Home About HOTRAK  Apprenticeship Program Handbook Layouts Modules Members

Local Train Design

This page was last updated on August 24th, 2012.


1. Purpose
2. Introduction
3. Overview
 3.1  Process Inputs
 3.2 Traffic design Criteria/Rules
 3.3 Local Trains
 3.4 Car Forwarding
 3.5 Module Population
 3.6 Yard (Local Train) Preparation
4. Train/Traffic Design
 4.1 Introduction
 4.2 Traffic Definition
 4.3 Train Definition
 4.4 Castor River
 4.5 Interchange Locations
5. Set Up
 5.1 Preparation
 5.2 Train Building
 5.3 Populating Modules
 5.4 Final Documentation
Appendix A - Sample Engineer and Yard Operations cards
Appendix B - Sample Layout Population Sheet (Initial Set - up)
Appendix C - Operations Plan
Appendix D - Set - Up Car Requirements

1.         Purpose

This document describes how the local train and traffic definitions used during HOTrak operating session are designed and implemented.

 2.         Introduction

HOTrak operations allow for a wide variety of train types and equipment. This includes many sorts of passenger trains, through freights, unit trains, and local trains, for example. The scope of this document is limited to local trains.

This description assumes the availability of a set up layout diagram for the subject set-up, which identifies all modules to be included in the set-up, and their connectivity. Examples of recent layouts can be found at  http://www.hotrak.ca/Layouts.html

The process of translating a definition of the traffic handled at each set-up module into a local train service design, and the required operating documentation, is described under the following subjects:

Overview, in which the essential concepts associated with this procedure are described;

Train / Traffic Design, which outlines the steps by which individual local trains are defined, and which describes the data outputs resulting from the design process;  and

Set – Up Process, which describes the physical activities required to populate the layout and build local trains, and the documents required to facilitate local train operations during set-up.

Types of cards - Definition

Rolling Stock Card is the card that is used with each piece of rolling stock.  It is described in
and comes in a plastic folder which is used to carry the Switching Code Card
Engineer's Train Card is the card which contains routing and switching instructions.  A sample is in Appendix A
Yard Operations Card is the card used by the Yardmaster to make up trains.  A sample is in Appendix A
Switching Code Card is a small (approx 1"x1") card with a two digit alpha code (e.g. VC; XA etc) that is kept in the pocket of a Rolling Stock Card and is used to give switching instructions to the Local Train Engineer.

3.         Overview

A typical HOTrak operating session at St. Anthony’s requires about 5 - 7 local trains, some of which may have up to 3 versions. However, given a larger operating area, the main yard can handle up to 10 trains. Local train lengths are typically about 5 cars, primarily due to station/module switching limitations. Yard standing capacity may also affect local train length, in that more local trains will necessitate shorter local trains.


All local trains are identified by a number, e.g., Local 1. Some may also have descriptive qualifiers, such as BDU Turn, NTC Branch, or the Peddler. Technically, however, a 3 character code is used. Local trains codes are defined as follows:

“L” to indicate a local freight train;

A single digit to identify the local train (e.g., 1 to 7, or more); and

Alphabetic character to indicate the version / instance of this local.

So, for example, L1A might pertain to the first instance of Local 1, the Oil Can.  As will be explained below, another unique alphabetic character is associated with each local train. This alphabetic character is used for car switching/routing purposes

3.1        Process Inputs

A set-up configuration of modules, which has been approved by the HOTrak Ops committee, is required as a starting point. This layout design identifies the specific modules to be used in the set-up, and their connectivity. It also defines whether 1 or more yards will be used as local train origins/destinations. In most cases to date, only Ottawa Yard is used.   The HOTrak web site contains diagrams for recent layouts.


All modules are named, and their name is synonymous with Station name. The module name is used to identify a train work point. A module (station) may have no switching spots, or many.

 3.2        Traffic Design Criteria/Rules

Every switchable spot must be identified in at least 1 local train route definition.  All spots on any one module need not be switched by the same train.

3.3        Local Trains

A local train may serve one or many Stations (usually limited to 4 or 5, due to train length limitations). Its route need not be simply “out of the yard and back” – it may traverse the entire layout more than once, particularly if “car forwarding”  is used.

For modules that have 8 - 10 individual car spots, e.g., Brantford, it is probably best to define a local train solely for this module. Enough switching will result to keep engineers happy at this location. Typically, for these types of modules, more that 1 instance of the local train will be required to service all spots. The yardmaster or traffic superintendent will insure that no more than one instance of a local train is operating at any one time.

