The object of the Inglenook Sidings shunting puzzle is fairly simple, the order for the shunting crew being:

"Form a departing train consisting of 5 out of the 8 wagons sitting in the sidings."

In addition (and this is where the "game element" of the puzzle comes in) the shunting order states:

"The 5 wagons are selected at random."

On the original Inglenook Sidings, Alan Wright employed what he called the "Tiddlywink Computer" for this task, i.e. distinct tokens for each wagon drawn from a mug. No matter how these 5 items of rolling stock are determined, the order in which this happens is important because:

"The train must be made up of the 5 wagons in the order in which they are selected."

An example of what this can look like is given below, illustrating that despite its simplicity, this shunting puzzle can produce some combinations which require a certain amount of thinking and a number of moves:

  The challenge of fulfilling this shunting order is linked to the fact that some advance thinking is required - due to the fact that there is limited space available to juggle around the rolling stock, as determined by the lengths of the individual sidings and the headshunt.

What looks like a simple task can thus provoke quite a bit of headscratching.

The number of possible combinations regarding the positions of these 8 items of rolling stock, by the way, is a mere 40'320, so it should take some time before a feeling of "oh yes, I know this one" grabs the operator.
Once the train is made up, the five items of rolling stock are either simply redistributed on the sidings wherever there is room for them, or replaced with five other items if the headshunt leads to somewhere, e.g. a fiddleyard or perhaps even a larger layout.

You can get a first-hand impression of what it's like to operate an "Inglenook Sidings" layout straight away, thanks to Neil Machin's virtual "Inglenook Sidings" shunting puzzle (which in itself has become a small internet classic).

Whilst it is one of the strong points of the Inglenook Sidings shunting puzzle that the tokens needed to identify the individual cars can be as low-tech as imaginable (indeed, eight torn out pieces of paper with the characteristics of the individual cars scribbled down are all you need), you could also have a computer do the shuffling for you - which is precisely what the Inglenook Random Wagon Selector by William Pearson will do.
  This neat little piece of software dates from 2003 (it will still run fine on most hardware running Windows OS), and the screenshot shows an example list of cars on the layout and how the Selector produces a random list of cars in the order in which they are to be shunted (courteousy of and with the kind permission of Mark Kendrickng you can still download it from this site as a zip-file.

Or, if you prefer, you can input your rolling stock into an online random list generator and have your shunting order made up in your web browser by simply ignoring the last three items in the list (one example is the List Randomizer from


Hints for Inglenook Sidings solution strategies


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Page created: 01/MAY/2001
Last revised:20/SEP/2013