Rolling Stock for Operation

This article first appeared in the July/August 2002 issue of AMRA's 'Journal'.
By Stephen J Chapman.

How do you choose your rolling stock? Do you just buy whatever catches your interest or do you buy to a plan. How much rolling stock will you buy? Will the number of locomotives outnumber the number of wagons and coaches? Where does your modelling interest lay?

Unless you ask the above questions (and answer them correctly) then what you will end up with will be a random collection of rolling stock. This may all be very well if your intention is just to display the items on a shelf but it will not be suitable for reasonable operation of a model railway. If your interest includes operating your model railway to a timetable or sequence of some sort or even if you just want the appearance of proper operation then you cannot just buy anything and expect to be able to make proper use of it on the layout.

To be able to best utilize your layout for operation you must be very selective about what rolling stock that you purchase. Each item of rolling stock that you buy must be bought with a purpose, each must be a part of an overall plan.

The key to the whole idea of being able to operate a model railway in a manner that appears realistic is to plan your rolling stock purchases. This planning involves a number of steps.

The first step is in determining the key details about your layout and writing them down. The key items are:

  1. Location,
  2. Period,
  3. Prototype,
  4. type of line.

These are the factors that determine the types of trains that you might expect to see. You wouldn't see an XPT on a British layout, or on a NSW layout set in the 1940s, or on a sleepy branch line in outback NSW

Step two is to consider the information that you have written down in step one and to make a list of all of the things that you might reasonably expect to see on such a line. This list can include such things as special excursions, diversions due to a nearby main line being out of service, market day specials, and anything else that you can imagine would have even a remote possibility of being found on such a line as yours. In making up this list, pay no attention to the availability of the rolling stock in your chosen scale. At this stage the important thing is to get a complete list of all of the possible rolling stock that you could run if it were available and if you wanted to without the rolling stock appearing out of place. The resultant list will of course be way too long for you to ever hope to acquire more than a small fraction and will far exceed the operational needs of your model railway but by listing all of the possible rolling stock before you start trying to match it to what you will need to operate the model railway may give you different ideas of just how you might want to operate the model. It will also serve as a useful list for when your model railway grows larger and you need to obtain more rolling stock to meet operational needs.

Step three is optional. If there are particular items of rolling stock that you have not included in the list that you made in step two which you feel that you just must have then now is the time to list them on a separate list. This is the list of those items that you simply must have even though they don't fit into the layout. These are the items of rolling stock that you will run just for fun. Your model railway might be a NSW layout set in the 1940s but you might just have to have that XPT set anyway.

Step four. Here is where we start to think about the actual operation of the layout. What types of trains do we expect to run? Let us imagine for a moment that our layout is based on a main line junction station. On this layout we can perhaps run the following trains:-

This gives us eight different types of train on our hypothetical junction layout. Of course you probably aren't modelling a mainline junction station and so your list of appropriate types of trains that you will want to run will probably be somewhat different from this however this should give you an idea of the way that you should be listing your train formations at this point.

Step five is to choose the number of each type of train that we will require. In the case of our junction layout we might decide that we need two local passenger trains, two through freights, two local freights, and one each of all of the other types. This gives us a total of eleven trains that we have decided that we need to operate the layout in a realistic appearing way. This step will not only give us an idea of how much stock we will need to run the layout but will also give us an idea of how much storage space in the way of sidings and fiddle yard tracks that the layout will need to have in order to be able to cope with all of the stock. Of course you may decide that not all of the trains will need to be on the layout at once and will be able to reduce the storage requirements accordingly.

Step six is to once again look at the list that we produced in step two of all of the possible rolling stock that might reasonably appear on our layout. We now attempt to match these items up with the list of required trains that we came up with in step five. We determine that our express passenger train should consist of a particular locomotive and a particular set of carriages. Similarly we allocate a particular locomotive and particular wagons or coaches to each train. For the moment you don't need to worry about the exact train formations except for those trains that you expect to always run in a particular set arrangement. For the other trains just choose a reasonable selection of the coaches or wagons which might appear in such a train. At this stage we are not considering what rolling stock that we might already own or even what is currently available, what we want to get here is a list of what we would like to have running in the ideal world.

