Saturday, December 8, 2012

The speed of train travel in the USA

There is an interesting article over at Fast Company about the lack of progress on the speed of train travel in the USA. While there was quite an improvement early on, things haven't changed much in the last 80 years or so while other countries are enjoying the modern speed and connection to the landscape that high speed rail systems offer today's traveler. 
The grip of the airline industry over politicians has kept railroads in the USA from upgrading and improving service. In Texas, which Bill Clinton said "God made for high-speed rail," it was the regional airlines that kept the Golden Triangle project from happening almost twenty years ago. 

There are also a lot of links in the article to alternative ways of thinking about trains and mass transit including an article on Amtrak's vision for high speed service.

Elon Musk’s Jetsons Tunnel, And Other Out There High-Speed Transit Ideas

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Inside railroading

Found a great shot a few weeks ago of the inside of one of the large warehouses in the New York area. I found it on the French forum that has a thread that focusses on New York Harbor railroading. In another post, there is a picture of this terminal in a Life story on a soldier's body being returned home after being killed that says this is in Brooklyn.

At the point I saw it I thought it might be the Lehigh Terminal at 26th-27th streets, but I can't remember why I thought that. It is hard to be careful with documentation of research - it is hard to do at work, and it is hard to do at play. I'm considering using an academic software such as Evernote or similar in order to keep my findings straight. Anyone have a system for organizing their railroad research? I need to do something soon at both work and play...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Drop-in modules

Check out the post on the R Street Layout blog about a drop-in module system the Sacramento Modular Railroaders are developing. Similar in idea to the Operational Design Element (ODE) proposed as part of the Dynamo system. I love the fact that there is a second level of modularity being created. A module within a module. Reminds me of the Jerry Seinfeld joke about their being so many Starbuck's in the world that one day he saw a Starbuck's inside of another Starbuck's.

I can easily imagine this working in the Dynamo system. Simply have these inserts for industries, stations, railroad infrastructure, whatever. Miniature wargaming meets model railroading. And here's someone actually doing it!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Operating experiences

At a recent ops evening, I realized that there is a big difference in the experience of a session that is dependent on how familiar one is with a railroad, layout or group of people. What made me consider this is that we had a guest operator that evening who is an experienced and well-known modeler and operator familiar with the prototype of the layout we were operating on, and I bet his experience was completely different than mine.

I've been operating on this particular layout for a few years, and I have worked a yard job several times now. This week was the first time I was able to operate this job 'in the zone' and not really have to put effort into what I was doing, but rather I found myself concentrating on how I was doing it.

I'm familiar enough to now know which trains do what, how they effect (or don't effect) my job, where the yard limits are, where industries are located, what to watch out for and when it is good to interface with other jobs, etc. Because of this, I was able to plan my work. Not only think about things in terms of what order should I do them, but also how should I get this from here to there, what makes sense to do at the same time I do that, how can I use that run around section most effectively, how can I keep working when I know there will be other people in the yard, etc. It made for a smooth evening and the satisfaction level was high.

Now I imagine our friendly visitor was having just as much fun as I was, but I'm betting for different reasons. He was not familiar with the schedule nor methods of doing things, and had a crew member working with him to help smooth over these things. It may have been a bit of a disjointed experience, since he had to break from operating the model several times during the night to get instruction and feedback on what was going on. He probably wasn't in the zone.

But, he was probably experiencing a different sort of enjoyment that stemmed from his greater knowledge of the prototype (he knew what the characteristics of the trains were better than I do), the prototype's procedures and translation into our operating rules, how this section of the prototype fits in relation to his layout (he models the same prototype), etc. On top of this he was in the throws of the interesting and challenging situation of learning new things, being around new people, and seeing everything on the layout for the first time. This all combined for an equally enjoyable evening to mine (unless he was lying), but his was a completely different experience. I'm guessing his evening was more exciting than mine, but that mine was probably a deeper overall experience.

