Click on the thumbnails to enjoy some photos of a few of our past Operating Sessions.





































































































































































































































































































































































Click on the thumbnails to enjoy some photos of a few of our past Operating Sessions.


Operations Orientation

Information useful in preparing to attend an Operating Session on APN

APN Building Schematic

APN Route Map


APN Rules

Throttles/Cabs - how to use

Making some noise! - the use of locomotive Bells & Whistles

Where to put it all while you operate

Uncoupling techniques

Turnouts - how to read a control panel to know how they are aligned

How to operate a hand throw properly

Manifests - an Engineer's orders for his train

Switch Lists - instructions for the Yard Master

Crew Call Board - sign up for your train here

Dispatching on APN


More info

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This information will start basic and work its way up into more detail.  Skip ahead if you want to.  Our facility is devoted solely to model railroading, upon arriving, please enter through our front door.

OK, now that you've found us, you might be thirsty, or need to use the restroom after your drive, so here is a floor plan of our facility showing where to take care of those needs:

click on diagram for a printable view

Now that you are refreshed, on the map above note the Green Mountain Falls and Björnburg yards shown in green.  These are the terminus yards of APN's Conroe Division, making these 2 locations the ends of our point-to-point layout.  In an APN operating session a significant number of trains will begin and end in these yards.  Other locations that trains begin and end are also noted on the above plan.

Below is a stretched out view if the APN mainline, making clear its point-to-point nature:



Take note of the 3 columns, listing Towns, Sidings and CP's, or Control Points. 

These locations are identified by signage around the layout, either on the control panels or on separate labels. 


Train crew members will receive a manifest for their assigned train.  Towns where pick-ups or drop offs are to be made will be listed on these manifests.


Siding and CP names are important in communicating over the radio with the dispatcher.  These are the reference points that you will use in talking with the dispatcher to establish where you are located at any given time, or where you will be directed to go as a part of orders he will give you over the radio.  Before you key up your microphone to talk to the dispatcher, determine where you are located in reference to the nearest CP.  


CP's are also very important in that they mark the boundaries between the "blocks" of our railroad.  Trains cannot collide with each other if they are not permitted to occupy the same section of track at the same time, so railway lines are divided into sections known as blocks.  In normal circumstances, only one train is permitted in each block at a time.  Refer to the section on signaling to learn how blocks relate to obeying signals.


An important part of the dispatcher's job is to arrange for meets between trains.  As a train crew member, you must be able to locate the sidings that the dispatcher directs you to, where you may be required to hold your train and wait for one or more trains to pass you.  Note on the map that the CP names all correspond to the ends of sidings.



For a more detailed view, click on the map for a larger version.

You don't need to print out or memorize this map to enjoy APN.  If you elect to become a crew member you will receive a clipboard that has a copy of this map for reference, as well as the following map that shows the entire layout in schematic view, including all of APN's Conroe Division and beyond, to Shoshone and Larkspur.  These two beyond-the-layout locations serve as staging for operating sessions, and also provide a means to turn around whole trains.


It would be useful to take some time in advance to familiarize yourself with how the information is laid out on this map. (click on the map to see it in more detail)  Town names are shown in blue and siding names are in italics.  The CP names are enclosed in red boxes.  Passenger stops are indicated by red stop signs, with the names shown in red font under the little green "Depot" icons.  Although not to scale, this map does do a pretty decent job of faithfully representing the trackage as it is laid out in the different towns. 

The track shown in green leads to staging that is hidden from view under our layout, and during an operation session it is not used by train crews.  Also, track shown with a dashed line is not used during operating sessions.

One feature not shown is our HOn3 narrow gauge trackage.  There are interchanges between the narrow gauge and the rest of our layout at the towns of Meyer Junction and Valley Junction, but as of yet, the narrow gauge isn't a part of our operating sessions.   But it will be soon!  To view a schematic map of our narrow gauge route, click here     


What is not shown on either of the previous maps are the location of all the industries/buildings.  Your Manifest will direct you to the towns that need to have pick ups and drop offs made, and specifically at which industry, and the building or location within that industry (and in some cases the specific door or track).  You are left in part to your ingenuity and experience to locate the right spot within a town that corresponds with the name on your manifest.  In some cases a notation on a control panel, or a sign on a building will tell you which is which.  In other cases the structure types along the different tracks will be the clues you need to figure out which one is your intended location. 


