Saturday, February 5, 2011

SwitchList's New Feature: Spotting Cars at Specific Doors

On large layouts, it's easy to add to the challenge of operation and switching. You just throw more freight cars at the poor crew... or more industries, or more interrupting trains. With smaller layouts like mine, finding ways to challenge the operators and slow them down is a big problem. If they can dash through a switching assignment in 15 minutes, then I've got to find other realistic projects for them to do. If I can drag that switching assignment out to an hour by realistic, interesting, challenging problems, I'll need to do less to keep them entertained.

One way I increase the challenge is to specify which door a freight car must be placed at. Large industries often had specific rules about where cars would be placed. In an auto plant, boxcars of parts needed to be placed closest to the part of the assembly line using those parts. A cannery or packing house might want the freight car for a load placed closest to where the cargo is in the warehouse. On my layout, several industries are large enough to have multiple doors or spotting locations, such as Del Monte Plant 51, the large dried fruit packing plant just off the Alameda west of downtown San Jose.

But writing down door spotting assignments is tedious and annoying, and the computer ought to be able to do it as well. My program for automatically generating switchlists, Switchlist, has always had space to indicate when an industry cared about doors, but it's never been hooked up... til now.

The latest version of SwitchList, version 0.6.3, includes support for assigning cars to specific doors. It also includes a feature for importing freight car numbers from a text file so you can transfer your list of cars from another program into SwitchList. There's also new documentation.

Finally, my layout's in the garage, but my Mac with the switchlists is in the house. Checking that the layout and the software agree on car locations usually requires me to print out the locations of all cars, go to the garage, double-check it all, then come back inside and fix locations if needed. Instead, the new version of Switchlist can connect to an iPad or a web browser on another computer in the garage, and let you check car locations and (eventually) correct car locations from the iPad.

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