So what might be learned from this bit of thinking? Several things leap to mind in terms of how a session and a layout are created and even how a layout may evolve its methods and operations over time. The obvious thing is about creating job situations that can fit different levels of experience and how one translates that to regular operators as well as for visitors. Explaining a few key things to a newbie can enhance the deeper satisfaction of a first session, and new items for old hands can bring new challenges and learning back into the picture to keep sessions interesting. The dissemination of knowledge about how to operate a given job on the layout could be gathered into a document (such as tips and tricks on how to operate the yard), that could be useful and added to by guests and regulars alike.

There are many more things I could think of around this idea of crafting an experience, but the point here is that we can approach model railroading as 'experience design.' This is a field of design that concerns itself with how users/ occupants/ customers experience a place, product, web site, etc. It is concentrated in the effort to invoke a certain type of feeling in the user to make bring them satisfaction or pleasure with the interaction in a certain way.

I think many modelers already subconsciously think this way without calling it experience design, especially when thinking about designing panels, waybill systems, etc. and probably more in terms of usability (interface or interaction design) versus emotional reactions. The design of the layout room can probably be thought of in these terms as well, with many modelers trying to get a feeling of the back woods by using paneled fascias or by using old time graphics and typography on their printed materials and signage. But I'm willing to bet that not many are consciously looking to create a certain emotional reaction or experience in a concerted manner with operating jobs. It would be interesting to approach things through this lens, and it is something that I will try to keep in mind as I am creating my own operating sessions.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Battery powered locomotives

I've been waiting for this development ever since editing Rick Mugele's BR Locomotives article in LDJ 37. He was using a radio control unit built for R/C cars and large cell batteries in an ingenious set up for larger locomotives in HO scale. But now there is a product from Tam Valley Depot that marries battery power and DCC control In a wireless system that does not require clean track or wiring.

I am completely ready for an alternative to track power for model railroads, and I see this as the last barrier to mainstreaming the hobby. The complications of completing a large amount infrastructure before using a toy have kept model railroading in the province of retired or people with large chunks of time available to devote to construction before recreation. This barrier was removed by the R/C industry years ago with cars and ARF (Almost Ready to Fly) airplanes and then helicopters. Foam construction made planes light and complete enough for quick wing attachment and charging of the batteries. Something similar needs to happen in model railroading, and battery powered locomotives are a key component. 

Imagine Christmas morning (or Haunikha or a birthday or other occasion) and a ten year old rips open a toy that requires about a year of nights and weekends of carpentry, artistry, electrical wiring, and fiddling to get a modest size layout to the point when they can play with it. That toy is a train set. Now imagine the second present is an ARF airplane or a completely ready to fly helicopter or car ready to drive. Which one is going to be more desirable?  

I'm interested in Tam Valley's offering, although it won't do me a lot of good for my switcher-heavy roster of 44 tonnes and box cabs in HO scale. I would need to use a boxcar or transfer caboose to store the extra equipment, but that is not possible with my pocket terminals. I'll get one to try out, but is impractical for usage for my pocket terminals at the moment. Miniaturization will need to be applied to this before it becomes a must have, but it is pretty darn close to that already. Let me know if anyone is trying this already. The tyranny of dirty track is about to come to an end!


Sunday, August 5, 2012

The importance of hand drawing

I think today people still have a romantic notion of futurist technology. There is still something about our never-ending desire for new stuff and new technology that always leaves behind sound, quality methods of practice. I think hand drawing is one of those methods that often gets overlooked in favor of the zippy-zoominess of computer drafting and modeling. This is as true in model railroading as it is in professional life.

With so many good track planning applications out there now, it is hard to resist the lure of technology in the layout designing process, but I believe that it should only be used where appropriate. And the appropriate time to use a rigid, neat and clean method is not at the beginning of design work, but rather after the idea has had a chance to be messy.

My own process includes many iterations on butter paper (also known as trash paper, trace paper, etc.)to get basic ideas and possible development paths out of my head and into a space where I can start to critically assess and work with multiple ideas. Having a semi-transparent paper helps tremendously as you can overlay a clean sheet over a previous idea and make minor changes or riffs off of that idea quickly. This very loose, preliminary programming (what are the different elements I will want to incorporate in the plan) is a time to get everything you can on paper to actually see what the possibilities are. I can't emphasize enough the importance of making your ideas visible in order to make significant and smart progress on any design.

