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Car Routing

ContentObjectsCar Routing

  • Mark's Posting

This posting is from Mark Edwards. Posted: 20.01.2009, 03:17

I've actually been reading a lot about this in MR magazine, and also in that book about double-deck layouts I told you about. Apparently, operating realistic layouts is the penultimate goal for American Modellers, if you believe Kalmbach Publishing.

I am not sure what you are looking for, so I will limit my comments on how Rocrail would work with Car Cards, Waybills and Realistic Operations. I warn you that this is really complex stuff, and is considered very *cutting edge*.

The idea

The idea is that two or more people use the layout during an "Operating Session" to move the trains and cars around the track at the same time as a *game*. The goal is to get the correct cars to the correct locations during the session. The Car Cards and Waybills let the operators know where their trains must stop, and what cars must be removed and added at each stop. A Dispatcher can change the cards being used during the run to make the game more complex or to react to problems on the layout, such as one operator taking too long or the wrong car being left at the wrong stop.

You win if everything ends up where it is supposed to, and you lose if it all gets screwed up. You *really* lose if you crash two trains, or people get frustrated playing the game and end up bashing the cars and locs. Wink

This implies human operators, not a computer. In fact, Rocrail actually automates many jobs that are supposed to be done by humans when playing this game. For example:

  • The Engineer is supposed to to run the train. Rocrail runs the train.
  • The Conductor is supposed to throw the switches. Rocrail throws the switches.
  • The Dispatcher is supposed to decide how each train gets from one stop to another. Rocrail sets the route.

At the same time, Rocrail can really help if it has the appropriate featues. I think it could allow fewer people with a smaller layout to "play the game" just like one of these large American layouts with 20 square meters and 10 operators in a single session.


Here is a list of the key features I think Rocrail should have to support Realistic Operations. Note I am *not* submitting any of these as feature requests, they are ideas for discussion only at this point.

Manual Operation Tracking

This means that if Rocrail knows a loc is in block A, and a user starts it heading towards block B, Rocrail tracks this and shows it leaving block A and arriving in block B. This would allow Operators to "drive" their trains around the layout while Rocrail tracks which block that train is in.

Car Spotting Tables

This means a simple system for saying "this car is in block X" *and/or* "this car is on train Y". This does not have to be automatic, although with fancy rfid systems it could be. A user can use the client to enter or change a car's position, either in a block or on a train. This will allow cars to be removed from the train in block A and added into the yard block Y, and vice-versa as the Yardmaster "sets up" the train that has just arrived.

Show Start/Wait State

This means a user can see if his train can leave the block, or if it still must wait for some reason. This allows the Dispatcher to decide to "hold" a train until he is ready for it to move.

Set Start/Wait State

This means a user can tell Rocrail that his train is not ready to move (still adding and removing cars), or ready to move (all done, get me out of here!).

Set Car Destination

This means a user can find a car, see where it is and set a new block where it is supposed to be. Dispatchers can use this to follow a Waybill and change the orders an Engineer will get at the next block.

Show Pickups/Dropoffs

This means that an Engineer can get a list of the cars he is supposed to add and remove from his train when it arrives in a block. This could be a right-click option on the flyout menu for a block. This would allow the Engineer to see the changes a Dispatcher has made to his consist.

On The Fly Route Settings

This means a way for someone to say "Move this loc from block A to block X through blocks C, D and Q, and not through E, F, and J". This will allow a Dispatcher to determine how the Operators move their trains, and adjust the route of each train to deal with cars that are now on train X that should have been on train Y. It will allow the Dispatcher to take over the work being done by the autorouter.

Show Suggested Route

This is a client command that shows you where your loc is supposed to go, and how it is supposed to get there. Perhaps it is an option on the right-click flyout menu for a loc that is in a block. This allows an Engineer to see that he must take the siding at Baden Baden so that the other train the Dispatcher wants to go through can.

Single User Throttle Control

This means that if one client is already controlling a loc with the loc window, another user gets a "Steal Loc?" popup before he can issue commands to it. It also means that if Rocrail is controlling a loc automatically, and a user tries to control it with the loc window, they also get the "Steal Loc?" popup. If a user steals a loc from Rocrail, Rocrail drops all auto routing and commands for that loc.

Impending Collision Warnings and/or Control

This means that if two users send the same loc to the same block, Rocrail can at least begin flashing some popup warning. Depending on some setting, perhaps Rocrail is allowed to "Steal And Keep" a loc and stop it until the collision is resolved. The user cannot get the loc back until Rocrail knows the problem is clear. This will prevent two Engineers from driving their trains into each other (we hope!).
This is more important than it seems, Rocrail must have some way to "give up" if the operators create a situation it cannot solve, or that results in some endless loop.

Note: I favor female voiced audio warnings like "Warning, Warning, Collision is Imminent. Warning, Collision in 5 seconds, 4 seconds, 3 seconds…". And then perhaps a big loud explosion sound as the bashing happens… Smile


There is a lot to think about here. Car Card and Waybill Systems are designed for manual layouts, where DCC is thought of as a way of simply running two locs on the same track and not the kind of complex tracking and automation that Rocrail offers.

None of the layouts that I have read about where Realistic Operations are used have *any* sensors or a feedback connection. Most uncoupling is done by hand (using a pick), and you are allowed to move a car with your hand.

But if it is done right, Rocrail could provide a way to play this "game" with a better feel and more fun than even the best of the giant NMRA layouts. Rocrail would provide the control systems, the strategic view and even the tactical orders that each player needs to try and win. And it would all work on even small layouts like my Z Gauge Test Layout.

Hell, maybe you can even get it to keep score! Engineer Joe was so slow at the throttle and took so long spotting his cars he only got 12, but Engineer Saskia was so fast that she got 37. And Dispatcher Rob beat the layout's *par score* of 35 by 7 because he got 28 since the cars got to their destinations faster and with fewer moves than the suggested set of moves.

Yer Man In New Amsterdam.

car-routing/mark.txt · Last modified: 2018/11/12 08:56 by