Mixed Train Traffic Study

Hagersville-LCL photo Hagersville-Resize_zpsd9144a97.jpg
(The Daily Effort at Hagersville, Ontario – June 20, 1953. Photo via the Henley’s Hamilton blog. Click on the image to visit that blog and read more about the mixed train from Hamilton to Port Rowan and Port Dover)

I’ve written a few times on this blog about my desire to make operating the mixed train (M233/M238) a unique experience. M233/M238 hauls a combine, a baggage mail car, and a boxcar in LCL service. These three cars – and the people, express, LCL and mail that they transport – are essential to the character of the mixed.

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(The mixed train, with no carload traffic in the consist)

But from an operator’s perspective, these cars don’t actually do much: They trundle along at the back of the train, behind the carload freight, like a 200-foot-long caboose. They’re re-ordered at Port Rowan, but the switching is minimal. It’s one of the reasons why I like to run two short sessions when friends visit: One with the mixed train, and one with a freight extra. This way, visitors get to experience a variety of trains.

But in doing so, my concern is that if the focus is on just the carload freight in the mixed train, it will feel a lot like running a freight extra. What’s more, given the train length constraints on my layout (imposed by the length of the run-around in Port Rowan and the length of the storage tracks on my sector plate), the play value of the mixed will suffer if the focus is on carload freight. This is because the mixed typically has only one or two cars of carload freight in its consist – so there’s even less switching to do than when I run a freight extra, which can accommodate up to five cars of carload freight while still fitting within the Port Rowan run-around.

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(A freight extra, hard at work in Port Rowan. Without that 200-foot-long “caboose”, a lot more carload traffic can be handled – and that means more switching during an operating session)

I’ve already created a number of receipts and tickets to represent the LCL and express that the mixed train carries, plus tickets for mail bags and passengers. And I’ve written about the idea of defining how much time needs to be spent making each station stop – so that the volume of passengers and goods actually influences the mixed train’s progress along the line. As noted in More progress on LCL and Express, I decided to test the following formula:

*The car must be spotted for five minutes, plus one minute per 200 pounds (or portion thereof) of freight listed on the receipts.

You can read that earlier posting for the rationale, but in limited testing this formula has been working for me.

However, the challenge has been that I’ve needed something to keep track of the spotting times – especially in St. Williams, where the platform is short and the train must be repositioned if all three of the “mixed train” cars must be worked.

I was using scrap paper for this, but I’ve been looking for something better – something “more railroady” to give the conductor a reason to actually be recording the times required for the work. What I really needed was a form to tie together all the other paperwork – the freight receipts, passenger tickets, and so on.

While pondering the problem, I recalled a document Roger Chrysler shared with me, which detailed the work performed by crews on his chosen prototype. If I recall, the document was created as part of a management/labour negotiation – and that gave me an idea:

Given that in the era I model, the CNR was looking to abandon mixed train service on the Port Rowan branch, it might make sense for management to run a traffic study – complete with a form for train conductors to fill out. While it would appear the form is being filled out to collect data, it would actually work as a tool for calculating the time required to do the work.

Inspired by the concept, I’ve created a suitable form to test during future operating sessions:

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(Working on paperwork: This time, a traffic study form for the mixed train)

Each form has spots for listing mail, express, LCL and passengers. Small notes under each category appear to be targets for the study – but they actually provide the operator with a formula for calculating how much time must be spent performing each operation during a station stop.

Spaces beside each category provide room for entering the quantity (e.g.: 350 lbs of LCL) and for doing the time calculation and recording the results in the form of a start time and end time.

When the appropriate car is positioned and ready to be worked, the start time can be recorded, the calculation made, and then the end time noted. That car can’t be moved until the end time has passed.

For the sake of completeness, I’ve also included space to note the number of carload cars lifted and set off, and the time required to perform this work. Unlike the other categories, there’s no target time to perform the calculations here: The conductor will simply note the start and end times from each station’s fast clock.

The conductor will fill in one form for each station – so, three forms per operating session: One for each direction at St. Williams, and one for Port Rowan.

Is it a lot of paperwork? Not really. It’s the equivalent of writing down one’s work on a switch list – something my crews already do when handling carload traffic.

I also like that this Traffic Study form will remind operators that in the era I model, the job they are doing is being threatened by CNR management looking to abandon marginal branch lines, and annul services such as Port Rowan’s daily mixed train. I’m trying to tell a story with my layout and my operating sessions. As the tag under my blog’s title suggests, I’m trying to draw visiting operators into the world of “A Canadian National Railways branch in Ontario – in its twilight years”. This Traffic Study form may be a fabrication – but it’s one that should help me convey the story of The Daily Effort to visiting operators.

