Auxiliary Yards

From LdsigWiki

Jump to: navigation, search


Lets' say for a moment that yards are like desserts. I'll bet you can think of at least four or five different desserts you might like to have every now and then. So you wouldn't want to limit yourself to just plain vanilla ice cream, would you? Sure, vanilla is good, and it gets the job done, but why settle for a steady diet of it when there's so many other tasty things to choose from? Why not have vanilla ice cream with a serving of apple pie, or chocolate cake? Or both?

I make the dessert analogy to point out that a yard design without auxiliary tracks is a lot like plain vanilla ice cream. Adequate, serviceable, but missing out on a lot of potential fun. Auxiliary tracks accentuate the yard, provide great play and operations value, and help the modeler design a better, well-rounded railroad facility. Many auxiliary tracks serve as railroad-specific on-line industries, increasing the usefulness of the yard area for operating purposes. Others provide scenic opportunities otherwise overlooked in the yard. Either way, auxiliary tracks are a great asset to the model railroad yard when used intelligently and carefully.

Typical Auxiliary Tracks found in or around the yard

Railroad-Oriented Tracks:

The RIP (Repair In Place) track

The RIP track is probably the biggest operations bang in the smallest, simplest possible space of any device on the railroad. It is an ideal on-line industry. It accepts any type of car, has a high turnover rate (up to several cars in and out during a session), and can suggest larger car repair operations nearby (car shops) if located and modeled carefully. The RIP track can be located anywhere but ideally should be a short spur off the ladder track, yard lead or an outside body track. Scenic elements like new and broken wheels, jack stands, brake beams and brake shoes (new in crates, used left scattered about) dotting the location help visually indicate its purpose. A jib crane that can be rotated over the tracks can be a useful scenic element as well. The track should have ample room on either side to allow work to be done.

To utilize the RIP track, the yard operator, dispatcher or train crew needs only to issue a 'bad order' at random on a given car to have it switched to the RIP track, ostensibly for brake repair or dragging equipment, etc. Bad-order cars can also be set out on this track to address real world problems, like low couplers or poor tracking. Once the repairs are made, real or imagined, the car is switched back into the yard proper and continues on its way. Another advantage for operators is that being sent temporarily to the RIP track does not interfere with the car's normal routing, if any. Every yard should include a RIP track somewhere, it is simply too useful to be without.

Engine Services

Engine services are discussed elsewhere in this section briefly, but it behooves us to make mention of the support services that normally go into engine service tracks. Among them, depending on the era, are Coaling towers, sand houses, water towers, ash pits, inspection pits, wash racks, diesel fuel tanks and hose racks, etc. These structures are usually located along the inbound service lead to maintain arriving locomotives. Their purpose in keeping the railroad going is obvious, but less obvious is the fact many of these support services require frequent support themselves to keep going.

Busy steam-era division point yards may require a coaling tower to be reloaded several times a day to keep up with demand. An inclined spur located off the yard lead or an A/D track, and running behind the tower allows the switcher to set out and retrieve cuts of hoppers quickly, several times a session. A shed built behind the tower and over a concrete or wood hopper in the gound allows unloading of the coal hoppers. Yard hands use the handbrakes to roll the cars down the incline and spot each car in turn over the collection hopper. A hoist skip or bucket then collects coal from the hopper, is hoisted to the top of the tower, and loads it one bucket at a time. While we aren't likely to model each car being unloaded, we can still model the switching of coal hoppers in and out.

Served somewhat less frequently are sand houses and ash pits. The sand house needs a spur where a boxcar full of damp sand can be unloaded before being shoveled into the sand house for drying. If there is not much space to store the sand, a carload of sand may remain over several days, or weeks, while it is unloaded slowly. Ash pits require older 'company service' hoppers or gondolas spotted close by on an adjacent track for the cinder conveyors (human or mechanical) to deposit the ashes dropped by steam locomotives into. Often, the sand house and ashpits are located along a single 'service' spur adjacent to the inbound service lead.

In the modern era, diesel fuel may be stored in tank cars near the fueling racks, in case of a temporary shortage. Or fuel may be drawn directly from these cars if there is no local storage tank. Sand is still used today, of course, but is usually shipped pre-dried in covered hoppers today. Though sand houses today are few and far between, you still need a place to spot one or more covered hoppers near the sand tower. The hopper is used as a rolling sand bin the tower draws from, and is replaced by car only when finally emptied. These tracks are not switched very often, and can be located off the engine service leads or other tracks deep in the yard complex.

