On a layout with only a couple of people running trains, a train dispatcher may not be absolutely necessary. On a small layout you can say to your friend running the other train, “I’ll meet you at Slate Falls, you take the siding.” But when you want to have more trains moving at the same time, or run them on a railroad large enough to make face-toface communication difficult, the need for a dispatcher soon becomes evident.
Besides fulfilling a useful role, a dispatcher can add a layer of enjoyment to model railroad operation. That’s because the dispatcher doesn’t run trains with a throttle, but by interacting with other people. Depending on the particular system of movement authority, the dispatcher may interact by way of written orders and instructions, by telephone or radio communication, or by signal indications controlled from a 1940s-style Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) machine or a modern desktop computer. (See “Authority to use the main track,” page 114 in both the December 2009 and January 2010 Model Railroaders.)
However it’s done, the dispatcher is mindful that instructions communicated to train crews and other operators must be clear and understandable.
• Clear trains to start from their initial terminals, either verbally, by okaying written clearance “cards” prepared by train-order operators, or by track warrants transmitted directly to train crews.
• Keep a record of movements on a train sheet, where times from “OS reports” (see “OS-ing trains,” page 130
• Plan for and set meeting points between trains on single-track railroads, using train orders dictated to an operator, track warrants, or by setting CTC signal indications.
• Where helpers are needed, manage the use of helper locomotives and provide for the return of helpers to their base, usually as extra trains.
And that’s just a start. It can be a fascinating job on a busy railroad.
Andy Sperandeo (1945-2015) was a longtime staff member and editor of Model Railroader and Great Model Railroads magazines.