model railroads resources


Making It Real – Connecting
Other Railroads To Your Model Railroad.

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GP7 #1519 crosses the
diamonds to the Interchange.

In the real world, most American railroads connect with other railroads or other forms of transport. Railroads interchange cars between each other, facilitating the movement of freight without the need to move freight into other freight cars at the end of each railroad.

Model railroads normally do not have a physical connection to another model railroad, although layout owners may still physically or virtually exchange cars. Incorporating interchange traffic into your model railroad can be an good way to add interest to you layout operations.

On my model railroad, the Chicago and South Forest Terminal RR, I sought to simulate this interchanging of cars between railroads. Here are the steps I took to make this more realistic.

I made a region map, showing where the railroad was situated and the railroad connections around it.

railway interchange plans

 Fig. 1: A region map of the location I model.

  • I set an era (mid 1970's to mid 1980's). Setting an era for your model railroad can add more realism to your operations as different eras saw different methods of train operations.
  • Then I set up a list of trains, railroads, and where they enter the model railroad, what industries use cars from that railroad, method of interchanging, and how often other railroads interchange with my model railroad.
  • I also added train identifiers for the different trains that deliver or pick up cars from my railroad. These train identifiers can be a mixture of numbers and alphabetic characters, numbers only, or alphabetic characters only, depending on the prototype railroads you are modeling.
  • I added location name signs to the front of different parts of my layout. This gives the effect of a train traveling through different locations to get to it's destination, and it helps newer operators to know where they are in relation to other parts of the layout.
  • An industries shunting instructions list, which indicates how often a particular industry is shunted during an operating session, what types of cars, and how long cars remain at a particular industry before being returned to the Interchange.

Here is an example of how interchanged cars move on to and through my layout.

The South Forest Local (Train SF01E)

The South Forest Local is a freight train that is run every operating session on my model railroad. The name of train is from the main shunting location of the train, South Forest. This location has a number of industries

industries for model railroads

After Transfer 815 arrives at the Interchange with cars from Burr Oak and Blue Island yard, the South Forest Local is ready to depart. Burr Oak during the era I model was a yard of the Rock Island RR, and Blue Island yard was a yard of the Indiana Harbor Belt RR. Between them these two yards could have cars from any western United States railroad, or Canadian railroad. On my model railroad all western railroads enter my railroad through the Indiana Harbor Belt main line to the north west of the location I model.

Quick Tip: As well as showing the connections to other railroads, the region map for your railroad can also indicate which arrival points are used by which railroads, such as are indicated in Fig 1, above. If you want to indicate interchanging locations by car type, or for specific cars, a table with columns for Car Type / Number, Interchanging Location, and Interchanging Trains, would probably be a better a idea.


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