Conversely, if a module of many spots is on the routes of many different local trains, congestion may occur at that module. This is also an operations control issue.

For modules of less than 8 - 10 spots, say, 6, they may be included in a multi-module local train definition, depending upon layout configuration. Suppose, for example, these same 6 spots were switched by 3 instances of the same local train type (i.e., number). Two cars per local train instance would service all spots in this module. This would leave 3 cars for up to three other modules on its route. Alternatively, these 6 spots could be serviced by two or more different local trains.

Layout configuration issues (e.g., freemo branches) may be a limiting factor, in that multiple, concurrent switching activity will cause unacceptable congestion (e.g., Corbyville and Brantford).

Modules having, say, 1 to 4 spots cannot justify a single local, and must be included within a set of “multi-module” locals.

3.4        Car Forwarding

The concept of car forwarding is designed to add to the switching enjoyment of a local train run without adding to train length. Simply put, a car picked up by a local train may have a set-out spot on the local train’s route, as opposed to the yard at the end of its run.

3.5               Module Population

In addition to identifying the local trains required, and their route and work requirements, the process of organizing a set-up operation requires that each spot on each module be “populated” with an initial set of appropriate cars.  This is done to support our “one car in – one car out” method of switching module spots. Details are shown in section 5.3.

3.6        Yard (Local Train) Preparation

Similarly, an initial set of local trains must be created in the yard prior to the initiation of weekend operations. Only one version of each local train need be created at the outset. Nevertheless, if enough cars of the right type are available, then additional train versions should be created. This will give the Yardmaster some a “time cushion” to manage yard switching operations at a reasonable pace.

4          Train / Traffic Design

4.1        Introduction

In order to create a viable operation, the principles defined above in the Overview have been structured into a set of procedures, supported by MS Word and Excel computer files and templates.

4.2               Traffic Definition

Car Identification

Each car to be used in a HOTrak set-up must have a Rolling Stock Card created according to club standards.. This card will clearly identify the car type, road code and car number, and be equipped with a pocket to contain a two alphabetic switching code card.

Switching Code Card

This insert card contains a two alpha code, as follows:

Code 1: Local Train Identifier: and

Code 2: Car Code, for this Local.

For example, Local Train Identifiers used recently are:

Local 1 – “L”

Local 2: Oil Can – “T”

Local 3: Brantford – “V”

Local 4: Corbyville – “N”

These codes are not assigned permanently.

Car Codes are labelled from “A” to “Z”, and are not required to be identical across all local trains – if fact, they are determined by the car requirements of each individual local, and are specified in the Yard Operations Card defined below in the next section.

Switching Code Card Inserts are provided in Appendix ? need to do this.


Within previous iterations of this operating plan, the term “waybill” had been used for the Switching Code. In fact, a waybill includes Bill of Lading information such as shipper, consignee, route, commodity, weight, etc. none of which are relevant to HOTrak operations. The term "waybill" is only used in relation to cars for Castor River.

4.3               Train Definition

Two cards are required for each local train. The first is an Engineer's Card, which identifies the local, the modules to be switched (in route sequence), the spots to be switched at each module (station), and the associated switching codes.

The second card (Yard Operations) identifies all the car types to be used in all instances of this local, regardless of instance. Each car type has an associated switching code (defined above) for this local train.

Appendix A contains examples of these two cards for Brantford. One Yard Operations card and one Engineer's card is required for each local train - in the sample case, 3 are required.

It is important to note that this system of trains and traffic definition is primarily local train centric. Unique codes for each module (station) are not mandatory. It is therefore essential to define local trains and their route first of all, and codify them uniquely. As mentioned above, some modules are served by more than one instance of a particular local train (e.g., Corbyville and Brantford). Their local train service is easy to define, and the only real variable is whether or not they are available for the given set-up. 

This can be done by making a copy of appendix B  and deleting all module data for those modules that will NOT be included in this set-up. The result is a list of pertinent modules, their spots and car requirements for each spot.  

Modules serviced by one local type should now be deleted – what remains are the modules (stations) to be serviced by multi-module local trains.

The definition of the multi-module local train designs is based upon the remaining modules on the list created. It is really up to the designer to create local train routes that insure that all spots are switched. It is difficult to provide hard and fast design rules.  However, when all is said and done, the local train designer should walk through the local train run in his head, and the following points should be considered:

- A balance of east-bound and west-bound locals should be provided so as to avoid potential congestion. To the greatest degree possible, each local should traverse the entire mainline to add to running time.

- Is the engineer required to switch on the main line, and what is the potential impact?