Every railroad has its rules, and APN is no exception, although we don't have near the number of rules as a real railroad has.  This is primarily because we don't want to distract from Rule Number 1.

1. We have freight and passengers to move, but not at the expense of having FUN!

2. (A) Crews MUST contact the dispatcher before they depart from their originating terminal and when tying up at their final destination.

2. (B) Crews MUST contact and obtain permission from the Conroe Yard Master before entering the Yard Limits.

3. (A) Throttles: APN RR utilizes an NCE DCC System for control. Operators are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the throttles prior to session start. If in doubt, feel free to ask an APN member.

3. (B) When you are done tying up your train at its final destination, please turn off the loco’s lights and sound (if so equipped) and set the throttle to loco address 0. The latter will minimize the likelihood of multiple operators having control of the same loco.

4. (A) Local Control: Turnouts with local control capability are identified by a blue track on town control panels. The dispatcher has to grant local control. When the BLUE LED is illuminated, you may throw the turnout as you wish.

4. (B) When leaving an area that you were granted local control in, please leave switch thrown in “normal” or mainline position.

. Signals: Where signals exist they must be obeyed. Where a block is not guarded by a signal, Crews MUST obtain permission from the dispatcher before entering that block.

. O.S./Interlockings: The dispatcher can not align sidings if the OS shows to be occupied. He may contact you by radio to ask you to reverse your train to allow you access to your requested route. OS sections are isolated by an insulating gap in one rail. APN MOW recently installed right-of-way signage marking these locations (Ties painted white and adjoining white posts).

. Uncoupling: In some areas, the location of under-track magnets are marked by a white “M” diamond-shaped sign. In most other areas, skewer sticks should be aplenty. (APN Special Agents are investigating reports of “skewer breeding” on RR property, as they seem to multiply abundantly)

8. (A) Radios: In our “alternate universe”, the dispatcher is hundreds of miles away, trying to stay awake watching moving colored lines on a screen. Cornfield meets don’t make for good public relations, so keep an ear on the radio for any changes or instructions from the dispatcher.

8. (B) Before keying up the radio, monitor for current transmissions. Be patient and wait your turn to use the radio airwaves.

8. (C) Always identify yourself when beginning each radio conversation by announcing your train number.

9. Non-alcoholic beverages are available to crews for their enjoyment in the crew lounge. Food and drinks are not allowed in the layout room.  Smoking is prohibited in the building.

10. Off duty crews are encouraged to socialize in the crew lounge, but please refrain from entering the layout room unless you are on duty. This minimizes distractions for crews and adds to the realism of operating.

11. Pay attention to fascia signage and control panels. In some locations, upper and lower level signage are in close proximity.

12. Conroe Yard: As the Conroe yard switcher(s) finishes preparing a departing train, they are to notify the dispatcher via the intercom so the Crew Call Board may be updated.

. (A) Crew Call Board: The board shows all trains that are to be run for the session. Any available crew in the “lounge” may sign up for the next available train by placing their name tag(s) in the “Crew” column. The board also indicates relative difficulty of the trains. Deals may be made between crews, but keep the fighting to a minimum.

13. (B) When you have tied up your train, mark the train as “terminated” on the board by posting the time.


OK, maybe at this point you are starting to feel like we are loading you up with too much information.  Don't worry, there is no test at the end of this page, and in case you forgot already, go back up and re-read Rule number 1, that is really the most important thing to abide by.  And remember this, at the operating session there are going to be APN members around to help you if you need it.  Just ask!  And don't be afraid to ask a "dumb" question.  Heck, that member you ask might not know the answer to your question either, he might have to go ask someone else.  Or you might come up with something that no one else has thought of before, in which case, your questions might spur thinking that leads to improvements to our railroad.  So please do ask those questions, and Thank you very much in advance!


