September 27, 2015

USMRR Aquia Line Operational Test 1 (OT1)

Air transportability test of Stryker in 2003 at Bicycle lake, CA
For over 24 years I worked as an defense analyst involved in operational testing of US Army military systems, with a focus on combat vehicles and unmanned aircraft. (I wrote a paper a few years ago for CBO about armored vehicle design which you can find here.)  As an operational tester I learned the importance of conducting tests of complex systems with real users under realistic conditions. Today during the open house, the USMRR Aquia Line went through its Operational Test 1 (OT1).
Visitors watch the 6 minute introductory video on the USMRR Aquia Line

Before the steady stream of visitors arrived, a crew of volunteers arrived for pre-test training. One of the key tenets of operational testing is that the equipment users must be representative of the actual intended users in the field. In this case, the test crew list reads like a list of ringers, but they are folks that will eventually be operators on the layout. They included a full assortment of military branches and disciplines.

Crew one was composed of John Barry and Ben Hom. John is a retired US Air Force C-130 pilot with extensive test experience at USAFOTEC. Ben is a retired navy officer currently working as a contractor for the US Navy Operational Staff in the Pentagon. Crew two was composed on JD Drye and Doug Gurin. JD is a senior analyst at SPA working in nuclear weapons security. Doug is the LDSIG guru and former traffic engineer. All have extensive model railroad experience in additional to their profession expertise.

After being fed by our commissary staff, the crews received a briefing on how to operate the layout, notably what switch stands were having trouble. Other than that, they were instructed to "run the layout however you see fit." I attended to guests and left the operators on their own.

The guests filed through and the layout room got quite crowded at several points, but the test crews kept the trains running. Afterwards, they provided me with some feedback.

They reported that both battery powered engines had their batteries eventually draw down during the session. The Whiton lasted about an hour and the Fury about 2. Engine McCallum worked well with its standard DCC sound decoders. Two hours would be OK for an op session, but is not long enough for a 3 hour open house. The next DCC engine conversion will be a sound-DCC with a keep alive circuit. I had cleaned the track before hand but McCallums wheels had not been cleaned in a while.

The crews were unaware of the prohibition in the rule book about using the extended links on the cow catchers. They noted some wheel tracking  issues as they pulled and pushed long cuts of cars with the extended links. The problems stem from the fact that the extended links do not have sufficient angular play to handle the tight curves only layout . So they bind and twist the boilers of the tender driven engines. I have not yet tried to build new extended links with more angular tolerance. So I have a rule about using those links only in emergencies. However, I failed to tell the crews about the rule. However, the rules were posted to the blog here and listed below.  Note rule 2.6.

Other than those two issues, they did not report any other problems. Overall, it was a successful OT1.

The layout is in a state where operating sessions could begin with just a few weekends of work (the military would call it Initial Operating Condition or IOC) . To make that happen, I would need to make it a higher priority. Alas, there are several other higher priority projects that stand before it. So formal op sessions will have to wait a bit longer.

With regard to the open house, the 6 minute introductory video is proving very useful. We played it five times today at intervals so that most guests got to see it. About 30 guests stopped by including a former colleague and spouse from IDA and a current colleague and his family from CBO.

Instructions for Operators on
USMRR Aquia Line Model Railroad



1.       General
1.1.         Please read this complete document so you understand yours and the other players’ roles.
1.2.         If you notice a problem, please bring it to our attention. If you derail a car, please re-rail it carefully.  If you are unsure about something, please ask.
1.3.           Have fun.


2.            Conductor

2.1.         You are in charge of the train. You will instruct the engineer and brakeman on what to do.
2.2.         Movements on the layout are controlled by early 19th century Time Table and Train Order rules, which are simplified versions of the currently used rules. You will find some train orders and a schedule for the trains in the packet you receive. The train orders will provide any special instructions. You should consult the schedule to understand any meets with other trains or other events you must consider.
2.3.         In the packet you will receive a replica copy of the USMRR Conductors Report.  Please fill out the top with the names of the operators on the train. This form will act as your switch list. It will tell you how many cars are in your train (probably 4) and where they should be spotted. It will also list cars that you must pick up. You should verify that the cars you are pulling are correctly listed on your sheet. Make any corrections as needed.
2.4.         Any cars not listed on the papers but found at the terminal must remain in place though they can be shuffled around if necessary as long as they end up where they started.
2.5.         As you work you may mark up the switch list and add notes. When you are done, please turn in the switch list for our records.
2.6.         Do not use the extended link on the cow catcher for switching. Make all your switch moves from the rear of the tender.
2.7.         Your train should display proper signals. In daylight, white flags for a single scheduled train or red flags if an extra is following. At light, signal lights will be used instead of flags.

