Passenger Operations
On My Utopia Northern RR

buffalo peak stationBuffalo Peak Station

My previous HO model railroad was primarily designed for freight operations. There were no long runs where name train passenger operations would shine. That is true also of my new UNRR that i am currently building.

Until 2012 passenger operations were very casual and ran when the mood suited an operator who wanted to take a break from the fixed freight schedule. The passenger trains simply complicated the operations because we had "to clear the main" to let them through. 

Freight trains ran on a fixed schedule so that we could always pick up where we left off. Operations depended on the number of operators available. Our Wednesday evening sessions usually ran with between 2 and 5 operators.

Anatomy of a sequenced schedule

What is a sequenced schedule?  Trains ran in order. On the Utopia Northern all freight trains started from the main Utopia Northern interchange yard. They went to some other town or yard on the layout picking up and dropping off cars at specified locations. Trains didn't necessarily switch at all towns.

After a train terminated at a specific town, (for example, a train might run from Utopia to South Point with some intermediate stops), an operator turned over the schedule card and he/she or the next operator would then run from South Point back to Utopia.

Any cars destined for towns and industries beyond Utopia would be reclassified in Utopia and will be picked up by a train moving in the direction of the towns listed on the schedule.

Where there were facing turnouts and no runaround, cars had to move to a further town and were then added to a train moving in the opposite direction. This kept operators on their toes!  

We used MicroMark 4-cycle car cards and during a cycle at least one train would reach all towns on the layout. If necessary, an extra train could be introduced to the schedule if Utopia Yard became too full or if cars were left over in towns or at industries at the end of a cycle.

And, of course, sometimes operators left cars at the wrong destination.

The schedule card was always returned to Utopia when a train terminated there. The boxes were labelled with the towns each train must visit.

Other casual operations

We operated a through freight from Underhill North that only made a loop of the layout and did no switching. This was to provide an easy run for an operator or new crew members to familiarize them with the layout.

We also ran a coal train from a hidden storage track in Underhill North that went to South Point where the train had to be broken in two and the locomotive turned and put on the head end for a return trip to the hidden storage track via a reverse loop at Underhill North.

There was just enough track at South Point to do the switching, but the difficulty depended on what other freight (or passenger) trains had arrived or needed to depart from South Point.

Some passenger trains wandered around the layout on no fixed schedule. We had not been using the Fast Clock while we worked on the sequencial scheduling.

I added a colour bar to the Micro Mark cycle cards to distinguish passenger cars from freight cars. This was a good idea for MOW (maintenance-of-way) equipment, too. It made it easier for the operators. 

There is a drawing of the track plan on the page about this previous version of the UNRR. My new layout will be using switch lists and manifests in the jmri suite of programs so I am going back to the computer in 2016 for real-time updates instead of using the physical car cards. 

"Coal River" passenger station by DPM at Underhill North.
DPM coal river passenger station

"Coal River"freight station by DPM at Underhill North.
The railway better fix the tarpaper on the roof!
DPM coal river passenger station

Introducing passenger operations

Over the past 50+ years I have acquired or built about a dozen passenger cars. It was building an Ambroid wooden coach that reintroduced me to the hobby back in the early 1960s.

I was rehooked! Since then I have built some Athearn and Roundhouse coaches (everyone needs a Gorre & Daphetid "shorty" to commemorate John Allen's inspiration) and I have acquired several 

Branchline coaches, a few Rivarossi cars and have built an Ambroid payroll car. I have a Spectrum Doodlebug, another brass gas-electric, and a Proto 1000 CPR RDC. Recently I won a Rapido steam generator car at a convention in Sudbury.

That did it. Scheduled passenger operations must be introduced to the Utopia Northern. If you've wandered around my website you also know I like to build kits. Over the years I have constructed half a dozen stations. I just had to find a use for them! There are enough stations to make passenger operations interesting.

