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)