The Keystone Logo
Pennsylvania & Western Railroad

(This page last modified on 02/03/10.)

This area describes the operating philosophy and operating system used on the railroad. It also talks about some special modifications I've done in order to make operations more realistic. Topics covered are as follows:

Purpose for the Railroad
Train Speed Issues
Motive Power and Cabin Cars
Rolling Stock
Operating Positions
Communication and Signals
Car Forwarding
The Trains

Purpose for the Railroad
The Pennsylvania & Western is a fictional subdivision of the PRR. It is envisioned as an alternate east-west route between Altoona and Pittsburgh (much like the line through Hollidaysburg and around Muleshoe Curve), with a connection to the B&O and Western Maryland railroads in Cumberland, MD. The principal yard is located in Annville, PA. Annville is not a major division point, but many trains stop there and there are minor locomotive service facilities as well. This and the other towns on the layout are fictional and not meant to prototypically represent any particular Pennsylvania location. For example, there is a real Annville, PA but it was never served by PRR. Lebanon on the PRR was an interchange point with the Reading RR, and it is also on the P&W. In reality, however, Lebanon, PA is quite a bit east of P&W country.

The time period is 1951 to 1954. Some of the locomotives on the railroad were retired by PRR in 1951, and a few of the cars have the "shadow keystone" theme introduced in 1954. Typically for PRR in this period, there is quite a variety of steam motive power. Pennsy's early diesel experimentation is evidenced by the variety of diesel power from Alco, Baldwin, EMD, Fairbanks-Morse and Lima-Hamilton. Steam locomotives are nearly all brass imports from Weaver, Williams and 3rd Rail with new diecast switchers from Weaver and K-Line. Diesels are plastic from Atlas, Weaver, Williams, K-Line and MTH.

Harrisburg, Enola Yard and the Petersburg branch are located to the east of the modeled portion of the railroad, with Pittsburgh, Conway Yard and Shire Oaks Yard (coal marshaling) to the west. Cumberland, MD and the B&O and Western Maryland interchanges are to the south of the modeled portion of the railroad. These off-layout locations are represented by staging yards. There are 6 main staging tracks in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, along with 2-3 shorter ones in each location. Cumberland, MD is a staging yard with 3 tracks and is located underneath Horseshoe Curve and Lebanon. The mainline is 550 feet long, which is 5 miles in O-scale. There are six main towns along the line and a couple of minor ones. There are about 40 destinations for local freight switching activity.

The layout was designed with operation in mind. That is, the purpose of the trains is to move freight and passengers in a prototypical manner. The movement of cars is determined using a commercial car-forwarding program (RailOp) that runs on my home computer. The software determines car routings, assigns cars to the trains and prints switchlists for the train and yard crews to use. We have been holding regular monthly operating sessions since September, 2004 and have modified the train schedule a couple of times based on our experiences. It continues to get better!

Train Speed Issues
I designed the Pennsylvania & Western to include several speed-limiting elements, with the primary goal to make the mainline run seem longer. A helper grade, speed restrictions within yard limits, within tunnels, and while crossing curved trestles, stops at the top of a downgrade to set brakes and at the bottom to cool brakes, etc. were all included in the grand scheme and are being phased into our regular operating sessions. Locomotives in my chosen era are primarily steam rather than modern high-horsepower Diesel power. Steam moved slow in the mountains. Freight trains are restricted to a maximum speed of 35 scale mph and passenger trains to a maximum of 45 scale mph. All trains are restricted to a maximum of 15 scale mph when crossing all trestles.

In order for the trains to run slow, the locomotives must be capable of slow, steady running. Unfortunately for prototypical operators, many if not most 3-rail locomotives continue to run at toy train speeds. Trying to control such a locomotive at a steady 35 scale mph is extremely difficult. I've done a few things to slow my engines down. Nearly all diesels have 2 motors in each powered unit, one motor per truck. The motors come from the factory wired in parallel, I change this to series wiring. The effect is to cut the voltage feed to each motor in half, slow the locomotive down, and greatly improve throttle response. You have to move the speed knob twice as far with series-wired motors as with parallel motors to get the same speed increase.

Most of my brass steam engines have drive ratios of 18:1 to 21:1 (meaning that the motor shaft turns 18 to 21 times for each single revolution of the drivers). My best-running "out of the box" locomotives are the Sunset/3rd Rail 2-10-0 decapods. These have 31:1 drive ratios. The motor shaft must turn 31 times for each driver revolution. Since all of the steam engines have 12 volt motors, the decapods run the slowest (and the best). Some of the other 3rd Rail engines have a belt drive system, and I've been able to get replacement pulleys from Sunset that let me change the drive ratio from the original 18:1 to now be 28:1. These engines now run much more realistically than they did before. On other locomotives, I'm experimenting with replacing the 12 volt motors with 24 volt motors.

