Monday, March 19, 2018

2018 Railcar Analysis "Big Data"

Everywhere you turn in the rail industry you hear about big data and how carriers and car owners use it to manage their fleets. Obviously from a model railroad perspective we dont have this same exact data, however we do have other ways to pull "big data" in regards to our own layout rosters. 


Case in point comparing the August 2017 roster to the March 2018 data is well astonishing and tells a story in itself that we will discuss in just a minute. Being a modern contemporary model railroad I do my best to recreate what I observe trackside or read about. Some of the practices have to do with railroads actually decreasing fleets or going to more versatile cars that can be a one stop shop like the venerable 60' Plate F boxcar. Nowadays it seems this one car type has become the 50' Plate C, 50' Plate F, 60' Plate F, and even the RBL... So the more of a renaissance fleet the better to flex for customer demands. As fleets age out railroads may go towards more towards consolidating fleet types as scene with the boxcar, completing going away from a fleet, leasing a fleet, or customer moving to privately owned and managed equipment. This applies to beyond railroads and can be inferred with airlines and many other types of managed fleets. Its important to have a cost effective fleet that services the customer properly, otherwise it does no one any good because real railroading is a for profit business. 


We are going to look at the changes made to the St. Clair Sub roster over the past seven months first at a high level then going to jump in the car owner / type level to see exactly what transpired. 

Immediate take away from the high level totals - total roster grew by 35 cars in three of four categories. How can this be if MCIS sold and acquired covered hoppers assets in this time frame, what else could be driving the large growth. Lets now look into the owner / car type information to tell us more. 

 - Foreign cars down account age outs and other carriers moving towards TTX cars
 - Private ownership up account TTX picking up the share of age outs with 60' Plate F's
 - MCIS does plan to begin replacing aging 50'  Plate C cars with second hand owned 50' and 60' Plate F cars. 
- Early 2019 will see the end of the MCIS All door boxcar fleet in revenue service. 

Open Top Hoppers
 - Foreign ownership up due to coke orders originating in CWE pool cars  
 - Private ownership up significantly due to securing DTE coal contract (DETX hoppers)

Covered Hoppers
- Foreign ownership up a few cars due to new service lanes with CN and CSXT
- Home road is no change as retirement of the 4600 fleet was a wash with new 5188s 
- Private ownership up significantly due to Graystone Cement establishing a terminal at Bay City adding their own fleet of WSOX and NRLX marked 3281 cubic cars.

- Large increase due to wind unit train operations and further Essar steel business 

- Increase due to growing LPG and Dow Chemical business


The state of the railroad post described going after new business and leverage grow with more unit train operations. With the coal and wind cars we are growing this business which ironically is a balanced energy plan, and the new 5188s in grain service will support cycling more unit trains to export Michigan crops to market. Boxcars and how they are operated will continue evolve as the fleet gets older. Lastly we will continue to see a heavy reliance on private owned cars to fill the bill on specialized loadings like steel, cement, and chemicals. From a modelers perspective between what manufacturers are offering now and the aftermarket products from decal vendors there is no better time to capture the continued evolution of modern railroading. 

There you have it - 2018 analysis in a nutshell. Have a great rest of March. 


** This post is completely fictional and does not relate to any real railroad or customer **

Friday, March 16, 2018

March Update

Well I cant say this for alot of other places in the country, but here in Texas spring is in full bloom. Alot of folks just wrapped up spring break vacation or will taking it here the next few weeks leading into Easter so lets take a look at happenings around the "Clair". 

M-BACN-12 rolling through East Wye Switch Upper Huron (EWS UPPE)

My February post touched on the ground work that was going into creating the Cass River scene on my upper level. Over the past few week I have been making terrific progress with not only scenery but the actual through truss bridge that spans the river. Lets look closer at the work completed and whats up next to finish the scene. 

- Dirt
The previous post showed the contour work and base layer of latex paint to kill the blue / pink foam tone. Next comes a layer of true Michigan dirt that I bake and sift to get the right consistency. Having family in Michigan the odd request comes around once a year.... "Yea so can you send me a box of dirt".... They always deliver. I first put down full strength white glue with a paint brush and then using a spoon add the dirt. Giving it 10 to 15 minutes I then come back with a vacuum to remove the excess leaving a nice dirt layer. 

