Some thoughts on shunting and yard design.

Discussion in 'Running Your Trains' started by class48nswfan, Sep 14, 2021.

  1. class48nswfan

    class48nswfan Full Member

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    Jul 18, 2017
    A recent poster on the Facebook page admitted he knew little about shunting so I would jot down a few thoughts. None of the drawings are to scale.

    Steam Age

    If you have a steam age layout then most trains will be mixed and can be shunted in the station goods yards. All trains should have a brake van and this is positioned at the rear of the train. It allows for more complex shunting problems. When designing your layout (if it’s not a prototype) it is also worth making the layout a little more complex than it needs to be. Of course space is a key consideration but if available I would recommend the following:

    · Access from all directions at the station

    · A loop to enable running round the train

    · Dedicated unloading roads – these might have loading banks, sheds, cattle pens or a cartage road (hard standing) beside them.

    · If space some roads dedicated to making up departing trains and breaking down arriving trains

    · If space a headshunt

    · If space a brake van siding

    · If space trap points

    A basic yard

    A basic yard could consist of two sidings with shunting taking place on the main line used crossovers. Part of the train (including the brake van) may be left on the main line whilst wagons for the yard are detached by the train locomotive. The train would be protected by signals whilst carrying out the shunting (assuming an absolute block system). If a through passenger train was due, then the locomotive would need to shunt all the wagons into the yard clear of the main line.

    In the attached diagram a down train would stop at D, the wagons for the yard detached on the main line then the front portion draws forward to D1 and then propels the wagons into the relevant sidings. If there are wagons that are departing the yard these may have to be removed to prevent them being trapped in the dead end sidings.

    goods yards 1.png

    In the up direction shunting is more complex and the crossovers X1 and X2 come into play. Here the wagons for the yard need to be at the rear of the train. The train arrives at U locomotive detaches and runs via U1 where it reverses then via X1 to D and D1. Here it reverses runs via X2 to U where it attaches. The train is then hauled via X2 to DI where it reverses again and propels back into the yard. Note the trailing crossovers are more typical of a steam age operation although various examples exist around the network.

    The yard itself is a simple 2 siding affair and I have added a goods shed to the siding furthest away from the railway. A loading bank with a crane or cattle pens may be other options. Note that having a passenger station at the same location is not mandatory! Note I have added a trap point to protect the main line which could be extended to provide space for a loco or even a headshunt.

    You could have the same layout without the crossovers meaning the yard would only be served by down trains.

    At this sort of yard it is likely there would be one goods train per day and all the wagons in the yard would be replaced by the arriving wagons.

    Adding a loop

    Our second goods yard includes a goods loop (DL), a headshunt (HS), a Brake Van siding (BVS) and a private siding (PS).

    The DL can be used to recess down freight trains so passenger trains can pass on the main line as well as being part of the goods yard itself.

    goods yards 2.png

    A down train for the yard would be signalled into the DL. Similar to the example above the wagons for the yard would be detached from the brake van and wagons continuing on to another destination. The locomotive would draw forward to the headshunt and then place the wagons as required. Alternatively it would collect the departing wagons in one siding, shunt the arriving wagons into place and then attach the departing wagons to the train via a reversal in the headshunt.

    Headshunt length should be considered carefully. On my Wallace Creek layout the headshunt at that location is loco +3 and I typically operate 6 wagon trains. This means any arriving train has to be broken up if all wagons are destined for the yard. I have seen some layout plans recently that have loco+1 length which means each wagon has to be shunted individually. Well if there is no space that’s fair enough but think about the matter carefully.

    The private siding (PS) is there for a bit of operational interest. The loco from an arriving goods train will have to propel the wagons into the siding so as not to trap the loco. In this case the train arrives in the DL and then propels into the BVS and detaches the brake van. It then moves forward to the DL where ti will uncouple. If the traffic for the private siding is on the rear of the train then the arriving wagons for the goods yard will be shunted first. The locomotive will then be detached and work via D1,X2,U,U1,X1 and back to DL where it will re-attach to the wagons and propel them into the private siding. Running round via D may be possible if that is a signalled move.