Motive Power and Cabin Cars
The P&W motive power roster is a mix of steam and diesel. You might see H10s, L1s, I1s, N1s or J1a freight power and K4s or G5 on the passenger runs. The P&W shop foreman is a fan of streamlining, and he has re-applied the skirting to some of the K4s. Other classes of Pennsy steam power such as B6sb, C1, H6sb, H10s and T1 can be spotted on the line as well. Occasionally a Q2 or the unique Q1 make an appearance (were they saved from the scrapper's torch?). The diesel fleet contains representation from most of the builders of the period: Alco (FA-1, RS-1 and RS-3, PRR classes AF15, AS10 and AS16, respectively), Baldwin (Centipedes and Sharks, PRR classes BP60 and BF16, respectively), EMD (F-3, E-7 and E-8, PRR classes EF15, EP20 and EP22, respectively), Fairbanks-Morse (H10-44, PRR class FS10 and Erie-Builts, PRR class FF20) and Lima (2500 hp transfer diesels, PRR class LS25). Not all equipment runs in every session, so you might have to visit repeatedly to see it all! Trainphone antennas are present on some of the locomotives, and eventually will be applied to nearly all of them.

To support prototypical operation, some modifications to P&W motive power have been performed. Most importantly, all locomotives have been converted to TrainMaster Command Control (TMCC) and most have sound. Most of the conversions used Digital Dynamics parts and the others used TrainAmerica Studios components. I highly recommend either supplier. Steam engines have had front couplers added so that double-heading and local switching are possible (pic). The couplers are diecast dummys and are smaller than the typical Lionel knuckle, yet mate with 3-rail couplers perfectly. Since they are smaller, they look better on the locomotive pilots than would the Lionel dummy coupler. The ones I used are sold by Bowser under the Selley product line.

Williams diesels that had high-gloss paint have been sprayed with Testor's Dullcote which greatly improved their appearance. Since Williams diesels typically run very fast, they have also been rewired during the TMCC conversion process so the twin motors are in series rather than in parallel. This GREATLY improved their low speed performance! Original Williams headlight bulbs were also replaced with 14 volt grain-of-wheat bulbs mounted directly into the headlight lenses. This produces a bright headlight without bleeding into the undetailed cab interiors.

Cabin cars (called cabooses on other railroads) on the railroad consist of N5, N5c, N6b and N8 classes. Local freights sometimes are assigned an ND 4-wheel bobber. Most of the cabins have Trainphone antennas installed. The interior cabin lights have also been rewired in series, so they now appear as a prototypically dim yellow-cast light rather than the super-bright original lights. The appearance of dim interior lights contrasting with bright marker lights is very satisfying.

Rolling Stock
Most of the freight cars on the layout are Atlas, Weaver, Intermountain or others of 2-rail heritage. I tend to buy a lot of my rolling stock at 2-rail O-scale train shows. You can find nice cars, sometimes weathered, for $20 or less at the scale shows. Weaver diecast trucks and couplers work well to convert the 2-rail cars to 3-rail. I have added weight to all cars, so they now meet the NMRA standard of 5 ounces plus 1 ounce per inch of car length. Some cars are slightly heavier than this. The method I use is to add lead shotgun shot (size #7.5), glued into laboratory weighing boats that are in turn glued to the car floors above the trucks (pic). I use rubber cement to hold the weights, so they are removable if the need arises.

Some of the 2-rail cars that I've converted to 3-rail are from Crown with weathering (pic), Atlas from the 1970's and custom repainted and relettered by a 2-railer (pic1), (pic2), Intermountain (pic) and custom-built from a wood kit (pic). These cars are different from those found on most 3-rail layouts and I didn't pay over $20 for any of them!

Operating Positions
When I designed the layout, I thought that it would support 6-10 operating positions for a "full-fledged" operating session. Experience has shown that 10-12 operators are really required. The positions are as follows:

Dispatcher - Responsible for the flow of traffic on the railroad by coordinating the running of passenger, through and local freight trains according to the sequence or schedule.

Annville Yardmaster - Responsible for ensuring a smooth flow of traffic into and out of the freight and passenger yards at Annville. Access to the yard is under the Yard Master's authority, as are all movements within the yard limits.

Annville Shifter - Responsible for sorting Annville yard tracks, making up and breaking down of local freights and switching blocks of cars into and from through freights stopping at Annville. Motive power for this job is typically a B6sb 0-6-0, but sometimes a C1 0-8-0 is assigned.

Annville Hostler/Second Shifter - Responsible for moving locomotives to and from the steam and diesel service areas to the crew change point outside the Annville Yard Office. Also switches head-end cars into and out of passenger consists to Annville coach tracks, Railway Express and Annville post office. Also switch the Annville warehouse/industrial district twice per day and switch the engine service tracks (sand, coal, ash).

