Thursday, August 28, 2008

The American Railroad - Working for the Nation by Joe Welsh

I promised myself that I will review this fantastic book once I finished reading. And, so I did. In my opinion, this soft cover book is a must-have for any American railroad enthusiast such as myself.

Joe did a great job compiling this book with photos from the foregone era of the American railroad. He presented this history and evolution of various aspects of the railroad in an interesting manner that will keep you glued for more ... and say "I didn't know that". From the arrival of the first locomotive on the US shore to the men and women whom made the American railroad what it was and is today, each chapter tells the beginning, the happening and the demise of each facet of the railroad - the railroad itself, the locomotives, the equipment and rolling stocks, the stations, uniforms and the people behind the scene.

After reading this book, you will have a good appreciation of the rich heritage of the American railroad and for those in America, a legacy to be preserved.

I am looking forward to visit US in not to distance future. May my dream comes true.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Model Railroad Resources

Today, I received 3 new books - Realistic Model Railroad Operation, Building Model Railroad and Passenger Equipment & Operation - from Kalmbach which I ordered 2 months ago. These 3 books were replacements as the first set did not reach me after one month. Thanks to Laurie from Kalmbach for her speedy reply and promise to send me the replacements.

Left to Right: N-Scale Railroading, Building Model Railroad, DCC Projects
& Applications, Passenger Equipment & Operation, Realistic Model Railroad
Operation and Track Planning for Realistic Operation

These add to my collection of 3 other books. I must say that I enjoy going through the first 3 books - N-scale Railroading, Track Planning for Realistic Operation and DCC Projects and Applications. In addition, I read and reread the Model Railroader magazines and special issues of "How to Build".

You can find a list of railroad resources that I have at the side bar.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

And Then, There Was Sante Fe and Southern Pacific .....

Some of the forumers in gave some useful information on the region that I am modelling. I also noticed in my research that Santa Fe (ATSF/SF) and Southern Pacific (SP) used to own the lines in South Texas. Apparently, the present BNSF Galveston subdivision was owned by Santa Fe while UP Glidden and UP Galveston by Southern Pacific. Besides having BNSF and UP paint schemes in the locomotives and rolling stock, I can add Santa Fe and Southern Pacific too.

Furthermore, the trackside equipment, depots and other railroad structures will have both SF and SP flavour. I am beginning to like what I am modelling now, even more.

Sometime back, I was reading about Class 1 railroads and found David Hall's YouTube on How The West Was Lost. It was about the merger of railroads into UP and BNSF. I dugged further and came out with these two maps.

I have the above maps in PDF version. Email me if you want a copy as I can't uploaded into this blog.

I know there are other railroads I have not traced back or those taken over by Canadian Pacific (CP) and Canadian National (CN). I will do more once I have the free time.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Which one do you want first - good or bad? Okay, let's start with the bad one. Easier to swallow the bitter pill and then take the sweet honey.

My layout investment going to increase at least by 20%, if not 50%. That's the bad news.

The good news is the priced real estate I told you about is now MINE, all MINE! Back to drawing board again. I intend to keep most of the track plans as blogged earlier. I pretty much like the concept and the track arrangement. I now need to decide how to length the run to the other side of the room, again an around the wall concept and connect to "Galveston". Looks like a duckunder is necessary.

Anyway, looks like Tower 17 junction has to relocate more westward to accomodate a longer BNSF Galveston run as well as UP Glidden to "invisible" Houston.

Putting on my thinking cap again. If you have good suggestions, I welcome them.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Books on North American Railroad

I was at The Curve Borders this morning and just casually walked to the Hobbies/Special Interests section. They had a section on Transportations. Usually you will find books about automobile, airplane, ships, etc. Very rare you will find books about trains. Lady luck was at my side this morning. I found 4 books in North American railroads. Wow! What a bonus.

I sat down on the floor and flipped through each of there. One particular book caught my attention which I would never expect it to be there at all.

This is a coffee table book on BNSF and traced its history back to pre-merger days. It's 290 pages thick but I am sure it is a good reading material. I flipped through some chapters and I am already excited to delve deeper. I hope to find something about the Galveston line.

