Model Railroad Cars

Model Railroad Cars includes freight cars, passenger cars, maintenance of way cars, cabooses, and cable cars.


A “Car” is just about anything that runs on rails. This includes

  1. freight cars
  2. passenger cars
  3. maintenance of way cars (including equipment such as cranes)
  4. cabooses
  5. cable cars
  6. unpowered (dummy) locomotives, etc.

Everyone knows that a railroad takes cars from one place to another.  But why?  Well, to deliver cars to industries and manufacturing plants.  But why?  So those industries can have the supplies they need to make the products they make, and also to ship the finished products to places that need them.  That is why we put buildings and industries on our layouts that have sidings next to them.  We all know these things, right?  But how many of us realize how this is actually done.  Sure, we make up trains with cars and take them to our sidings and drop them off, picking up other cars as we go.  But so far, we have no real purpose in mind. 

We are just doing it because we are so-o-o bored with running trains in circles. True operations are more fun with two or more people.  One person runs one train while the other person runs another train.  A computer program like RailOp, Pro-Track, Ship-It, or JMRI Ops makes running by yourself more interesting. Because the computer picks the cars for the train. Picks what cars are to be set out before the train departs.  It is no longer a matter of getting the train to the industry. Then asking yourself “what cars do I want to set out here”.  The Manifest tells you, and you have to work the puzzle with your locomotive to get them there.  If the tracks are in place for good operations, solving the puzzle is easy.  If the tracks are not there, the puzzle becomes harder, but can still be done.

Model Railroad Cars - ARMballast


If you’re new to model railroad operation you may not be familiar with the basic switching moves for picking up and setting out cars and assembling trains.

Trailing, facing, and running around: “Trailing point” turnouts and spur tracks are those you can back an engine and cars into from your current direction of travel­. “Facing point” turnouts and spurs are those your engine can head into without changing direction. You can easily pull a car from a facing point spur using the engine’s front coupler. But it comes out in front of the ­engine. Cars behind the engine can’t be put into the facing point spur without a momentum maneuver called a “drop” or a “flying switch”. That’s impractical with small-scale model trains.

Skip the runaround:

Running around can be time-consuming. Crews on the big roads prefer to avoid it if they can. Besides the momentum tricks that we can’t copy (and which now are generally prohibited by rule). You can avoid running around by only working trailing point spurs. If local trains work in both directions on a given line. They might do only trailing-point work. They leave cars for facing-point spurs on ­double-ended storage tracks for the ­other ­local to pick up and set out. This was a common practice in the steam era.

The long shove: Rookies may still be challenged when cars have to be placed at two or more spots along a single spur. There may be several different industries. Or several spots at one large plant, but the task is the same in either case. Here’s a plan that usually works; First, line up the cars to be set out in the order in which they’re to be placed on the spur – any convenient spur lets you sort a string of cars into any desired order. Then keep those cars to be set out next to the engine while you pull all the cars from the spur and set them over with the rest of the train.


Real railroads move cars, people, and goods from Point A to Point B. So why do many model train layouts make them run endlessly in circles? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the view of a passing train. But if you want to increase your railroad’s action, the easiest way is with operations that match the prototype. Waybills are forms used on railroads to help route each car from its point of origin to its destination. They ensure that the loaded car will arrive safely in the right place at the right time and be handled properly along the way.

Good railroad operations also mean getting the empty car to its next loading point as quickly as possible. Picking up, moving, sorting, and delivering thousands of cars from hundreds of shippers is a daunting task. Railroads employ armies of workers to not only move the cars but track them and coordinate operations for the most efficient shipments. Fortunately, model layouts are much smaller, the destinations fewer, and the customers less demanding than the prototypes.

Even though there may not be a profit to be had by improving your operations, replicating the prototype processes of moving cars with a purpose can add a lot of fun to your layout. In order to keep this work fun, most model waybill systems are designed to replicate prototypical car movement with the least amount of paperwork possible. There are several systems out there, and even some commercially printed forms that you can purchase and use. Others have developed their own methods. Whether you use prepackaged forms or come up with your own, adding a waybill system to your layout will revolutionize the way you look at the hobby.

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