Friday, January 11, 2013

Moving Freight on the Chesapeake, Wheeling & Erie

One of the challenges in operating any model railroad is developing a system for moving traffic that is easy to understand and quickly grasped by people who aren't familiar with the layout. Most operators are familiar with car cards and waybills, but without additional references as to industry locations, connections with other railroads, and on-line and off-line industries, using the cards can be confusing. I wanted to find a system that would make operating the layout relatively simple yet still provide some resemblance of the paperwork associated with the prototype.

Back in the late 1980's, Dan Holbrook developed an alphanumeric system that not only told crews where freight cars should go, but also how to move the cars from Point A to Point B. The Train and Industry Blocking System, or TIBS, first appeared in an article by Dan in the July 1987 edition of Model Railroader. Here is a link to the article on the Model Railroader website: (Note- you need to register with the site in order to get to the article). He described the system in detail and illustrated its use on the Midwest Railroad Modelers' layout. When combined with car cards and waybills, it's an extremely simple and elegant way to provide crews with all the information necessary to move freight over the railroad. It is also serves as an invaluable tool for yardmasters in blocking freight cars and assembling trains.

I had always been impressed with Dan's system and had made note of it on the small index cards I keep with information on various topics. So when I began to plan operations on the layout back in the mid 1990's, Dan's article was the first place I started. I had already decided on most of the industries to be served on the layout and had made corresponding waybills and car cards. I had also developed the overall geographic layout of the entire railroad system, including all major towns and cities served by the railroad as well as division points, major classification yards and interchanges. Armed with all this information, I could now develop my own TIBS system. So follow along as I describe the system and how it works on the Chesapeake, Wheeling and Erie Railroad.

The first place to start is with a TIBS Directory. This document lists all of the major cities and towns on the railroad along with all of the specific location on the layout. Each location is assigned a alpha character. The page below shows the major cities and interchanges on the railroad system.

Once the major cities and interchanges are established, the document s expanded to list specific industries and interchanges at each location and assign a number to each. The first 4 locations below aren't on the layout. The next two locations are branch lines (staging) that connect with the main line on the layout at Nelsonville, Virginia.

Note that each location has been assigned a number along with the alpha code and that locations off the layout have a single digit while locations on the layout have double digits. This is another method that Dan developed to help distinguish between on-layout and off-layout locations. 

Now that we have assigned alphanumeric codes for locations both on and off the layout, we can apply these to waybills in order to route cars to their appropriate locations. The picture below shows 2 waybills for cars destined for Big Chimney, West  Virginia on the layout. Big Chimney has an alpha code of K, and since the locations are on-layout, the numbers are double digit. The alphanumeric code is in the upper left hand corner of the waybill in red ink in order to distinguish it from the other lettering on the waybill.

At Big Chimney, there is a waybill box for each industry. Each box has a label with the name of the industry served and the corresponding alphanumeric code. 

The control panel at Big Chimney also has the alphanumeric codes for each industry on the appropriate track, as shown in the photo below.

So we know that SOU 528630 is headed to Big Chimney, West Virginia to be spotted at Kline Furniture. Once we arrive at Big Chimney, we can easily find the location to spot the car, even if there's no building there yet or any sign to indicate just where Kline Furniture is located. And we also know which bill box to place the car card and waybill in.

Now we have the alphanumeric codes that we can apply to the waybills in order to insure that the right cars get spotted at the right locations. Next, we'll look at how these codes can be used for blocking trains and providing road crews with information about making set-outs and pick-ups.


  1. Good stuff Tom! One other thing, there is only 2 P's in Culpeper.

    Shannon Crabtree

  2. Thanks, Shannon. One of my pet peeves is spelling so you'd think I would have run spell check on the document at some point!

    Tom Patterson