After an initial brain dump onto paper, I will go back and cull good ideas and begin to work with them by adding, subtracting or combining ideas until I have one or two satisfying designs, then I move to a design development plan of sorts where I am trying to capture what a design would do with measured, real constraints and dimensions. This is still on paper, but it becomes a more careful rendering of ideas. In order to do this, I create a little template to use while drawing.

I make the template specifically for each layout. The one shown above is for my Hoboken Shore layout and is made from a scrap of chipboard (thin cardboard). I got this idea from Andy Sperandeo (I think it was a track planning supplement to Model Railroad Planning one year?). *Addendum: I found where I saw Andy's presentation of the template idea: Workshop Tips, Introduction to Track Planning, pg 11. This was one of their short supplement publications to MR at some point (no date, but there is a number on the cover, which is probably their identification number: 618147).* It includes a minimum radius, 50' box car scale, a turnout and track center scale. These are all dependent on what your layout established layout standards are going to be.

On the HBS, I am going to only use no.4 turnouts (on the HBS portion, but I'll have no. 6s in the Erie section) and I wanted to have an 18" maximum radius (if 18" works, I know 15" minimum will work in select areas if desired). The 50' box car will be my standard maximum length car (most will probably be 40'), and with the scale I will be able to ensure proper length of spurs for how many spots I want to have. Track centers become important in yards, and I figure a 2-1/2" spacing is workable with the amount of traffic and space I have.

This template is what I used on the current hand drawn plan so that I have a reasonable level of comfort that it will work. At this stage, everything is pretty well worked out in terms of desires, constraints and fit. Now it is time to appropriately move to the computer where precision comes into play as a means to make certain it works, and to make finer detail adjustments. If I went to the computer any sooner, it would become more difficult to try variations of any sort of magnitude because of the time devoted to precision with the computer as a tool.

Once I get the layout "into the computer", I will be able to not only get a precise plan, but I'll also be able to generate a list of track needed to accomplish it, the ability to print out full size templates if desired, and a nicely finished representation of what I am going to build. The operative word is finished, which is not the type of thing you need at the beginning of a design process. (Actually I believe any plan, including a finished one, is merely a starting point for change, and changing something in the field once you are working at full scale is perfectly acceptable and encouraged by me.)

So put down the mouse and pick up a no.2 thinking stick the next time you are going to start a track design. Your plan will be better for directness and immediacy of graphite smeared around some tracing paper.

This post was inspired by Tony Thompson's recent post on keeping a modeling journal, which is an excellent idea, and should come before you even get out the tracing paper!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dynamo article in LDJ-47

It's hot from the printer's - go get it! (and join the LDSIG so that it shows up in the mail like magic every few months.)

  • Planning the Newcastle-Fassifern Railway with LDEs
  • Improving a Classic John Armstrong Plan in N Scale
  • The Continuous Model Railroad: More Railroad than your Room Can Hold
  • Proto-Freelance Midwest NYC Layout Inspired by Published Plans
  • Weighing the Scales: Experienced Multi-Scale Modelers Discuss Pros and Cons
  • Benchwork and Fascia Ideas from LDSIG Tours
 … and more!
Download a free sampler of pages from this issue.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Great MTH Layouts DVD

Great MTH Layouts: Parts 1 & 2Yes, I have been mining the Netflix vaults for model railroad videos to consume, and while I wait for the Bob Symes How to Build Model Railroads DVD (which is apparently popular since I have been waiting for a few weeks already), I had the opportunity to view a Mike's Train House production, Great MTH Layouts.

This is a fairly good quality production of a "hey this is fun" genre video. I will confess I am in the "serious modeler" category that the narrator pokes at a couple of times and not in the toy train collector target audience, so I did not watch every second of each layout tour. The presentation was very geared towards generating consumer interest, and I can get past that considering a manufacturer of toy trains produced it.

