Tuesday 22 May 2012

Time and distance

One of the difficulties model railways have is in dealing with time and distance.

Layouts that want an operational focus will have to come to terms with the fact that the scale distance between towns on the model railroad can in no way approximate the prototype. We already seek to compress towns and yards to fit within our defined model railroad space as best we can. Trying to actually compress real distance between towns is even more difficult due to limitations on model railroad space.

And when the distance between towns is relatively short on our model railroads, the amount of time a train takes between those towns is also relatively short.

For the most part we get by with using fast clocks. Fast clocks seek to reduce "real" time to model time so that we can have some useful timetable operation. It's no good using real time when the time it takes for your train to travel between Town A and Town B is ten seconds! By using a fast clock we can pretend that the train took ten minutes or forty minutes or whatever between towns.

The time factor, even with a fast clock, also faces the problem that it is often the case that as the head of the train arrives at Town B, its tail is just leaving Town A! While the distance between towns will depend on overall layout size, I have operated very large model railroads in the US where this is still a problem.

In essence, if we want to try and replicate time and distance on the model railroad based on the prototype, it is damned hard to do well. This leads to compromise and ingenious proxies (like the fast clock) to help us manage as best we can.

However, I am thinking of an alternative solution. I haven't calculated the exact times to use just yet, so please just stay with me at the conceptual level at this stage!

On my proposed US layout, one option for my layout plan is to have a key junction station as the starting point, a large station and yard in the middle of the layout footprint for interchange, and then continue along the branch to another junction station for the remainder (including modelling a couple of the intermediate towns here).

In this scenario, the first "half" of the layout will be the first station and the middle station with no modelled towns/yards in between. I am therefore skipping 2 intermediate towns from the prototype because I don't have the space and they aren't operationally interesting enough to warrant inclusion on this part of the layout. What this means is that I would have two stations close to each other on the layout but on the prototype they are actually 60 miles (97km) apart. Using a fast clock in this scenario won't really work.

There is a peninsula between the two towns and I want to enclose this curved section in a shadow box. It is not considered part of "the railway". It won't be scenicked and the top of the box will be used by the dispatcher for his paperwork. As such, this curved section on the model railway does not really exist! This section will also need to be long enough (and hidden) to hold a complete train so train length becomes an issue too.

My idea is to hold the train in this "hidden" section while I run a real time/scale time sequence that will represent the time and distance between the two major towns I am modelling on the layout, but representing the 60 real miles apart on the prototype.

The travel of my model train (distance and time) will be represented by four lights, each representing the four towns on this section of the prototype. The first light goes on when the train leaves the first modelled station and yard (the junction - Town A). The train enters the curved shadow box around the peninsula and stops, being now fully enclosed and not visible at either end. A second light now comes on and the first light goes out. The second light indicates that the train has "arrived" at the second (unmodelled) station. After (say) thirty real seconds, the second light goes off and a third light goes on, representing the next unmodelled town. After another thirty seconds, the third light goes out and the fourth light comes on to indicate that the train is now (under power) entering the fourth town which is the mid-town on the layout that is actually modelled. We have now used a proxy for the time and distance between two modelled towns, including the two unmodelled intermediate towns.

I appreciate the fact that we will have the train operator/s waiting for over a real 60 seconds to get his/her train from Town A to Town D. And most of this real time is actually just waiting for some lights to go on and off before moving the train into the next station and yard on the model railroad. I figure that if I had the space and had actually modelled those two small intermediate towns, then the real time factor of the train moving between Town A and Town D would be the same or more. So pretending to run the train through those unmodelled intermediate towns shouldn't be much of a strain.

By holding up the train off-stage between modelled stations (or in the space-time warp I would prefer to call it), I am using a proxy for the time and distance between two towns, some 60 real miles apart on the prototype.

Comments welcome....