"Throttles", also known as "cabs", are how locomotives are controlled at APN.  Because our layout is DCC, there are no complicated toggles or rotary switches you have to understand and fiddle with to gain control over the section of track your loco is passing through.  With DCC, your cab will control your train anywhere on the layout.  And using an NCE DCC cab is not that hard.  Here is a quick primer on how to use the basic features of our cabs:

The first thing that you'll need to do is program your cab with the address of the locomotive or consist that heads up your train.  Don't be intimidated by the thought of having to do any programming, it's really very easy to do.

Physically locate your train on the layout, and note the road number on the lead locomotive of your train.  This is the address number you need to program into your cab.

Plug your cab into one of the nearby jacks mounted on the layout fascia.

On your cab, press the "SELECT LOCO" button.

Using the keypad, type in the road number of your loco.  If the road number is 127 or less, add a leading zero.

Press the "ENTER" key.

That's it!  Told you it was easy.

To control your loco, set the direction by pressing the "REV" or "FWD" buttons. 

The big knob is to control your speed.  Turning it clockwise increases speed.  Turning it counter-clockwise to the stop will halt your engine.

To turn on and off your headlight, press the "0" button.

If your loco is sound equipped, try the "HORN" button.  Press "2" to toggle the bell on and off.

To toggle the sound on and off, press the "8" button.

When you reach your location and tie your train up, turn off the lights and sound, and program the cab to loco number "0"


If you get a "dogbone" type cab to use, it includes a display.  This diagram shows the information a "normal" display will show:



The instructions for using a dogbone cab are very similar to those for the previous cab.

Physically locate your train on the layout, and note the road number on the lead locomotive of your train.  This is the number you need to program into your cab.

Plug your cab into one of the nearby jacks mounted on the layout fascia.

On your cab, press the "SELECT LOCO" button.

Using the keypad, type in the road number of your loco.  If the road number is 127 or less, add a leading zero.

Press the "ENTER" key.  The number you entered should show in the display.  Actually, if you watch the display, after you press the "SELECT LOCO" button, it will prompt you for the loco number.  The NCE is pretty intuitive like that, and is one of the reasons we chose NCE over other systems.

To control your loco, set the direction by pressing the "DIRECTION" button. 

Use the controls outlined with the white rectangle labeled "SPEED" to control your speed.  You have the choice of using buttons and the thumb wheel to adjust your speed faster and slower.

Remember, the display will show your direction and speed.

To turn on and off your headlight, press the "HEADLIGHT" button.

If your loco is sound equipped, try the "BELL" and "HORN/ WHISTLE" buttons.

To toggle the sound on and off, press the "8" button.

When you reach your location and tie your train up, turn off the lights and sound, and program the cab to loco number "0"


Some of our locomotives have "momentum" programmed into them.  They will behave just like a real locomotive, and there will be a lag in the time it takes your train to get to the speed you set with your cab, and a lag in the time it takes your train to stop once you set the speed to zero.  This will add to the challenge of running your train, requiring you to anticipate when and where you need to stop your train, and to notch down your throttle in advance of that desired spot.

Also, because our layout is DCC, each train is controlled independently of every other train, even on the same stretch of track.  So unlike a conventional DC layout, on our layout you can run your train faster than the train in front of you.  Or, you can run your train in the opposite direction of the train in front of you.  Think Gomez Addams crashing 2 Lionel trains head on!

If you get in a situation where you need to stop right now, and if you have a dogbone, press that red button right in the middle labeled "EMERGENCY STOP".  You should only press it once, and your train should stop immediately.  Now this is not prototypical, but if your train has derailed and is in danger of falling off the layout and hitting the floor, the heck with prototypical, save the lives of those tiny crew members inside that engine!