Good camera work and the interviewees are well spoken and edited pretty well into the B roll of trains zipping around. There is a good variety of types of layout from the table-top temporary set up with no modeled scenery to the more realistic layouts. The narration continues to point out that these were not models, but rather toys, and that operations and/or simulation of the prototype is not the point of the activity.  

This is where it started my thinking.

The video concentrated on the sensory experience of the toy train market, which I find the most interesting aspect of the video. This was some insight into the hobby that I had not previously figured out, but I've been meaning to give it some thought for awhile now: what are the different motivations behind the different modes of model railroading?

I'm finally getting to the point where I can easily see the connections between my current actions and childhood experiences that inform them, and turning this gaze on model railroading could be amusing. In the video it is clear that the collectors are looking to feel the thrill of the experience of the moving trains that they had as kids. The "sights and sounds" category of enthusiast obviously enjoys that rush we all had at one point or another of playing with a new toy at Christmas, and collecting and running (versus operating) trains tickles that pleasure center. I totally get that. The having versus making satisfaction and the seeing versus doing inclination is what separates the "collector / runner" and the "modeler / operator". This sort of definition could begin to fill out a matrix of scales and type of experience that could map the tendencies of different scales and modeling styles pretty easily (a rainy day project?).

What is great about this is that it is the way someone engages with the hobby that determines the outcome of their efforts and play. Methods of doing and the process of doing them are what is focussed on in magazines as a craft and sometimes with a philosophical foundation for the actions in support of the method. The "good enough" versus the "rivet counter" modelers approach to the practice of modeling in very different ways provide differing results that can/should be appreciated in different ways.

 Number 8, 1949 (detail) 1949, Jackson Pollock
The poke from the narrator about serious modelers' "looking down their noses" at these collectors/runners is an unfortunate comment that helps reinforce the lack of appreciation between different sets of modelers. Yes, it is important to be able to define what one's domain in practice is, but doing so by elevating or discrediting other forms of practice is not productive.

I take the view that the inherent logic and application of one's own set criteria is the more important thing when learning from others. Now when you get within an established order and identify with a set of criteria, then it is open season on criticism to make that established practice better. The problem is when people are judging by their own set criteria other's work that does not share that set of criteria. That is just unproductive at best, and hurtful at worst.

I try to practice this when I visit or see any model railroad (or any endeavor for that matter). I try to be careful to ask questions about what the intent is (usually it is obvious anyway) before I start appreciating the work so that I know how I am supposed to approach it.

Sunflowers, 1888, Vincent van Gogh
An analogous situation would be looking at a work of art. There are certain formal qualities that one can appreciate without knowing anything else about the work, but if one does know something about how it is situated in the art world and how similar works have been approached, it is much better appreciated and evaluated and allows for deeper engagement. I find this approach to layout viewing much more enjoyable than comparing everything against my own personal criteria.

That's being said, I love to challenge both others' and my own criteria to help strengthen the logic and the outcomes. This constant testing of beliefs and goals is a good way to produce consistent and satisfying results no matter what you set out to do.

So back to the video. Like so many things I come across, it wasn't that I could take anything specific away from it that I could apply directly to anything I'm doing, but rather it got me thinking about things in general and helped clarify my thoughts on a different level. For that, I'm glad I spent some time watching something that I wouldn't normally be interested in.

Besides all that, though, sometimes it's just fun to watch toy trains be toy trains.

Friday, July 20, 2012

'Charming' is a good thing

I watched a charming DVD this evening called A Lineside Look at Model Railways:

2009 NR 50 minutes
Whether you like building model railroads or simply enjoy exploring trains, you'll relish celebrated railway enthusiast Bob Symes's guided tours of an impressive range of model train layouts, including Borchester Market, Chiltern Green and High Peak. In addition to revealing the details and workmanship of each model railway display, the program includes tips for constructing line-side furniture and scenic features.
Bob Symes, Shirley Rowe
I say 'charming' as a completely sincere reaction to such a gentle and straightforward introduction to the hobby of model railroading. It helps that Bob Symes lilts with the quintessential calm British documentary presenter's cadence and inflections that can enthusiastically explain anything from cheese production to nuclear winter with an even, yet understatedly encouraging tone. The video made me want to be a model railroader almost as much because of the activity itself as for the amazingly reserved layout owners I would get to hang out with.

