'How do I go about operating a model railway?'
"Operating" is best achieved by running a service of trains appropriate to the setting of the model. By having a number of hidden sidings containing a selection of accurate model trains you can treat your model railway as a "stage" and the trains as "actors" who come on, do their bit and depart. Working to a script (called a Working Time Table or WTT Show me an example of a typical Working Time Table), you add that vital ingredient of involvement, suspense ! For the onlooker this takes the form of "What will happen next?", and for the operator the challenge is to successfully complete the "show" without error and above all convincingly, so that those watching come to believe they are looking at a distant version of a real railway.
Operating alone, the challenge comes from honing your driving skills and learning more and more complex manoeuvres so as to be able to put on a better and better show each time you have visitors. The concentration this level of involvement requires probably makes a model railway one of the best devices yet invented for offering relaxation to the harassed executive since the sense of achievement when a show goes well is considerable. A model railway is, in fact, the ultimate executive toy !
'How does this work in practice?'
To operate most model railways you have one or more operating positions where you sit at a control panel. These can be of several types;
This would have one or more controllers to control the speed and direction of your engines, a graphic representation of the trackwork with push buttons to change the points and a variety of section switches to select which controller was controlling each specific section of track. (A section might be part of a main line, a siding or group of sidings, or part of an engine shed or loop of track.) There may also be other switches and buttons for additional features such as electric uncouplers, turntables, signals and all the bells and whistles the owner wants!
This consists of a numbered "Signal Cabin type" diagram of a station or junction (such as would have been found in every full-sized signal cabin before they became electric), and a row of numbered levers. These levers are numbered to relate to the diagram and are a miniature version of those found in a real steam-age signal box. They are interlocked (to help prevent errors), and operate all the points and signals. By learning how to operate one of these types of panels correctly, the electrics become largely hidden, the necessary connections being made automatically depending on the choice of signals used and the setting of points. Since each lever is locked (by a relay) once signals are pulled off or a conflicting route chosen, it is much more difficult to make mistakes and cause accidents. It costs more, but is both far more reliable and much more realistic in use since you are replicating the operating practices of the real railways. Controllers can be added where appropriate but are often on a "wander lead" allowing the operator to move about the layout to be wherever his train is.
For some, the pleasure is simply that of pushing a button and watching the trains go round. Most types of circular layouts can be automated, including the starting and stopping of trains, route selection and some (very) limited shunting. In this case the panel would consist of on and off buttons, following operation of which a pre-set pattern of trains will run, and usually a row of secondary buttons with labels beside them so that favourite trains can be selected to reappear as required. It is also quite possible to add either of the panels noted above, perhaps in a hidden drawer or behind a removable panel, so that if a more active participation is required then these panels can simply be switched in to interrupt or replace the automation. This allows for shunting or changes in the trains formation.
With Countryside Models the choice is yours!
How can a model railway be fun?