KCS 3rd Sub 2015 Improvement Project
Staging and Helix Reconfiguration
Here are links to two PDF views of a plan to reconfigure the KCS 3rd Sub Staging area and helix, which basically involves making the staging area twice as large, moving a wall further into the building, using a simple, straight ladder with no curved turnouts and the only curves being a series of “horseshoe” curves at the center with a minimum radius of 33” – same as the mainline radius on the KCS 3rd now.
Here is a link to the overall view. It is “busy” because it includes Heavener, so the other is a close up of the ladder on one side, to illustrate the concept. All of this is drawn to scale using #6 turnouts and minimum 33” radius curves (which is the mainline minimum standard on the KCS 3rd now). You should be able to zoom in and out on it. Here is a close-in view of one of the ladders.
The basic plan is to have two separate staging yards and ladders (alongside one another), one for northbound and one for southbound trains. That is an efficient layout and eliminates any crossovers anywhere in the hidden system: once a train starts heading north out of Watts, it will not encounter a switch or turnout until it gets to the staging ladder at the bottom of the helix. Trains running south out of Heavener don’t encounter a turnout until they hit the SB ladder. This was done for several reasons, all related to smoother unattended automated running and just plain better mechanical running even w/o any automation. I’ll have the four ladders (southbound entry, southbound exit, northbound entry, northbound exit) each on their own separate DCC circuit breakers (lesson learned from the current setup where a train derails or fouls a frog on one end of staging and now nothing moves or can get into or out of staging from either end). So if a train gets stuck (derails, picks a switch etc.) entering the staging yard, let’s say going into the “northbound” ladder after coming down the helix, NB trains LEAVING staging will be on a separate breaker zone and thus will be unaffected as they exit the NB staging yard on the other end. And the southbound staging yard & ladder will be completely unaffected on both ends, both electrically and mechanically (because the two staging yards don’t connect until they get to the “human operated” area, at Watts and Heavener. This is more helpful than you might think, because with any turnouts, trains (especially locomotives) are far more likely to derail going INTO a ladder (i.e. where the switches are all ‘facing point’) than they are EXITING (where the switches are all trailing point and the train/loco thus never take a diverging path “through/into” a turnout). This means worst case we might have a pileup of trains trying to get into staging, but that won’t keep the trains from LEAVING staging – so operators aren’t waiting on the next train to run (and the yard isn’t waiting on the next train to switch). I would still want to fix the problem eventually on the SB end as that could tie up Heavener, but it won’t be as much of an “emergency”. And on the Watts (northbound) end, the staging track lead, plus the helix, will be so long that the very first train to finish a northbound run could derail going into staging and every single NB train we run on the KCS could be held up behind it and they would all be “out of sight/out of mind” in the staging ‘system and not interfere with the operation! (There is about 200’ of track, including the helix, between Watts and the entry to the staging ladder – that’s enough for 10 20’ trains and we only run 6 – 7 in each direction out of staging now).
I’ll have enough straight track on each end of staging and the helix, that I’ll be able to put “re-railers” in line so any car that somehow got derailed, will re-rail before hitting the helix, and before hitting the ladder (and after coming out of the ladder). Too many curves in the current staging yard to do that now. That will also eliminate S-curves which fellow modelers caution me to avoid.
The other reason is, with a single ladder and trains alternating NB and SB within the same staging yard, if you have a train going IN on one end, you can’t have any trains going OUT that same end (they share the ladder and may even cross one another depending on which tracks they are lined in/out of.) This improvement keeps movement more fluid (trains can leave when they need to leave and not have to wait for another train coming IN on that same ladder – inbound trains tend to come in very slowly so as to avoid picking switches) and eliminates one more point of failure (or more accurately keeps that one point of failure from having much if any impact on the operation as observed by the guest operators). And per the above we are less likely to have problems with trains going “out” than “in” due to trailing vs facing points
I will also change the operation at Heavener SLIGHTLY. Note at the bottom left on the overview drawing, 2 separate tracks will now come out of the two staging yards, up to almost Heavener (the turnout will be on the layout/modeled side easily seen from Heavener, not in hidden staging). The trains can pass on those tracks, and we’ll use right-hand running: southbound trains always take the right track into their SB staging yard, and the NB trains can still come out of their staging yard on their right hand track at the same time. The double track section there represents Page siding which is the next siding south of Heavener on the prototype. The great benefit will be, now the computer can (and will) automatically run the next northbound to the end of Page (stopping near Heavener) a few minutes after the previous northbound clears, stopping it at the end of “Page Siding”, so it will be sitting there waiting to go north (basically the next NB will always be sitting waiting there, as happens now with southbounds up at Watts, much like one piece of candy comes after the next in a Pez dispenser).
