Tonight the layout ran remarkably well. At one point, I had three trains of 20+ cars orbiting, plus a little passenger special I threw together to start warming up for the onslaught of visiting varnish in the next couple of weeks, which I ran down the Thomas Sub from Elkins, then around the full layout through both staging yards and back up the hill. This included 85' passenger cars with body mounted couplers going up the 24" diameter twist on the Thomas Sub.
The only upset I had was at the end of the evening, when I went to retrieve the coal train from West Staging, which I had hoped to run back up the Thomas Sub to park in Elkins... Earlier, when I put it into the staging yard, I overshot the exit turnout by less than an inch. No problem, I figured, I'll just nudge her backward enough to push the slack in, and that will clear the frogs for Track 2. Well, as the Orioles were going down in flames in Toronto, so too were my dreams of a flawless night of operating trains. Somewhere in the darkness, one of the hoppers popped over the railhead, leaving the train coupled, but inoperable due to a trip pin snagging on something.
I left it, and came down to share this with you.
Before I can do anything tomorrow night, I'll have to pull the other two trains that are down there out by their tails and run them up the hill to get them out of the way. Then I can inspect the train to see where the problem was. I suspect it was a car with body mounts pushing a truck mounted car out of alignment.
As I contemplate going through this process yet again, I can't help but accept that I'm starting to get good at clearing things out down below when problems arise. I did install work lights, so I can see pretty well down there. To pinpoint a flange or a knuckle, I've got a couple of nifty pens with LED's on the end, which are better than flash lights due to their small size and concentrated beam of light.
The process does remain time consuming, so I can only imagine how disruptive a wreck in staging would be during an ops session.
I suspect that the best solution will always be to have me serve as the west end dispatcher, so I can carefully monitor all traffic going in and out of there. At least until someone else steps up and takes an interest in doing that job.
For comparison, the East End ran flawlessly, but I wasn't really taxing it very much. Recall that each track can hold two trains, so I had to do some "valet parking" maneuvers, pulling the second train forward after the first had left, and remember which tracks were occupied to prevent unfortunate rear end events from taking place.
There were two instances where cars derailed in East Staging, one was a passenger car that suffers from a high-low coupler issue and likely dragged a coupler pin, and the other an empty coal hopper that was probably underweight coming down the helix that got bunched up.
Still, despite it all it was a good run, with a variety of locomotive consists, train lengths, and car types. I was overall pleased with the performance of the railroad, including the West Staging yard. One highlight was a trip by the grain train, headed up with an A-B Intermountain F unit consist, which went through in the opposite direction of typical traffic flow. When I noticed this was going on, I panicked that the old Atlas c80 flappy paddle remote turnouts would wreak havoc, and that climbing the inside loop of the helix would create undue stresses with horrifying results... neither came to pass. The train rolled through the yard smoothly, just in the wrong direction.
It has been suggested that I reverse the flow of traffic through the yard to put the outbound trains closer to the aisle, and this may be a simple solution. But I think longer trains will have problems climbing the helix with 2 fewer inches of radius... I'll try some experiments when I have plenty of patience on hand, and plenty of beer for when the patience runs out!
That's tonight's report. More to come as the end of June approaches.