The other 3 books are interesting too. Here are what I bought.

I have not gone through all of them so I can't give you my review. I will start a collection of railroad books and looking forward to buy a few more especially about Southern Pacific, which owns most of the lines in Texas (SP merged into UP in 1996) and Union Pacific.

It's about time for me to catch up with some reading. My investment today, priceless. For those interested, check out Don't let the URL deceive you.

Book Reviews: (All reviews are based on this blogger's opinions)
Rail Power by Steve Barry
It took less than 24 hours to finish this book (okay, that 24 hours include sleep, bath and other personal and work activities). Then again, this book is full of color photos and captions accompanying each of the photos. For those who love the various shots of the "lost" American railroad, this is a good book. The book starts with Steam locos followed by Electric and Diesel (-Electric). While I am not an expert in American railroad, this book has taught me the various steam loco wheel arrangements from American 4-4-0 to Challenger 4-6-6-4. What's obviously missing from the Steam category is UP Big Boy 4-8-8-4. Now, how you can NOT include the icon of American steam loco? This I will leave to Steve and the publisher to answer.

Overall, this is a handy book to have and a good pictorial reference of the good old steam-electric-diesel era of the grand American railroads.

The American Railroad - Working for the Nation by Joe Welsh
See my comments in later blog.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

All Aboard!

Now that the drawing is done (with adjustments to be made), it is time to run some virtual trains. Let's take a imaginary trip along these routes.

It's 1:50AM on a cold Texas winter. BNSF grain train arrives at north end of Tower 17 from Fort Worth, Texas with BNSF 964 (C44-9W Heritage 1), BNSF 779 (C44-9W Warbonnet), BNSF 887 (C40-8W Warbonnet) and 30 BNSF loaded grain hoppers in tow. BNSF awaits for the green signal to proceed to BNSF West Yard on Galveston Island via BNSF Galveston subdivision.
At the same time, BNSF manifest with 28 cars pulled by BNSF 779 (C44-9W Warbonnet) and BNSF 964 (C44-9W Heritage 1) has been waiting for 1 hour at the siding a few yards away from the Tower for the grain train to arrive.

The Tower 17 dispatcher has just given the clearance to the grain train to proceed southbound to Galveston. The BNSF manifest will have to wait for another 15 minutes for the grain train to clear. The track to Fort Worth via Searly is a single track. As the grain train passes the manifest loco, the driver gave a "hello" hoot. Speed at the junction is limited to 20mph as the grain train clears the switch. BNSF manifest train was given the green light to proceed to Searly.

The grain train picks up speed and rumbles down the quiet night towards Algoa. It is a clear line all the way for BNSF grain train as there is no northbound train expected for the rest of the night. UP intermodal is waiting at the UP yard on Galveston Island but not expected to leave way past the arrival of the BNSF grain train.

Two miles outside Algoa, the grain train suddenly loses power. The train begins to slow down and comes to a complete halt 5 miles from Algoa. The lube indicator showed a sudden drop in reading. The engineer and conductor went to the engine room to check. One of the hoses broke and sent the lube spraying all over. Oh boy, this is going to be a long night. After two hours of fixing and refilling, the grain train proceeds on to Virginia Point. It is now 6am and BNSF just arrives at Virginia Point. The UP intermodal is supposed to leave Galveston at the same time. The dispatcher gave BNSF train the priority to proceed to Galveston on the single track causeway.

After 20 minites crossing the Galveston Bay, BSNF grain train finally arrives on West Yard. The locos then proceed to its next assignment.

Here Comes The Room ...

In my previous blog, I did a rough sketch (apology to my reviewers; not fair for you to comment on hand-drawings) on how the Rosenberg Meet will look like. Again, this is just a brain dump to get a feel of the layout at 35,000 feet and whether it will be operationally realistic and sustainable. I don't want to spend a fortune only to find out that it is a boring layout.

I searched through my
planning notes in my Trai-N-master blog and will recompile some of the key points to be incorporated into this layout.

