Mystic Mountain Railroad Operating Sessions

Some videos from my operating sessions
April 2015
Sept. 2015
August 2016














How Operations Came to My Mystic Mountain Garden Railroad


The Mystic Mountain Railroad, a back country shortline loosely set in the early 1900’s, is my second garden railroad and was built in 1999. As are most garden railroads it was built primarily to run trains round and round without intervention. It was 600’ of track with three passing/storage sidings and 4 spurs, which were mainly included for ascetics to create small scenes and park cars for display. In 2007 I added another 600’ of track which created an independent or linked loop to run a second train. It also included a small yard, a turntable and a few spurs.

This was fine until around 2012 when I went to a local convention and signed up for an operating session at an indoor railroad. I was curious and wanted to find out what it was all about. I really enjoyed it! Over the next year I went to a couple of other operating sessions and started to think of how I could do one on my Mystic Mountain garden railroad. I built an Excel spreadsheet with lists of cars, locomotives, and industries that scheduled car movements among the industries. It was clumsy to use buy I hosted a couple of operating sessions for club members. People had fun and I learned a lot about what worked well and what didn’t.

I embarked upon a major renovation in 2014 to make the railroad work better for operations, adding some new spurs and industries. But it was more a matter of re-thinking the use of the existing layout. I broke the round-and-round loop (schematically, not physically) by declaring a section unused or for staging a train. I added a switching area that would intentionally be challenging to switch cars. I re-purposed a crossover as an entry to the south end of the railroad. I redefined the track through the turntable to be a destination. Simplifying the helix allowed me to create a wye for turning trains and making meets and switching in the area more “interesting”. The MMRR now has two yards, 22 spurs, two wyes for turning trains, several passing sidings, and 18 industries some with multiple car spots. Trains can be run point-to-point between the two yards for realistic operating sessions or from each yard to the middle of the RR, turn around, and return to their origins.

After investigating a few commercial train scheduling programs I chose the JMRI operations module, entered all my cars and locations/industries, and created several routes for trains to travel servicing industries along the way. For an operating session (usually 4 crews of 2 persons each) I select a set of trains to run that will interact in interesting ways (I can vary the level of difficulty to match the experience of the crews) and JMRI generates switch lists for each train. These lists show each potential stop along the route of that train and the cars to drop and pick up at each location. Trains are battery-powered radio controlled for smooth, walk-around control.

While single person crews are the usual, I prefer 2-person crews. Because of the enhanced social interaction, it just seems like more fun! Since we don’t have a dispatcher to manage mainline use on the railroad, we just let the crews negotiate shared use of an area, meets and passes, etc. Sessions usually last about 2-3 hours. After each session we socialize with munchies and then debrief operations learning what to improve for next time. One idea this surfaced was to pre-build the first train out of each yard so that all four crews could get started working the railroad in the first 10 minutes.

If operations sounds like it MIGHT interest you, try it and find out. Check your local club to see if someone there is doing operations. There’s a lot more operations activity in the smaller scales. Sign up for a session at a local NMRA convention. Or find a friend in the smaller scales that can invite you to a session.


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