- Is the engineer required to execute facing point set-outs and pick-ups, and is this really feasible? Does it add to the fun or just add to frustration?

- At a given switching location, is there really enough room to store the local train? Or, run around the local train consist?

- Does the engineer have to run around the train, or cross-over? If, so how will this be done and with what potential impacts?

If the engineer does not “track” the designer’s operational logic, then we will have a learning opportunity! - delete this?

Once the local train route is determined, then a local train code must be assigned and switching codes created for each car to be handled in this assignment. Ensure that all switching codes defined are included.

The first step is to count the total number of unserviced traffic spots that remain after the traffic for the “single destination” trains have been taken into account. Let’s suppose that twenty spots remain. Given 5 cars per local train, this would imply at least 4 local trains. To facilitate traffic balancing, let’s assume two trains in both directions, knowing full well that any one local train may traverse the entire layout and service any of the remaining spots (theoretically), and that ”car forwarding” is possible.

Let’s also recognize that the switching activities one local should not impact on the switching assignments of another. This implies that any module having more that one spot should not be serviced by more than two local trains. This will minimize congestion.

The simplest process for designing a suite of multi-module local trains is as follows:

- Select a direction out of Ottawa Yard, and determine a route back to Ottawa Yard from a turn-around point (loop or branch) for that train;

- Determine whether this local can (should) have added routing after returning to Ottawa Yard;

- Select 5 spots to be serviced on this route, bearing in mind that trailing point switching is desirable. Spot selection should consider “car forwarding”;

- Document specifications for this local train, and maintain a record of which spots have been serviced; and

Repeat this process, by direction, until all spots have been serviced

Incorporation of car forwarding is important, and it might be best done in a second pass review of the initial local train definition. A number of methods can be used.  Look for instances of identical car types among the modules serviced by multi-module local trains, particularly if the commodity is consistent with the two spots. Adjust the Engineer Card and population instructions to reflect this change in car routing.

Or, adjust the routing of engineer cards to provide for these opportunities. To implement car forwarding, simply replicate the first occurrence of switching code in the local train’s route at a station further on in its route.

When all local trains are defined, the designer should review the local train specifications and the module definitions to ensure that all spots will be serviced.

4.4    Castor River

This module is the sole instance in which local trains simply exchange a block of four to six cars. Internal switching is handled by the local Castor River engineer. 


The specific car types to be forwarded to Castor River will be determined by the Yardmaster in conjunction with the Castor River engineer.  A separate set of waybills is used for Castor River cars showing the industry served and the car type.  The Yardmaster must ensure a good mix of destinations so that car spot capacity is not exceeded.  Cuts of cars for Castor River may be forwarded from the main yard either on a Local Freight or as a separate extra move.

The Castor River engineer will remove waybills from incoming cars and outgoing cars return to the Yard without waybills.  The Castor River engineer will return used waybills to the Yardmaster from time to time.

4.5    Interchange Locations

Depending upon the specific set-up configuration, locations may exist which can hold one or more cars, but have no specific industry associated with them. These spots may be used as interchange points. Any type of car may be spotted here. The first character of the associated switching code is “X”. 

5.          Set – Up 

Examples of recent layouts are shown at  http://www.hotrak.ca/Layouts.html

5.1    Preparation

The purpose of this section  is to describe the steps required to implement a train and traffic design.

It is assumed that the following items are prepared and stored in the HOTrak “Grey Cabinet” at the St. Anthony’s store room:

- A complete set of “two-alpha” Switching Code Cards;

- A complete set of cardboard train identifiers which will be placed on a local in Ottawa Yard once it is set to go;

- Paper clips to bundle train cards of all sorts; and

- Plastic sleeves for Engineer Cards.

These items must be laid out on a table for easy access early Saturday morning.

The following documents created in the design process should be printed and cut out before Friday:

Engineer Cards (all versions of each local);

Yard Operations Cards for each local;

Layout Population list;

Normally, the first step in building trains and populating the layout is to place all available cars and their rolling stock cards on Ottawa Yard.

If a generic Layout Population List (Appendix B) is used, the data for module not in use must be stroked out.

Engineer cards should be “sleeved”, for the first set of locals. The Initial Yardmaster will allocate train and population tasks to club members. Members will complete the building of each train and module population task individually to avoid confusion.  The Yardmster will only sleeve the Engineer card for the first train of each local .  Other trains may be made up but the Engineer cards will remain unsleeved until the first train returns - this is a reminder to the Yardmaster whether a train of each type is out on the road.

