Dispatching (english)

Field report: Dispatching at americaN


Field report: dispatching at americaN



Prototype orientated operations was new to Michael when he joined our group at the end of 2005. After two americaN operation weekends, he wrote this field report:

What is dispatching?

At americaN, we are simulating the operations of the real railroad. We are transporting goods from A to B, and the movement of the cars is determined by station data sheets and waybills. In contrast to European railroads where trains are controlled by railway control centers and signals, at americaN we follow the prototype and use Track Warrant Control. The person in charge of security and movement of trains is called dispatcher.When operating with Track Warrant Control, we have three jobs:
  • dispatcher: sitting in an office from where he cannot see the railroad, and cannot here the train crews; his task: controlling the movement of all trains; talking to the train crews by radio
  • conductor: he is riding the caboose (well, that is where is would be on the prototype; at americaN he is walking besides his train); he gets his orders by the dispatcher, who is giving him track warrants by radio.
  • engineer: he is walking along the arrangement by his train; he is getting his orders by the dispatcher (at the moment. maybe in the future he will get his own radio).

Sometimes the conductor is engineer, too. If we have enough persons attending a meeting, we prefer to have both roles.

What a dispatcher does?

At the meetings of americaN we use graphical time tables. The dispatcher makes sure that the trains are moving according the schedule, and that the movements are without accidents or friction. What is typical for single track arrangements, what we have at americaN? 
  • First of all, the dispatcher has to plan train meetings. For meetings, the siding has to be long enough to let the trains pass each other.
  • Then he has to plan that trains switching do not block the main track if through trains should be passing. 
  • The switching, and all planning for the switching, is organized by the conductor. The dispatcher has to give the right to switch to the train crew by a track warrant, but the switching itself is under supervision of the conductor.

Sometimes two trains are switching at one station, for example a local and a sweeper. That is big fun, as the two conductors have to coordinate on their own.

The conductor is responsible:

  • that he is working according to the schedule
  • that the train flow is as smooth as possible
  • that only as few trains are on the division that everything is moving, with little traffic jams
  • that as much operating people are working at a time as possible (no one likes to wait too long)
  • that train crews are called in time and take over their trains in the staging yards

How dispatching works

We have dispatched with some different methods, and all worked. The following method I have tried in March 2006 for the first time, at the Waiblingen meeting.

Important ideas I got by Dave Husman via the Operations Special Interest Group of NMRA (National Model Railroad Association), USA. My aim was to minimize my work as dispatcher, and having all the necessary details to know what is happening on the division. 


Dispatcher Michael H. in the office

Where to put the dispatcher’s office? At the beginning of operations by americaN, the dispatcher was working from the middle of the layout. And now, we prefer that the dispatcher is far away, that he does not see nor hear the train crews. The big advantage of a separate office is that this adds the reality to this job. At the prototype, the dispatcher sometimes is many hundred miles away from the train.


Equipment for train crews:

  • radio with headset
  • conductor board for car cards and waybills
  • pencil


Equipment for dispatcher:

and the following documents:
  • schedule
  • job descriptions
  • a paper with a chart to track the train movements (see below) 


This is the track plan for this report. Clockwise, which is from east to west:

  • EY = Erehwyna Yard
  • SPJ = Sand Pit Junction
  • JKC = JK Coal Mine
  • MC = Miller’s Crossing
  • YL AJ = Yard Limit of Appaloosa Junction
  • AJ = Appaloosa Junction
  • YL AJ = Yard Limit of Appaloosa Junction
  • RC = Rick’s Cattle
  • SCY = Sarah Creek Yard 




Schedule for Waiblingen 2006. The trains are run in the sequence given by the schedule. Please consider, no clock is used. This was done to eliminate the pressure, as we always make new track plans for each meeting, and therefore we do not know exactly how much time every task will take. By the way: sometimes extras -extras are trains which are not listed in the schedule- are running, for example coal trains.


Above: job descriptions. They are describing the job for each train.



The track warrant form


A chart was quickly drawn with a pencil. The abbreviations explained above are listed from west to east.

The chain of dispatching:

The dispatcher makes the decision which train shall move from A to B, then he dictates a track warrant to the train crew, and parallel he marks the train movement in the spreadsheet:


The start of the schedule: trains #12 and #53 are moving. Track warrants #1 and #2 are completed, and track warrants #3 and #4 are valid.

If there is a danger of collision, the conductor should be able to identify it by looking at the graphical chart. A danger of collision is present if more than one not-orange line is at one column. If so, specific safety measures have to be taken. This can be done by yard limits: this is done at Appaloosa Junction. Or, this can be done by commands at the track warrants.

At the moment of the dispatching chart above, the following track warrants are valid:


Track Warrants #1 and #2 are completed, and crossed out in orange color.


Track Warrants #3 and #4 are valid. To avoid a collision of trains #12 and #53, the train #53 has checked box #11 and got an “Other Specific Instruction


Dispatcher: is it a dream job, boring or a nightmare?

The opinions are varied. It is good to have more than one person in the tea who likes to dispatch.

I like the tension to control trains which are far away, which I cannot see. On the other hand, I want to move trains in another session. I like to get both in a good mix.

Some people in our group have never dispatched so far. They want to be at the trains. Don’t they have the heart to do it? This could change if they read this report. Let’s see what happens at the next meeting!

Source: Author: Michael Homberg, www.america-n.de, (c) 2006-04, published with permission