The non-dogbone cab (technically known as an "intermediate" cab) does not have this red button, but you can still stop your train just as effectively.  First turn the cab dial all the way counter-clockwise, then yell "whoa Nelly!" and at the same time take your finger and place it against the headlight of your engine and hold it there to stop your train until the loco no longer pushes against your finger. 
Then resume breathing.

Just how fast am I going, anyway?  If your loco has a QSI sound decoder, here's how you know.

Do you want to operate your train at prototypical speeds but just don't know what 60 mph "looks" like on an HO scale model?  Most QSI sound decoders (found in many Broadway Limited, Lionel, PK2, Intermountain and Atlas models) have a speedometer built in

If your engine has one of these decoders here's how to have it tell you how fast you are travelling.  While rolling down the track press the "F10" key on your dogbone.  Your locomotive will verbally report the loco's speed in scale miles per hour.  If it reports that your GP9 is travelling at 125 mph, then you are a tad bit over what the prototype could do, as they were geared for maximum speeds of from 55 to 89 mph. 

Press F10 while at a stop and the locomotive report its status: whether the long or short address is enables, its consist ID if it is assigned to one, and its shutdown state, if it is in one.



Previously mentioned was bells and whistles.  We told you how to make these sounds using the controls on the throttle, but, just when are you suppose to use them?  Well, that's not too complicated, either.  At APN we follow a subset of the General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR). The GCOR is used by every Class I railroad west of the Mississippi River, most of the Class II railroads, and many Short-line railroads.  The rules as we try to practice them at APN are as follows (sound equipped locos only):


Ring the engine bell under any of the following conditions:
  • Before moving, except when making momentary stop and start switching movements.
  • As a warning signal anytime it is necessary.
  • When approaching public crossings at grade with the engine in front, as follows:
    • If distance permits, ringing must begin at least 1/4 mile before the public crossing and continue until the crossing is occupied.

    • If distance does not permit, ringing must begin soon enough before the crossing to provide a warning and continue until the crossing is occupied

The required whistle signals are illustrated by “o” for short sounds and “” for longer sounds:
Sound Indication
Succession of short sounds Use when an emergency exists, or persons or livestock are on the track. When crews on other trains hear this signal, they must stop.
—  — Release brakes. Proceed.
o  o  o When stopped: back up.
—  —  Approaching public crossings at grade.  Start signal not less than ¼ mile before reaching crossing, if distance permits.  If distance does not permit, start signal soon enough before the crossing to provide warning.  Prolong or repeat signal until engine occupies the crossing.

Where to put your "stuff"

A train crew's primary responsibility (beside complying with Rule no. 1) is to move their freight or passengers around the railroad as per the instructions on their manifest. 

This requires a train crew's focus to be on the train and the railroad proper, just as on the prototype. 

However, since as yet we haven't had an operator small enough to squeeze into one of the 1/87 scale cabs of our locomotives, all this has to be done from an adjoining aisle way, with the train crew required to tote around a remote cab and a clipboard containing the manifest and other pertinent information. 

There are times an operator needs a free hand or two, to throw a turnout or uncouple a car.  Placing a clipboard or cab on top of the layout could damage scenery or structures, derail trains, or cause other destruction of Godzilla proportions, so we ask all our operators to be considerate and refrain from doing this.  Pretty please?

Rather than an operator having to try to tuck his cab and clipboard under his armpits to gain a free hand, we have conveniently installed a button on the back of our cabs, and a knob on the back side of the clipboards.  And around the layout we have clips that the cab's buttons will slip into.

The photo to the right shows how to use these conveniences.  The knob on the clipboard is just hung over the lip of the fascia. (I wish we could take credit for coming up with this clever idea, but we got it from seeing a photo Andrew Keeney had posted online of his Nashville Road layout, that fortuitously for us, included a glimpse of a clipboard with a similar, simple wooden drawer pull knob attached)


Uncoupling Techniques

Speaking of uncoupling, as mentioned in Rule no. 7, we do have some locations equipped with uncoupler magnets.  Some are visible between the ties, while others are hidden under the ballast, and are identified by a trackside white, diamond-shaped sign with the letter "M" on it (refer to photo below).