5.2               Train Building

Each local train will be built on the track segment indicated by the Initial Yardmaster. A member will be provided with an Engineer’s card and a Yard Operations Card.

The assigned member will select the switching cards specified for that local, find the correct cars and rolling stock cards, insert the appropriate switching card, and place the car and cards on the yard track. When all cars are placed, the rolling stock cards will be sequenced and slotted in the yard track card pocket for that track and a local train identifier placed on the train. The Yard Operations card will be returned to Initial Yardmaster.

5.3               Populating Modules

The Initial Yardmaster will assign an unpopulated module to a member, who will determine the switching cards required for this module. See Appendix B. Member will then find the appropriate cars and cards, insert switching card(s) and place the car on the correct spot. Card car will be placed in the correct spot card pocket.

When the module is populated, member will inform the Initial Yardmaster, who will stroke out that module on the Layout Population List.

5.4               Final Documentation

It has been past practice to create an Operations Plan, a sample of which is in Appendix C.  It lists the local trains, and the car consists for each local train instance, and provides a summary of local trains to be operated.

Also, members are usually sent a list of the number of freight cars required, by car type (Appendix D). This provides guidance to members as to which cars they should bring, particularly for unique cars, such as agri-food tanks.

Appendix A  Sample Engineer and Yard Operations cards

A template in .doc format, for working purposes, can be found on the Members Page



















Local 3 - Brantford

Local 3: Yard Operations




Car Types


Pick up train at Yard (5 cars)












Car "VA" - Open Hopper (Coal)




Brantford Coach and Body














Track 2 - VC





Car "VB" - Open Hopper (Coal)

























Car "VC" - Boxcar (40')






"M" Foundry (Track 4) - VG













"M" Foundry (Track 5, Door 1) - VA


Car "VD" - Boxcar







"M" Foundry (Track 5, Door 4) - VE



















Car "VE" - Boxcar (40')





Cockshutt Plow
















Track 12, Door 2 - VG




Car "VF" - Gondola







Track 12, Door 4 - VJ





















Car "VG" - Gondola































Car "VH" - Boxcar (50' or less)





























Car "VJ" - Boxcar (50' or less)





























Car "VK" - Boxcar (50' or less)





























Car "VL" - Boxcar (50' or less)



L3A  Month Year

L3: Yard Month Year


Local 3 - Brantford

Local 3 - Brantford






Pick up train at Yard (5 cars)

Pick up train at Yard (5 cars)




















MHF, Verity Works





Brantford Coach and Body






Track 1 - VC






Track 2 - VC

































"M" Foundry (Track 4) - VD




"M" Foundry (Track 5, Door 1) - VA




"M" Foundry (Track 5, Door 2) - VB



"M" Foundry (Track 5, Door 2) - VB




"M" Foundry (Track 5, Door 3) - VD



"M" Foundry (Track 5, Door 4) - VE




















Cockshutt Plow






Cockshutt Plow








Track 12, Door 1 - VH





Track 12, Door 3 - VK






Track 12, Door 4 - VJ





























L3B Month Year

L3C Month Year

Appendix B - Sample Layout Population Sheet (Initial Set - up)

A template in xls format, for working purposes. can be found on the Members Page


Nell’s Bakery
- Covered Hopper\Box (Grain) – RA
- Boxcar\Tanker (Agri-Food) – RB


Alberta Wheat Pool
- Covered Hopper\Box (Grain) – RA
- Covered Hopper\Box (Grain) – RC


- Anything – LG

Edwards Wood Mill
- Flat \ Boxcar (any lumber\log) – RD
- Flat \ Boxcar (any lumber\log) – RE


Fredricks Fuels
- Tank (Oil) – TB
- Tank (Oil) – TD

 -Tank (fuel\propane\LNG) – TE


ACME Widgets
- Boxcar – LA

Front Track
- Anything – LE
- Anything – LF
- Anything – LG

Team Track
- Boxcar (50’ or less) – LB
- Box\Flat\Gondola – LC
 Boxcar\Reefer – LD


Doran Apiaries
- Agri-food Boxcar\Tanker – RB

- Agri-food Tanker – RF

Team Track
- Boxcar\Reefer – LD

Anything – LG

Fuel Track
-  Tank (fuel) – TA


BDU Refinery
- Tank (Oil) – TA
- Tank (Oil) – TB
- Tank (Oil) – TC
- Tank (Oil) – TD

