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The Kingston Subdivision

Model Railroad Operations

Brockville 1978

Train 43, Capital, waits on the CP tracks from Ottawa as train 53, Lakeshore, arrives from Montreal.
53's cars will soon be added to the rear of 43, though 53 appears to be on the wrong track. Looks like delays ahead...
Photo courtesy the Kaluza-Mueller Collection.

If you are a regular operator on a large model railroad in North America you've probably got stuck with the passenger run at some point. You know, the boring job. While the experienced operators get the plumb wayfreights or yard jobs that keep them on their toes for two hours or more, you make your passenger train go, stop for a meet, go, stop for a meet, go, and park in staging or a terminal. Wow. What a lot of fun.

The Kingston Sub is one of the only model railroads (planned or already constructed) in North America that is focused on over 90% passenger operations. On my layout, the freight jobs will be the boring ones.

Passenger-focused layouts are the norm in the UK and other parts of Europe. In contrast, there has been a dearth of prototype passenger services and on-line passenger switching over the last 50 years in North America. Consequently, the vast majority of operations on North American layouts are freight-focused. Passenger trains are just eye candy - they wend their way through the layout and give the freights an obstacle to avoid while looking pretty. The Kingston Sub layout will be the complete opposite. Pretty freights will roll by while the VIA trains do the work.

What follows is an introduction to the operations on the HO scale Kingston Sub layout. This page will be expanded with more information in the coming months and will be updated as operations begin in the coming years.

Spadina Yard

CN S13 Switcher

CN S13 Switcher 8518 pushes a consist into Union Station in 1980.
Kaluza-Mueller Collection.

On my Kingston Sub layout, Spadina Yard comprises several different operation centres, each of which is a destination in and of itself:

  • Coach Yard: Passenger consists are brought here between runs and are cleaned and restocked from the commissary.
  • Wash Rack: Equipment is pulled through here regularly en route to or from Union Station.
  • Turbo/Tempo/LRC Tracks: storage/servicing for Turbo and Tempo equipment. I am introducing the LRC a couple of years early so that it will play a prominent role on the layout.
  • Sanding Towers: Locomotives are sanded east of the old coaling tower, and the sand is replenished from covered hoppers.
  • Fuel Pad: Locomotives are fueled just north of the Spadina Roundhouse machine shop.
  • Roundhouse: Locomotives, RDCs and Steam Generator Units have heavy maintenance performed here.
  • Load Tester: Built from a C-Liner dynamic brake unit, locomotives head here (north of the turntable) for load testing.
  • RIP/Storage Tracks: Equipment is stored north of the turntable pending delivery/testing or for long-term storage.
  • Scrap Loads: South of the coaling tower, gondolas are stored for loading and removing scrap.
  • Wheel Shop/Erecting Shop These are represented by one track north of the commissary building as they are off the layout. Spadina is already about five feet wide at the roundhouse end; including these would have filled the entire aisle.

Passenger trains were brought to and from Union Station in two parts: power and passenger cars. CN stabled a fleet of MLW S13 switchers at Spadina for all switching duties. On a typical day, the switchers would bring the passenger cars to the Union Station train shed and the locomotives would arrive from the loco servicing area and couple to the cars there. Similarly, power would uncouple from its train at the train shed and a waiting switcher would pull the cars to the coach yard for servicing. Surprisingly, even if the equipment was being reused on a train three or four hours later, this process was still followed.

Union Station

Union Station Arrivals and Departures

Union Station arrivals and departures, December 1980
Click on the image to download the full PDF.

The routine at Spadina and Union means that for every arrival or departure, there are four train movements: the actual arrival or departure; the light switcher move to or from the station; the light locomotive move to or from the station; and the movement of the passenger cars to or from the coach yard.

Click on the image at right to download a PDF summary of all of the arrivals and departures at Union in December 1980. As you can see, there is near-constant activity around the station and it will keep my operators on their toes. The layout will require at least a dozen people to operate, and I imagine it will be several years before our op sessions go remotely smoothly.

Until I one day manufacture a model of the S-13, I plan to use 1900-series GMD-1 locomotives for the switching duties. I've become obsessed with the GMD-1 since we started working on the HO scale model, so I'll take any excuse to run them on the Kingston Sub. The challenge I face as a manufacturer is that one real S-13 can easily pull 15 cars between Spadina and Union. A model S-13 will probably have trouble pulling eight cars. I guess everyone will have to buy twice as many switchers as they need, then!

Car Cards for Passenger Trains


CN GP9 4512 likely had to rescue this Toronto-bound VIA train.
Here it approaches Union Station in 1981.
Kaluza-Mueller Collection

The plan now is for Spadina switcher crews and the locomotive road crews to co-ordinate their actions. Each scheduled train will have a train pack. The pack will list the base consist of the train as well as the expected passenger count. The switcher and road crews will need to determine what cars to pull from the coach yard and how much power is needed.

Each pack will contain a sealed incident report. Once the train is placed at Union, the incident report is opened. Most likely, there will be nothing to report. But occasionally, there will be unexpected issues such as an airport strike which suddenly requires three more coaches to be added, or a locomotive failure requires additional power to be added pronto. These incident reports should shake things up a bit and keep the operators interested.

Of course all of this may change once we start operating. It's all very well to talk about planned operations, but until we actually start running trains all this is just guesswork.

I plan to expand this section of the web site soon with more information about operations on the upper two decks. Most of the web site has been written over the course of a few weeks and my brain is starting to turn to mush... But before signing off on operations for now I would like to share some concerns with you.


I am a big fan of switching and I am a big fan of passenger trains, but nothing of this scale has ever been tried before. So obviously I am concerned that once we start operating we will find the whole process either tremendously boring or too complex to be enjoyable.

I am concerned that there will be too much of a bottleneck at the west end of Spadina Yard. I have two yard leads but all of the coach yard tracks lead off of one access track. I am concerned that switcher crews will be spending a lot of time waiting around and that there will only be room for one train to be assembled or broken up at a time instead of two like the prototype.

Timing may also be an issue. I originally planned to use a 2:1 fast clock but switching does not scale down. For example, there are 10 arrivals and departures between 8 and 9 in the morning on a given day, plus all of the light engine moves and passenger car switching. There is no way to fit that into a real half hour. But then if we use a 1:1 clock for timekeeping, will there be a lot of standing around with nothing to do?

These are all things that will hopefully be solved once operations start, but if the high-density passenger operations end up being complete rubbish then I may have to rip out the whole thing and model narrow gauge in the 1930s... or not. Please feel free to get in touch and share your experiences. I would love to hear from you and all constructive input is welcome.

Follow the links below to see more.

Model Railroad: Introduction
Model Railroad: Construction
Model Railroad: Along the Line
Model Railroad: Track Plan
Model Railroad: Operations
Model Railroad: Roster
Model Railroad: Tips and Tricks
Model Railroad: Gallery

Rapido Trains Inc. ©2013 by Jason Shron. I designed and coded it myself so sorry if your screen blew up.
Uncredited prototype photos are either mine or courtesy Bill Morrison, Brian Schuff and the Kaluza-Mueller Collection.
Thanks for actually reading this small print. Must be a slow day, eh?