Christopher Brimley updated September 20, 2011

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  • Fixing the Yard at Trinidad

    by Bob Foltz

    Photos by the author

    The westbound Super Chief pulls to a stop in Trinidad while the yard crew in the background continues to work uninterrupted.
    Model Railroading - May 2001 - Page 40 Model Railroading - May 2001 - Page 41

    When I began designing my Santa Fe "Raton Division," Trinidad yard was envisioned as the center of all operations on the railroad. Although Santa Fes famous name trains would only make brief stops at the Trinidad station, I pictured all through freights dropping blocks of cars for the division. The road power on these freights would be swapped here to add operational interest and to justify my large roster of locomotives. Mail and express cars would also be exchanged by the heavyweight Fast Mail Express. In the interest of generating local traffic on my modeled version of Raton Pass, I made several towns grow and prosper much more than their real-life counterparts. Industries and businesses along the route would naturally need rail service, so a local turn would originate in Trinidad to service the towns along the line. This local, mixed in among all the high-speed traffic passing through town, would generate plenty of work for the yard crew.

    Trinidad was not envisioned as a major classification yard, but it would be the hub of operation on the model railroad and critical to keeping things moving over the pass. One thing model railroaders frequently forget is that switching takes "real time." The Super Chief might easily run according to the eight-to-one fast clock, but anybody who has ever worked a yard knows that switching takes "real time." The yardmaster would be plenty busy without unnecessary complications or design flaws, so I spent a lot of time trying to develop an efficient yard design.

    The new main swings to the left on a #8 turnout. The station is at the top left, while the switcher sits on the old main.
    Model Railroading - May 2001 - Page 42 Model Railroading - May 2001 - Page 43

    It became immediately apparent that I didn't have space for a double-ended yard, but the final design had adequate capacity, easy access to the arrival and departure tracks and a switching lead long enough to handle the trains Id be running. Satisfied with the plan, I went to work laying track and wiring in the electrical system.

    As the railroad progressed, I hosted a number of open houses that required running several trains simultaneously, and the yard handled these well. When the mood struck to do some switching I even put together locals and ran them over the line - again the yard seemed to function as intended.

    When I began developing a schedule in anticipation of starting an operating group, my son, Brian, and I tried using pieces of it to see how they worked in the "real world." Imagine my dismay when I realized that the yard had a major design flaw that would cripple any operating session.

    Drawn in black on Figure 1 is the original yard design. Notice that the yard lead also serves as a passing track (21) and runs directly in front of the station; the main is the south track (20). The logical place to board passengers is on the track closest to the station platform. Even if I had passenger trains stop on the main, no railroad would allow the yard crew to work with passengers crossing the yard lead. Every time a passenger train stopped at the Trinidad station - an event scheduled to take place eight times a session - the yard lead was blocked and totally unusable. This problem did not become obvious until we began running trains while working the yard. Considering that the yard switcher would have to clear the station track several minutes before each passenger trains arrival, a good chunk of the "day" would be spent with the yard crew sitting around not being able to do any work. No matter how much I juggled the schedule to create holes for the yard crew to do their job, it just wouldn't work. The only solution appeared to be rebuilding the yard.

    Once the psychological barrier against tearing up a finished section of the railroad was breached, the dread I had been experiencing was replaced with excitement. I studied my options and saw how operations could be saved by simply laying a new mainline south of the current tracks (marked in green on Figure 1). This new track would keep passenger traffic completely away from the yard lead. The old main became a passing track that could be used for meets, as well as a place to stick an arriving train if the yard crew got behind (not an unheard of occurrence).

    The west end of the main ties in at Jansen Junction. The switcher has used the #8 curved turnout in the foreground and is headed for the only industry on the south side of the main.
    Model Railroading - May 2001 - Page 44 Model Railroading - May 2001 - Page 45

    With the concept now set, the fascia was removed to see how I could extend the existing L-girder benchwork. Figures 2 and 3 show two methods for doing this. Extensions were spliced to the existing benchwork, risers added, and new plywood sub-roadbed attached. I cut the rails on the old main and added #8 turnouts at both the east and west ends to swing the new track across the front of the layout. These long turnouts are much kinder to long passenger cars than the #6s that had been my standard. Access to Seabold Industries required a curved #8 turnout to match the radius of the new mainline while tying into the existing siding.

    Once the station was relocated to the front of the layout, there was enough room to add a house track on the east side for express and baggage cars with LCL shipments. Adding the new benchwork and track was surprisingly easy and only took a few days.

    Fixing the scenery required a little more work. An existing stream was extended to t he new layout edge and a b ridge added to support the new track. I used a Micro Engineering 50' deck girder kit to span the creek at this location. Since the girders are deeper than the thirty-footers under the old tracks, I had to lower the extended streambed to make everything look right. The streams transition to this lower height was made with a small dam and spillway fashioned out of concrete-painted wood. The dam also added visual interest to the scene.

    With the depot now located between the new and old mains, new real estate became available in the town of Trinidad. The street running to the depot was extended using plaster poured between styrene forms, and timber grade crossings were installed for vehicle access; sidewalks were built from styrene. Several Design Preservation structures were added to create two new city blocks. I filled in around the foundations with sifted dirt, ground foam and junk from my scrap box and used diluted white glue to hold everything in place.

    With the new mainline complete, passenger trains now come and go without tying up the yard lead I even gained another location for meets in the process. I am pleased with the results, both in improved operations and the added visual interest created by the dam and new buildings backing against the tracks. Making these changes was surprisingly easy; painting the new structures took more time than everything else combined.

    As this is written, the old Raton Division exists no more. A new, much larger railroad depicting the Santa Fe over Glorieta Pass in New Mexico is under construction in my new basement, but the lesson learned with the Trinidad yard will be put to good use in the building of my new yard of Las Vegas, New Mexico.

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