Step seven. Obviously we will have more on the layout than just trains. We will probably also need a couple of extra locomotives and an additional selection of wagons to round out our rolling stock collection and give some variety to our train formations. What we need to do is to select these additional items and add them to the list that we made in step six. We don't need to go overboard in adding these items to the list. With locomotives in particular we should have a particular purpose in mind for each item that we add, not every train will need a relief locomotive at the same time and some locomotives that you have already chosen can be used as relief locomotives on other trains.

Step eight is where we look at our "ideal" selection list produced in step seven and compare it with the various catalogues that we have obtained from all of the different model railway manufacturers that make ready-to-run or kits of any of the rolling stock that we listed in step two. Place a tick next to each of the items on the list that you made in step seven which you find in a ready-to-run version in a catalog. Place a dash next to any item on the list which is available in kit form or as a conversion from something else.

The ninth step is to look at our list of required items of rolling stock and to see what trains that we can put together from ready-to-run items, what can be put together from kits, and what just simply isn't available. At this point you might decide to look at what is available and substitute available items of rolling stock that appeared in your list from step two for the preferred but unavailable items on the list from step eight. Other items may be essential as selected and these you will have to build for yourself. Also you may plan for replacing the substitute items that you have selected with scratchbuilt models of your preferred selections when you have the time.

Step ten is to add the items that you listed in step three to your list from step nine. This list is now your purchasing plan for your model railway rolling stock. Each of the items of rolling stock will be purchased or built to serve a specific purpose on your layout.

So now you have a "shopping list" of those items that you need to purchase or make yourself in order to give you the rolling stock that you really need in order to realistically run your model railway. By purchasing items that are on this list rather than buying items at random as they might happen to catch your interest you will end up with a far more useful selection of rolling stock and each item that you purchase will actually have a purpose. This will make things much easier for you when it comes to planning the operation of your model railway.

If you have already started collecting rolling stock without first carrying out this planning then it is still not too late to start. Chances are that if you look at step one above and answer those questions then you will find that a lot of your existing rolling stock will match to your chosen prototype. Carry out the steps as listed without consideration for what rolling stock that you actually own until you get to step eight. Before you start hunting up the items that you need in catalogues, first look at what rolling stock that you already own and mark off as much as possible on your list using your existing stock. These items can either match up as exactly what is required or may be matched as something that is suitable to use until a better item can be acquired or made. In the first instance you need look no further. In the second instance place a notation on your list to indicate that there is a lower priority for obtaining the desired item due to a temporary substitute already being available.

Any stock left after you have matched up your existing stock to the list of stock required for realistic operation is surplus to requirements. If you really must keep a given item then it belongs on the list of "just for fun" items that you made at step three. Any other items of rolling stock that you have can be sold or exchanged for items that are on your "shopping list".

It may take some time for you to actually acquire or build all of the items on your list. In the meantime you may have substituted other items that to a greater or lesser extent will substitute for the required items. Your model railway will be just as operational with these substitute items but may not be as realistic in appearance as you would like until the preferred items are obtained. As you actually acquire the items you desire, these substitute items will become surplus to requirements. Again you will need to decide whether the items belong on the list that you made at step three or if they can be sold.

Over time, your model railway will probably change or be rebuilt in a completely different form. As these changes occur you will need to revisit the above process. You will probably find that the rolling stock that you own will for the most part fit the list that you generate each time that you carry out this process. Depending on how much you change your plans, you may find yourself identifying new services that you want to run as your model railway empire grows. In any case, the rolling stock that you have can be used to fill most of the requirements at least temporarily until the appropriate replacement items can be obtained.

Manufacturers will place new items on the market. Sometimes these items will make a better match with your list at step seven than what you previously were able to obtain in the subsequent steps. Again in this case you will probably want to eventually obtain the new item as a replacement for what you had previously selected. Occasionally also items will be removed from their range and if you are yet to acquire a now deleted item you will have to decide whether a second hand item will be acceptable or whether you will need to find a substitute.

Selecting the appropriate rolling stock to best suit your operating requirements will probably be an ongoing process where you never actually achieve your ideal list. Even though you may never get your actual rolling stock to match with your "shopping list", planning your rolling stock purchases based on operational requirements will both save you money (as you will not waste it buying rolling stock that you don't need) and make operating your model railway much more realistic.

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Copyright Stephen Chapman