The point is, many of the services found along the engine service tracks themselves require occasional servicing to continue operating properly. In the above examples, the coaling tower probably requires its own dedicated track, while the sand house, ash pits and diesel fuel storage could all be on the same track, running parallel to the service lead. Careful inclusion of these service tracks can help provide additional switching opportunities within the yard complex, and a more accurate and attractive model besides.

Cleanout Track

Not a glamorous item, but very useful for operations. Cars used to haul particular types of 'messy' commodities, like grain, need to be cleaned after unloading before they can be loaded again or sent back home. Most yards have a cleanout track, where cars like these are sent to be swept and/or hosed out. Like a RIP track, the cleanout track can be switched several times per session and not interfere with routing instructions for individual cars. It its, of course, limited to cars stenciled for clean lading, however. A nice scenic touch is to sprinkle assorted sweepings onto the ground beside the track, to simulate continuous cleaning work going on. For areas used to clean grain from boxcars, used paper grain doors smushed into trash barrels and piles of 8' long 2x8's help set the scene as well.

Scale Track

Here's another useful track that is seldom modeled but takes up very little extra space. A scale track is usually located astride an arrival/departure track, to weigh bulk commodities a carload at a time while entering or leaving the yard. Usually the scale is mounted on a short section of gantlet track, with switchpoints at either end. Because the weight of a locomotive would destroy most scales, the locomotive is lined to run past the scale on the A/D track, while the loaded railcars are diverted onto and are pulled or pushed slowly across the scale.

The scale track in the model yard is easily modeled since it does not have to be functional. A set of extra tracks laid interspersed with one of your A/D tracks and a couple of fake switchpoints are all that is really necessary cosmetically. A small scalehouse located nearby is usually a good scenic touch. Its scenic appearance is a great plus, and using it to simulate weighing coal drags, tank cars or other bulk loads provides great fun and operational interest for comparatively little real estate. Of course, a functional scale track with operating switchpoints is not much more difficult to model, and provides for even more operating interest as well as interesting special trackwork.

Freight House

As a common carrier, most railroads had a freight house located nearby the yard or local passenger station to temporarily warehouse Less-Than-Carload (LCL) freight until it could be shipped or picked up. Often, an express company like Railway Express Agency (REA) shared the facility with the railroad to conduct their package delivery business from. LCL and express cars, usually arriving on passenger trains or fast freights, would sometimes be switched out and spotted at the freight house for loading / unloading. Many types of cars, including baggage cars, boxcars and reefers are candidates to be carrying express or LCL loads.

Many railroads had their own fleets of special LCL cars, like the New York Central (Pacemaker) or Southern Pacific (Overnight) cars. These cars generally wore special paint schemes and never left their home rails at all. They just shuttled back and forth (quickly) from one freight house to the next. A freight house makes a great place to appropriately model this specialized type of traffic.

Because the freight house is the place where the general public comes to pick up their freight, it must be located nearby to a street and have adequate room for trucks and other vehicles to manouver and park while collecting their goods. Of course, these space-eating areas can easily be pushed 'off the edge' of the layout, or the freight house can be modeled as a flat along the backdrop with only the railroad-side loading docks visible (and modeled).

Team Tracks

The subject of team tracks is covered fully in the primer section on industries, but I must mention it is not unusual for a set of team tracks to be located inside or nearby to a yard, even if only for the railroads' personal use. Such tracks can accept many types of loads from entire diesel engines on flatcars to boxcars of repair parts. Best if located nearby the yards' car shops or other repair facilities.

Wreck Train Ready Track

Here's one you don't see too often, and is particularly suited to the modeler with an interest in Maintenance Of Way equipment. In the steam era, nearly every division point yard had a wreck train fired up, crewed and ready to go at a moments' notice, 24 hours a day. Since the large cranes and derricks were mostly steam-powered, these tracks needed access to a steady supply of water and coal to keep the boilers hot and filled. This type of track would usually be a short spur located near the roundhouse, or off the engine service leads for supplies and fast access to the mainline. Even if you don't use it often, it makes a great place to show off your wreck train models, if you have some.

