Now that you know what the jobs are, let’s discuss how you make it happen.
When a train arrives at the yard, it must be assigned to a track. What happens next depends on whether the
train terminates at the yard or is a through train with drops and pick ups (block swaps). If the train
terminates at the yard, it must be broken down. All cars will be classified, sorted, and spotted on the
appropriate yard track. Motive power will be sent to the engine area and the caboose will go the caboose track.
If the train is a through train with cars to drop and cars to pick up, you should have already grouped the
cars that will be added to the train and blocked them by destination and/or car priority (example, ice reefers
in front, or no hazardous material next to caboose or engines).
New trains sometimes originate in a yard. These must be assembled as per instructions by collecting the cars,
blocking them, and adding motive power and caboose. Sometimes cars must be weighed on a scale track. Other
times a car may be requested by an industry and you must find an appropriate car from the idle, unassigned car
inventory. Often there will be a maximum train length that cannot be exceeded so that when on the main, it
will not be too long to fit into a siding during passing maneuvers.
Often there are industries immediately adjacent to the yard that will be switched by yard personnel. There
are also many in-yard moves that might exist on the layout. Yards often have special tracks such as a team
track, cleanout track, RIP (repair in place) track, reefer icing facility, freight house, stock pens, empty
and unassigned car storage tracks, trailer and container loading/unloading tracks, yard supplies such as fuel
(coal, oil, diesel, sand) at the engine track, parts for the car repair shop or roundhouse, food for stock
pens, etc. On a layout with multiple operators assigned to the yard, the yardmaster or job description will
determine who is responsible for these tasks.
Through Train and Local Train Switching Operations
When operating a train on the main line, you must have permission to proceed and permission to stop, occupy,
or cross the main line. You may or may not have control of the turnouts that must be thrown to make those
moves. That permission will come from the dispatcher if there is one. Otherwise, the layout owner will
provide instructions on how traffic is handled on the layout.
When you reach an area where you must do switching, first study the area and develop a plan of action.
Examine the layout diagram or CLIC charts, locate run-arounds, identify leading and trailing point sidings.
Be aware of the space available. You may find that if you do all your pulls first, you might fill up all the
space and box yourself in or block a run-around so you cannot use it.
If there is a dispatcher, you must obtain permission to use or cross the main line. To do that, request Track
& Time. When you are through, be sure to contact dispatch and release Track & Time.
Uncoupling is a skill that you should practice. There are a variety of uncoupling tools available. Some
layouts have magnets under the track that will allow for automatic uncoupling. This can be good or bad,
depending on whether you want cars to be uncoupled when you stop over the magnet or not. Coupling is easy!
Just back up and contact the car and it will couple automatically. This is theoretical. Sometimes the Hand
of God (HOG) may be required if a coupler is not aligned properly).
Spotting and uncoupling cars requires thought. If there are buildings in the way that impede your physical
and/or visual access, uncouple in an accessible area, offset the couplers, and push the car to its destination.
You may have to move a car to get the one you want. If that is required, be sure to note where the car was and
return it to that same spot.
Occasionally your instructions require cars to be spotted at specific doors of an industry. Some experienced
operators pride themselves by always aligning car doors to industry doors. In some instances, you will find
that the destination for a car is occupied and you cannot spot it as ordered. In that case, the car should
be left on a siding so that it can be spotted later when the spot becomes available. This is called
off-spotting. You should leave documentation identifying an off-spot car.