THE "THIRD TRACK" EXPEDIENT 
 

Usually, when model railroaders think of staging they think of storing an entire train with engine(s) and caboose in a multi-track yard buried deep beneath a mountain; hidden under the bench-work out of sight of the railroad's operators. Years ago, Frank Ellison encouraged modelers to bring the staging yard out from it's dark repository under the bench-work into the bright light of the incandescent bulb. Today, we have developed fiddle yards, multi-level holding yards, helixes, and other ingenious methods of multiplying the number of trains that we can run through our miniature worlds in a reasonable amount of time. I am sure that many more methods of hiding miniature rolling stock will appear in the future but let's look at a staging technique that not only gives the model railroader a place to store trains but is a continuing part of the operation and at the same time adds a very desirable scenic effect.

How about a place where you store just the train and run the engines lite back to the roundhouse or yard? For instance, suppose you have a major industry on your railroad that receives a large number of a particular type of freight car such as an auto assembly plant or auto parts distribution center. When these cars are unloaded, where should the local switcher take them? They could be returned to the yard from which they came but that would usually choke the yard with cars that cost the railroad per diem without generating revenue. Perhaps a better solution is what I call "The Third Track".


I am specifically thinking of a storage siding based on the "third track" between Suffern and Sloatsburg, NY a couple of miles west of the Ford auto assembly plant in Mahwah, NJ (both the Ford plant and the third track are now gone). There was an inbound yard at Suffern, NY (just across the state line from Mahwah) where through freights would drop cars for the Ford plant to be delivered in turn by yard jobs that worked around the clock. The empties that were pulled from the plant were taken to the third track to wait for a through freight to pick them up. A similar track on a model railroad would be a great place to store all those auto racks and hi-cubes of which we buy too many.


A "third track" can also be used to store any combination of cars and the track does not have to be in the immediate vicinity of the industry which requires them. This allows the modeler a chance to store his favorite cars without even building the industry for which they're designed. A mine, logging company or paper mill, grain elevator, intermodal facility, or refrigerated warehouse are also customers that would receive large numbers of single use cars. A cut of empty coal cars, for instance, can be brought from a track in a staging yard which is designated as a "major coal consumer" and taken directly to the "third track". Later another train can pick the empty cars up and take them back to the staging yard to be delivered to a "major coal mine" off line (you can modify the scenario by modeling one or the other of the two related industries but neither industry needs to be modeled. This same train of empties can be used over and over again). The fact that the cut of empties might eventually return in the direction from which it came is irrelevant because the "third track" is being used for short term storage by the railroad.


If your railroad has a single track main, you could add a double ended siding for storage of empties that would normally take up much needed space in your railroad's yard. If you have a double track main or already have a double ended siding, add a third track for storing a string of empties waiting pickup (I think a third track looks best when placed between two main tracks). A contemporary railroad might down grade a main track that was deemed excess to create a "third track" for the temporary storage of empty cars.

The "third track" double ended siding would also be a great place to leave an entire train, in view, as if the crew had run up against the Hours of Service Law, been relieved of duty and taxied to their home or away teminal. If your engine has a crew glued inside you can say that they haven't been relieved yet and are staying on the engine on "Limbo time" or "relieved but not released". A crew could then sign up at their starting terminal and be "taxied" to the train, perform a "locomotive daily inspection" when they arrive and, given enough engines, would not have time to make it to the distant terminal before running out of their on-duty time and then be taxied back to the terminal where they started. Real railroading actually modeled and the train never turned a wheel. How's that for action? Well, you want to model the real thing don't you? The advantages are many: The train with all those custom painted and detailed cars remains in view for all visitors to admire and it would be a great job for the club "klutz" who can't be trusted to run expensive equipment.


This "third track" would not only be interesting operationally, giving a through freight crew some work on the road (an extra crew could be called to move the cars when things get boring), but those cars act as a scenic enhancement while stored, either as a backdrop to trains passing in front or as a partial view block for trains running behind. This might be especially effective for  model railroads that have an area of two where entire trains can be seen at one time. The best part is that the third track takes up very little additional space laterally and can be as long as you want to make it. A "third track" can wrap around hills, descend through cuts, and extend across bridges along side the main track. Such a track can help clear a congested classification or staging yard. Let's face it, unless you are modeling the Reading or other coal hauler, five or six tracks of empty coal hoppers can be boring to look at and can choke an otherwise fluid operation.


Another example of a "third track" is the HX industrial track which was regularly used to store unused intermodal cars that will be eventually loaded at Croxton yard in Secaucus, NJ. Sometimes the well cars will have empty containers still in them when they are shoved there. An existing passing track somewhere near an industry or intermodal yard (whether real or imagined) can be used for temporary storage if it doesn't interfere with the normal operation of the railroad.


The third track "isn't just for empties anymore…"In some cases loaded cars are billed from the shipper to a storage track enroute to the customer. The railroad will agree to store these cars on a siding away from the consignee's property and deliver them on demand to the consignee at some time in the future (anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks). This creates a buffer to delays in transit so the customer always has product near at hand when he needs it.


As an aside, an auto plant can also be built as a loads in/empties out scenario. The Ford plant in Mahwah had two double ended sidings that ran through the plant and were connected to the inbound yard by a loop track. Such a plant could be built on a peninsula with the building constructed on an angle to the view block. A switcher could be shoving "loaded" cars in on track #1 at the east end of the building while another switcher pulled "empties" from track #2 on the west end. The loop track would run around the end of the peninsula either as the "main" or next to the main and connect the two ends of the building with both the inbound yard and the "third track".


Let's see how the "Third Track Expedient" might work on the LT. If you check the 
upper level map you will find the intermodal yard at Mount Morris, New York at MP 332.7. At times, intermodal trains will arrive at such close intervals that the crews at Mt. Morris will not have time to unload and reload an inbound  train before the next train arrives. In cases such as this the crew working the intermodal facility will take the empties to the siding at Groveland and leave them there. This frees up space for the next inbound and gets the unneeded empties out of the way. Suppose for example, the double stack from the west coast that is dedicated to the Japanese television manufacturers Sonny, Hitachico, and Matsucheesa Electric arrives at 7:00 am. This train, with the symbol TV-200 is unloaded and the empty well cars trundled off to Groveland in time for the 12:30 pm arrival of the crack piggyback OINK-2 which came off the BN earlier in the day.

"But, you say, according to the map, Groveland is seven miles from Mt. Morris. Isn't that a long distance to take empties? "Nah, I reply, the Lackawanna used to take empty freight cars from the Hoboken yards on the Hudson River out to Harrison, almost seven miles west because the Hoboken yards simply didn't have the room to store them." Add in the fact that, visually, Groveland is close to Mt. Morris and the move starts to make a lot of sense. The cars could also be taken to the siding at Leicester in the other direction depending on what meets the Dispatcher has set up.


Staging tracks have been out in the open for decades. They don't have to be mechanically or operationally complex. A staging track can be as simple as a one track siding and can fit on a 4X8 as an 15" radius curve around the edge of the table or extend for 30' around curves whose radii are strictly cosmetic. Now, as before, there is no reason NOT to add staging to your railroad. The justification and placement are limited only by your imagination.

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