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Operational – Train Movement


For most modellers, moving trains to and from their industries, customers and staging yards is the main goal of their model railroad operation.

There are several ways that model railroaders have devised over the years to accomplish the tasks of moving cars.

Two popular methods:

  • Switch lists
  • Waybills (Car Cards)









Switch lists are a Prototypical method of moving trains in model railroad operations (this is what the real railroads used).

Basically, the yardmaster lists all the cars on his switchlist, and then, next to each car, depending on its destination, he places a number for the track in the yard that it’s supposed to go to – so that it can be placed in a consist with other cars going in that same direction or to that same location.

Furthermore, the cars can be lined up in order corresponding to where they will be dropped off.

You could use numbers of mileposts to help with sorting, such that cars going to milepost 74 would be closer to the engine (and the last to be dropped off) than the one going to milepost 52. Further back, would be the car going to milepost 19, which would then be the first of the 3 cars to be dropped off.


Using car cards and waybills









Probably the most popular method of car forwarding used for model railroad operations.

Forms for this can be purchased or you can make your own.


Basically, each rail car has an associated car card containing a pocket that holds the smaller waybill, which tells where the car is going.

You can make up the waybill so that it can be used for 4 operating cycles or sessions and just turn the card upside down and/or front to back to use the different cycles at different operating sessions. That way you, the host, only have to set up the cards and waybills once to use them for 4 different sessions, and then use them over again starting with cycle 1. This provides variety for each session. By the time you get back to cycle 1 everyone has forgotten about it.

The car cards contain the road name, like PRR for Pennsylvania RR, the type of car, like coal car, and the number of the car that you can find written on the side of the car.

The waybills contain the routing information for the car, like which railroad lines it will be traveling along (e.g., B&O, PRR, C&O, WM), the name of the shipper and the name of the receiver, for each cycle.



The yardmaster’s job in a model railroad operation session, then, is to arrange the cars according to where they’re going and the order in which they will be set out, or dropped off – in other words, make up the consist for each train.


When the train is ready, it can be placed on a departing track; and when the yardmaster receives clearance from the dispatcher, the train can be pulled out by a crewmember and taken to its destination, dropping off cars at various industries along the way.

Railcars in train yard

Railroad station clock

All of this activity is often done according to schedules and timetables set up by the host or by the chief dispatcher to hopefully provide for smooth model railroad operation. The typical operating session is run based on a fast-clock, which compresses a 24 hour train schedule into 3-4 hours, depending on how long you want your operating sessions to last. The operating crewmembers must try to keep their trains on schedule as much as possible. The trains are expected to arrive and depart at certain times to be sure the goods are picked up and delivered on time. Otherwise the shipping and receiving “customers” of the railroad will be unhappy and may start using a trucking service instead (not good for the railroad company). This requires a lot of teamwork as you might expect and a little time pressure to get the jobs done, but that’s all part of the fun.



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