Campbell Scale Models "Skull Valley" station kit
renamed Martinville Junction.
Campbell Skull Valley small station

I just finished building the Campbell Scale Models Skull Valley station that I named Martinville Junction in honor of my friend and chief operator, Martin Alborough.

Martin helped me set up my operations and has done the same for our NMR club layout.

Mintwood station. An Alexander Models kit I built as a teenager.
This was one omy earliest attempts at building kits.
Alexanfer Scale Models small station

The first station I built as a teenager was the small station by Alexander Scale models. It resided at Mintwood. 


Types of passenger operations

I reviewed some of the articles in Model Railroader magazine and "The Operators" column by Andy Sperandeo. Even though my layout does not lend itself to long trains there's still a lot of potential for passenger operations.

  • Set out/pickup a sleeper
  • Turn an observation car
  • Add an express baggage or mail car
  • Add a combine to a freight train<
  • Run an excursion for train buffs with run-bys for photography
  • Tack on a President's coach or private car
  • Add a payroll car for railroad workers on maintenance duty
  • Run a short mixed freight with 1 or 2 freight cars behind the coaches
  • Add an express milk or railway express agency car to the RDC or Doodelbug
  • Run a track inspection train with MOW cars
  • Add bunk cars or old coaches to a MOW train
I reviewed some of the articles in Model Railroader magazine and "The Operators" column by Andy Sperandeo. Even though my layout does not lend itself to long trains there's still a lot of potential for passenger operations.

  • Set out/pickup a sleeper
  • Turn an observation car
  • Add an express baggage or mail car
  • Add a combine to a freight train
  • Run an excursion for train buffs with run-bys for photography
  • Tack on a President's coach or private car
  • Add a payroll car for railroad workers on maintenance duty
  • Run a short mixed freight with 1 or 2 freight cars behind the coaches
  • CPR #9 station kit installed at East Utopia.
    CPR passenger station kit

    These are some of the ideas. These trains can be short. If you have tight curves or tight tunnel clearances you can avoid using 80-foot or other long passenger cars and use 60-foot or "shorty" cars instead. Or limit the long coaches to specific runs. This will be my method on the new UNRR because it is smaller with tighter curves and steeper grades.

    Trains can be kept in hidden storage or can be made up in yards if you have room. If all else fails you can always "fiddle" the trains on and off the layout.

    Another option is to select specific passenger cars and locomotives by era. For example, use steam engines and heavyweights in a backdated era or limit them to excursion trains.

    The potential for adding passenger operations to your layout only needs a little imagination and ingenuity. You don't need big station complexes and lots of yard tracks for storage.

    If you decide that passenger trains take precedence over freight trains it is possible to add some real challenges for your operators who need to "clear the main" to allow the trains through.

    Or you can designate a mixed train as a second class train and give a through freight or perishable goods train priority.

    Direction of travel can also be a factor as can running as Extras or Second Sections. And how about the use of a fast clock? 

    I may decide to reintroduce the fast clock at a 4:1 ratio (15 minutes real time = 1 hour scale time) on my Utopia Northern so we can run the passenger operations on a schedule and make all the freight trains "Extras" that run on a squential schedule.

    The wrinkles to operations that can be added are endless.

    • Check out real railroad timetables.

    I've documented building some of these stations on other pages if you're interested in some tips and techniques. I find the roofs the most difficult due to warpage, especially on wooden kits using paper shingles such as those supplied by Campbell Scale Models.

    The "Skull Valley" kit was particularly difficult because of the complicated rooflines. Don't look too closely at the underside of the eaves!

    Express office and freight station at South Point.
    Another Campbell Scale Models kit.
    Express office kit

    Beebe station modelNarrow gauge Beebe station kit

    The narrow gauge station has been "moved" to Bill Payne's layout because I won'y have room on my new layout for dual gauge. I'll miss it. It is a unique station model where the little engines and cars could go inside to keep out of the winter weather. I think the original was in Maine.


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