I participated in my first ops session back in 2007 at my buddy Norman's layout, who I had never met before. Now I can't imagine having a layout and not running ops or getting to run on others. Even if you never run an ops for other people you should run your trains this way for yourself. It gives purpose to your layout. This will be the first in a series of post on operations.
There are some design features that will make things work better for operations that can even be added into an existing layout. Those of us that run ops sessions spend a lot of time talking about how to make the experience better for the operators, especially new operators and promote the hobby. Those discussions include topics like fast clock speed, amount and types of trains, TT&TO ( Time Table and Train Orders), signals, paper work, how busy are the yards, use of basic railway rules, use of decoder functions like lights, horns and bells, labeling, all the aids to help people operate. In a nut shell anything that people struggle with really needs to be addressed to enhance their enjoyment.
The purpose of having operations is to add more interest to your layout rather than running trains round and round. Almost everyone starts out with the around and round concept in their head myself included. I do have the ability if all I feel like doing is rail fanning. Back in 1995 I never envisioned having ops sessions. Now I can't imagine not having them. It helps if you have had exposure to operation sessions at some point and not everyone has that opportunity. You then move in to your own ops sessions with other people to run trains prototypically. Most people have not had exposure to that either. I have said in other posts I have been very fortunate to have access to engineers, dispatchers and other railway people that are in the Edmonton area, as a bonus they mostly have worked for CN which works well for me. If it becomes too much work for your new operators they will loose interest and not likely return for another session. Most new people are very intimidated and apprehensive to participate because they do not understand what is going on. This reaction looks similar to asking someone to public speak. In my opinion that is why the paper work generated by JMRI works well as it alleviates some of the stress. I will operate on 4-6 different layouts in a year, one of which is the EMRA in Edmonton which is one of the largest layouts in Canada. It is not possible for me to have all those layouts in my head like I have my own. This is an important point to remember is that you understand how your layout runs crystal clear but not everyone else understands it as easily. When I ran ops on my layout for the first time for 2014 Northern Rails my wife thought I was going to crack, especially in the last 2 days leading up to that event mostly because all of these people some of which had traveled hundreds kilometers. I had never even met most of them before and they were going to be operating on my layout. I am a confident public speaker and have held high pressure jobs and I still found it very stressful. "Hey" my definition of stress is "fear of the unknown" . I guarantee every time you feel stress that it is generated by some unknown thing. Think about it, the better prepared you are the less stress there will be and you can keep most of the gremlins at bay. It has never been that stressful since.Below are some of the topics I will cover in future posts.
Fast clock speed see my post Fast Clocks
Amount and types of trains
TT&TO or signals, train order and clearance paper work
How busy are the yards
General maintenance of locomotives, passenger and freight cars
Basic railway rules
Use of decoder functions, engine cards
Labeling including signage on the right of way
Aids such as maps, descriptions, aprons, train line up sheet,