Here is the dimension of my train room.

At this moment, this is a utility room. The left wall, as you enter the room, will not be touched. I have cabinets there and they have to stay put. I will need to negotiate with the "land owner" to have that precious real estate space in the future. For now the perimeter of the layout will be 84" (7ft) x 127" (10.5ft) x 91" (7.5ft). It doesn't look like a lot of space. Every time I stand at the main door and look in, I imagine how the big the layout will be. Be happy with what I have now.

Picture 1: Very Important Key - Bedroom # 4 (TRAIN)

Picture 2: Outside Looking In (See What I Mean)

Picture 3: Future Galveston

I downloaded Atlas Right Track Software last night and tried to design the Tower 17 junction. Disappointed. It takes up more space than I expected (actually expected). I am going to get some graph papers and work on the track planning and repost.


Thanks to Stein, he has drawn the layout for me. Here is the rotated view of the room (it is easier for me to rotate the image than for you to rotate your head :D) and the layout drawing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Layout Critique 1 (Open for Comments)

Here are the first sketches of Rosenberg Meet. I hope, by now, you have read my first few blogs to give you an idea about Rosenberg Meet and the routes along the Galveston-Glidden subdivision.

Picture 1: Upper Deck

The upper deck covers a space of 7ft (left), 10.5ft (center) and 7.5ft (right). The space at the bottom of the sketch will not be filled as I have a few cabinets for household stuffs. As you can see there will be a 2-3ft wide peninsula which will be the BNSF Galveston subsdivision from Tower 17 to Virginia Point, north side of Galveston Bay. At present, I have not thought of anything for the left side which is meant for San Antonio. However, the right side will be Galveston Island.

Picture 2: Lower Deck (Hidden Staging Yard)

The lower deck will be hidden staging yard. I have not worked out the grade yet but will make sure it is less than 2%. Point A is the UP Glidden at San Antonio while Point B is meant to be BNSF Galveston at Temple. Northbound BNSF trains will make a loop as it descends to lower deck from Point B, while Westbound UP trains will descend at Point A. Is this possible? You tell me.

Picture 3: Upper Deck (San Antonio - Tower 17)

As mentioned earlier, Point A and B are entrance and exit to lower deck. The space on upper deck is undecided yet; hence, the question mark (?). I wonder if I can put an alien marking on the Texan plain :D

Picture 4: Upper Deck (Tower 17 and BNSF Galveston subdivision)

Tower 17 Rosenberg is the focal point. The peninsula will be BNSF Galveston to Virginia Point. There are two branches; one to UP Popp subdivision and another BNSF Mykawa subdivision. The Smither's coal quarry is the one of the industries. Other industries will be determined as I research more. The BNSF/UP trains will continue towards Virginia Point where it will meet UP Glaveston subdivision branch from Houston.

Picture 5: Algoa - Virginia Point (BNSF Galveston), Galveston (UP Galveston)

A closer look at Virginia Point. The trains will cross Galveston Bay before the respective railroad terminates at their own yard on Galveston Island.

Picture 6: Staging Yard with Reverse Loop

Zoomed into the lower deck. A reverse loop allows me to turn both BNSF and UP trains back to their subdivisions. Either railroad does not have trackage rights westward and northward of Tower 17.

Amtrak Sunset Limited will occupy the additional staging yard and climb at Point A to continue its journey from San Antonio to Houston via UP Glidden. The only exception here will be the Sunset Limited will proceed to Galveston instead of New Orleans. This Houston-Galveston service was published in Houston Chronicle in 2007. Thus, I am using my creative license to extend Sunset Limited to the beautiful Galveston Island.

Picture 7: Additional Staging Tracks

Please feel free to comment. I am looking for a volunteer to transform this sketch into a computer drawing. Anyone?


Stein from Norway has captured what I wanted in the above drawing. Tusen Takk!
I have inserted the labels for easy identification. This is the upper deck.

Point A (San Antonio) descends to lower deck and follow the trackage directly below the BNSF Galveston to a staging yard beneath Tower 17 and along the peninsula.