If you don't know how to use uncoupler magnets, click here

When there isn't a magnet available at the location you need it, look around for one of the long, very slender pointed sticks (bamboo skewer) placed around the layout.

Then refer to the animation at the right on how to use this skewer to uncouple a car. (click on the picture for a storyboard version of this technique)

A couple of helpful tips: 
Introduce some slack in the couplers before using the skewer;
Limit how far the skewer point goes in, to prevent binding;
After the lips of the knuckles “roll” clear of each other, push horizontally against one of the coupler heads to separate the cars


This photo is to illustrate two different marker types used along APN's right-of-way to identify features important to operations:

They are shown circled and are:

  • The 2 white diamond-shaped signs indicate that there are uncoupling magnets located under the ties of the adjoining tracks
  • The white post adjacent to the tie that is painted white marks the location of the end of a block and an "OS" section

Refer to Rule nos. 5, 6 and 7 and the section on signals for the significance of these two features. 

To elaborate on the latter, when required to stop at a given CP by the Dispatcher, or for any other reason, you must keep your train from crossing over an OS boundary marked with the white tie.  Just like on the prototype, if your train has crossed over this boundary, even by several (scale) inches, the train detection circuitry will show your train as occupying both blocks.  The CTC system then locks the associated turnout, so it can not be remotely actuated.  This is a safety feature to prevent a turnout from being thrown under a train.  To be able to do anything related to that turnout, to either throw it or give you local control, the Dispatcher has to request that you back up your train to clear the OS.

OS sections also are the dividing points between the blocks of the railroad.

Turnout indication

There are 2 primary designs of indicator lights in use on control panels around the layout that show the position of turnouts.  Examples of these 2 designs are shown below.

This is the older design, and it consists of a single, 2-color LED for each turnout.  The color of the LED indicates which route the turnout is aligned for.  Green indicates the through route, and red the divergent route.
This is our newer design, with a yellow LED on each leg of the turnout.  The LED that is lit indicates the route the turnout is aligned to.  This is more user-friendly for the color-blind among us.

How to Operate Hand Throws

The majority of our turnouts are motor-driven and operated from a control panel. (During an operating session, turnouts on the mainline will be controlled by the Dispatcher, unless local control is granted).

But there are, and probably always will be turnouts on our layout that are operated by using a hand throw.  As simple as they may seem, there is a bit of technique to properly use one of these hand throws, and this is described in the pictures and captions, below.

Other layout owners have reported that an alternative to prevent this type of turnout from being over-thrown is to hammer in a couple of nails on either side of the throw, leaving the nail head protruding up and under, and acting as a stop for the hand throw arm.  But don't you think we can all be disciplined enough to learn to operate this device correctly, and not have to resort to using nails as a crutch?  Because protruding nails just don't look like anything prototypical on the real railroads. 

The Throw arm is in a near horizontal position.  There is a slight “indent” that you will feel as you push the throw arm to this position.  Rotating the arm to this position and no further is gentler on the mechanism and it makes it easier for the next operator to get a grasp on the throw arm.



Throw arm is pushed until the head hits the ground. This position puts additional stress on the machine itself, and on the points of the turnout, leading to early failure of both.  It also makes it more difficult for the next operator that comes along to get a hold of the arm to throw it the other way.


Here is a sample Manifest for Train Number 263.  A Manifest is generated for every train to be run in an operating session.  An operator signing on as the Train Crew for a train will receive a clipboard that includes a Manifest for that train, a Rules Book and a Route Map of the APN Conroe Subdivision.

These Manifests are created by the software program RailOp.  Listed in the 2 columns of this report are the locations the train originates from and terminates in, and other towns/locations that will be traveled through.  Town/location names are underlined, as shown in the detail figure below, and each town/location's entry is followed by the number of cars leaving that location and the train's length and weight.

Switching assignment entries on the Manifest are color coded to assist the Train Crew in performing their duties: 

> Cars that are picked up along the route to be set-out before the train's terminal is reached are printed in red as an aid in deciding where to block the car in the train.  All other PickUps are in black

> SetOuts are shown in Green.