KAZ Lubricants
- Boxcar – LA

Team Track
 - Gondola\Flatcar\Box – LC

Glen Tay

Ascott Bottling
- Boxcar – RH
- Agri-Food Boxcar\Tanker – RB

- Agri-food Tanker – RF


- Flatcar \ Gondola - LG

Interchange Track
 Anything – LE

York River

Proulx Aggregates
- Open Hopper (Aggregate) – TF
- Open Hopper (Aggregate) - TG

Appendix C - Operations Plan

This shows a typical Operations Plan

Local Freights

Local 1 – 5 Cars

Special Instructions:   Spencerville (5), BDU (2) Rosebush (2), Bayview (1), Edwards (1), Glen Tay (1), Connaught (2)

Train A”

1.    Car LA – Boxcar

2.    Car LB – Anything

3.    Car LD Boxcar \ Reefer

4.    Car LE – Anything

5.    Car LF Anything

Train B”

1.    Car LA – Boxcar

2.    Car LC Box \ Flat \ Gondola

3.    Car LD Boxcar \ Reefer

4.    Car LE – Anything

5.    Car LG Flatcar \ Gondola

Local 2 Oil Cans 5 cars


Special Instructions: BDU (2), Fredericks (2), Maenclothog (1), York River (2), Orleans (1), Brantford (1), Bayview (1)

Train A”

1.    Car TA – Tank (fuel)

2.    Car TB – Tank (fuel)

3.    Car TE – Tank (Propane\LNG)

4.    Car TF Hopper (gravel)

5.    Car TH Anything

Train B”

 1.    Car TC Tank (fuel)

2.    Car TD Tank (fuel)

3.    Car TF Hopper (gravel)

4.    Car TG Hopper (gravel)

5.    Car TH Anything

Local 3 Brantford 5 cars


Special Instructions: Need to be able to accommodate the odd passenger run, accommodate a secondary local, plus there are several cars that need to be moved between the various doors.

Train A”


Car VC Box (40’)


Car VE Gondola


Car VG Box (50 or less)


Car VA Hopper, open (coal)


Car VJ Box (50 or less)

Train B”


Car VF Boxcar


Car VD Box (40’)


Car VH Box (50 or less)


Car VB Hopper, ope (coal)


Car VJ Box (50 or less)

Train C”

Car VE Gondola

Car VC Box (40’)

Car VK Box (50 or less)

Car VA Hopper, open (coal)

Car VB Hopper, open (coal)

Local 4 Corbyville 5 cars

Special Instructions: Main line should be kept clear at all times
Train A”

1.    Car NA – Boxcar

2.    Car NC Open Hopper (coal)

3.    Car ND Reefer

4.    Car NE – Boxcar

5.        Car NG Box\Gon\Flat

Train B”


   1. Car NB – Box\Hopper (grain)

   2. Car NC Open Hopper (coal)

   3. Car ND Reefer

   4. Car NF Box\Flat (lumber)

         5. Car NG Box\Gon\Flat

Local 5 Peddler 5 cars

Special Instructions:   Gleichen (2), Cluny (2), Edwards (2), Glen Tay (3), Orleans (1), Brantford (3), Rosebush (2).

Train A”

1.    Car RA Hopper\Box (grain)

2.    Car RD Flat\Box (lumber\log)

3.    Car RF – Tank (agri-food)

4.    Car RH Boxcar

5     Car RG Hopper, Open (coal)

Train B”

1.    Car RB Box\Tank (agri-food)

2.    Car RC Hopper\Box (grain)

3.    Car RE – Flat\Box (lumber\log)

4.    Car RH Boxcar

5     Car RG Hopper, Open (coal)

Local 6 Castor River Turn 5 cars

Special instructions:  Castor River should be approached from the east

hrough Freight – up to 10 Cars  Beachburg Fiddle Yard

Special Instructions: up to 10 cars of any type stored as a single train

Appendix D - Set up Car Requirements 

Open Hopper (Coal\Aggregate) ...........................................................             12
Tank Car (Oil\Fuel) ...............................................................................            14
Boxcars ................................................................................................             25
Boxcars (40 ‘ or less) ...........................................................................                5
Boxcars (50’ or less) ............................................................................                9
Stock Car .............................................................................................               0
Gondola ................................................................................................               7
Flatcars ................................................................................................                5
Refrigerator ..........................................................................................                5
Grain (Hopper\Boxcar) .........................................................................               8
Covered Hopper (Plastics) ...................................................................                 2
Lumber - Boxcar\Flatcar (Bulkhead\Center Beam) ...............................                 7
Agri-food (Tank\Box) ............................................................................               8
Woodchip .............................................................................................                2
Miscellaneous (
Any type of car)............................................................                13