Point B (Sealy/Temple) descends to lower deck beneath San Antonio and makes a loop and follow the trackage directly below the UP Glidden trackage to a staging yard directly beneath Tower 17.

The lower deck on the peninsula will hold a staging yard and a reverse loop for BNSF and UP trains go back to Point B and A respectively. Either railroad does not have trackage right westward and northward of Tower 17 (Correction - see note 1). Hence, a reverse loop is necessary. I am considering no staging tracks beneath Galveston but a lower deck will be built to keep the boosters, rolling stocks, books, etc. when not in use.

As for dispatcher desk? Well, I am thinking of putting a Post-It board on the wall near Galveston for Tower 17 dispatcher and Galveston dispatcher. Yes, I need 2 dispatchers. The amount of activities at Tower 17 will definitely keep the dispatcher superly busy.

Layout Critique - Model Railroader Forum (more comments here)
Layout Critique - TrainBoard (more comments here)
Layout Critique - (more comments here)

1. I examined UP system map closely and discovered that UP actually has trackage right from Tower 17 to Virginia Point on BNSF Galveston subdivision as well as BNSF Mykawa subdivision from Alvin to T & N.O Junction. This is because the UP trains need to get to Smither's Lake and UP Popp subdivision at Arcola as well as UP Angleton subdivision at Algoa.

UP also has trackage right on BNSF Galveston subdivision up to Sealy north of Tower 17.

Studying Prototype Railroad Operations

The Houston Freight Rail Study offers a wealth of information on the routes that I am planning to model. My model is the intersection of 3 subdivisions - BNSF Galveston (216 miles from Temple (North-West) to Galveston (South-East)), UP Glidden (210 miles from San Antonio (West) to Houston (East) and UP Galveston (47 miles from Houston (North) to Galveston (South))

Source: Texas Department of Transportation

In summary,

Source: BNSF Railway

BNSF Galveston
Milage: 216 miles
Terminus: Temple and BNSF's West Yard at Galveston
Trackage: Predominantly single track from Tower 17 to Galveston
Traffic: 20-30 trains per day bi-directional
Trackage Rights: UP from Rosenberg to Algoa

Serving Industries:

UP Glidden
Milage: 210 miles

Terminus: Harrisburg Junction at Houston and Kirby Yard at San Antonio
Trackage: Predominantly single track
Traffic: Average 30-40 trains per day bi-directional; Amtrak Sunset Limited 3 eastbound and 3 westbound weekly service

Trackage Rights: BNSF from Rosenberg to Houston, KCS from Flatonia to Houston
Allowable Gross Weight Permitted: 315,000lb (158 tons) Gross Weight Cars & Unit Trains
Serving Industries:

Source: Union Pacific Allowable Gross Weight Map
(Green - 315,000lb; Blue - 286,000lb; Red - 268,000lb)

UP Galveston
Milage: 47 miles
Terminus: South GH&H Junction at Houston and Galveston
Trackage: Predominantly single track
Traffic: Average 5-10 trains per day bi-directional
Trackage Rights: None; UP and BNSF jointly operates single track bridge spanning Galveston Causeway to Galveston Island
Allowable Gross Weight Permitted: 286,000lb (143 tons) Gross Weight Cars & Unit Trains
Serving Industries:

BNSF does not use the UP Glidden trackage. It has its own Galveston trackage from Tower 17 to Virginia Point on the north side of Galveston Bay, before crossing the Galveston Causeway to West Yard on the island. The track on the Causeway is jointly operated with UP, which also serve the industries in Galveston Island.