I can't fail to mention that almost every man wore a tie and the few ladies in the production were in their Sunday best with very nicely manicured hands and tastefully selected jewelry.

This is, though, what tickled the 'charm' reaction from me.

There is a connection between the British proper-ness and poise of the participants that blankets the model layouts in the show as well. None of the layouts portrayed trash heaps, industrial blight nor seedy streets. Most were of the very well-kept English countryside of gentle rolling greens and nicely maintained hedgerows and fence lines. Even the seaside venues were of orderly fashion and subjects. Very civilized and all that, pip, pip.

I suppose I'm not surprised at all that there is such a consistency in thought, mannerisms, approach to the hobby and end results, but I did take pleasure in recognizing and feeling it in the fantastic fifty minutes of earnest, innocent and matter-of-fact overview of the state of British model railways c1980.

I just added another Bob Symes production to my queue: How to Build a Model Railway, which I fully expect to tickle me in the same odd, but satisfying and completely wonderful way. I'll spare you a review of that one, but do picture me in 2-3 business days sitting in my living room being charmed, impressed and mesmerized by the talents of British modelers from about 30 years ago. It might not be inaccurate to visualize the scene with me in a sweater vest and tie and with a half pint just within my comfortable reach, but I'll deny it if anybody asks.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Union Tank Car Dome

An interesting 30 minute documentary on the Union Tank Car facilities outside Baton Rouge, LA. A 384 foot diameter geodesic dome was constructed with the assistance of Buckminster Fuller to service 50 foot tank cars in a unique circular work area that sported a central turntable which provided great flexibility in servicing multiple cars at once. A car would enter the dome and move to the center onto the turntable and be spun around to an available work bay.

Previous facilities were rectangular which restricted servicing to a linear path where only a few cars could be worked on at a time and a car had to be finished before the next one could be started on. The circular arrangement allowed many cars to be attended to without dependence on finishing any one before another to move cars in and out of the facilities. The downfall of the facility was the introduction of the 60 foot tank car, which did not fit on the turntable.

The documentary presents the conceptual framework of geodesic domes, the design and construction of the Union Tank Car dome, a nicely illustrated diagram of operations near the 4:30 mark (if you are in a hurry), and the ultimate demolition by the Kansas City Southern Railway. When built in 1958, the dome was the largest clear-span structure in the world and was a model for thinking outside the box and inside a dome. A novel and beautiful solution melding an understanding of the car servicing process with a unique an efficient structural system.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Garage layout

I was asked by a YouTube viewer about plans for a garage railroad that appears as a 3D SketchUp model in a video I made several years ago. While I don't have measured drawings for the track work since we worked off of the 3D model, I do have some images of the track arrangement and photos of the finished piece as well as the bench work dimensioned plans we used for construction. I hope this helps him out with his own project.

The layout is in half of a garage and is a commissioned project for grandparents who wanted something to engage their grandchildren when they came over.  The end result is pretty nice for a garage layout, with fantastic mountain scenery by Chuck Ellis and the rest done by the owner, Tom Pearson and me.

Since the initial build, there were some changes made. There is an elevated town where the roundhouse was, and the town streets are a little different as well as several minor adjustments and detailing. It is, however, amazingly like the SketchUp model, and it was certainly a good way to present an idea for a layout to a customer.

Following that there is just a photo dump of some construction and detailing photos. I don't seem to have any photos of the finished product, which isn't good, so I will add that to my list.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

LDJ article

Look for a cleaned up and fleshed out version of the DYNAMOS article in the next issue of the Layout Design Journal. Weighing in at about 12 pages, the article in LDJ-47 includes some redrawn graphics and edited text in a convenient printed form.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Erie Dynamos in N Scale Part Deux

For the first part of the Continuous Model Railroad, see Erie DYNAMOS layout in N Scale

Applications (continued)

So let's apply the dynamo principle to the Erie Railroad. First we need to gather the prototype's track charts. We need the charts to know what the track alignments are in order to figure out our module requirements and configuration. The first chart on the Erie's east end is the Jersey City to Carlton, NJ that includes the large Croxton Yard complex. This covers the first 9 miles of the eastern end of the line.