> Local Moves (within same town) are Blue.

Click on the photo for a larger image.



The following is an enlargement of one section of the above Manifest, showing the entries for the town of Big Bend.  The lettering in italics describe the information contained on the Manifest.


Switch Lists - Conroe Yard Master

Here is a sample Switch List for the Yard Master job in the Conroe Classification Yard

You can click on it for a larger version.

It shows trains that will originate from and/or terminate at the Conroe Yard. 

For each train that originates from Conroe Yard, it is the responsibility of the Conroe Yard Master to assemble the cars listed for each train, blocked in the order they appear on the list.  The order is relative to the direction the train will depart, where odd numbered trains will head East and even numbered trains will head West.

Once a train is assembled the Yard Master is to notify the Dispatcher via the intercom.

No movements within the yard limits can be performed without the permission of the yard master.  Engineers wishing to enter or depart from the yard with their train must obtain this approval via a radio request (see Rule no. 2B).

During the course of an operating session the Operations Superintendent may give the yard master an updated list.  This list might overlap with the switch list the yard master is currently working from.  It is the duty of the yard master to compare the new list to the old and strike out those trains on the new list that have already been made up.

The Port Keechi Yard Switcher will receive a similar list, and the use of this list is comparable to its use in Conroe Yard.

Crew Call Board

Hanging in the Crew Lounge is our "Crew Call Board".  It contains a listing of all the trains to be available for the Operating Session, and is for use by Operators to sign up for train assignments.  Its use is relatively straight-forward, but refer to Rule no. 13.

More detailed information on each train can be found by reading through the Train Manifests, which are on clipboards maintained by the Superintendent of Operations, and will be available in the Crew Lounge.  The contents of a train manifest were described above.

Upon deciding on a train to run, an Operator adds his name to the "Crew" column of the Call Board, picks up the clipboard for the chosen train, along with a cab and a radio.  Upon locating his train, and prior to departure, the Operator should write down the time in the "Departure" column, and in the appropriate place on the Train Manifest, and per Rule no. 2, call the Dispatcher and get approval before moving your train.

Upon completion of his route, the Operator should notify the Dispatcher, and write down the time of arrival in the "Terminate" column of the Call Board and on the Manifest.  If any difficulties were encountered during your run, or you have any feedback or suggestions about this train or the layout or the organization of the operating session, write them on the Manifest before turning it in to the Operations Superintendent.

Diagram of the "Crew Call Board" showing a sample of one of our sessions in progress


Also shown on the Call Board are any speed restrictions in place for the day, and the names of the Dispatcher, Conroe Yard Master and Port Keechi Yard Switcher on duty.

Operating Sessions can vary in length from several hours to most of a day.  This flexibility is possible by choosing how many of the trains on the Call Board are run during the given session.  It is not necessary that they all be run, as RailOp can start the next operation session where the previous session left off.  The decision on how many trains to complete can be made "on-the-fly" as the session progresses.  Factors such as the skill level and number of Operators can cause a session to go faster or take longer than originally estimated, so the ability to make adjustments is a convenience that adds to the enjoyment of the participants.  Always remember Rule no. 1!


In a "Normal " Operating Session, the number of participants desirable are:

1 - Dispatcher
1 - Yard Master - Conroe Classification Yard
1 - Yard Switcher - Port Keechi Yards
7 - Road Engineers (can get by with as few as 5)
Optional - The "Hole" (usually filled by an APN member)

Operations Superintendent  (A member of the APN Operations Committee)

A few additional people can be accommodated (especially newbies) by having 2 persons assigned to train crew: an Engineer to drive the train, and the Conductor, who supervises the engineer and manages the paperwork.  The limiting factor is the space available in the layout room aisle ways.

Dispatching 101

Imagine that you are in the tiny cab of your locomotive, and then imagine how much of the railroad you can actually see from the vantage point of that tiny window.  Unlike standing in the aisle towering over the layout, from inside that cab you can see ahead very little.  So it is on real railroads, and there engineers rely on signal systems and dispatchers to be able to "see" what trains lie ahead of them.

