Operations Overview

The Willow Creek is a relatively prosperous, well-maintained branchline railroad, operating freight and passenger trains from Bucky’s Crossing, west to the city of Waverly and points in between, and east to the city of Spokane. The railroad operates a single-track mainline with double track/passing sidings in Glacier Valley and Upper Meadows, and a switching siding at Lookout Pass that can also be used as a passing siding. The single-track mainline is controlled by automated block signals that indicate block occupancy. Freight trains typically consist of 6 to 8 freight cars in addition to the locomotive and caboose.

The Willow Creek Railroad has two operational yards. A 3-track yard at Bucky's Crossing is used solely to switch cars on and off of rail car ferries. Car ferries have a capability of 6 40-foot freight cars. During an operating session, 2 ferries typically arrive at and depart from Bucky's Crossing. Cars arriving from the river ports of Alta and Concorde are routed from the yard at Bucky's Crossing to the yard in Waverly, where they are classified for further routing.

The yard in Waverly is a major rail yard with freight and passenger train service facilities. A large passenger station provides passenger train and rail-bus service via 3 station tracks. The freight yard includes 2 arrival tracks and 2 departure tracks; a 4-track classification yard; an icing facility to service refrigerator cars; locomotive servicing facilities for steam and diesel engines; and a 6-stall roundhouse with a 90-foot turntable.

Traffic on the Willow Creek is also supported by a 4-track staging yard in Spokane. This is a "hidden" staging yard and is fully automated with train-route selection, track-power activation, and train-detection sensors. A control panel located in the main train room provides operators with controls for the staging yard and an LED display that provides train location status.

The Willow Creek Railroad is in the transition era from steam engines to diesel locomotives. However, during an operating session, early generation diesel locomotives are the preferred motive power both for switch engines and for road engines.

Operating Plan and Scenario

The Willow Creek model railroad is a walk-in layout (no duck-unders). The track plan is a return-loop-to-return-loop configuration that operates as a point-to-point layout. The Willow Creek track plan is discussed on the Track Plan web page. The following diagram illustrates the Operating Scenario (point-to-point) used during Operating Sessions. (Click on any image to open a new window with a full-sized version of the diagram.)

The following diagram provides a linear view of the Operating Scenario (point-to-point) used during Operating Sessions.

The control system is MRC Prodigy Wireless Digital Command Control (DCC) and all throttles are hand-held and wireless. (MRC throttles are provided for all operators visiting the layout.) All engines are equipped with DCC and sound decoders. All turnouts are controlled by Tortoise by Circuitron switch machines via toggle switches located on control panels around the layout. The Willow Creek is designed for operators/engineers to follow their trains around the layout as they operate.

The layout is designed for 6-person operations. Operating positions include:

  • Dispatcher responsible for managing the Sequence Schedule and for coordinating overall train movements

  • Yard Master responsible for operations at Waverly

  • Yard Master responsible for operations at Bucky’s Crossing

  • Three Road Engineers operating trains on the subdivision (e.g., Through Freights, Local Freights, and Passenger Trains)

The Willow Creek Railroad is operated via a car-card and waybill system, and a hybrid Sequence Schedule/Timetable. Car movements are facilitated by the car-card/waybill system (operators do not cycle waybills during an operating session). Car-card boxes are located on the layout's fascia for each industry and major yard track. Train movements are facilitated by a Sequence Schedule that identifies the order in which trains are to be run, unless changed by the Dispatcher. A Timetable is also used to schedule several priority trains during an operating session. The scheduled trains are interjected into the Sequence Schedule by the Dispatcher according to the Timetable and the fast clock. Train Orders/Instructions are provided to operators that describe the movement of each train on the Sequence Schedule. Yardmasters are given an "Arrival/Departure Guide" for their yard that describes each of the trains on the Sequence Schedule and instructs the yardmaster as to their responsibilities for each train. (Refer to the Operating Session Guide web page for examples of these documents.)

The Willow Creek has an automatic block signaling system (perhaps more appropriately termed, an absolute block signaling system since all blocks are "headblocks" and there are no permissive signals) that uses optical sensors to detect trains and control single-track sections of the mainline. However, operators must still be in communication with the Dispatcher to facilitate train meets.

The layout has a maximum 2% grade. All switching areas are flat with the exception of the mainline at Upper Meadows. To hold cars on the mainline during switching operations at Upper Meadows, a custom-built automated “Hill Brake” is available. Use of the Hill Brake will be explained to operators.

At Lookout Pass, a siding is available to support switching operations at Summit Springs. Special turnout controls (3-way toggle switches) are available at the Lookout Pass Siding to make switching easier; these will be explained to operators.

The layout’s operating scheme includes both train and car movements. Car movements are dictated by the car-card and waybill system. Train movements are dictated by the Sequence Schedule, Timetable, and Train Orders.

Operations on the Willow Creek Railroad include a variety of freight and passenger trains:

Through Freights - Through Freights are trains that run between major towns on the layout without intermediate switching. Through Freights are run between Waverly and Bucky's Crossing primarily to support rail-car ferry operations. Through Freights also are run between Waverly and Spokane, which facilitates interchange between the Willow Creek Subdivision and Class I railroads throughout the country via the UPRR facilities in Spokane.

Local Freights - Local Freights are trains that service the various industries on the Willow Creek Subdivision. Specific local freight runs include the "River Job" that typically switches industries at Upper Meadows and the industrial area at Bucky's Crossing (known as East Portal); and the "Mountain Local" that typically switches industries at Summit Springs and Highland. The "Mine Run" local freight provides empty coal hoppers to the Willow Creek Mine in Highland and takes loaded hoppers to Waverly Yard for subsequent routing. Other locals may be run as directed by the Dispatcher.

Named Passenger Trains - Regular passenger train service is provided between Waverly and Spokane, with a stop at the station in Bucky's Crossing. These named trains include the "River City Limited" and the "Lilac City Limited." On some runs, these trains include Combination Car service to the Baden Spa resort in Summit Springs.

Local Passenger Trains - Local passenger trains service various stations and passenger shelters between Waverly and Bucky's Crossing. The consist for these trains may include a Combination Car and/or a Coach. Local service may also be provided by a Gas-Electric Rail Motorcar (doodlebug). Service is typically provided to station stops at Summit Springs, Upper Meadows, Bucky's Crossing, Highland, and Waverly.