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Hello everyone,

I would like some info about track assignments in a classification yard. On my layout I've built a 9 track yard, capable of holding up to 135 cars. Each track is over 15 feet long.  I know that tracks 1 & 2 will be used for arrival and departure but I'd like to know if I should name the others by either the type of loads I'm moving or a destination.  Since I'm modeling a 1950's era small steel mill, I'm sort of at an impasse. Here's what I have so far;

Tracks 1 and 2 have a crossover at the far end to facilitate arriving engines dropping their train and heading to the service area.

Track 1- departure and run around track

Track 2- arrival and caboose storage (after the track 1-2 crossover).

If I name tracks 3 to 9 according to destination, that would then be high line, scrap yard, slab mill, rolling mill, electric furnace, forge building, slab and coil yard, ore docks, open hearth furnace and car float.

If I name tracks 3 to 9 based on type of load, then it would be iron ore,  lime stone, coke and coal,  scrap loads,  hot rolled coils,  slabs and billets,  empties.

I don't want to drop cars just  willy-nilly in the yard, but actually have some purpose towards operations. I'm hoping someone who actually works or worked for a railroad can give me some insight.


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I have not been employed on a railroad, but the late John Armstrong's Track Planning for Realistic Operation includes a wonderful primer into yard design and operations. In practice, yard body tracks are used for different things at different times. A destination-scrambled fast freight arriving that needs to be blocked for the stops ahead might use all open tracks as destinations, then pull the tracks in station order, and quickly get the train on its way. Four tracks can sort 16 destinations if the cars are sorted twice--I suspect this is more of a textbook than a practical thing. In a pinch, the train can be resorted with just two tracks and a lot of moves.

The four most basic classifications are through west, through east, local west, and local east. The rear of single-ended tracks can be used for empties not currently needed.

My copy of the 1951 B&O Freight Working Book notes that trains didn't just carry cars for destinations, they carried blocks to be transferred to specific trains at specific points. I've modeled this on my layout.

No yard ever has enough tracks, so I double up the local stuff on one. For through freight blocks that are between trains, I tend to leave the blocks on the arrival track unless I need to clear it for another train.  Several of my freights depart directly from single-end class tracks because the four doubled-ended tracks are occupied when it's time to depart.

A working freight (and passenger) yard is a wonderful thing to have. I prefer to focus on switching blocks of cars between trains rather than classifying individual cars based on a tab or car card.

Thanks for the response.  My layout is point to point and has 24 spurs that go to the different mill buildings. Of those,  5 tracks won't be worked by the yard,  the car float idler storage, 2 hot metal blast furnace tracks,  the slag dump track and the blast furnace slag track.  Of the other 19, I have room for 80 car spots. With the 2 arrival/departure tracks out of the picture,  I have room for over 100 cars on 7 tracks. If I designate tracks by destination,  then all the tracks will need to have at least 2 destinations each.

So I am interpreting your response to mean you are focused on local operations: cars arrive in yard, get sorted and switched to spurs. Cars picked up from spurs are brought to yard. You do not appear to me to modeling through freight operations where cars consigned from off the layout locations are destined for off the layout locations.

If that's all you want to do, then assigning tracks to local destinations will work. The local can pull the tracks in order of delivery.

If I understand things, IMHO, you are leaving a lot of operational interest behind.


Making some generalizations based on my railroad years...

The railroads I've worked on/for all had similar track naming conventions in their yards.

Each yard had a track designated as the Main Line.

Next would be a Pass Track, if the yard had such.

From the Main, the tracks were numbered outward such as Track 1, Track 2, etc.

If the Main Line was east/west and split the yard, then on the north side there would be North 1, North 2, and on the south side of the Main Line, South 1 South 2 and so on.

So, as to the original poster's question. First determine which track is your "Main Line", and then number outward accordingly.

For illustrative purposes, let's say the Main Line is east/west, and there are no tracks on the north side of the Main. That so, your naming convention would be:


Pass (if a track is so designated)

Track 1

Track 2

Track 3


Hope this helps.


