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Operational – Staging

Planning for Model Railroad Operation :  Staging


This article forms part of my Railroad Operations Series of Articles

There are several elements of track planning to consider when deciding about model railroad operation for your layout

• Will portions of your industries be online or offline?

For example, you could have a sawmill in one area and a furniture warehouse that obtains wood from the sawmill in another area, but you don’t have to have both.

You could just have the sawmill where trains load up with wood then travel to an offline staging yard where the trains become empty again, presumably because they’ve gone to a customer where the lumber has been unloaded.

• Will your staging yard be hidden?

Most of the time it will be hidden behind a mountain, elevated scenery, or even in an adjoining room.

Some layouts have staging yards underneath the main layout, or above the main layout accessible by a helix. They don’t have to be hidden, however, if you use it as an interchange between two main rail systems on your layout.


• How long do the tracks in the staging yard need to be?

This depends on how long you want you average train to be and how much space you have available.

Stub tracks are able to be longer than tracks connected to a ladder on each end. You may want to have both.


• How many tracks do you need in your staging area to provide for optimum model railroad operation?

You usually need about twice as many as you think you need, and after you’ve built the yard, you always need more than you have.

The minimum should be the number of trains you have plus at least two more for arriving and departing trains.

If your tracks are long enough, you could potentially double-up and have two trains on one staging track, but the operation and flow are probably better if each train has it’s own track.

• Should your staging yard have any loops so that trains can be turned easily?

This would work well for passenger trains that don’t have to appear loaded or unloaded when they re-appear on the layout.

Freight trains, however, when they go into staging usually are changed from loaded to unloaded or vice versa. It doesn’t make sense for your loaded coal train to go out of the layout from the coal mine, and then return to the coal mine later still fully loaded.

So you will have to do some switching while the train is in the staging yard, before the next session. You could have stub tracks for freight and flyover loops for passenger trains. You could also have ladders on both ends of the staging yard for entry into the layout from either end.

• If your staging yard is completely hidden or difficult to see during a model railroad operation session, you will need to install detectors, or sensors, in the staging tracks so you will be able to tell where your trains are on a control panel on the fascia or at the dispatcher’s desk. That way, you will know when you’ve backed the train in far enough.

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