 Getting ready to bake the dirt in a aluminum pan - 350 degrees for 30 minutes

Dirt layer in place, needing to come back with the vacuum

- Greenage
After adding the dirt comes a mixture of foams, flocks, and rocks to give the area life. I use some photo for reference but remembering things in nature, just attempt to go with what looks right. Following the tried and true method, wet with isopropyl alcohol and then soak in scenic cement. I have tried a homemade blend of cement, I love Woodland Scenics preblended stuff the best. Can get it a Hobby Lobby with a 40% coupon for around $6. 

On the river and banks will be a sand mixture mixed with small river rock to blend in 

Layering the scenery really does bring this area to life

- Next Steps
With primary scenery in place and secured I will now be completing the riverbed scene with rocks and sand. Once dry and cured the process to pour Magic Water will take place and finish getting the river complete. I expect to do this at the end of March, so I will be sure to show step by step how that process works and the great results it produces. Prior to pouring the water, the bridge and ballast work will be completed. Wrapping up this area will be alot of Scenic Express Super Trees.... alot..... 

Since I have all of the materials out it only makes sense to keep with the momentum and scenic another adjacent scene to the Cass River which is the Upper Huron scene. 

About the scene: Upper Huron is not a fictional tower on the railroad but also a neat operation element as well. Upper Huron or UH as its know is the location of a operation wye that allows trains to traverse from either direction on the St. Clair Sub onto the Port Belle Sub. The Port Belle Sub is represented by staging however this line hosts the switch to enter the Michigan Sugar plant and sees a daily local turn during the session and occasionally a unit rock train from a quarry. The actual scene depicted hosts a grade crossing leading into town modeled by a Sceniking backdrop, the sugar beet plant, and a modern water tower in the middle of the wye. Anyone familiar with Michigan knows about all of the unique water towers, UH will be no different. 

 Out of flat blue foam, comes terrain shape via pink foam and sculptamold

 View east looking at the sugar beet plant, and east wye switch. You can see where the scenery currently stops. 

Water tower right in the middle of the wye will have character of its own. AEI reader site as well in Upper Huron. 

Still alot of work to do in this area but wow just getting some terrain shape, paint, and dirt down really helps make the area more appealing. 

Earlier this month Michigan Interstate received the first of a larger covered hopper being added to the agriculture fleet. The 5188 cubic hopper is slightly larger than our most modern being the Trinity 5161 cubic and the two will be mixed in together to provide our customers newer high capacity cars to get their grains to market. In preparation for this add the fleet did cascade seeing the venerable ACF 4600 cubic cars retire and find new life on the Delmarva Central out east. 

Fleet Plan (Effective March 2018)
4600 cubic - retired from fleet
4650 cubic - owned by Mich. Ag. Commodities for single or quad-block  
4700 cubic - sugar beet pulp, sugar beet pellet, agricultural single
4750 cubic - agricultural single, agricultural quad-block
5161 cubic - agricultural single, quad-block, and unit
5188 cubic - agricultural unit 

A quad block on their way to their first loading at M.A.C.

Of course in the process of purchasing the cars, MCIS decided to go with the Scaletrains Operator version since lets be honest the details are good enough and I am rough on the equipment. In short order I had the variety pack of FRA 224 reflectors from Smoke Box Graphics and our mechanical forces proceeded to get them compliant.... Not sure how they got from Sahagun, Mexico to Michigan without reflectors.... 

Great job by Scaletrains and Smokebox Graphics for great new innovative products, they hit these right on the mark! 

Looking pretty sharp - MCIS 5827

Following Tom Patterson's step by step from MRH I used gouache paints to weather my through truss bridge. I dont want to take anything away from the article so recommend if you are interested in doing this, take a look at the November 2011 issue and go from there. All of the paints can be purchased at a craft store and one thing I did discuss with Tom is using distilled water over Microsol is just as good and even better. I ended up doing the first overall wash with Microsol, but the random sponge work was done using water. Enjoy the photos.

