Some railway modellers are critical of John Allen's Timesaver because they consider the track layout to be "too artificially complicated" and therefore unrealistic. No railroad, they argue, would ever build anything like the Timesaver (or any other type of "switching puzzle") because real railroads try to make industrial trackage as simple as possible.
In terms of a general principle, yes, real railroads try to make industrial trackage as simple as possible, because it's one way of cutting expenses. But ruling out a Timesaver track layout as a conclusion is based on wrong assumptions on how model railroading is related to real railroads.
Strictly speaking, there must be very few layouts who are "realistic". One example is Angela Halliday and Tony Caine's Hayling Island, which is a dimensionally accurate 4mm finescale model of a small branchline terminus in the South-East of England. "Dimensionally accurate" means that the track plan strictly conforms to the official British Railways station plan of the 1950s, i.e. it's all there. Needless to say, Hayling Island was a fairly small affair, but the layout has a length of 20 ft (6 m) and a depth of 7 ft (2,10 m), and trains enter the fiddleyard almost immediately after leaving the station area. In other words: on a layout measuring 8 ft (2,40 m) in length (as with the "standard" US 8 x 4 ft layout), you can "realistically" model a stretch of railroad line measuring approximately 680 ft (205 m) in H0 scale.
Obviously, model railroading doesn't work that way, because if it did, few model railroaders would have layouts which would be of much interest. One of the most important aspects (and indeed the basis of) railroad modelling is selective compression. This of course means that certain things on a layout are as close to scale as possible, others are deliberately underscaled (i.e. compressed), most importantly distances as well as curve radii and grades.
John Allen's Timesaver is a case of intensive compression. Anybody looking to find a prototype location fitting or resembling the Timesaver therefore can't expect to find the layout's trackage unfolding within a few hundred yards - there could be intermediate lengths of track to the Timesaver anywhere between the turnouts, and the strictly linear character of the trackplan could be broken up by tracks curving away in any direction.
Bearing in mind that what we are looking for will be stretching out much more on the prototype than on the Timesaver layout, it's actually not that difficult to find locations which can be considered prototype examples of John Allen's classic switching puzzle.
Take, for example, the Canton Railroad, a class III shortline switching road located on the east side of Baltimore, in the middle of one of the city's most heavily industrialzed areas, serving the Baltimore areas waterfront facilities, warehouses and industries. Its stock is owned by the Maryland Transportation Authority, but the railroad operates as an independent, private enterprise with no state subsidies or state participation in railroad operations.
Operations of the Canton RR at the Seagrit Marine Terminal
(picture is © and courtesy of the Canton RR)
Needless to say that the Canton Railroad, chartered in 1906, is an efficient railroad serving warehouses and distribution facilities for several significant industrial concerns. Switching cars is business, and the Canton RR certainly has no interest whatsoever in "switching puzzles". However, looking at the system map of the Canton RR, and applying the idea of "decompression" to the Timesaver layout, the trackage to the West (around Haven St Terminal) doesn't look that far removed from the Timesaver.
Map of the Canton RR [click for larger image]
(map is © and courtesy of the Canton RR)
The only truly unrealistic aspect of the Timesaver is the fact that the track layout is aimed at deliberatly causing difficult switching moves. Naturally, any real railroad would avoid this, but sometimes even they can't quite iron out everything, especially if the area is built up and generally features tight clearances, as is so often the case with industrial tracks in urban surroundings.
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Other prototype Timesaver locations:
U.S.A.: The Hoboken Shore Railroad featured a Timesaver track configuration at the Port of New York Authority in Hoboken, New Jersey, but that's not the only aspect of the HBS RR which makes this a perfect prototype to model for a switching puzzle layout.
U.S.A.: The Effingham Railroad Company features a Timesaver track configuration within the Effingham Business Park - a perfect prototype for a real-life modern shortline operations Timesaver switching puzzle layout.
do you know of a "prototype Timesaver" location?
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Page created: 18/OCT/2002
Last revised: 10/JULY/2006