    Below is an alternative plan with access to the goods yard sidings exclusively from the headshunt.
    goods yards 3.png

    On a single track main line or branch the platform passing loop would be used as part of the shunting operations.

    Having a yard shunter

    Although you could employ a shunting locomotive above normally these would be employed in slightly bigger yards. However it is important to remember rule 1 at this point as well!

    Thus the yard has been extended in the version below.

    goods yards 4.png

    The shunting loco could be waiting in the headshunt as the train arrives in the DL. The main line locomotive detaches and pulls forward into the private siding (PS). The shunting locomotive (pilot) then attaches to the front of the train and shunts wagons via the headshunt.

    Note not all sidings are dead end so traffic for the private siding could be placed in a sidings and run round without the need to encroach on the down main line (D). If the yard is really busy it may be direct access from the up line to the Down Loop is feasible by turning X2 around.

    In the yard itself there is a loading bank with crane and this has an end loading dock (ELD) as well. The BVS in this and the above examples could also be provided with one. The coal staithes can stand above road level and using bottom discharge hoppers adds a distinctive wagon to your pick up freights. The crossover allows you to place 6 hoppers at CS and then shunt 3 each onto the coal staithes (or whatever length you have available).

    Exchange siding

    We already have a private siding on our design but if that is part of a branch we might add a bit more complexity here as well. A boundary gate separates the two systems (the industrial line is in blue) and the operator can decide where handover takes place. My choice would be either the end wagon is left at the gate and the industrial engine or main line engine takes it on from there or once placed in the industrial run round loop the wagons are collected by the main line or shunting yard engine.

    goods yards 5.png

    Trains on the industrial branch may not need a brake van if they are only a few wagons long (and flat!). Note the spur to a small engine shed – home to a Peckett, Barclay or Hunslet perhaps.


    We have had a brief look at shunting various sized yards and some layout ideas. Certainly for smaller yards marshalling trains can be key to the efficient operation of a location both in real life and model railway line. Think carefully about your siding and infrastructure lengths and make sure your rolling stock reflects the yard. More modern yards may have hard standing and overhead cranes rather than cobbles and traditional cranes.

    Some train loads also require barrier wagons. So if the industrial railway above produces dangerous chemicals or gunpowder then a barrier wagons (usually mineral) may separate the wagons from the engine and brake van.

    Remember shunting should be a fairly laid back process. We’ve all been guilty of shunting an engine back into some wagons, slamming the controller into reverse and starting back within a second. Allow time for attaching and detaching wagons or perhaps a discussion with the signaller as to how the shunting will proceed.

    David Wells
    Peter T, AlasdairM, steve and 4 others like this.
  2. Vinylelpea

    Vinylelpea Full Member

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    Dec 22, 2017
    Thanks, this is really helpful and appreciated. :thumbs:

    Phil from Australia
    class48nswfan likes this.
  3. Barnaby

    Barnaby Full Member

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    Mar 12, 2017
    Re-reading this will help me to make some track improvements to facilitate better shunting options.

    Vinylelpea likes this.
  4. Echidna

    Echidna Full Member

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    Oct 15, 2016
    Dear class48nswfan, and others,

    some comments and observations about shunting and yard design,

    1 / in relation to British practice, you need to appreciate that the lack of continuous brakes ( train operated brakes ) on British wagons effectively dictated the yard design.

    Goods train schedules are listed in the Working or Service Time Table ( WTT, STT, and which is not available to the general public ), as would any Special Instructions, except where such Instructions are listed in either the General Appendix , or the Time Table Addenda.

    2 / Dia 1 "a basic yard" is a "typical" British style wayside station on a double line. The use of crossovers, X1 & X2, allowed a train ( in this instance, a goods train ), to be shunted to the adjacent line to allow a following train to pass. Unbraked wagons were NOT permitted to be left on a running line without a brake van, or a locomotive being attached. The reason being that unbaked wagons, even with hand brakes pinned down, were susceptible to a potential runaway.

