Friday, February 12, 2010

Does this yard make me look fat?

Some questions are basically unanswerable; the stereotypical classic is when your spouse asks, "Do these pants make me look fat?"

I have been reminded of these types of unanswerable questions in the last few weeks on various Internet forums. Folks post a track plan for a yard (often a simple mechanical transcription of one of John Armstrong's plans from Track Planning for Realistic Operation). Then they ask, "Is this a good yard plan?"

I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not.

There are quite a few facts not yet in evidence. Where is this yard located in relation to staging, junctions, branches, and other yards (if any)? How many trains will this yard serve in a session? In which direction will most trains run? Will this yard originate or terminate trains? How many trains? What types of trains? How much classification is needed versus simply block swaps? What era?

Without the answers to these and other questions, there's really no way to make an accurate judgment about the suitability of any yard design for a specific layout.

Of course, this doesn't stop the self-proclaimed forum experts from adding their two cents, advising various additions and changes that may (or may not) improve that yard's function in a specific layout.

While the classic Armstrong designs are better than 98+% of what most modelers dream up on their own, I hate to see this kind of unanswerable yard design question receiving so many pat (and patently incorrect) answers.

The right answer ("It depends, let's look at the rest of your layout design and your operations concept.") won't satisfy the typical immediate-gratification help-seekers -- but it is the reality of plausible, efficient, and engaging yard design.