Base wash of burnt umber-onyx black gouache paint applied

After a few days - proceeded with the random burnt umber and burnt sienna wash

Bridge complete and dry - wow the washes really made it pop

Closeup of the girder and rivet plates - Michigan elements have taken its toll

Simple technique - amazing results.

Wrapping up this post, we are going to have to get slightly smaller... like n scale small and head on over to Dean Ferris' Oregon Joint Line. Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a double header operations session. For the morning session I was the dispatcher and had a good time pushing around fifteen trains across the railroad in preparation for the afternoon shift. Following a lunch break by the pool I crossed over and went into management as the Assistant Superintendent. This role is to help the layout owner (Superintendent) with getting operators orientated and running. Lets be honest from the management side the railroads operating on the OJL are not making any money with idle trains. If you can tell there was some management adversity built into this session all to have a little fun. Right off the bat I was handed a wire describing the need to run a rotary plow extra account snowfall at Snowline! 

I blew up the photo real big so you can see, there is definitely some friction between the unions and management. Believe the operator may have added more letters to my last name then I thought were there. None the less the railroad cannot operate effectively if the summit grade of the line at Snowline is blocked. Myself and engineer M. Thidemann didn't know what we would find until we got up on the summit and "Oh $#!% thats alot of quicker picker upper snow". After a few runs at it we cleared the siding and ran down to Kinzua to turn the extra on the wye and go back at it from the other direction. Upon returning to the summit at Snowline we found the mainline now blocked due to shifted drifts and snow with almost a paper like consistency.

 Making a run at the drift in the siding at Snowline.. Took us three runs to clear

In the end it was about keeping them moving like we see here with a meet at Fossil. 

Having a morning and afternoon session where everyone from both sessions could get together and have lunch was a great idea. So many times having a session limits you to a certain amount of folks not allowing any networking outside of the session, but in this case folks were able to talk shop, eat, and either wrap up or start their operating day on the OJL. Great job to Dean for planning this and having me help with both sessions. 

That in a nutshell is my March update, still have another two weeks left of the month and plan to keep making good progress on the Cass River and Upper Huron scenes so stayed tuned and safe travels to all out on spring break. 


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sunday, February 11, 2018

February Update

February is in full gear and Valentines is just around the corner so lets see whats happening on the MCIS St. Clair Sub. Towards the end of 2018 I started getting off track with my monthly update posts and quite frankly there was a fair amount of content to discuss in my last consolidated post. Back on track we are going to discuss my next scenic area project that I have started and recap a great operating session I participated in over the weekend. 

Anyone that has spent time in Michigan knows there's alot of water whether its lakes, rivers, or creeks. While one of my major scenes on the lower level portrays a crossing of the navigable Saginaw River, I also wanted to model a river or creek on the layout that would be a little more relaxed.

Prototype crossing of Cass River at North Hurds Corner Road, Michigan

- Setting The Scene
Growing up I spent alot of time around the AuSable River in the northern lower peninsula and I wanted to capture that in this scene so early on in the development of the layout the portion that folks ducked under as they entered the room made for the perfect setup. When its all said and done the banks of this scene will be covered in a think canopy of deciduous trees creating a natural scene break between Upper Huron and Grays Lake. The river will portray a slow but steady flow and of course there will be a pair of canoes following the current. Mike McNamara has done a great job with a similar scene on his Woodsville Terminal fremo that really has provided great inspiration. Go back one post and you will see what I mean. 

- Just Add... Plaster
Around this part of Michigan where the railroad operates between Upper Huron and Grays Lake would be a crossing of the Cass River. Originally I had wanted to use a fictional name of Quincassee Creek but the more it crossed my mind the more I realized establishing this as the Cass only better sets my location. This part of the layout was just extruded foam so in short order a combination of floral foam, extruded foam, and Woodland Scenics plaster gauze got me to the spot depicted in the photos below. 

View west towards Upper Huron (Pardon the angled photo) 

 East Approach going into Grays Lake

 Once the plaster had dried it was painting time with simple flat latex and craft paints

Basic ground painting complete - as you can see i used the craft paint to color the riverbed lighter to signify a sandy bottom. Additionally while the cedar brown was wet i feathered it up the slopes so its not just one color.

