“Any progress on LCL?”

M233 at St Williams photo StW-Crossing-Trees-04_zps73bc3d71.jpg
(M233 stops at St. Williams to transfer passengers, mail, express and LCL)

I was afraid someone would ask… although I’m also glad that Ralph Heiss did. Ralph runs the LCL Ops Modeling Yahoo Group, which has a lot of great info about less than carload operations and how to model them, so he’s keenly interested in the issue.

I found the group after publishing a blog post about representing LCL on the layout – or, at least, my first steps towards doing so. As the post notes, I’ve created freight receipts to represent Express and LCL.

Ralph, to answer your question: I’ve been testing various ways to use this information on the layout but so far I have not settled on a system I like.

The primary way in which LCL will affect operations is the time required to load and unload it at stations.

On my layout, this isn’t really an issue at Port Rowan, providing the train is spotted at the station while carload switching is performed. Even the time it takes for the crew to run their locomotive from the station to the turntable and back should be sufficient in most cases to transfer LCL and express, since the platform at Port Rowan is long enough to accommodate the whole train.

It’s a different matter at St. Williams, where the platform is long enough for a single passenger car and there’s a road crossing that the rulebook states cannot be blocked for more than five minutes:
St Williams House photo StW-House-01_zps3cc05621.jpg
(Click on the image to read about how to keep the crossing clear)

This means I need some way to translate the freight receipts into the amount of time the train must stop at St. Williams with the appropriate car (LCL boxcar or the baggage section of the combine) spotted at the platform. I have a fast clock system, which helps with this.

On the real railroad, the work would simply take place until it was done. Time isn’t an issue – it takes what it takes. But on a layout, we aren’t physically moving the freight so we need a way to represent the time it takes.

I’m testing two ways:

* The car must be spotted for a set amount of time for each package listed on the freight receipts.

* The car must be spotted for a set amount of time for each 10 pounds of freight listed on the receipts.

Either approach calls for the conductor to do some unprototypical time-keeping. To aid with this, I’ve included some notepaper in one of the pigeon holes on the slide-out work-desks at St. Williams and Port Rowan:
Work Desk w LCL Organizer photo LCL-Rack-01_zpsc8f050ea.jpg
(Click on the image to read more about the pigeon holes)

Using the fast clock, the conductor can note the time that the car is spotted at the station, then calculate how much time will be required to transfer Express and LCL on and off the train.

The short-comings of this system are two-fold:

* First, there’s the math. Nobody really likes doing math.

* Second, regardless of whether it’s calculated by weight or by number of items, the time can quickly add up to a lot of standing around for the operators – which, frankly, isn’t very fun.

Changing the amount of time per unit of measurement – for example, from 30 fast-seconds to 15 fast-seconds per 10 pounds – is one way to address the second problem. Breaking the work into unloading on M233’s trip west to Port Rowan, and loading on M238’s return trip east, also helps reduce the apparent wait time by splitting it. But neither solution does nothing about the first problem: The math.

One option I’m considering is adding a timer next to each fast clock on the work desk. If they’re mechanical timers, I can add some new faces – either marked in fast minutes or in number of packages. Some math would still be required to figure out how long each car must be spotted at the platform. But once that’s figured out, one could simply set the timer and do other things until it dings.

Nothing is decided yet and I’ll continue to work on this. Thanks again for asking the question, Ralph – stay tuned for more!

13 thoughts on ““Any progress on LCL?”

  1. To avoid the operators having to do math, what about including the delay time on the paperwork, in addition to or in place of weight? As an alternative, you might consider a weight to time ratio which would make the math easy, such as 1 second per pound, one minute per item, etc.

  2. An alternative is to only unload LCL at St. Williams on the outbound trip from Port Rowan where you might have a button that the conductor pushes that would sound a buzzer in the five to ten minutes that it would take the station agent to enter the LCL car, find the package(s) and remove them and shut the door on the LCL car.
    Your special instructions on your ETT might provide the instructions.
    By the way, at least here in the states, LCL was carried only in the LCL car or maybe even the caboose and not in the “Express section” of the baggage car. It was two different departments of the railroad that carried the different products at very different cost structures within the railroad. Express was a part of the Passenger Department and the LCL was within the Freight Department.

    • Hi Tom:

      Good ideas. Thanks.

      Things worked the same here. LCL in a boxcar assigned to the service, and Express in the combine. When I write about this, I try to use both terms together – as in “LCL and Express” – because I’m really trying to work out how both should be represented on the layout.

      The Daily Effort’s consist includes an LCL boxcar, a baggage-mail car, and a combine. Depending on what direction the train is travelling, the distance between the LCL boxcar and the Express section on the combine can be quite significant – in fact, longer than the platform at St. Williams. So the crew may have to do their passenger stop, then reposition the train to load/unload one type of package, and reposition it again to load/unload the other type.

      My effort here is to figure out how to represent these various activities. Otherwise, the mixed train runs like a freight extra with not a lot of carload switching to do, and what amounts to a 200-foot-long caboose.


  3. I envision a bit of software that randomly generates the list of traffic based on population numbers, season and old Eaton’s catalogues!

    LCL is something I need to learn more about if I am going to have well-informed freight house operations. Thanks for the pointer to the LCL group.