The black blob is Croxton Yard between Jersey City to the right and Carlton, NJ on the left..

The next section takes us from milepost 10 at Passaic Park to Hohokus and mile 22, but we are only going to be able to make it to Paterson, NJ at mile 15 in the first session. Now we can look at the track arrangements and match that up to our stable of standard modules.

Part of the track charts for our journey to Chicago from Jersey City.

The classic model railroad problem is that we model railroaders want to fit 900 miles of railroad into 400 s.f. and Dynamos allows one to do that, just not all at the same time.
The space that I have to work with is a living room that measures about 16' x 20' which is convenient for a standard 2'x4' (or 1'-6"x 4' since this is N scale) module with 4' aisles. Included in each session will be staging modules at each end, so those will pretty much be set and all we have to do is fill in between. The corner and aisle turnback modules also end up being fixed for all intents and purposes since this is the best way of filling this particular size room in a traditional "E" configuration of modules. This means that all that will change from one session to the next are the 18 intermediate modules.
Our stable of standard abstracted Operational Design Elements modules
Module identification

The first session on the Continuous Model Railroad includes only modules "A" through "I" since we haven't hit the 4 track main line, yet, which starts at "WJ" tower at Ridgewood, NJ. In addition to the fixed requirements of staging (2 "H"s and 2 "G"s) and corners (6 "A" modules) we will need these quantities:"B" 2,"C" 1,"D" 4,"E" 4,"F" 2,and "I" 2. I would build the staging modules "H" on wheels to make getting ready for the next session a snap!

Session 1
How the sessions break down moving East to west. In retrospect, I might do the sequence starting in Chicago and moving west because there is a greater flow of loads moving East to NY. I could, of course, easily do this the second time around.
The next session sees only minor changes to the overall set up, only the names of the towns are changed. (This could be accomplished through a nice sign pocket on each module that allows for quick re-naming between sessions.) Session 2 will move us from Paterson to Suffern.

There are only six modules that need changing in this session. Shown with the red dots in the next figure, the major change is the addition of another yard at Allendale between Paterson and Suffern. Now sharp Erie railroaders will be cringing at this point, because I have been showing a two track main line in places where there should be four between Rutherford and Suffern. I honestly don't remember why I didn't do this when I originally presented this idea at the Tulsa LD/OpSig event a couple of years ago, but I can perform some post-rationalization at this point and say that it didn't make financial sense to build so many four track main line modules to only use in this session as almost all of the Erie was not four track main, or maybe I simply messed up.
Only a few changes are necessary for the second session.


It is now a matter of getting out our employee schedule to start working up our operating scheme for the sessions.
The part of the schedule that corresponds to the Session 1 area on the system map.

The Westbound schedule from Jersey City to Port Jervis that includes what we need to know for operations in the first few sessions.
Almost all of the trains run daily, so it doesn't really matter what part of the week simulate. I would choose a particular day to start off with, though, so that we could keep a consistent timeline going as we move across the country to make the experience more relevant. A little research will tell us what these trains are and what the normal consist would be. Moving westbound, a lot of the trains will contain empties moving back into the heartland where goods consumed on the East Coast are manufactured or grown.

So what gets interesting is how you set up the sessions. There are several possibilities, of course, and it depends on what you are looking to get out of the experience in order to determine how to craft the operating scheme. If one were interested in a particular train, one could operate a very slow clock and model only a couple of hours in each session so as to follow this train from end to end.

