallel and to the same side of the passenger platforms at the terminal. Such an arrangement occurred in New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Chicago (Dearborn Station). A car-floor-height platform between each pair of tracks made for more efficient handling of cargo. When cars were spotted side by side, doors could be aligned so that bridge ramps could be placed between the cars so that hand trucks or forklifts could move from the platform, through the first car and into the second, parallel car.

    In some major terminals, such as Kansas City, mail was loaded and unloaded from RPOs and mail storage cars on the station platform and moved to and from the Post Office building by conveyor belts under the tracks or the station concourse. However, this arrangement cuts back on switching moves, which model railroaders would tend to want to increase rather than reduce. One way to conserve space at a model railroad terminal would be to have the loading tracks for mail cars within the Post Office building, as in Chicagos Union and Dearborn stations, although this would conceal the cars.

    Union Pacific 1601 Sun Cape is an 11 double-bedroom sleeper that was rebuilt in 1965 from the Western Adventure, a 12 roomette, 4 double-bedroom sleeper that was built by ACF in 1949.
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    Commuter Facilities

    Commuter operations were common to the East Coast and Chicago. Because the pattern of morning and evening rush hour traffic tends to be repetitious and the need for large train storage capacity in a coach yard near the terminal would consume scarce space, commuter operation is suitable only for those with a strong interest and adequate space.

    Coach Yard Design & Modeling

    The inbound lead track to the coach yard might have a car washer. No kits are listed in the Walthers catalog so it would probably require scratchbuilding.

    On the prototype, coach yard tracks tended to be double ended, so that switchers could reach into the tracks from both ends. However, on a model railroad, this pattern increases the space required as well as doubling the number of turnouts required (see Figure 7); single-ended sidings are more appropriate on a model railroad. However, a double-ended yard is very attractive if space permits. The Sunnyside yard for the Pennsylvania on Long Island suggests one way to integrate a loop for car turning with a double-ended coach yard. Armstrong has coach yard examples in his Figure 4-9.

    A common arrangement was to place a line of buildings, perhaps a set of sturdy brick buildings, on one side of coach yard, parallel to actual yard tracks. Within the buildings were a wide variety of functions, such as the following list taken from the drawings for Southern Pacific's 1937 Mission Road coach yard in Los Angeles: pipe and tin shop, upholstery and carpentry shop, supply room, yard masters office, Pullman supply room, commissary, sheds for propane and coal (for diners), fumigation building, locker rooms, paint shop and carpet rack. Within the commissary were kitchens, bakeries, grocery ware house, laundries, linen storage, china and utensil storage, meat lockers and butcher shop, and space for ice and fuels (coal, coke, propane or Presto-logs depending on what the diner stoves and ovens used). Several coach yards had power plants for the coach yard and terminal complex. The architecture of these buildings might vary widely in style as well as material (i.e., from wood sheds through corrugated iron, to brick and concrete). With the numerous buildings available in plastic today, the modeler can easily create such a line of service buildings.

    Platform Design and Modeling

    In the coach yard, an alternating pattern of wide servicing platforms providing room for service carts and wagons to move, and narrower platforms with service boxes and outlets for the various utilities (electricity, water, compressed air, steam) was common. Dimensions are taken from the AREA standards. Platforms with only worker passage should be 10' wide, while those on which service vehicles moved, 18' (see Figure 8). There would be a track between the platforms so that both sides of the cars could be worked as appropriate. Tracks for storing cars held for peak loads or simply storage usually had only narrow platforms, which might have outlets for steam and electricity for cars that were on standby status.

    As seen in the coach yard photos in Part 3 , one set of platforms had cabinets and connections. A number of manufacturers make trackside cabinets (as part of signaling systems) that could be used for those in coach yards. They also could be built as simple styrene box shapes. Connections for water and steam and compressed air could be made from appropriate sizes of wire. Electrical connections look like small lids or boxes on the platform surface and could be bashed from styrene. Lighting for platforms was sometimes by lamps that look like street lights, and in other cases the typical high towers with floodlights: both are available on the market.


    In summary, while model railroaders must selectively compress their imitation of the prototype, there appears to be an opportunity for the passenger car nut to design a layout (especially the many terminal facilities) that will capture the flavor of the prototype and offer at least as much excitement as a freight oriented layout. He can relegate the freight facilities to the token status to which passenger service is now relegated on most model pikes. (Articles on passenger train route switching and operation out on the line indicate that the modeler need have no fear that passenger trains cant be as much fun to operate as a way freight.) Today, a passenger terminal could be the central feature, using extensive staging tracks to store arriving and departing trains (giving the modeler the opportunity to have two sets of equipment for each train one for the arriving train and one for the departing train if the timetable set this up).

    However, as the information gaps in this article indicate, neither the railfan nor the model railroader yet have the complete knowledge about passenger service that they have about freight operations. If you have special knowledge that will answer questions raised herein, please write the magazine so that we can share information.

    I am disappointed that I could not present more photos showing examples of the architecture and construction of facilities such as commissaries, Pullman Company buildings, and mail and express buildings. However, railfans don't seem to have photographed these kinds of buildings and railroad publicity files either aren't open or don't contain this kind of photo. It is probably too late already for the fan to preserve on film such structures, as the decline of passenger service coincided with the progressive disinvestment by demolition of unneeded structures by the railroads in order to save property taxes.

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  • George Swalagin
    George Swalagin In the early 70's at least on the Penn Central branch of the NYC about 80 of the NYC streamliner cars were used in cummuter service until they electricified the line in the early 80's. There were about 10 trains that ran from Brewster into Grrand Central ...  more
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