    • My pleasure, Mark. Good luck with the traffic generator. Sometime when you’re here for a session we can work on the LCL timing…

  4. Several years ago, I played with animating the side door on a caboose using a decoder to open and close it. I also experimented with including the sound of a boxcar-type door to replicate the sound of the door opening and closing. You might consider using sound to achieve the delays you want. Stop the train, push a button, and wait while you hear the door slide open, some boxes being moved, and then the door being closed. The operator then doesn’t need to do any math, etc. Much like taking water…stop the train, flip a toggle to swing the water plug out over the tender, push 5 for the decoder to start the water sound, etc.

    • Hi Jack:

      Thanks for the idea. A very good one!

      I’ve used such an audio cue for the coal dump in Port Rowan. I scalped the recording of a wine door lock being opened and closed from a video I found online, and added a track to one of my DreamPlayer Pro audio boards. The operator can now push a button the fascia to trigger a sequence of door opening, aggregate unloading (coal, stone, what have you – the dump was used for several commodities), and door closing and latching. It runs about 40 seconds – enough to feel like a hopper has been emptied but not so long that it becomes boring.

      We rarely use this button because for the most part, a single car is spotted and stays put until a future train arrives to collect it. But I installed this button so that an operator could unload more than one hopper car – for example, if the Port Rowan harbour authority takes delivery of a cut of multiple hopper cars from the Hagersville stone quarry.

      The challenge with LCL and Express is that on some days, there may be one package while on others there may be a dozen. And packages may range from a carton of pharmaceuticals for the local drug store, to a piano. I’d like to come up with a way to represent the different times it takes to handle diverse LCL and Express. As a secondary consideration, I’d like a system that forces the conductor to actually look at the freight receipts to see what the train is carrying – as a way to add some understanding to what the mixed train did for the communities it served.


  5. Hi Trevor,

    How about multiple sounds. Press button to open the door, press another button , the sound of a box sliding, once for each receipt, then the third button for the door closing and latching.

  6. Hello, Trevor!

    Wow, a blog post inspired by my question, I’m honored, LOL! I’m glad to hear you are working on expanding your LCL operations, I love how you can add so much “play value” to your layout ops, unlike I’m able to do (easily at least) on my layout due to its size and scope of operation, and not in the least due to my superior procrastinational (is that even a word?) skills! It’s a pleasure to read how you’re acomplishing things like this, for some day in the future when I have a smaller layout to apply them to.

    As for how to signify the “wait time” of unloading/loading, I was also going to suggest the “kitchen timer idea”, as it is in use here on two New Jersey layouts – One to signify to the yard crews that cars are iced and ready for pickup, and one to signify cars are finished being cleaned out and ready for respotting. It works great, least of all because when the timer goes off, it gets your attention! Math is the “root of all evil” when it comes to even my LCL ticket “system”, and I aimed to curtail it as much as possible when I came up with how I wanted the staion agent to deal with freight tag/receipts between cars.

    While I haven’t put it into use yet, my idea works on the premise that typically, cars carrying LCL freight cubed out (fill up) before weighing out (reaching max. weight). So, to make the math “easy”, I designed freight tickets (though not ones that look as realistic as yours do) that have, in bold numbers, values in factors of either 5, 10, or 20. The tags (or if you prefer, receipts) are also labeled randomly as “barrels”, “boxes”, “cans/drums”, “packages”, “furniture” or “machinery”. The to/from info is left blank, to be filled in. The idea is that a typical 40ft car will have enough tags that add up to 100, or 100% cubed out.

    So following that logic, a car may only have 5 tags, or it may have 10 or even more tags. The freight tags are contained in a 5×8 manila envelope, suitably marked for the car and the route. Eventually, the scheme will involve the freight agent taking the inbound cars tags and looking to see if the tags are for freight that terminates there, or that need to be transferred to another car being routed out of the transfer station. Fun stuff, if I ever put it into practice! I covered this in the OpSIG Dispatcher’s Office article that I wrote back in April of 2009, and since then, I just never got around to “practicing what I preached”, focusing rather upon getting the railroad to run smoothly mechanically, not necessarily operationally.

    Well, I’ve gone on long enough. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll now get off my duff (insert shameless plug here!) and write a new blog post for my Lehigh Valley Harbor Terminal Railway blog at http://lvnyharbor.blogspot.com/, first thing in the New Year……After all, stranger things have happened!

    Thanks, and keep the interesting thoughts coming,


    • Hi Ralph:
      Some very interesting ideas – thanks for sharing them here. I assume you’ve shared them via the LCL Yahoo group as well…
      I like your use of freight tickets to represent “cubing out” an LCL car. Very clever. It would work best for filling cars at a freight shed, though – less useful for loading / unloading a car en route on a small line like mine, since a car would never be filled to capacity on my layout. This is the end of the branch, so in theory the LCL car is nearly empty. And neither Port Rowan nor St. Williams will generate a full car – nowhere near it.
      I’ve enjoyed looking through your blog in the past – I’ll have to revisit it sometime soon.
      Happy new year!

      • Hi Tevor!

        Thank you, and same to you…….I see what your saying about the amount of LCL on your layout, what works for me wouldn’t for you. There has to be a solution somewhere in the middle though! I’m not sure I’ve so much shared what I posted above on my LCL Group, but rather only in the pages of the Dispatcher’s Office…..Maybe I should recifiy that and stir up some new food for thought. Thanks for the kind words on my blog, I guess I REALLY have to get a new post up, seeing as if I wait another 4 months, it’ll be a YEAR since my last! Playing music has been my life since the summer.


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