(The Lehigh Valley’s 27th Street pocket terminal)
I was in Austin, Texas last week to take part in the NMRA Lone Star Region’s annual convention. Among the highlights was a chance to take part in an operating session on the HO scale Port of New York Railroad being built by Riley Triggs.
Riley is building his layout in an upstairs room in his home. The prototype is very urban, with several railroads negotiating complex track work in tight quarters that are shared with buildings, streets, wharves and piers. In addition to the main layout, Riley has used an adjacent room to build two of New York’s famous “pocket terminals” – switching districts isolated from the nation’s rail network, and reachable only via car float. At this stage, Riley has installed most (if not all) of the track work and has trains running. He is just getting started on the dozens of structures he will need for his layout.
I was fortunate to team up with Lance Mindheim for the operating session. Together, we worked the Lehigh Valley’s 27th Street pocket terminal:
(Riley (l) and Lance discuss the 27th Street operation. In the background, two more operators work the Erie RR’s Harlem Station. The main layout is through the doorway in the distance.)
The 27th Street terminal is essentially a self-contained layout in a book case, connected to the rest of Riley’s empire via a car float. While tiny, there’s a lot of track packed into the space. You can read more about the terminal on Riley’s blog, but here’s a photo of the track arrangement from his post about building the terminal in a day:
I took the role of conductor, while Lance was the engineer. We were handed a switch list and spent a solid two hours moving cars about this terminal- unloading the car float, sorting cars between a couple of storage tracks, the freight shed and other customers, and prepping the car float for its return trip to the mainland.
The first thing I learned was that traditional methods of switching just don’t work in a pocket terminal. I approached the task as if I was working a traditional yard, which goes something like this:
Well, that quickly got me into trouble. In many cases, the switch lead wasn’t long enough to hold an entire track of cars. In some spots, we were limited to a single car in addition to our locomotive. (While this would be frustrating on a traditional model railway and represent bad layout design, this was actually pretty close to reality in many of New York’s pocket terminals.) After trying this a couple of times, and failing miserably, I abandoned what I knew about switching cars and resorted to cherry picking what we needed. The key became, “What can I move that gets something out of our way?” Once I got comfortable with that, things went much more smoothly. And it was a most enjoyable operating session!
At first glance, Riley’s Port of New York may not strike one as an achievable layout. For example, there are approximately 120 turnouts on the layout, including many complex pieces of track work such as slip switches and double crossovers. The number of structures he needs to build is also intimidating.
However, it is an achievable layout because of some of the choices Riley has made.
The structures would intimidate me, but Riley is an architect by profession, which means he will have some terrific ideas for tackling all of the structures he needs to build. I suspect he will approach this challenge differently than someone who does not work with structure designs all the time. I look forward to seeing how he does this.
To address the complexities of the track work on his chosen prototypes, Riley has taken advantage of commercial track components and all turnouts in our pocket terminal were hand-thrown.
Furthermore, he has eliminated all track wiring (which would be problematic with the many double slips and crossings) by adopting a “Dead Rail” system for his layout – in this case, the AirWire system from CVP. Each locomotive is permanently coupled to a car which contains the DCC Sound Decoder, a radio receiver, and batteries. The engineer uses wireless throttles to send DCC commands over the air to the battery car, which then supplies power to its locomotive. The system worked really well: We had no issues with power or signal during our two-hour switching assignment.
The only drawback from an operations perspective was that the permanently coupled car ate up a lot of space in the pocket terminal. It often doubled the number of moves required to spot cars on a track, for example. However, that’s a minor quibble and is certainly more than offset by the wiring nightmare that such a layout would otherwise have required. The battery car would not be an issue on a more tradition layout, where one could permanently couple a set of locomotives and put the Dead Rail gear into an unpowered model. It would also not be a factor in larger scales such as O, where there would be plenty of space inside a single diesel for batteries and a receiver.
There’s a lot to learn from Riley’s layout, from a design perspective. My takeaways included:
– What’s achievable for one person is not for another. Professional skills may make the difference.
– Exploring new ways of doing things (for example, Dead Rail instead of traditional wiring, 3D printing and Cricut cutting machines, and so on) may make a previously daunting plan more achievable.
– While Riley’s layout is large, the two pocket terminals he’s incorporated are definitely achievable by anybody, yet would still offer many pleasant construction and operating challenges.
I had a lot of fun during this operating session, and learned about Dead Rail in the process. Thanks for the great day, Riley!
If you want to know more about my trip to the NMRA Lone Star Region convention, visit my Port Rowan blog.