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Discussion Starter #1
I wasn't sure what the best place to post this would be, but I figure it sort of falls under layout design.

I am getting close to the point on my layout where I can actually start thinking about operations. My goal is to have a card order or routing system that will tell me where cars need to go.

My layout is fairly simply, a single yard with industries along the railroad. So my thought is to maybe have two local freights, one for each side of the table followed by an outbound freight and an inbound freight. Once I have enough rolling stock, the inbound / outbound freight may utilize an off the table interchange.

I want to be able to identify each industry, which cars they would accept and at what frequency. For instance, the power plant may take three hoppers a day but the iron works may only take one gon every 2 days.

I doubt any program or system would automatically include this, but I also thought it would be cool if there was a random chance for a car or engine breakdown. I was almost thinking of using a random number generator and say for every car going somewhere, there is a 1/500 chance that it suffers a breakdown. That car would then need to be sent to the RIP track and either a replacement car located or that order would simply be pushed until the car is repaired by the next cycle.

So with that in mind, I was wondering what software or manual systems people use?
 

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Micro Mark offers a car card system that you could
adapt to your switching plans.

https://www.micromark.com/CAR-ROUTING-SYSTEM

I have it but have modified it to my thinking.

You prepare a card for each loco and car on your
layout. It shows the type of car (box, tanker, flat, etc.)
road number and various other identifications.

I file them in categories, box, flat, tanker, etc.

To use them, I look at what car is at what industry,
and select this or that one that will make up a train.
I pull those cards and, using attached 'POST IT' notes, write
the location and destination for each car. I then put them
in an order that would provide the most efficient movements
to accomplish the assignments. I have 2 fair size yards
and a number of industry spurs, most with more than one
shipper. Some require use of a run around.

When the train completes it's run, the cards of the
train cars are
changed to show a new destination at industries or
storage yard. Sometimes a new Post it, sometimes
I just erase the pencil marks. Using the POST ITs
lets you use the car cards over and over with no
marks on them.

Using an organized switching system seems much
more 'realistic' than simply having a switcher grab this
or that car and do something with it.

It is especially fun to make up switching orders for
a friend to execute.

Don
 

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I use a very simplistic system that works very well for us.

I used inkjet business cards to print up 3 decks of cards. The first has 17 cards, one for each loco in my fleet. The second has 64 cards in it, each having a different combination of cards and destinations in it. So each operator takes a card from the first stack, which assigns him a locomotive, then a card from the second deck, which tells him where he will be going and with which cars. About half of the trips originate in Cedar Hill yard in New Haven, where cargos from outside the Connecticut River Valley originate. Many terminate there as well. Any empties which have to be pulled in order to serve the drawn destination must be returned either to Cedar Hill or to the originating industry. When cars are delivered to their destination, the operator pulls the loads out of open cars (gons, flat cars, and hoppers), and they become empties.

To mix things up a bit, we usually set a passenger train to slowly orbit the layout, and freights are prohibited from fouling the main long enough to interfere with the higher priority passenger trains. If we have to hit the "emergency stop" button because of an impending collision, or because someone forgot to line a turnout back to the main, the offender has to make a drink or snack run.

What is the 3rd deck, you ask? It simulates things going wrong. Each loco and car has a card in the deck for a breakdown of some kind. If you pull a card for a piece of rolling stock that isn't in your train, then no harm, no foul. If it IS in your train, you have to set out the bad order car or take the loco to the engine shop.

So this is a very simplified system that still has some structure to it, but doesn't require the same level of attention to detail that a full-up car card system would require. It works really well for me and 2-3 others at a time.
 

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I want to be able to identify each industry, which cars they would accept and at what frequency. For instance, the power plant may take three hoppers a day but the iron works may only take one gon every 2 days.

I used MicroSoft Excel (you can use any other equivalent spreadsheet program) to make my own car card/waybill slips, as well as a sheet using random number ranges to generate "demand" and vary the mix of traffic from session to session.

I have some detailed information on both topics on some postings on my personal blog site, which you're welcome to check out:

Excel Car Cards and Waybills

Simulating Customer Demand on a Model Railroad
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks everyone. While I appreciate the manual systems (my dad uses one) I was really looking for a computer based system.

I have started using JMRI operations which was free to download and it has an incredible amount of functionality. I am very happy with it so far and hope to tweak it more as I go to get more realistic.
 

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Since I'm really not computer saavy, I don't know specific
programs, however, I do know that there
are scads of inventory control programs available. Since the locos and cars of a railroad are it's inventory, you may find that one
of these would work for your switching controls.

Don
 
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