Dispatching (english)

Dispatching a "dark territory" railroad with help of software: the concept


Train Dispatcher is not made for this, but: it will work if you change some input procedure!  

Dispatching a "dark territory" railroad with help of software: the concept

Since 2005, when I started to dispatch model railroads, I am looking for chances to make dispatching more easily.


Photo: Dispatchers on the balcony (Braunlage 2009 meeting, Germany). Please note: Andreas, on the left in the foreground, and Michael behind him, are not dispatching all the modules you can see. But: they are dispatching a big layout in an area of the hall which they cannot see!


How I started 

Before I dispatched for the first time, I got the impression that this would not be easy. When asking some people how they were doing it, some were very helpful and gave me all their details. Others told me "What? Dispatching? I would never ever do it. That's too complicated, too much stress!"

After some preparation, I began with paper and colored pencils (see field report).


2005, November: I checked with the staff of Train Dispatcher software

I started with an email:

Subject: Question: using Track Builder and Train Dispatcher to control a model railroad

we are a German group which meets at weekends to build up a large N-scale module railroad.

We are controlling the railroad by a dispatcher and Track Warrants. Now I am looking for an improvement for the dispatching job. I'd like to know if the following is possible:


my concept:

  • every weekend when we meet, the layout of the model railroad is different.
  • therefore: drawing the plan of the layout with Track Builder
  • making a list which train should move when from point x to point y

when the session starts:

  • the dispatcher looks at the layout on the computer screen and sees which blocks are occupied, which are free
  • the dispatcher sees which trains should move next
  • the dispatcher dictates a train crew a Track Warrant, and he gives this information into Train Dispatcher. Train Dispatcher shows which blocks are in use

the jobs for train crews are:

  •  moving from point x to point y or
  •  doing switching work from point a to point b

when a train crew has reached the end position of a Track Warrant, the crew will tell this to the dispatcher.

  • the dispatcher gives this information into Train Dispatcher:
  • Train Dispatcher now shows which blocks are free again
  • Trains Dispatcher shows where the train is standing

Is this possible? ...


Tom Levine of Softrail (formerly Signal Computer Consultants) answered the same day:

"... Train Dispatcher is really not suitable for your application. It can be used, but there is not a good method for updating train movements. Train movements are based on time and distance calculations."

Well, that was not the answer I liked to hear. But I accepted.

Then, I had some discussions in the forum of the Operations SIG of the NMRA. These discussions did not bring me to a solution, too.

After that, I put this idea to rest.



2009, November: Phil Brooks proves that Train Dispatcher is controlling a model railroad!

My American friend Phil Brooks (the owner of Clinch River Railroad) participated in an OPS session at Bob Helm's layout. His layout is a double-deck monster, and is a turnout-by-turnout copy of the Clinchfield Railroad from Dante Virginia to Elkhorn City, Kentucky.

Phil took a lot of photos, Bob put them on the web, and when looking at them I saw this:


"Jim Collier dispatching on Train Dispatcher 3.5" (see the big photo)

This was the proof for me that someone had succeeded!


And here you can find my concept.