On our railroad, the Dispatcher can see what blocks have trains in them, and with this knowledge, directs the movement of trains over the APN Conroe Division's mainline and sidings, making sure in the process that trains don't collide.  In performing this duty, our Dispatcher relies on a Dispatcher's Panel which allows him to monitor the location and movement of trains, and operate track switches (turnouts) and the traffic signals that tell trains to stop or change their speed. 

A portion of the Dispatcher's Panel is shown in the diagram below.  

Green Mountain Falls, the western extent of the Conroe Division, is shown in the upper left hand corner of the panel, and Björnburg, the eastern most extent, is at the lower right hand corner of the panel.  The track plan wraps around similarly to the text in this paragraph, i.e. the right hand end of the upper track continues to the left hand end of the middle track, immediately below it.  Following that track to the right hand edge of the panel, it connects with the left hand end of the track shown in the bottom track segment on the panel.

All turnouts that can be controlled remotely by the Dispatcher are drawn on the panel with a wide line for the diverging route, and are numbered sequentially from West to East.  All other turnouts leaving the mainline or sidings are shown with a narrower line, and are not numbered.

The Dispatcher throws those turnouts over which he has control by placing the cursor over the turnout diagram on the panel, and right-clicking the mouse.  The route these turnouts are aligned to will be shown as a white line.

Just like on the prototype, there is an interlock that prevents the Dispatcher from throwing a turnout under a train.  If a train has fouled the OS of a turnout, that turnout's diagram will appear red on the panel, and the Dispatcher will not be able to throw it.   The train will have to back up and clear the OS before the Dispatcher can regain control of the turnout.  Refer to Rule no. 6

Dispather Screen sample
A portion of the Dispatcher's Panel.  Click on it for a larger view showing the entire panel.

Referring to one of the maps shown earlier on this page and comparing it to the Dispatcher Panel above, the names of CP locations are shown on the panel in  yellow text

Siding names are shown in  light blue italics

Town are not all labeled as such.  Instead, there are labels only at those locations where there are turnouts from the mainline or siding that can be controlled either by the Dispatcher, or at his election, by the local train crew (refer to Rule no. 4).  These labels are contained in boxes on the diagram, and show either an abbreviation for the Town's name, or for a major industry near the turnout.  Either <Local> or <CTC> will appear after the abbreviation, indicating who has control of the turnout.  The Dispatcher can toggle who has this control of the turnout by moving the cursor over a box and clicking the left mouse button. 

When the train crew has control of the turnouts, <Local> will appear in the box, the box background color will turn white and the appropriate block of track and the effected turnouts will show as purple on the display.  In addition, there will be a blue LED that lights up on the layout fascia near the turnout, on the Control Panel that has the toggle switches that will now control those turnouts.

A red line on the panel indicates blocks that are occupied by a train.  A white line indicates unoccupied track.

A green line on the panel indicates the block(s) of track ahead of a train that the Dispatcher has set the signals for, giving that train authority.  The direction of that authority is indicated by a black arrow superimposed on top of the green line, and by the numbered green signal marker indicators ( ).  The Dispatcher sets the signals by left-clicking on the appropriate red signal symbols ahead of a train.  The signals will clear ( ) when the train enters the block, but can be cleared manually by double clicking on the symbol.

Once the Dispatcher has set a route for a train, he can right-click on the red line for a train, and enter an identifier tag for that train.  Typically the information entered in the tag would be the train number.  Once entered, this tag will display above or below the red block of track occupied by that train, and the tag will follow the train on the screen as it moves from block to block.  The train symbol appears on the screen in light grey bold font, as shown in this example: which appears on the sample screen above on the Burnito Siding.

Passenger stations, depots and stops are indicated by this symbol on the panel.

The Dispatcher passes orders and other communications to Train Crews via 2-way radio, and communicates with the Conroe Yard Master via an intercom.



