On many model railroads, yards are used mainly as a place to store our trains when we’re not running them. There they sit, lined up and ready to roll at the flip of a switch. If you’ve been following this blog series over the past few weeks, by now you realize that most yards are more than just this, but as always, there is a prototype for everything!
Prototype Staging Yards
“Staging Yards” is a term often given to holding yards like this on a model railroad. Real trains are built and bought to make money – and they don’t do that when they’re parked in a yard. Nevertheless, railroads do build storage yards for trains.
Most of these storage yards are dedicated to a single company, commodity or type of car. Some may be dedicated to a specific industry. Here, loaded or empty cars are kept on hand to ensure a steady supply of parts for production, or a ready fleet of cars to pick up orders. An automotive assembly plant for example, may need to keep several days of “spare” cars on hand so that the line doesn’t shut down in the event incoming cars are delayed due to weather, a derailment, or other factors. We’ll be taking a closer look at these local and industrial yards next week.
Other yards are strategically placed to handle the production needs of a larger region. These yards typically handle raw materials like coal or agricultural products. The output of coal mines and the intake of their customers aren’t always in perfect tune. Often, coal will be mined and loaded into cars without a buyer in hand. Knowing that the order will certainly come, it makes sense for the mine to keep its workers busy and stay one step ahead of the demand, for surely there will come a time when the demand outstrips production.
To keep a steady supply of cars coming to the mines, and to handle loads waiting delivery, railroads often build storage yards in a central location within the coal region. This way, when cars are needed, they are close at hand. Loaded cars can be staged here until requested by customers as well, keeping them out of the way of mainline trains and busy classification yards.
The seasonal shifts in agricultural production cause similar operating problems for the railroads. What might be a sleepy branch line nine months of the year can be packed with activity during the harvest. Staging yards ensure that needed cars don’t have to travel far to be loaded. This is much more efficient and less complicated than the en-route changes that were often applied to refrigerated loads.
While these yards might have small engine tracks where power can be staged, large service facilities are typically not found at these storage yards. A simple “RIP” track for basic car repair, and a scale track for weighing loads are also common.
Staging Yards for Modelers
For model railroaders, staging yards can be very useful operating tools. Not only could you model a prototypical yard like the ones described above, hidden staging yards open a whole new world of operating possibilities.
For modelers who want to recreate prototypical operations, hidden staging yards can be used to represent destinations beyond the modeled layout. This gives our trains some place to go, besides just around in endless circles.
Not interested in prototype operations? Nothing will delight and baffle visitors to your layout like seeing a train disappear into a tunnel only to reemerge as something completely different! A hidden yard is a great way to add storage to your layout without all the visual clutter of a yard.
Staging yards can be built in several forms. A stub-end yard usually offers the longest siding space in any given area, but requires trains to be backed out of the yard and turned. A dual-ended yard can be built as part of an oval for continuous running in both directions. You could also build a dual-ended yard as part of a balloon track or reverse loop at the end of the line. Trains departing “Eastbound” will return as “Westbound” trains on the next run. A second reverse track at the other end of the line allows continuous running along a two-track mainline.