Preparing for Socially Distanced Ops

Virtually bringing the membership to the club

Due to social distancing guidelines still in effect, Silicon Valley Lines canceled the May ops session originally scheduled for tonight. We discussed doing another remote ops session instead, and decided that this time we’d try to do a session from the club. Only two members went to the club. Everybody else joined over video conference from home.

This was to test both our ability to implement social distancing, as well as whether and how to incorporate remote operators into an operations scheme. Another goal tonight was to stress-test the club’s Internet connection with multiple video streams in a multi-user setting.

We set up various cameras to record the action from different angles. We also moved the cameras around to capture trains as they moved from yards over the layout to their destinations for switching.

We used Web cams connected to laptops, as well as Android phones to provide views of the layout for the stay-at-home audience

The verdict:
Over the course of the evening we ran only four trains, instead of the 25 trains we normally run.

We can support a remote dispatcher and give remote operators control of a train. We have the technology to do that.

However, our Internet uplink does not support multiple HD streams in parallel. The double-deck arrangement makes visual train control via cameras challenging for a remote operator. While detected sections on the layout work well, and are needed for signaling, not all blocks have detection for various reasons.

Keeping distance between operators in the layout room will be a requirement for a while

Even when the county’s strict shelter-in-place orders are lifted, we will need to continue some form of social distancing measures for the time being, including wearing masks. A well-attended ops session is a lot of fun with a lot of energy in the room. However, the health of club members and visitors is paramount. More discussions are needed to find a way to run an ops session at the club that is fun, but avoids crowding in the aisles, and minimizes health risks. Very likely this will include a remote engineer component, and we need to figure out how to make that fun and satisfying for everyone involved.

Model Railroading 101: DTC

A great introduction to operations with DTC featuring Silicon Valley Lines. John from TSG Multimedia attended one of our sessions last year and put together this great episode of Model Railroading 101. Enjoy!

If you enjoy operating a railroad in a relaxed club atmosphere, come and join us at one of our future operating sessions.

Virtual Club Life

When the COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place restrictions hit the SF Bay Area and pretty much everyone was required to stay home, we quickly realized that the club won’t be able to function as normal for a while. However, the club membership is still around, and we like to hang out with each other on Friday evenings working on the railroad.

Weekly Club Meeting

So we moved to the next best thing: hanging out together online, while working on the railroad, and kept meeting regularly. In some weeks we have a presentation, a tour of a member’s home layout, or other pre-planned program. Other weeks are more laid back, and members talk about model railroad news, explore local railroad resources together, work on projects and share results as the meeting is going on, etc.

At one of these meetings we started discussing that it might be fun to do a remote operating session. Start of with something simple: Set up a train on a home layout, write out a switch list, the layout owner runs the train, but the online group is acting as conductor and directs the moves the engineer is supposed to make. We decided to try it first with Bernhard’s Welztalbahn railroad.

Remote Ops on Bernhard’s Welztalbahn

It turns out, this was a very enjoyable experience, not only for the engineer, but for the group, too. Of course, some friendly banter and joking contributed to the fun, too.

In fact, we had so much fun, that we did it again this week on Bill’s San Arbo railroad, which also was a big success.

Remote Ops on Bill’s San Arbo Railroad

We are planning to do more such sessions in the future.

Even though we can’t be at the club for now, we are having fun.

Together.

Time for Inventory

Once a year, Silicon Valley Lines does an inventory of all rolling stock to ensure that we know which cars are present on the layout and the actual location of each car is consistent with where the computer thinks it is. With 1300 cars on the layout this is a lot of work for our train master, so a few folks helped out.

How can it be that cars are not where they are supposed to be, you ask? Simple. We’re all humans. We make mistakes. We take an extra car on a train we’re not supposed to. We forget to take all cars we’re supposed to. Sometimes a planned train doesn’t run as scheduled for a variety of reasons. For operating layouts using computer-based paperwork, this drift between reality and what the computer thinks is quite common. Here are all the cars I found in Nowheres and Jasper Jct that didn’t belong.  This is quite a bit more than expected. We determined that one of the freights from Nowheres to Bakersfield must not have run in a recent session.

By the way, layouts using car cards & waybills have similar problems where due to human error the pairing between car card and car is lost, resulting in cars without a card, or cards without a car. On small layouts this is usually resolved easily and quickly, but ends up being just as much of a challenge on large layouts, and owners usually have a system to keep things in sync.