We’ve spent some time studying railroad operations over the past month. If you’ve been following along you know by now that moving freight trains isn’t as simple as it may first appear. This week we’ll look at some of the loads that require extra-special attention. Since many of these cars also make interesting models, these operations can add some more challenges and fun to your layout too.
Some loads are taller, wider and or longer than a conventional car can carry. Some of these immense loads can be carried on special cars like depressed-center flatcars and stay within clearance restrictions. As long as the car and load are within the clearance restrictions for the line, they may not require any special handling at all. Just an inch over however and everything changes.
Generally, oversize loads are placed either directly behind the locomotive or in front of the caboose so that they can be monitored. If the load is very heavy, then placement at the front of the train usually makes more sense.
Extra long loads require an idler car. Usually an empty flatcar is used. (The Lionel PS-5 Gondolas have ends that can be lowered to recreate a load like this.) If the load could slide in transit, then another tall idler car must usually be placed between it and locomotives, loaded tank cars, cabooses, etc. Usually an empty boxcar is chosen.
Trains carrying these loads may face several restrictions getting over the line. Lower speed limits, especially on curves and bridges are common. Workers may even have to walk beside the train on extremely tight curves or close clearance areas. If the load is wide or long, there may also be restrictions on where or if it can pass other trains.
Because of all of these added restrictions, large loads are often carried in special trains. A train can be devoted to a single load, or sometimes multiple large loads will be grouped together. These dedicated trains can be a real attention-grabber on a model railroad. But you can also use them to add to the operational challenge.
Railroads are called upon to carry all sorts of hazardous materials. Usually we think of tank cars for these, but they can be carried in just about any type of equipment. Most hazmats are handled routinely in general freight consists with a minimum of disruption to operations. One common restriction today is the need for an idler car between some hazmats and locomotives, cabooses or certain types of loads.
These restrictions vary depending on the materials being carried. Flammable materials for example may also require a spacer between them and a loaded mechanical refrigerator car for example. (In the event of a derailment this provides some space between the load and the heat source of the reefer unit.) In a train, these spacers don’t necessarily have to be a dedicated empty car – any safe load or empty will do. Because of residual materials, some cars which have carried hazmats may still have restrictions even when traveling empty.
Yard operators and switch crews need to be aware of what is in each car and the restrictions associated with it as they make up trains in the yard or set out and pick up cars at the customer. This is where those waybills come in handy. As crews are switching, an extra car may need to be taken along to provide adequate protection. It is up to the road crew to ensure that their train is compliant before they leave a yard or siding.
Although the loads above are the most common, there are some other types of equipment moves that also require special attention.
Maintenance of Way equipment often requires extra care. Since the equipment is generally older and oddly shaped it may not be able to be handled like conventional freight cars. Wreck cranes for example are normally carried over the road with the boom facing the rear of the train for safety. There are two different sets of speed restrictions for these cars depending on whether the boom is leading or trailing.
This equipment normally can not be interchanged. In other words, one railroad can not deliver it to another. Often these cars travel in dedicated trains and aren’t mixed in with general freight. Cars carrying materials however may be switched in to regular trains for faster delivery between yards. These would include box, gondola and flat cars of normal size carrying things like rail, ties, car parts, etc.
Out of service or wrecked locomotives and freight cars also receive special care. Locomotives are often moved around “dead in two” to go to the shop for maintenance or simply to go where more power is needed. Generally, these engines are handled immediately behind the locomotives powering the train.
Damaged cars are also moved by rail. If they are too badly damaged to go on their own, they may be loaded on a flatcar. Cars with air brake problems or missing a coupler will be handled at the end of the train. Cars with a hotbox or journal problem must be handled at reduced speeds.
Generally we think of cars like this as headed to a car shop for repair, but you could also use these handling techniques for an older car headed to a museum for preservation. It’s a great way to sneak an older car into your roster and have some fun at the same time!
Then there are the reefers that need icing, the stock cars that need rest periods – the list goes on and on. If you are using a waybill or car-forwarding system for your trains, adding restrictions like these to the paperwork can make your operations a little more interesting. Not only will you have to think about which car to pick up or set out, but where and how to do it.