3.            Engineer  

3.1.         You are in charge of the locomotive. You will control the throttle, bell, head light whistle and engine servicing. Please familiarize yourself with the throttle and the special functions.
3.2.         You do not have to run with the headlight on in daylight, but you may if you wish.
3.3.         Ring the bell when passing or near the depot.
3.4.         The engine decoders have momentum programmed in, so be aware of that when starting and stopping.
3.5.         The brakeman will signal you when to move during switching with hand or verbal signals
3.6.         Use the appropriate whistle signals when moving the engine.
1 Short - Apply brakes2 Short – Release brakes3 Short – Backing train4 Short – Call in flagman, 5 Short – Wood up1 Long – Danger.
3.7.         To service the engine you must park by the wood rick and water tank to replenish water and fuel. Use the sound effect function to simulate the water filling operation. You do not need to move the hose or lever on the tower. Wood loading is simulated by a 2 minute wait by the wood rick. You do not have to actually load the wood.
3.8.         Do not exceed 5 miles per hour when crossing the bridge. Do not use excessive speed when switching.
3.9.         You will turn the engine when necessary on the turntable. It is manually operated and aligned.  We will handle turning the engine on the fiddle yard cassette.
3.10.      Please turn off the throttle and return it to us when you are done.
3.11.      If the engine stops running during operation, it could be a dead battery. Please let us know if that happens and do not continue to operate. We have a spare engine in case this happens.


4.            Brakeman

4.1.         You will couple and un-couple cars, set the switches, and operate the brakes in accordance with instructions from the conductor. You will guide the engineer during these moves with hand or verbal signals.
4.2.         The cars use link-and-pin couplers. We use magnetic pins and laser-cut paper links.  They will take two hands to operate. You will be given a brake staff to use. It has a rare earth magnet on one end to grab the pin and a taper on the other to help manipulate the link.  Use the magnet end to pull and place the pins.  If you are careful the magnet will only grab one pin when you go to pull the pin on adjacent cars. If you accidently pull two pins, replace the one you did not wish to pull.
4.3.         It may be necessary to use your fingers to set the links. That is OK. Just make sure they don’t get crushed when coupling the cars.
4.4.         Place the unused pins and links in the plastic bag we provide. Try not to lose them, but we do have extras.
4.5.         You will throw the switches using scale sized switch stands. Do not force them. They should operate smoothly and lock in place. Visually inspect each switch to insure it is properly set.
4.6.         Some of the cars have working brakes. Make sure these are all released. We will not use the working brakes in these operation sessions.
4.7.         Please make sure you return the brake staff when you are done. We do not have many extras.





1 comment:

  1. Bernie,

    I am honored to be one of the lead testers in OT1. Doubly honored that you included a photo including my primary aircraft at the top of the blog. I didn't participate in the Stryker test, but once upon a time in a Red Flag, far, far away, I did land on Bicycle Lake and set up a FARP for A-10s.

    Your brief was slightly more comprehensive, as you did explain how to use your uncoupling magnets in the brake staff and where the additional links and pins are stored on the layout and where most of the sounds on the controller, including the water. Ben and I did discuss hand signals prior to commencing operation. Unaware of the rules beyond the verbal brief, we commenced without discussing whistle signals.

    The link and pin couplers generally worked well, although when one of the flats was coupled directly to the tender, that end occasionally lifted high enough on vertical curves to allow the wheel rims to clear the top of the rail and de-rail. We did not notice if we had the tender side in the lowest slot and performed a field heavy balloon lift to move the offending car to the rear of the train to continue moving traffic to facilitate the open house. Unaware of the prohibition, we did use the long nose link without limitation. It worked well pulling three to four cars, except for lengthening the effective wheelbase on the engine, causing the drivers to derail on several of the sharp curves. Allowing some side to side swing should allow you to pull with the nose link without limitation. That modification might cause issues pushing that you are defending against with the one car limit. We did have trouble inserting the pin in the nose link on curves, allowing some side to side play would also aid that. We did shove the length of the layout multiple times with only a couple of engine derailments on tight curves.

    We did not use the on-car brakes as Ben was not familiar and I did not recall they were there. A stack of ration boxes fouling the down hill end of the siding near the cemetery served as a field expedient substitute.

    Early arrival of the first three open house guests rushed both the completion of your pre-session rush and severely abbreviated the pre-operation brief. Holding to published hours and guests, especially knowledgeable hobbyists, respecting them would improve the ability to complete pre-session preparations and the experience for all the visitors.

    Speaking of respecting schedules, I need to get my cavalry transport on the road to meet a scheduled 1130 TOT for a battlefield tour at Gettysburg.

    John Barry

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