- Next Steps
With the basic terrain and color in place I can really get a sense if I need to add any more terrain forming before moving to ground cover. Since I will be using "Magic Water" i do plan on using clear caulk to create a sort of riverbed channel and backfilling slightly with Sculptamold to help channel the resin product. Once the channel is in it will be a matter of adding real dirt, talus, and riverbed sand/rock to continue making progress. 

I had the opportunity over the weekend to attend a session at a local modelers house here in the DFW Metroplex. Mike models the Rock Island from Kansas City (Armourdale Yard) to St. Paul (Inver Grove Yard) in the late 60s with many great scenes and towns in between including Des Moines, Clear Lake Jct., and Albert Lea to name a few. This layout is a stunning double deck around the room with two double track helix's and a double ended staging yards. 

I had the opportunity to operate a two manifests with my first train being #68 from KC to St. Paul and my second being a return southbound back to KC. Average trains ran with 3 to 4 locomotives and 30 to 40 cars. My first train was led by a foursome of Rock Island F7A/Bs and my second train was a Candy Red pair of CB&Q U25Cs. 

Pictures really do not do it justice, but they do show the size and scope of the layout, enjoy!

Train order in hand, I had sometime before the DS let me out so I roamed the room to checkout everything. Mike uses Digitrax radio throttles, which made my life easy being familiar with the throttles. 

St. Paul (Inver Grove Yard) on top - KC (Armourdale Yard) on bottom

 Upper level (L - Mason City / R - Cedar Lake Jct)
Lower Level (Des Moines)

 Cedar Lake Jct. where the Rock crossed the Iowa Traction. This has to be one of my favorite scenes. 

C.King attempting to look busy in the staging room... yes i said room.

Diesel tracks at Inver Grove.... Is that a Missabe SD9... Yes it is! 

Armstrong Yard in KC includes a turntable to turn equipment. 

 Looking inside one of two double track helix's that allowed the operation to "re-stage" the layout. 

A real gaggle at Cedar Lake Jct. with D.Ferris, J. Aust, C. King, and M. Thidemann all looking "busy".

Thanks again to Mike for hosting a great session. The layout is absolutely top notch from the benchwork to the scenic details, truly look forward to returning in the future. 

That wraps up my February update, there is alot to get done before my March post which should come out just in time for school spring break (Mid March). So if you are traveling and need good content to read, there should be a post waiting for you. As an added bonus between this update and March, I do plan to post about the total railcar fleet mix and what it means for the railroad. Giving you guys something to chew on, the layout removed no less than 10 cars in 2017 from active inventory of 204 but now sits in 2018 sits at 237 cars. What is going on.... stay tuned for the answer at the end of February.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Monday, January 29, 2018

November 2017 / December 2017 / January 2018 Update

Well what can I say, it has been sometime (November) since my last Update post. I owe it to you the reader to provide more consistent updates, but as model railroading is a hobby I can tell you family, life, and work has been busy.

Bay Yard has looked lust like this since my November 2017 ops session ended.

So to catch everyone up, we are going to spend this post catching up on happenings around the MCIS St. Clair Sub for Nov, Dec, and Jan. We will get back on track in two weeks with my February Update post and hope to stay on task through the year.

On the back end of October essentially in November the CFO and I travelled to Denver for a friends wedding. No trip to the Mile High City is complete without a stop by Caboose Hobbies at their new location in Westminster. In my opinion I actually like the new store better and they did not miss a beat on selection when reopening. If you are in Denver, take sometime to check out the shop.
 Yours truly out front @ Caboose

 Amazing selection, great layout, I will return. 

I picked up a Bowser 100 ton hopper in DRGW paint, this car will be re lettered and numbered to commemorate our friends getting married. Just a fun way to add story to the car.

 Two BNSF Executive SD70mac's assigned on the Longmont Local. 

Early November saw arrival of Scale Trains equipment that I had preordered some time ago.
Thrall 4427 cubic carbon black hopper (River Counter)

Trinity 31,000 gallon crude tank car (Operator)

I decided to pick up one of each to put through its paces on the operation. An ops session later and they operating superb on the "Clair", maybe there could be more Scaletrains equipment to come? One item I do like is the inexpensive decal package you can purchase to spruce up the crude tank car operator models, in my opinion it is just enough. 

