RPI Spring Session

posted Apr 12, 2011, 7:13 PM by Randy Hammill
This weekend was the spring operating session at RPI. It's the third (fourth?) time I've been up for the session, and it's always great fun. Most of the usual suspects were there. Chris, Pieter and Dick weren't able to make it this time. I don't have any photos to post, as Dick usually takes a bunch, and I didn't have a chance.
 
There were several firsts for this session.
 
It as the first time that we've had an evening session, completing out the 24-hour operating day. I think it went pretty smoothly because by then most of the problems of the day had been solved. There are fewer trains as well, of course. There were only a couple of freights that ran the layout in the evening, and a lot of passenger trains.
 
The passenger trains were another first. Or rather, the new operating scheme was. They developed some operating paperwork (tickets and baggage tags) that were used to represent the actual traffic. From what I heard, it really required a two-person crew to operate well. In addition, it seemed like there was more passenger switching (dropping off and picking up cars) than in the past. Troy was pretty congested at one point with three passenger trains that had work there at the same time (well, not scheduled - they were running late) - leaving only a single passing track free.
 
The reason my knowledge of the new operations is somewhat vague is due to another first. This weekend was the first time I've dispatched a railroad. That's right, I was the chief (read: only) dispatcher. We didn't even have a briefing ahead of time, and other than some quick tips from Bill Schneider I was left to my own devices. It was a bit of a challenge due to the size of the layout and number of trains (40+ if I recall). In addition, passenger trains didn't o/s to the dispatcher unless they were running more than 3 minutes late. The timetable I had didn't quite match the ones each train had, and none of the other trains had a timetable at all. In addition, since there isn't a working signal system (train order or otherwise), and I didn't have a runner, I often had to go hunting to verify where a train was, or to change orders.
 
In the end, I think it was a very successful session, and everybody else seemed to think so as well. No cornfield meets, and I don't think there were any really significant delays due to my dispatching. There were a number of trains running very late, but most of those got a late start, partially due to lack of crews in the middle of the day. While we had a good turnout, it was a little less than last time, and with two-person crews on the passenger trains it seemed like there was a bit of a shortage for a short while.
 
So it was a lot of fun, a great learning experience, and I think I'll even offer to dispatch again in the future. Although I can't guarantee it will run as smoothly. I can claim beginner's luck this time around, but it always seems like the second time doesn't go quite so well!