2017-05.2: Make it Run Like a Dream - Trackwork

12 May 2017

Average: 4.5 (18 votes)
22:21 - May 2017 Act II - Make it Run Like a Dream - Trackwork (2017)

Joe Fugate returns to The Backshop Clinic to talk about his new book, Make it Run Like a Dream - Trackwork.  In this segment he focuses on standards for curvature and turnouts as two considerations for getting more reliable operation out of your layout.

Also see:
Run like a Dream: Rolling stock

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Tbgarland's picture


You make some great points about curves. It is true if you want to couple a car on a curve without assistance the curve needs to be pretty broad but that isn't necessarily prototypical in full size operations. I don't know how many times I had to adjust a coupler on a longer car to get it to couple in real life. One rule we have on the NS is if the cars don't couple the first try and causes the couplers to offset then we must slack off 50' and provide three step protection for the conductor to go in between the cars to make an adjustment. 

Also, I regularly take large modern six axle locomotives around a wye track with a 21 degree curve which translates to about 37" in HO scale. I've been in a number of industries even taking long 73' Centerbeams in tracks tighter than 21 degrees.


joef's picture

You make some great points about curves. It is true if you want to couple a car on a curve without assistance the curve needs to be pretty broad but that isn't necessarily prototypical in full size operations. 

With these guidelines it's not so much never as it is total awareness of the tradeoffs. If you need to make the curves tighter to get things to fit, then at least you'll know what you're giving up. If you don't mind reaching into a model scene to fiddle with couplers, then hey, as you point out the prototype does it!

Doing a layout is always a series of compromises, but with the curve radius guidelines spelled out like this, I'm armed with the insight I need to judge what compromises I'm willing to accept with few nasty surprises later. And if I don't want to make that compromise, then I also know what the needed goal must be.

I like approaching curve radius using the equipment length ratio insights - I feel like my curve radius decisions are now fully informed instead of just a can-I-get-away-with-it guess.

Tbgarland's picture

I really like the formula method for determining curve radius. It makes it easy to determine what one needs in the planning stage. My Seaboard Central is set in 2015 and cars longer than 60' can and do show up on the line I model. On my new version I decided that my minimum mainline radius would be 34" and the minimum curve radius for industrial trackage would be 24". I realize this is tight according to the formula but I try to keep equipment on straight sections as much as possible when making couplings.

That being said one thing the prototype does that helps longer equipment track safely around tight curves is to employ longer draw heads than what is found on cars 60' and less. These draw heads extend out around three feet from the end of the car and have enough clearance to slide off center to help assist the cars around tighter curves. Also, it makes it easier for a Conductor to position the coupler offset center when coupling in curves. This is type of practice occurs regularly every day on the full size stuff but is often never modeled. 

Kadee makes some extended shank couplers that can be added to longer equipment and if the centering spring is left out could achieve the same results as the real thing. Slacking off to try to couple up again on a model railroad is frustrating for most modelers but it happens daily in real life. (Honestly it can be frustrating for me as an engineer too especially working with less seasoned newer Conductors.) But if you are into Prototype Operations it does add time and can make an operating session longer. Most folks will find the more prototypical they make their operating sessions the less layout they need.


joef's picture

Most folks will find the more prototypical they make their operating sessions the less layout they need.

Tim, that's a superbly profound statement and one that needs to become common knowledge in the hobby! That's also one of the concepts behind TOMA (modular/sectional home layouts) actually. Classic TOMA assumes you build each module to completion as you go, with staging, so you can start ops very early on. I'm finding that the modern crop of sound decoders with braking functions is transforming the ops experience for me. I add lots of acceleration and deceleration to the loco, and running becomes a lot more involved ... and fun!

For example, I don't want to ramp the speed up too high because then it becomes hard to stop on a dime. I have to think about moves more. I'll release the brake, ramp up the loco throttle carefully, approach where I want to stop, cut the throttle so I'm coasting, then apply the brake by feathering to stop the loco exactly where I want it. The sound is great because when I apply the brake, the decoder randomly applies some braking squeal -- sometimes more than other times. The coasting is fun because the loco will roll a long ways when I shut down the throttle, giving me a sense of great mass.

I'm expecting as I build SL2 using TOMA sections I will be making everything conform to my RUN LIKE A DREAM standards from the get go. Near flawless performance coupled with locos all having sound, braking, and lots of momentum as above and it won't take much layout to be a total blast to operate.

Superb observation, excellently expressed. You made my day!

--Joe Fugate

Tbgarland's picture

Glad I made your day Joe! Here is something else to smile about. I just purchased the Run Like a Dream Book. I am sure it will be put to good use on the SC.

Since I am upgrading my fleet to Full Throttle I find myself paying more attention to what comes naturally to me at work running a real locomotive so I can simulate the same thing at home. You are correct trying to simulate the sounds and actions of the prototype slows things down. Personally, I cringe when I see folks racing trains and running them back and forth unrealistically slamming into cars and moving them back a car length when making a coupling. Frankly speaking, after spending so much time and money trying to make my equipment and layout look as realistic as I can I am careful about finding the right mix of operators who share my same practices when it comes to operating sessions. 

For anyone that is interested please check out my Seaboard Central on YouTube and Facebook. You can find both by searching Seaboard Central. I have been putting out a monthly layout update at the end of each month showcasing additions or upgrades I made during the month. Having a monthly layout update has been the best thing I have done for my layout. At the beginning of each month I make a list of five to seven projects I strive to complete. Some involve fixing trouble spots and others might be as involved as replacing my Lenz system to a wireless NCE system like I did last month. I also try to do something where I talk about how to make things look or simulate what I see or do at my work.

Thanks again for providing this series. It is something that is needed by folks at all stages.

Tim G

tpmarshall's picture

Tim's right - and I'd take it even further:

At some point, following prototype practices can make even The One Module Approach unnecessary for building a layout, because a layout can be so simple that you can built the whole thing in one go.

My own (home) layout occupies roughly 14x35 feet, yet has only eight turnouts on it. I went from a bare room to running trains in less than a year. Following prototype practices - and providing the tools to support this - means an operating session can keep a couple of people entertained for 75-90 minutes - a good fit for my hobby goals and non-hobby commitments.

If I had 50% more space, I'd extend the mainline between the two towns I model - but I wouldn't add any more complexity to the layout. It's perfect the way it is.

It's not everybody's approach to the hobby, but my layout would not be nearly as enjoyable if I did not take full advantage of prototype practices during operating sessions.


- Trevor

I thought we had pretty much decided using the term "friendly" for turnout points on DCC layouts was not a good term, especially for newcomers to DCC.  The better terms, in my opinion, are DCC Compatible or DCC INcompatible. They are or they aren't.

Rod Smith

I thought we had pretty much decided using the term "friendly" for turnout points on DCC layouts was not a good term ...

Just curious who this "we" is who speaks for the entire hobby? We'd like to meet him or her! (wink)

espeelover's picture

Obvious once you see it, but having this played out before one is quite instructive. In other words, you put into words what many have seen and might not been able to express properly. That formula is good, and probably why I model an era and location where most of the cars serviced are 40' and 50', with very few exceptions. Bravo TMTV, I like where this is going. I just wish it came along a bit faster, but realize to get things right takes time, so will patiently wait for each installment. Cheers!

This is a very helpful and instructional presentation.  I model N-scale.  After a lot of frustration with commercial turnouts I discovered Fast Track jigs. What a difference!  Like Joe said 95 % of derailments are caused by poor turnouts.  Now I have very few derailments and if I do it is on a commercial turnout that I haven't replaced yet.  PS - Joe, you just sold a copy of your book.