Commodity-Specific Freight Tracks:

Icing Track

For many years, the meat, fruit and produce industries shipped huge quantities of perishable foods in refrigerated cars all across the country. Through most of that history, the 'Reefers' were cooled with ice. Icemaking or harvesting was an entire industry in itself, and all rail lines that moved this type of traffic had ice warehouses and icing tracks located at regular intervals along the route. Reefers were replenished with ice at these locations, so the cargo would stay cool and arrive fresh at its destination days later.

If you model a railroad that participated in this type of traffic, you will want to have an ice warehouse or refrigeration plant located lineside, and a high-level icing platform located alongside a dedicated track where reefers are to be iced. Since icing a string of reefers doesn't take long, this siding can be switched several times during a session, taking cuts of cars out of arriving fast freights, icing them and placing them back into the train for forwarding. If you model perishables traffic to any significant degree, consider including an ice warehouse and icing platform. Location should be adjacent to or off of an arrival/departure track, or nearby siding.

Stock Exercise Track

A human passenger couldn't go from New York to California without lities used to turn locomotives are used, if it is not too disruptive to power servicing operations. On other roads, there is less emphasis on turning equipment. The New York Central never turned sleepers between New York City and Buffalo, for instance, so the bedroom windows always faced the water. You'd also find a set of wash racks located on the inbound lead to the coach yard (just like engine service).

If the nearby station is a division point on a busy passenger route, you will often find extensive services to support passenger operations. In the period before the early 1960's, a Pullman car service building would almost certainly be nearby or inside coach yard limits. Pullman would serve their incoming sleepers and diners, cleaning the cars and outfitting them with fresh linens. Diners would be spotted at commisary buildings, where their food lockers and water supplies would be restocked as well as linens and tableware. Some of these buildings might also receive supplies by rail as well, allowing extra operating potential.

Of course, these 'special handling' passenger cars would require special switching movements, first on arrival to the Pullman or other service track, and later into the coach yard to await their next assignment. A layout consisting of nothing but switching cars in and out of passenger trains and to service tracks could easily keep a crew of two or three operators busy, if sufficient traffic was modeled.

Options for passenger operations

Beyond the passenger cars themselves, the railroads operated lots of other equipment on its passenger trains. Called head-end equipment, the following types of traffic were at one time plentiful and highly profitable for the railroads. In the heyday of passenger service, these industries were a big part of the railroad landscape, and got serious attention.

Express Freight

See the earlier entry on Freight Houses for more information. It is important to note that a great deal of express and LCL traffic bound for the freight house came through on passenger trains as head-end express equipment. These cars, sometimes refrigerated, sometimes carrying unusual freight, would be loaded or unloaded quickly at the station platform or switched out of the train and spotted at the express office, freight house or station house track for unloading.

US Mail

Smaller stations and depots were often served by RPOs on the fly, but larger stations usually merited a stop from the mail train. Mail bags and parcels would be exchanged in the wee hours of the morning as the mail train wound it's way up the line. First class mail would be quickly handled onto and off of fast passenger trains throughout the day. Many stations that generated a lot of bulk mail traffic, like catalogs, often had a mail storage / baggage car spotted at the station house track for postal workers to load or unload occaisionally, or even several times a week.

Large post offices were often located nearby the rail yards and had their own sidings where mail / baggage and RPO cars were spotted. Entire baggage cars filled with mail and sealed regularly went from one post office to another without being opened. Note that a good sized post office in a good sized city should generate several carloads of mail and even a few RPO's in and out a day. Don't overlook a post office, even modeled offline as a set of staging tracks, as a potential source of traffic for your passenger operations.


For many years, dairy farmers set out milk cans all along the railroad right of way early in the morning for the milk train to pick up. These slow milk trains would crawl along the line in the wee hours of the night as it did it's work, eventually winding up at the local creamery or to meet up with a perishable time freight that would carry the fresh milk to a dairy farther away. If you model the period before the 1950's, this is a great industry to include.. All that's needed to represent it are a few small covered platforms along the line, maybe a siding near a large farm (some larger dairies actually filled entire milk cars with glass-lined tanks daily), and perhaps a creamery near your local population center. Even in later periods, remnants of this industry along the line make nice scenic elements.

Note that the milk and mail trains were often combined on many routes, since both were slow trains that operated through the night. An old coach usually brought up the rear, used by railroad crews and postal employees deadheading back to their home cities.

About this content:
Original author: Craig Bisgeier. Last revised in 1996.
This LDSIG article is ©1996 by Craig Bisgeier (email).
Questions/comments may be posted in the discussion tab.

Personal tools