Last edited by laming


I don't have a track plan (never made one) but here are a couple of photos of my yard. This is the yard throat,  body tracks to the right, track going off to the far left goes to the engine service area.


Tracks at bottom center are departure/escape and the one with the uncoupler is arrival.


Here's the body of the yard. Tracks 1-9 are from right to left.  If you enlarge the photo,  at the extreme end of Tracks 1 and 2 is the crossover for engine escape. 20240521_120124

Night shot.


I was thinking since this is a railroad serving basically a single industry the tracks would be named for destinations. I read a book about rail operations inside Bethlehem Steel,  tower men and engineers had developed a few slang names for certain tracks in their yards. And others were just numbered. I am hoping on doing the same.


I would like to bring some sort of operations to my layout. I've completed nearly all the trackwork and am just working on scenery such as the largest mill buildings.  In my scheme of things a train of ore cars would leave the dock are and pull into to yard on the arrival track, drop the road engine and the yard switcher would pull and drop the cars on the track designated for the high line. Similarly various cars from the float would have to be classified also. Same with loads and empties coming from different buildings to another one or destined for off layout fiddle yard.

Each "trick" or "turn" would start and end at the yard,giving more action sequences.

Thank you everyone for your help and support.


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After looking at your pictures, I would be more concerned about the "shortness" of your yard lead rather than the naming convention for the yard tracks.  The general philosophy is that the yard lead (separate from the main line) should be as long as the longest yard track.  I will admit that the picture makes it hard to tell where the lead joins the main, but it looks to be right at the top of that yard shanty which will cause you innumerable headaches if you operate with more than one person.  Of course, if you operate alone, blocking the main while sorting the yard will not interfere with anybody else's operation.

With respect to the naming convention of the yard tracks, if you're using a control panel to operate the yard, why not use both numbers & destinations (where appropriate) for the labels?



Thanks for the pdf on yards. It was very informative and I think I obeyed nearly all of the commandments,  except the one about keeping things within reach. Track 9 is about 3 feet from the front of the table. I guess I will use it less frequently than the others.


I understand your concern about my yard lead length. Here is a picture of my control panel. The lead curls around the engine service area behind the engine house.  It then threads its way between the blast furnace and the high line.  Finally it connects with the rest of the "main " 12 to 15 feet away. 20240608_18251120240221_16045120240221_160545


The pictures are out of order but the cut of gondolas and hoppers are on the lead where it joins the main.


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Since you were so concerned about getting your yard "right," I had a hunch I was just misconstruing the original photo.  I guess I'm not used to thinking about steel mill yards that might be a greater distance from the mainline connection.  Thanks for the explanation and additional photos.


@Ken Gillig posted:


Yes - I am a member of the Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club. I go down about 3-4 ties a year, sometimes alone and sometimes with a friend or a grandchild.

I joined for two reasons: really amazing layout , and there is a lot to learn from that layout and the people behind it.

Do you go ever? Are you a member?


Yes, I'm a member also,  plus I'm a board member. I joined 16 years ago back when it was just a modular layout.  My usual day to go is Thursday,  part of the crew that does maintenance and repairs on the layout. Also I help out during the open houses each month.

@PRR1950 posted:

Since you were so concerned about getting your yard "right," I had a hunch I was just misconstruing the original photo.  I guess I'm not used to thinking about steel mill yards that might be a greater distance from the mainline connection.  Thanks for the explanation and additional photos.



I think I'm going to use both systems,  labeling tracks by number and also giving them destination information.

Thanks for your help.

I numbered my tracks for several reasons:

1. Ability to log derailments, uncouplings, or other operational problems by location.

2. Ability to create "working book" type documents detailing which tracks to use for certain operations, and which through tracks are occupied at each point in the schedule.

3. Easier to match controls on panel with tracks on layout.

4. My staging yard is single-ended and backed into. When the train reaches end of track, a red light goes on in a panel near the ceiling. The lights are numbered, as are the tracks on the control panel.

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