Since Page will be in the modelled section of the layout just south (to the right) of Heavener, the yard crew and SEE the train stopped there, and from the engine number will know what train it is, so they know what is next to arrive. This will mean we don’t have to hold trains in staging until the yard can take them, and less pressure on the dispatcher: the way we operate now, when trains are scheduled to come onto the layout into Heavener, I have a recording of my voice that plays on the dispatcher computer saying something like “Train 2 on the 4th sub contacting Dispatch, looking for clearance into Heavener when you can take me.” Which is fine but the dispatcher might be in the bathroom or somewhere when this plays so I have it play over and over every 2 minutes until the train is cleared in, meaning the dispatcher keeps getting “bugged” and has to bug Heavener to clear up the yard to bring the next NB train in. Also sometimes if we had to reboot or reset the clock the dang thing will just plain be WRONG, nagging you to clear a train that has already cleared!. Now, there will be no recording played: the next train will just pull out of staging, w/o dispatcher intervention, about 2 minutes after the previous train clears. A bell will ding as on a real CTC system and the train number will appear on the dispatcher panel (like it does at Watts now) and just stop waiting at the signal at the end of Page as long as you need it to (until the dispatcher and/or the yard can take it). Then whenever the yard is ready for it (it can sit there forever since it won’t block any southbounds from getting off the layout and going into staging since they take the separate, right-hand track into the SB staging yard) the yard calls the dispatcher, who lines the switches and clears the signal into the track that the yardmaster specifies, at which point the computer drives it into that track. And, if for some reason the computer doesn’t work (the train doesn’t start), the yard will see that there is a clear signal and they’ll see the lead locomotive number and can just dial that up and drive the train in manually, even throwing the turnouts if needed. So no need to call or holler at me during ops sessions to come jack with the computer because a train didn’t start! (For all of the mainline trains on our KCS 3rd sub, the consist number is simply the lead locomotive number. So if you see the lead, dial that up and you are controlling the whole consist/train. That isn’t a change, that is the way it is currently).
The new staging tracks will be MUCH longer – 30’ long on average, well longer than our 18’ current length and longer by far than our longest train (on the KCS 3rd set in 1982 the average car length is 50’, so a 50 car train, which is longer than anything I’m running now but I may try it (!), would require 2500 scale feet, which is 28’ actual, 30’ with 3 or 4 6-axle locomotives). So no need to stage trains in the helix and have crossovers in there (which I did to accommodate trains longer than 18’ and is a choice I now regret because 90% of the shorts and derailments on hidden trackage are related to those 4 curved turnouts that form this crossover despite multiple efforts to fix them. But they’re also on a grade, i.e. “vertical curve” as well as being #8 curved turnouts). Also it won’t matter which train goes to which track any more since the tracks are all longer than the longest train, so I probably won’t bother worrying about that, eliminating one more detail to manage (since all will fit everywhere). Also a s a part of this I am adding a couple more staging tracks. One less piece of “fiddle-faddle” that distracts me when fixing problems: if a train has a problem going into staging NOW, I have to first figure out what train number that is (all I see is the lead loco of course) and then figure out what track it needs to go to – with the new setup I’ll be able to take a train that derailed or stalled for some reason so is no longer moving and line it into any free staging track and drive it in with a throttle, thus clearing the problem more quickly. And others, like you (being my more experienced operators) can be more help with problems in staging (if any) during op sessions because you don’t have to know where every train “goes” or know any “computer secrets” – or even use a computer – just line the train into any open track by pushing a button (I’ll have a control panel like for Heavener so you can push one button to line all the turnouts manually into any given track if for some reason the computer didn’t do that) and grab a throttle (or use the wired one that will be permanently plugged in there) and drive the train in until you see the caboose clear the ladder. The panel will also indicate track occupancy via lights on the panel so you don’t have to try and count tracks to figure out which is free, and it will also tell you when the train has reached the end of the staging track – I may even add an “auto-stop” that routes power for the last foot of each staging track through the contacts on the associated tortoise switch motor, to that track, so if the turnout is not lined for that track, the train stops when it hits the end, regardless of if a human or the computer is running that train. And I’ll do the same up at Watts since I have myself, when manually running trains up to there, fouled the switch which I can’t see from down below.
Finally, I’ll leave Waldron where it is but expand it to allow us to REALLY model the Val-Mac plant and continue Waldron over both staging yards. ValMac can take 30 or 40 cars in real life so we’ll make a bigger/better operation out of that and ideally Waldron will take a crew position for the whole session, sort of like Sapulpa on the C&S.
The idea around all of this is to respect Murphy’s Law: since if anything can go wrong, it will, I need to a) eliminate the number of things that need to happen to have a successful session, i.e. eliminate what “can go wrong”, and b) make it easier for anyone, not just me, to fix whatever DOES go wrong (since Mr. Murphy says it WILL and he seems to be right a lot of the time!)
I want to make the operation as bulletproof as possible because already, and I’m only 59, I sometimes feel like I’m getting too old to keep smacking my head on the woodwork and get disgusted running around solving problems, ducking under the helix or reaching hard-to-reach trackage (the helix and both staging ladders will be MUCH easier for everyone to access and nobody will have to duck under anything or climb up through a hole to fix a derailment in either staging ladder as I do now with the right/back end of staging.) I’ll have a 4’ to 5’ aisle and easy access to three sides of the helix so hardly ever have to duck and go “inside” that.
Feel free to comment on this plan via email or in our forum.