Through Engineers (2-3) - Responsible for running through passenger and freight trains. May do a limited amount of local work / station stops during the run.

Local Freight Engineers and conductors (4-6) - Responsible for operating local freights that originate and/or terminate in Annville. Two person crews are typically used for all local freights.

Typically during a session there will be 1-2 local freights and 2-3 through trains in operation simultaneously. Road engineers are a "pool" and take the next train available, whether a through train or a local.

By eliminating some trains (running a "Sunday schedule") we can eliminate some of the local freight and through freight jobs and the Annville Hostler can be combined with the Annville Yardmaster. We have been able to get by with as few as 5 operators for special sessions.

Communication and Signals
We use Maxon or Radio-Shack 2-way radios with headsets to communicate among the operator positions. This simulates the PRR Trainphone system that was in use during 1951-54. The use of radios greatly enhances the illusion that operators are isolated from each other. Block occupancy signals on the layout use PRR position light signals. Most signals operate automatically using relays for occupancy circuits. The approach signals to Annville are controlled by the Annville Yard Master, and approach signals to Lebanon, Summit and East/West Valley can be controlled by Local Freight jobs that are operating there. Local freight crews act as the town Tower Operator and set the approach signals at the direction of the Dispatcher.

Car Forwarding
The layout is currently operated using computer-generated switch lists and a sequential schedule for trains. Sequential scheduling puts less pressure on our crews than would a fast clock schedule, and the dispatcher can adjust the number of trains on the railroad to match the skills and experience of the operators. I've operated using car cards/waybills and using switch lists, and each method has its strengths. Car cards/waybills are more flexible and "forgiving" in the event of errors in car routing, but switch lists seem easier for new operators to use.

I am using a computer program called RailOp that generates train makeups and switch lists. There was a lot of data input to get the program running, but it does a good job of routing cars, handling loads and empties, etc. like I want it to. I can also customize the work that trains do when generating a session, so I can tailor the complexity of switching to the skill level of the operating crew. In a typical session, we run 19-20 "over the road" trains and 3 industrial switching jobs within Annville yard limits. About 240 freight cars and 15 passenger cars are moved during the session.

The Trains
The over the road operating schedule consists of 20 trains. General through freight, coal drags, local freight and through and local passenger trains will be run. The train list is shown below. Following PRR practice, passenger trains are designated by number only while freight trains have a letter code describing the origin and destination, followed by a number. Even-numbered trains run eastbound and odd-numbered trains run westbound.

PS-21 : Petersburg branch coal mine to Shire Oaks, no switching.

PC-5 : Philadelphia to Conway Yard general freight, no switching.

SE-32 : Shire Oaks coal loads to Enola Yard, setouts at Annville.

ES-37 : Enola to Shire Oaks. MT coal hoppers out of Enola, work
Furnace Hill Mine and continue to Shire Oaks.

AP-30 : Annville MT coal hoppers to Petersburg branch coal mine.

EC-11 : Enola to Conway general freight, drops and picks up cars
at Annville.

CE-12 : Conway to Enola general freight, drops and picks up cars
at Annville.

WME-14 : Cumberland to Enola general freight, switches barrel
company in Rockview. Also drops and picks up cars at Annville.
Makes direction change in Annville to head east.

CWM-28 : Conway to Cumberland general freight, drops and
picks up cars at Annville. Also switches Gap Jct.
and the Franklin team track.

ARD-31 : Annville to Reading Interchange (in Lebanon)
transfer run and return. Also switches Leighsom Pipe Co.

AF-44 : Annville to Franklin and return. Switches Altoona Brewing Company.

AS-37 : Annville to Summit and return, switches Lebanon and Summit.

WMA-41 : Cumberland to Annville, switches East Valley and West Valley.

SA-44 : Coal peddler from Shire Oaks to Annville. Switches coal locations
in Summit, Lebanon, Franklin, East Valley and West Valley.

CE-36 : Light engine move from Conway Yard to Enola Yard.

AC-25 : Freight transfer run from Annville to Conway Yard.

14 : Through passenger train from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg.

13 : Through passenger train from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.

53 : Local passenger train from Cumberland to Pittsburgh.

52 : Local passenger train from Pittsburgh to Cumberland.

In addition to the throught train schedule, four jobs are run within Annville yard limits.

IND-1 : Switches the industrial district early in the session.

IND-2 : Switches the industrial district at the end of the session.

PP-1 : Switches Annville Power & Light in West Annville.

SVC-1 : Switches the steam service supply tracks and the roundhouse power track.

A full session with the trains described above takes about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
We have begun experimenting with a "night schedule" of 11 trains that can be
run between the large sessions. It takes 5 or 6 operators to run a night schedule.