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

11 thoughts on “Mixed Train Traffic Study

  1. You do realize that in the 50’s mail clerks worked the mail as the train travelled, so any mail picked up along the way, (with an arm out of the mail car) would be ready for the next place that handled mail. I do know that Glanford Station had several mail routes collecting and depositing mail there, so likely did Caledonia, Hagersville and Jarvis. If this work was not complete, the train may have had to wait on the clerk to give the all clear which may exceed the normal stop time.

    • Interesting, John – thanks for the comment.
      I haven’t found any information about active mail clerks on the mixed train to Port Rowan, so I’ve been working under the assumption that the service consisted of pre-sorted mail in sealed bags. My time to handle mail at station stops represents the time to drop bags of pre-sorted mail for local delivery, and collect bags of un-sorted mail for forwarding to a postal sorting centre.
      But that doesn’t mean I’m right – and information about working mail clerks could be out there. I just haven’t come across it.
      I wonder if the mail service to St. Williams and Port Rowan was worked by a clerk? I wonder how I’d find out?

      • (While not related directly to the post at hand, I should add that finding the answers to questions such as “Was there a clerk on the mail car to Port Rowan?” has been one of the biggest benefits I’ve enjoyed because I write this blog. That’s why I encourage others – especially those trying to model a specific prototype – to start their own blogs.)

  2. I get really interested in data pretty easily. When I read this post I wondered if you would keep a record of these entries over time? You could compile them to see what trends start to appear. Immediately, it would just be interesting trivia describing what a typical operating session on your model railway was like but if considered from CN’s perspective perhaps these forms that you and your crews are filling out become the foundation on which the future of the branch is laid.

    CN tracked traffic similarly here on PEI. I’ve seen only a few and look to them for their archival value as a tool to help describe the railroad as it was. Leveraging these forms in the current time might help to better place the operator inside the scenario. Instead of recalling the 50’s, we’d be living in it.


    • Hi Chris:
      Interesting idea. As I note, my form appears to be doing one thing – while actually doing another. It appears to be tracking time worked – but actually provides a space to calculate and note the delay required to represent the work.
      That said, the forms could be collected and analyzed to provide a picture of operating sessions, over time. For example, they could help determine just how long a session lasts and how much that session length varies.
      You mention you’ve seen a few samples of this type of tracking by the CNR on PEI: Do you actually have a sample form they used for this? While it may not change the appearance of my own form, I’d be interested in seeing what the prototype used…

      • I should clarify, I haven’t seen the form itself. What I have tucked somewhere in my stacks of CN on PEI stuff is the result: the report CN produced.

        In the PEI case CN was collecting this data to substantiate their argument that the railway was not sustainable. There is an obvious cant toward their recommendation and some gaps in the data they present. I think of this report often as a railroad history piece but often just as much professionally for the way only the right data was selected to tell a particular story.


  3. Do you find that much freight is handled on the M233/M238 trains beyond that which is accommodated on the three cars already provided? Do you usually bill carload freight onto an extra?


    • Hi Chris:
      Photos of the prototype M233 arriving in Port Rowan sometimes show the train consist as just equipment operating in mixed service (combine, baggage-mail, LCL boxcar). Other times, the train also has one of two additional cars of car-load freight.
      On the prototype, I doubt very much that a freight extra would’ve run over the portion of the branch that I’m modelling. But this is also a model railway that’s supposed to be fun, so the traffic has been boosted a bit. I like to have a freight extra on hand – and, to be honest, that’s the train that most often gets run when friends come over for a session, because people like to switch cars. But if I’m doing two back-to-back sessions, I like running a freight extra in one and a mixed train in the other. (And if I have two visitors, I like to have them swap roles between the trains.)

  4. I model Santa Fe’s Alma branch and have regular operating sessions running trains 95 and 96 from Burlingame to Alma and back. There are 7 stations on the line. Besides a caboose and an LCL car there might be 8 freight cars on the train. Operating sessions last from 2 1/2-3 1/2 hours switching and picking up cars on the line.

  5. Really love how all this is in service of “telling the story” – that’s what we’re really trying to do, have our layouts be time machines. I think this additional form, even though perhaps (technically) contrived, makes an important point which carries the story forward. Very cool idea, creatively executed!

  6. Trevor,
    Down south here we have the “Mobile Post Office Society” who have reams of data on the USPO rail and highway operations. My local contact for Colorado is Mike Maselli (mmaselli77@Yahoo.com) and the national leader is Frank Sheer (fscheer@railwaymailservicelibrary.org). I don’t know if the group covers Canada, but for those interested in the USPO RMS, they have the data.

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