2016 in Review

In retrospect, I will remember 2016 as the year that I discovered operations.

I knew early on that I wanted to build the layout so that it would be more than a railfanning concept and could eventually grow (with me) into full operations. But I had no idea what that practically meant. Like most things, reading about it theoretically wasn’t doing it for me – I really needed to see it and experience it.

This year I got to operate on four very different layouts, each of which was a complete joy and all of them have informed my thinking and have contributed to the evolution of my trackplan.


First up, was the N scale Grand Trunk Southern layout of John Johnson (CARM founder and Canadian editor, above) in Hamilton, ON.  You can read all about it at the blog post here.


Then in  June, I was invited to operate on Sheldon Frankel’s fantastic Quebec & New England layout. I first discovered the Q&NE on Sheldon’s YouTube channel and was amazed to learn that this was a local layout. I have since become a regular monthly operator on the Q&NE and very much enjoy being part of an operating group.


Trevor Marshall, who I met at the Copetown Show this year, invited me over to operate on his S scale Port Rowan in 1:64 and blogged about it here. I had listened to Trevor on his podcast, The Model Railway Show, watched him on trainmasters.tv and was an avid follower of his blog. This was another layout that I was on my ‘TOP 10 to visit’ list!


Finally, I had the pleasure to be a guest operator on the Waterloo Region Model Railroad Club. I was invited by Chris van der Heide because he knew of my interest in learning more about OCS operations.


In addition to being a ton of fun, I learned something from each of these experiences. A little bit of each of these layouts will make it into my trackplan and operating concept.

Which beings me to the second theme of 2016… the year that I ‘finalized’ my trackplan. I was really struggling with the trackplan and had actually thought about soliciting some professional help and purchasing some design services. Like most things, a number of people/factors came together to break the logjam.

After watching Bill Beranek, The Track Planner’s excellent Operations presentation on the YouTube Model Builders channel, I became very interested in the AnyRail track planning software. It was fun, easy and finally I was able to try out ideas and really see what would work!

This got me to a trackplan – good but not great. Many thanks to Sheldon Frankel, who in addition to being the owner of the Q&NE is a professional civil engineer and happens to have worked for the railways. No better person to take my previous mess and clean it up with some good, practical, prototypical track design. You can view the revised track plan as a more detailed PDF here.

The final theme of 2016 is friendships. None of the above would have been possible without the friendship of some pretty incredible people.

Being located in Toronto, ON means that I am lucky to be surrounded by hundreds of fantastic modellers and their layouts. I’ve said it before, but I am constantly amazed how generous this community is with their time and encouragement and I have had the good fortune of learning from some of the best. Thank you.



Operating on the Q&NE


Last week I was invited to operate on Sheldon Frankel’s fantastic Quebec & New England layout. The Q&NE layout is 19′ x 29′ HO layout based on the southern end of a regional railroad that runs between Montreal and Boston circa 1990. The focus of the layout is the interchange with Conrail and the many industries served by the QNE.

I had originally discovered the Q&NE on its youtube channel and have been enjoying the 50+ videos over the years. Recently I met Sheldon at a train show and was thrilled when he emailed with the news that he was celebrating one of his regular operator’s retirement and relocation. Bill’s punishment for abandoning his post was that he had to train a replacement operator. Did I want to apply for the job? I warned the gang that my operations experienced was limited, but was welcomed to ‘apprentice’ with Bill.


Operating sessions began in 2012 with a crew of four. Car and train movements are governed by a home-made XL program that assigns and tracks all car locations and train consists. A daily QNE train arrives from staging with local traffic as well as cars for interchange with eastbound and westbound Conrail trains. The QNE crew and power lay over and return northbound during the following operating session. There are two separate staging loops so that westbound departures are automatically turned to become eastbound arrivals (and vice versa) in a later operating session. The same trains do not show up on the layout more often than every third operating session.

The OPS session lasted around four hours and was HARD WORK. We were moving freight! This was a very realistic working session and I felt an appreciation for the very hard work done every day by real railroaders.

I was honoured to be a part of the gang, and as you can see by the photo at the top of the post, I passed the initiation. Not sure it was my skill or my thick skin but I got to take the T-Shirt home. Looking forward to the next session, and a big thank you to Sheldon and his crew for showing me the rails to and for making the evening so much fun!