The Erie Limited, train No.1, for example, departs Jersey City at 9:30 AM each day, so operating the schedule from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM the first session would see this train move from East to West and arrive at Patterson. In order for the next session to be properly aligned in time, No.1 would start at Paterson and the session would again start at 9:00 AM, because No.1 moves through Paterson only a few minutes after leaving Jersey City. In fact, since it makes no stops, No.1 is scheduled to depart Goshen, which would end up in our 4th session, at only 10:49. This means that the first FOUR sessions we hold are all modeling operations between 9:00 and 11:00 AM on one day.

During this time, however, all sorts of other activities are happening with locals, through and way freights doing their work. Since we are shifting our focus from East to West, we would see the same locals operate in the same direction each session. This would happen with the eastbound traffic as well with their entrance to the layout occurring a few minutes earlier each session until they no longer show up within the time frame set by our following of the train of our interest, No.1.

What is fascinating about operating the Continuous Model Railroad in this manner is that the trains operating during a given session would largely remain the same from one session to the next, as would the time. Differences would be small and mainly consist of when the train moved through the layout. The larger difference would be seen in the shifting of the towns from one session to the next, almost as if they were standing still and the layout were moving underneath them.

Another way to organize the operating scheme would be to model an entire day before moving on. This would place emphasis on the location rather than a selected train. This scheme would allow for an appreciation of the rhythm of the place, rather than the experience of the train. The understanding, then, of the whole trip from New Jersey to Illinois would be more about the patterns of the entire Erie Railroad. Appreciation is gained of busy commuting trains punctuated by a named passenger train or express freight and how this is mapped onto a daily pattern of traffic on the railroad.

By following a train across country as in the first example, the appreciation is centered on the experience of movement, not on the experience of place.The constant is the train - everyone will be focused on when the train is present in relation to the location. Time then becomes the measuring stick. It is as if we see the train as a second hand passing each city which is a number on the clock face.

Shifting the focus around by modeling an entire daily cycle in one location, the reference is switched from following a sweeping second hand of a clock to a static orientation based on where you are and gaze upon the face of the clock where a particular number is being passed by the clock hands. The same schedule and operations routine of a prototype railroad can then be experienced and understood in two completely different ways using the same layout space. 

Different understandings of a railroad

This is the crux of the whole idea of the Continuous Model Railroad: through the abstraction of space (the transformation of track arrangements into dynamo ODEs) and the ability to swap them around interchangeably (the Dynamos modular system), we are able to bring focus onto the temporal component of railroad operations, and because of that, experience railroading in a completely different mode than we are accustomed.

This shifts our perspective from the current practice of representing an entire railroad through a single specific instance to understanding each location of a railroad in relation to how the entire railroad operated. This effectively reverses the adage that we can understand the whole world through a single grain of sand to understanding each grain of sand by looking at the entire world. A microcosm representing the universal or the universe explaining the microcosm? The flexibility of Dynamos sets up a duality where you have a choice between the two, but you should really try both for the most complete understanding of the operations of your chosen railroad.

Module construction

I have been working on developing a lightweight modular system for a while now, but I don't have an ultimate proposal as of yet. A recent NMRA Magazine article described an aluminum angle and Masonite method that is similar to my thoughts. I've been looking at aluminum shapes, but I have not decided on the skin component. I've looked at honeycomb cardboard, Gator board and regular building insulation foam among other materials. I am leaning towards Gator board at the moment.

The other part to consider is what the modules will sit on. There are several examples out there from Freemo, Ntrak, and other module systems. My priorities include lightweight, ease of set up and tear down, and finally storage space required.

I would use standard code 80 track with manual switches. No need to complicate anything for modeling realism that might compromise operations. No layout is fun if you have derailments or power problems, so the simpler the better in this case.

Proof of concept

I guess the next thing for me to do is to actually try this. We all have good ideas, but do they mean much if we don't try them? I believe it would prove to be a worthy distraction from the Port of New York layout, but I don't think this will translate into HO, so I can't use any of the equipment I already have. I'm not sure I can justify this divergence of funds. I've only got a handful of N scale equipment at the moment, but maybe I could simply lease what I need. This is what the prototype would do...

If you are interested in hearing more about this, I have a slideshow of the presentation I made at the Tulsa convention.

More on the Continuous Model Railroad as it develops...