During APN Operating Sessions, control of trains is via Centralized Traffic Control, or CTC.  All of the signals that will eventually be associated with CTC are not installed on our railroad yet, which increases the importance of communications between train crews and the dispatcher via radio.  For those stretches of the APN mainline that are signaled, a train crew can safely operate their train by obeying those signals.  This section gives an overview of what the signals in use on our railroad mean.

Our railroad is divided up into "blocks," and each block boundary is designated by a Control Point, or "CP."  Signals, when they are present, are located primarily at the start of each block.  They govern whether a train may enter the block they protect.  

It is important to remember that, since our railroad is not completely signaled yet, a train crew cannot rely completely on signals to identify where blocks start and end.  The locations of all CP's are shown on our Route Maps, are also labeled on the control panels around the layout, and trackside are identified by white painted ties and posts at each block boundary.  As you run your train down the mainline, you must not just be on the lookout for the next signal, you also must follow your map or observe the control panels, or watch for the next white painted tie to make sure you don't overrun into the next block, if it happens to be unsignaled.  You must get clearance from the dispatcher before entering any unsignaled block.  In unsignaled territory, he is your "eyes" and knows whether those blocks ahead have a train in them or not.


Signal Basics:

To understand signals, you must learn these two building blocks.  Once you know these two concepts, how to obey signals becomes more intuitive.

Concept 1: Signal Colors and what they mean

The color tells you how many block past the signal are unoccupied


Action to take

n 0 Red Stop

Unless flashing red, then stopping is not required, and you may proceed at a restricted speed, but be prepared to stop.

n 1 Yellow Approach

Proceed, reduce to medium speed, be prepared to stop at the next signal (or CP).
If flashing yellow, reduction in speed not required.

n 2 Green Clear


Note that when a light is flashing, the number of unoccupied blocks ahead remain the same.  The blinking indicates that for the color shown, the signal is less restrictive than if the same color was shown but was not flashing.

So for example, yellow means that 1 block past the signal is unoccupied, but the block following that is occupied.  You may proceed past the signal at medium speed if the signal shows a steady yellow light.  If the light is flashing yellow, you may proceed, but are not required to reduce your speed.  In either case, you must be prepared to stop at the start of the next block, which will be at the next Control Point, where there may or may not be another signal.  (If there is not, remember the rule stated earlier, you may not enter an unsignaled block without the permission of the dispatcher).


Concept 2: Multiple Signal Heads

When there are stacked signal heads, as depicted here, the upper signal is for the mainline, and the lower signal for a diverging route, such as a passing siding.



1 + 2 = Putting it together

So with these two concepts, here's what you do.  When you approach a signal, if the upper color is green or yellow, proceed ahead on the mainline.  If it is red, look for a second color, below the first.  If there is none, or if it is also red, then you must stop.  If the lower signal is green or yellow, then you may proceed, but you are being routed into the diverging route.  The exception is when a red signal is flashing, in which case stopping is optional, but if you don't stop, you must slow down to restricted speed and be able to stop your train in half the distance between you and any opposing train, broken rail, improperly thrown turnout or other obstruction. 

Hopefully if you think about it in these terms it will make sense, and you can figure out what any signal combination means, without the need for showing pictures of all the possible combinations of signals here.


Factoid: The single lens search light signals shown above on the right will be short lived on the APN railroad, as they are due to be replaced by signal head types that contain individual lenses for green, yellow and red.  This to accommodate our color-blind operators who can not all distinguish between the 3 colors. 

More Information:

For a more comprehensive set of information on using our layout, click here

Want to see an Operating Session in pictures?  click here

The following are being contemplated as future additions to this page:

Description of the available jobs
Control panels - local control LED
FRS Radio use 101
Guests will not need to bring anything except their enthusiasm for operations. We have enough radio handsets for all, so you don't have to bring your own. However, we do not have enough headsets to go around. We use FRS radios. If you have an FRS radio with a headset that you are partial to, please feel free to bring it to use at the session.


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Updated on 05/26/2024