Mid November I hosted my only ops session for 2017..... dismal but glad I still got one in. My "Regular" crew filled the job board with solid 3.5 hour session moving twelve trains with around 160 car movements. Not bad for a 11x13 double deck layout. Here are photos from the session.

 Operating or congregating.... you decide

 M-BAPH-16 led by MCIS 4008 (GP40-2) and engineer M.T. taking the main at Gerhard, Michigan heading east. 

 M-MCBA-15 led by MCIS 6051 (GP60) rolls across the Saginaw River into Bay Yard Restricted Limits.

 Yardmaster CMP assisting with DP link up. 

 M-PHBA-16 rounding the curve through Grays Lake, Michigan.

M-CNBA-15 knocking down the West Siding Switch signals at Upper Huron.

Shopping, Christmas activities, and family time were the priority this month. During this time I did not get a lot of work done on the layouts but made up for it with what Santa and the family got me for Christmas. I am beyond blessed to have family that support me and my hobby.

New Atlas equipment adding to the layout roster, just a sampling of new additions. 

A new year and time to refocus on the layout and blog.

Started out the year making some railcar fleet changes. Staying current day has its pros and cons such as acquiring and retiring equipment.

- 4600 Cu. covered hopper fleet (Retired)
These cars had come to MCIS through the years post Conrail either as new or second hand acquisition serving our agricultural customers moving various grains. As covered hoppers grew in cubic size and changed, so the usage of the 4600. No longer needed in agricultural service the cars were assigned to rock salt service. When the business changed so again did this fleet. Rock salt service is tough on railcars so now in the 2010s, older worn out cars were scrapped while the younger cars were rebuilt for 50 year service. Growing agricultural demands in unit train service stressed the active fleet of ag. hoppers prompting MCIS to place the 4600 into single carload service for agricultural customers. This service was only temporary as the Equipment team placed an order for forty brand new 5188 Cubic hoppers from Gunderson. These new cars are expected to be in service late Q1 2018 working alongside with 5161 cubic hoppers in unit and large block carload service. Adding a newer car to the fleet causes a cascading effect, in this case moving 4750 cubic cars to single service and displacing the last of the 4600s.
Block of four 4600 cubic cars on their way to DELC loaded with grains for chicken feed.

The cars have now found good homes on other freelanced model railroads living on as MCIS equipment in earlier eras.

- 3600 Cubic covered hopper fleet (Retired)
A similar story to the 4600s where these cars had been acquired for rock salt service. In the end these cars were rebuilt at 40 yes but still aged out based on the 50 year rule. The cars have been traded to a local friend who in an early 2000s era layout will use them in rock salt service.
The last two 3600 cubic hoppers awaiting pickup to begin journey to new owner.

Getting back to modeling skill roots, I found a Bowser 100 ton hopper kit for $5 and thought it would be a good project to sharpen my skills. After a little paint, decals, and weathering we have CWE 125690 which will be in coke service between Follansbee, WV. (Mountain State Carbon) and Upper Huron, MI. (Michigan Sugar).

Final product turned out pretty nice - trucks need to be slightly darker. 

Wrapping up January's, I found myself back in Denver for daytrip. I had a few extra hours before my evening flight and took advantage of stopping by to see John Parkers BNSF Fall River Division. The layout is amazing and I could spend an entire post discussing it and maybe one day we will do a post covering an end to end tour of a train, but today I am just going to show some great photos of the visit. If you want to check out more of this layout John has a Facebook page (BNSF Fall River Div.) and website open for anyone to view:

 Boise Cascade lumber mill at Winston

 The mainline heading west from Overlook passes over itself in a large loop as it descends into Kimber

 BNSF Staging Yard (Represents Tacoma / Lincoln)

 Highway crossing at East Horton adjacent to Kappa Grain


 Yours truly at Fall River Yard

 Fall River Switchers and the DPU of an empty PSC coal train. I love this yard scene.

Fall River Yard

Enjoy the photos and stayed tuned for February's Update which should be back on track.