    ( Unbraked wagons were the reason for catch points on running lines in Britain. )

    In this instance, where the Goods Yard is adjacent to the Down line, the scheduled ( local ) goods train to shunt would do so in the down direction only, it is unusual for an Up direction Goods train to shunt at a downside located Goods yard, and this would normally only be the case if Train Control had made prior arrangements for that to happen.

    ( depending on the railway, the "local" goods may be termed-: Pilot, Wayside, Roadside, Stopping, Branch; also depending on the job designated. )

    These locations would usually only be served by a designated Goods train, which, even if running daily, would only call at this location to either drop off, or collect loading. Usually, they may only be scheduled to call on certain days ( eg Mo,We & Fr ). Mondays were usually the busiest day for local goods trains.

    Also bear in mind, most secondary or single track branch lines would normally only have one, perhaps two local goods trains, scheduled per week.

    Hence the reason for goods sent by rail could potentially take one week from origin to destination, whereas a road lorry could do the same journey in day.

    3 / a very good article with good advice,

    Regards, Echidna ( a retired signalman. )
  5. Echidna

    Echidna Full Member

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    Oct 15, 2016
    Dear class48nswfan and others,

    some comments and observations about private sidings and grain traffic,

    1 / Private sidings in Britain, like elsewhere, tend to come off the mainline, in Britain they would be gated, and also have a trap point located INSIDE of the gate, due to the private siding owner being responsible for ensuring that wagons do not runaway and enter railway property.

    The same is also generally true for Australia, though some locations may be protected by a Scotch Block ( or these days, a Rail Crowder / derailer ).

    ( On the Victorian Railways / VR in Australia, a Scotch Block is a white painted piece of heavy timber, sometimes with a metal derailer mounted on top, which is manually flipped over the running rail, and can be padlocked to secure it in place. )

    2 / In Australia, many single track lines with crossing loops are intended for grain traffic, and grain silos, and later shed style bins, were usually located on the third loop track which also usually had an extended siding at each end, and one end would be on a slight uphill grade. This meant that empty grain wagons could be left and secured on the uphill graded siding, which allowed the grain loaders to release, and roll down, one wagon at a time for loading, and the loaded wagon would then be rolled, or pushed, down to the siding at the other end of the loop siding. The loaded wagons would then be collected the next day.

    In Australia, Grain silos were owned by State Government statutory authorities ( Grain Elevators Board of Victoria, Grain Handling Authority of NSW, etc ), and loading was done by day labourers. This was pretty much the case from the 1920s until the 1990s. Until the 1980s, 4w open wagons with tarpaulins was the norm, though bogie wheat hopper wagons started to appear in the mid 1960s ( VR GJX ), and since the mid 1980s, grain traffic has been in bogie hopper wagons.

    Grain traffic was seasonal, with Block trains being the norm ( Beeching did not invent block trains ! ) and most movements occurring between November and March. Grain was generally moved from country silos to concentration points ( in Victoria, Sunshine, Williamstown, Geelong, and Portland ). Movements did also happen outside of the "grain rush", but this was intermittent, and dependent on overseas sales. Surplus grain was usually stored at the point of origin, and from the 1970s, surplus grain was stored in sealed underground bunkers ( think of giant air sealed plastic bags covered with dirt ! ).

    Subsequent privatisation has seen grain storage being shifted from the now foreign owned storage silos to on-farm storage, and movement by road from farm to port, or to private container sidings that load grain into containers. Hence the steep decline in bogie hopper wagons due to lack of consistent traffic.

    ( Australian wheat, in particular, was monopoly traded by the Commonwealth owned Australian Wheat Board / AWB, Australia accounts for approximately 10% - 15% of global wheat sales, and as the AWB was the sole overseas seller of Australian wheat, it therefore had some influence on global trade. The private American grain sellers for years complained of Australia's "unfair" trade practice. )

    Regards, Echidna
    jakesdad13 and steve like this.
  6. class48nswfan

    class48nswfan Full Member

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    Jul 18, 2017
    Many thanks. Dave

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