Over the past two weeks, we’ve taken a look at the many operational aspects of a classification yard, from sorting freight to servicing locomotives to repairing freight cars. Real railroad yards come in all shapes and sizes. The largest yards may be too daunting for most of our model railroads, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add a functioning classification yard to your layout. This week, we’ll take a look at the essentials and how to put them all together.
The majority of space in any yard is devoted to the classification of trains. For most layouts, this is the one area that is also easiest to compress. When moving things about and deciding what to keep and what to skip, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, when planning a yard, more track doesn’t mean a better yard. It’s not the number or length of the tracks, but how they are arranged that makes a yard most efficient. This is true in real life and in any scale. Can you switch cars in the yard while another train arrives or departs? Can a locomotive get to the engine facility without stopping traffic on the mainline? Is there enough room to pull out an entire track of cars once it is filled?
To capture the working functions of a real yard, you’ll need to add the essential elements of a real yard. The number, length and layout of these tracks can vary based on the needs and space available, but the function and need for each of these tracks remains the same. By reducing the yard to these basic building blocks, a functional design becomes much easier to visualize and construct.
- Arrival / Departure Track(s): There may be separate tracks for each, or a single yard for arriving and departing freight. Even having a single dedicated track, located just off the mainline, will improve operations. An incoming train will be switched from the mainline to this track. From here the locomotive can go to the service area and a yard switcher can pick up the caboose and cars, taking them to the classification yard for work. A readied outbound train is brought here, power and caboose attached and it’s off to the mainline as soon as space is available. As you can see, this allows operations to take place without stopping action on your main loops, or active switching in the yard itself.
- Classification Tracks: These are the tracks that the incoming train will be sorted into. The length and number of these tracks needed will depend on the size of trains you like to run and the number of destinations you want to serve. It is not always necessary for each destination to have its own track however. In a hump yard, these tracks would be on the downhill side of the hump.
- Yard Lead: This may be the most critical track in the entire yard. This is the track from which the yard switcher will work while shifting cars in the classification yard. It should also be connected to your arrival and departure track(s) for easy access as well. Ideally, the lead will be at least as long as the longest track in your yard. This is most important on a stub-end yard, where the tracks all end at bumpers, not with another switch ladder.
- Caboose Track: Having a dedicated track for cabooses is a nice prototypical feature. If you don’t have room, or model a modern era, you can get away without one.
Beyond the classification of cars, there are many other support functions in the typical yard. We covered these last week. Of course, you don’t need to include them all, but at the very least, most yards will include a small track where the switch locomotive can rest and receive fuel and care when not in use.
- Locomotive Facilities: Model railroaders have always been fond of our locomotives, and our engine to freight car ratio is certainly higher on average than the prototype, so it’s easy to get carried away here. There’s nothing wrong with a big roundhouse, coaling towers, backshops, wash track, diesel fueling station, etc. – but you didn’t find all of this at every yard. If you don’t have the space for a huge facility, a single track or two with a place to pick up fuel and sand is really all that is required. However large, these facilities should be connected to the arrival track in the yard. We’ll take a more in-depth look at locomotive service in a future blog.
- Car Repair: Again, a full car shop is nice but not essential. Adding an extra track in the classification yard for “shop” cars provides a way to both mimic the prototype operation and a place to spot any cars with real defects or that are simply due for their regular quality inspection.
- Wreck Train / Track Maintenance: These are also ancillary functions of the yard that are nice to add if you have the room. It may be as simple as a single track to spot the train on. The wreck train was usually kept close to the engine service area.
- Extra Service Tracks: Tracks for specialized service, like icing refrigerators, resting livestock, a small piggyback ramp or local LCL or team track would normally be found near the edges of the yard so that they could be reached by yard crews or by trains working off the mainline.
Putting It All Together
The schematic below shows a simple track arrangement that accomplishes all of the essential operations we’ve discussed in a way that will allow a lot of action to take place simultaneously. This drawing is meant as a guide to get you started – you could add, move, lengthen or shorten tracks to your desire to make it fit your available space and needs.
The heavy red line at the bottom represents the mainline, or main running track. Trains arriving or departing the yard connect from the mainline to the Arrival / Departure track shown in green. This is a quick and easy operation from either direction.
Once on the arrival track, no matter which way the train is facing, the locomotive can be uncoupled and follow the blue line over to the engine service area shown in black. Although the blue line represents both this running track and the switching lead, there is enough space here for locomotives to move to and from the arrival track without interfering with switching operations.
When ready, the yard switcher can pull the freight cars from the train which has arrived off of the arrival track and straight down the lead. From here, the cars can begin to be sorted by destination into the classification tracks shown in yellow at the top of the diagram.
When a new train is called, cars from the classification track(s) for its destination are pulled from the yellow yard and spotted on the green departure track. A readied locomotive couples up and the train can head out on the mainline by throwing one last switch.
Even with this simple plan, you can see how this yard will allow two or even three operators to go about their business without tripping over one another – and all with a minimum of track and switches. Obviously, you could add much more to this simple plan if you have the space and desire. Additional arrival and departure tracks would allow you to serve more trains. More classification tracks could provide more sorting options. These tracks could also be double-ended and switched from both sides. And there is plenty of room for expansion around the turntable or along the edges for more auxiliary functions. However much you add to it, adhering to the basic principles shown here will ensure that no matter how complex it gets, every job can be handled in its own place.
Now that you’ve got the classification yard down, next week we’ll continue our look at yards with some other types of facilities that have their own modeling potential.