Monday, February 11, 2013

Car Cards and Waybills and ShipIt, oh my!

     Ask any serious modeller what they enjoy most about running trains and a lot of them will tell you operations are key to having a good time. Sure, some people are content to just watch their trains run around the layout doing laps, but most of us would rather operate a train rather than watch it. After all - real rail cars travel from Point A to Point B, carrying freight from shipper to consignee, to earn real railroads money. Not just in circles around the country for us railfans to watch and photograph.

     So why then, should a model be any different?

     Well this is where operations come in to play. Operations give us the purpose of moving a particular train, or car, across the layout - through the use of Time Table & Train Order (TT&TO for short), Way Bills, and Car Cards systems - which are all forms of paperwork to justify moving trains. The hobby press is even full of how-to articles and books on Ops.

     However, the one draw back to the above options is all the down-time, or "re-staging the layout" as it's also known. That's where you have to go around the layout and either rewrite all your way-bills, flip car cards, or worse yet - make new car cards, reflecting updated locations of all the cars on the layout that are now loads instead of empties, or empties now loaded. I've heard of a couple layout owners that require 4 to 8 hours of staging every time they run an Op. That doesn't sound like a hobby. It sounds like a part time job.

     Enter Albion Software and Ship It!. I'd first heard of ShipIt! way back in the early days of my modelling interest but hadn't tried it until a couple months ago. To give you an idea of what it does, this is taken from their web site;

"Car movement is never random with Ship It! Just tell Ship It! what products your industries ship and receive, and it will create car movements between them, even across divisions. Never create another operating session by hand! Get rid of all the paperwork except the switchlist. Give your trains a reason to roll!" 

     I downloaded the free 30-day trial back in November 2012 and spent a weeks worth of evenings after work building my database. Inputting my current locomotive and freight car fleet (that took the longest), the yard capacity, the sidings, the industries I plan to have on the layout, what they will ship and receive, and finally - how often they will ship and receive it. Once I had all that down, I set up a couple of scheduled trains to "run" and generated a "session".

     Almost instantly, ShipIt! populates my layout with the cars I told it were on the layout (or will be eventually), generated a list of which cars are to be moved, and the corresponding switch lists. I on the other hand, didn't have to write any car cards, waybills, or switchlists whatsoever. ShipIt! takes care of all of it for me. All I have to do is print out what it generates - and you can even pick one or all lists to print.

     If you look at the following screen shot, you'll see what I mean.

     It really is a beautiful piece of software once you learn how to use it - which is pretty much data entry. I'm glad I discovered it, and I also encourage anyone who likes to run ops (or plans to on a furute layout) give it a try. It sure beats flipping car cards and writing waybills.

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