Santa Fe Industrial Railroad

Keys to Good Design and Operations

Track Design:

  1. Determine the maximum train length. This is a starting point for any design. Since I am all switching, I used 13 to 15 40' freight cars max. for transfer runs, 10-13 for local freights. Run around tracks must handle this capacity. 

  2. Lead length: for a stub end switching area, leave at least one loco length plus two cars for a lead beyond the run around/siding track. Armstrong has room for an SD40 plus three grain hoppers, Ellison can handle an SD40 plus two 40' box cars.

  3. Where do you put the pulls (outbound cars) while you are spotting the inbounds? With one run around track at maximum train length, where do you put the pulls and still keep one track clear for run around moves? I added a second run around in Armstrong for this purpose.  For a town with the main running through, you could put them on the main beyond the siding but that blocks any trains from passing.

  4. Make sure each industry can be switched. On one layout I built, I found there was an industry that was impossible to switch ... after everything was constructed! 

  5. Provide clean out tracks and track space for off spots. Would the prototype really like to haul a car back to the yard because there was no room to spot it?

  6. Work in interchange tracks. No structures required and they take every car type on you layout.

Choice of Industries:

  1. Already got a lot of cars?   Provide the types of industries that would use them.

  2. Use industries that require different car types.

  3. Choose industries that have high rail traffic. A freight house is a good example. 

  4. Use industries that both ship and receive by rail. Ideally, have at least two doors in the structure: one for shipping, the other for receiving. This increases the complexly ... and the fun.

  5. Large sized industries can provide much more switching than ones with one or two car capacity.

  6. For small industries, put more than one on a single track. The prototype does it. It increases the moves when a car must be temporarily pulled and replaced to get to a car further down the track.

  7. Put tall industries at the back, low ones in front. Often aisle side industries can be a loading dock (structure not modeled), interchange track, scrap yard.  

  8.  Never put a building in front of a turnout ... especially if the latter is hand thrown!


  1. Do it, do it, do it!

  2. Make sure turnouts, couplers, trucks are in good working order, the track and wheels are CLEAN (a must with DCC) before each session.

  3. Use metal wheels. They roll better and don't get as dirty as plastic.

  4. Check out Reboxx. They have a nifty tool for making sure the axle holes in truck sideframes are true. Lionel Strang (Model Railroader author) has a great article here.


  1. Do NOT fill your layout with cars at the beginning. Use what you think is appropriate then take half of them off. Add a few cars each session until you have a good flow. 

  2. Be kind to new operating crew ... especially if they are new to operations. Keep their locals light ... only a few cars ... to begin with. (This is one big advantage of Car Cards+Waybills as opposed to computer switch lists). Making a job easy gives them confidence. Make it too hard and they get frustrated and may not come back.

  3. Make sure each industry is clearly marked. I put a sheet on the back drop with the industry name, a diagram of the track, what it ships and receives and any special instructions. 

  4. Don't constantly keep correcting them. If you find yourself doing that, then you did not give them proper instructions to start with or made the job too difficult.

  5. Keep pressure at a minimum.

Got more? Let me know and I will publish them here.

Last updated:  10/14/2004