TOPS, Total Operations Processing System, is an American computer system bought off the peg by BR and developed to do much more than just keeping track of wagons.
BOTTOMS, Back On To The Old Manual System, was used by BR in the early days of TOPS when the computers failed. It is also a simple (and cheap) method of wagon management adopted by the FCPyF.
The FCPyF system is dead easy, each wagon has an index card showing its number, type and couplers. This information is supplemented according to the traffic flow that the wagon is used in, as shown below.
Non-pool wagon, no waybills required. 257 is a two axle gondola (G2) with Kadee (K) couplers, empty (E) to Rio Paleta (RP), loaded (L) to Grande (GR).
Semi-pool wagon, loaded as per waybill, returns to home station when empty. 77 is a four axle flat (F4), Kadee fitted, must be returned to Grande when empty (E-GR) and is routed by waybill when loaded. The attached waybill indicates loaded to San Fernandez (L-SF).
Pool wagon, all journeys dictated by waybills. 201 is a two axle gondola (G2) with tension lock couplers (T). The attached waybill is for working loaded to Grande (L-GR). A few wagons have different couplers at each end. These are indicted as “KT” on their cards and may be called for when a train has to convey a mixed consist of Kadee and tension lock fitted wagons. In this case an extra train may need to be arranged to convey the adaptor wagons to where they are required, possibly also giving rise to a caboose hop for the return working after dropping the wagons at their destination.
When a loaded wagon arrives at a station it is unloaded/reloaded and picked up by the next suitable train. Empty pool wagons are allocated fresh waybills picked at random from a carton and treated as per the instructions, empty non-pool wagons arriving at their destinations are loaded and await dispatching. Used waybills are returned to the carton and shook up. A “suitable” train is one heading in the right direction and with the right coupling system, so wagons may have to wait a while before being picked up.
Cards in the rack for wagons at Resurreccion (low level/left) and Rio Paleta (upper level/right).
Wagons in the sidings at stations have their cards stored in a card rack until a suitable train is available to collect them.
When made into a train the cards for each wagon are attached to a clipboard and become the responsibility of the train crew rather than the yard staff (assuming more than one person is operating the layout).
The clipboard then accompanies the train to each calling point and the cards are placed in the racks at stations when wagons are set out. The cards for any wagons picked up en-route are transferred from the station’s rack to the train’s clipboard. The staging areas at San Fernandez, Centrales and Cumbre also have card racks though the one at Cumbre is only used when a train is too heavy and some wagons are left off stage, in most cases the arriving empties are loaded immediately and depart with the train they came in on.
I was going to get one clipboard for each caboose but this would be a waste because there are never more than three freight trains in use at once on the layout. They being the regular manifest freight working from San Fernandez to Cuarto de Pulgada and back, the local between Centrales and Grande, and the coal train from San Fernandez to Cumbre. Express freight, handled by the railcars, is not governed by the card system.
It may sound a bit complicated, indeed it is a bit complicated, but that’s part of the fun of trying to run a railway properly. Note I omitted the word “model” from the previous sentence, operating like this adds a real feeling of purpose to the trains and when that happens they then cease to be just toys on a layout.
I used a similar system with my American HO scale trains many years ago but in this case it was more complicated with the number of cars per train being determined by a dice. On the FCPyF the number of cars per train is determined by the gradients.