I found this presentation pack to the Steering Committee on the Houston Region Freight Study. This shows the long-term plan to improve the freight traffic around Houston. The main improvements are on grade separations and closures as well as double tracking and new rail corridors.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Layout at A Glance

Rosenberg Meet
Scale: N (1:160)
Size: 10.5 x 11.5 feet
Prototype: Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF)
Locale: around South-west Texas, USA (UP Glidden and BNSF Galveston)
Era: circa January/February 2004
Style: Around the walls with peninsula
Track Arrangement:
Mainline Run:
Minimum Radius: 15 inches
Minimum Turnout: no. 7 (main), no. 5 (siding, yard)
Maximum Grade: 2.5%
Benchwork: L Girder and Shelf Brackets
Height: 58 inches (upper deck); 44 inches (lower deck)
Roadbed: Cork
Rail Head: Code 55 (mainline and siding)
Track: Micro Engineering & Atlas code 55 flextracks
Backdrop: Masonite
Control: Digital Command Control (NCE Powercab; upgrade to PowerPro)

As you can see, some of the design parameters have not been decided yet. I will update as I proceed.

Tower 17 Rosenberg, Meeting of Two Giants

As I was chatting with Denny "Oh Wise Guru" Turani from Italy the other day, he asked me which prototype railroad am I going to model. Denny is modelling Southern Pacific (SP / Espee) Coast Line in Central California from Callender to Surf in N-scale. As you can see in his Southern Pacific Coast Line in N scale blog, he is doing an excellent job in modelling realistic operations.

I always like and want to model Union Pacific. I love their Armor Yellow livery and their range of steam and diesel locos - some of the largest locos such as the EMD DD40AX and the famous Big Boy (Alco 4-8-8-4 Mallet). UP also happens to the one of the two American railroads that retained its original name since its inception (Kansas City Southern (KCS) is the other one)

I also like, to some extent, BSNF or more towards its predecessor Sante Fe (SF). And, greedy me. I also want to incorporate Amtrak since they are the national passenger carrier.

Now, where can I find all 3 in one location? Wes Carr's photos of Tower 17 Rosenberg in Texas caught my eyes. Thanks to Google Map, I zoomed to Rosenberg, Texas. A potpourri of the Class 1 railroads, West of Mississippi. There are a few UP and BNSF subdivisions operating around that area with both UP and BNSF having trackage right on each other's track from Rosenberg to Houston and to Galveston. To model this on N-scale over 11ft x 12ft room will be an interesting sight.

Source: Texas Department of Transportation (BNSF - Green; UP - Red)

During the weekend, I found the Houston Freight Rail Study plan in the Texas Department of Transportation. Yee Haw! This detailed study is what I have been looking for. The study was to improve the freight movements around Greater Houston and yes, it fits my bill. Information about geographical limit, length, traffic volume and profile as well as operating railroad(s) for each subdivision are all here.

Source: Google Earth

The focal point of my layout (tentatively named "Rosenberg Meet") is Tower 17. It was the last manned interlocking tower in Texas, closed in February 2004. BNSF Galveston subdivision which stretches from Temple to Virginia Point (Galveston) and UP Glidden subdivision which stretches from Harrisburg Junction (near Houston) to San Antonio crosses each other at Tower 17. Wes Carr wrote about A Day at Tower 17 while Stephen Foyt recounted the train movements at Tower 17 over a 24 hour period. Amazingly, during its last operating days this Tower was buzzing with train activities and definitely a railfanning spot. In that 24 hour slot, there were 77 train movements as reported by Stephen.

AMTK – 1
KCS/TM – 1
BNSF – 34
UP – 41

Now, I just need to build up the locomotive roster and rolling stocks to to match that list. My layout will cover the triangle zone bordered by UP Glidden, BNSF Galveston and UP Galveston with the 2 focal points at Tower 17, Rosenberg and Galveston intermodal terminal at Galveston. As these routes cross the flat plains of South Texas, there won't be challenging mountains to climb. Grade will be minimal. It will be more downgrade from Rosenberg to Galveston (sea level)

Join me as I research more about the railroads, its routes and movements and present them in 1:160 form on my "Rosenberg Meet" layout.

Robert Chapman's Rosenberg
Tower 17 Rosenberg Webshots
Rosenberg Railroad Museum and Tower 17
Rosenberg RR Museum
William Davis Jr's Information on Tower 17
Russell Straw's Photos of Tower 17 and other SP Towers (the man with the keys to Tower 17)
Wes Carr's Photos of Tower 17 Rosenberg (the photo that started my Tower 17 hunt)