What is an Op Session?

The model railroading hobby has evolved from running a train around a circle of track on a sheet of plywood. Contemporary layouts are larger, more complex and have greater realism than ever before. Their operation closely simulates that of real railroads in many ways. Instead of one person doing most all jobs, there are several participants each doing just one job. Thus, an Engineer has specific duties and assignments which are different from that of the Conductor. Commonly, there is also a Dispatcher, a Yardmaster, a Towerman, and other positions, each with their own job tasks and responsibilities. Forms, paperwork, communication methods, and other procedures typically follow the practices of real railroads.

Instead of running trains, today's emphasis is on operating a railroad. When everyone gathers together to operate a model railroad, it is called an Operating Session ("Op Session"). An Op Session re-enacts the daily routine of a real railroad. It resembles a team sport where each person has an area of responsibility and everyone is dependent on other participants for a successful end result. Operators cooperate to move freight cars to/from industries, assemble long trains which travel to distant destinations, insure passenger trains arrive on time, provide express trains with top priority, and prevent accidents of any kind. After all, Safety is Number One!

The NEW YORK CENTRAL Valley Division has a detailed list of tasks and responsibilities for each position in the PROCEDURE MANUAL. A brief partial overview is shown here for convenience:

ENGINEER - Controls speed and direction of engine per instructions from the CONDUCTOR and trackside signals.


DISPATCHER - Controls mainline turnouts and mainline signals. Controls main yard and staging yard departure signals.

YARDMASTER - Controls main yard turnouts and yard arrival signals. Supervises HOSTLER and yard switchers.

STAGEMASTER - Controls staging turnouts and staging arrival signals.

TRAINMASTER - Assigns road crews to trains and provides trip briefing.