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Here To There - Frequently Asked Questions

What's different about Here to There?

Here to There is designed to provide car forwarding paperwork for model railroad operations that works more like the documents used by real railroads. It produces fresh, realistic waybills for each train that describe what each car is carrying, where it comes from and where it's going, and how it needs to get there. It is ideal for with railroads using Active Staging, but it will work for layouts with standard staging too.

What about the car information like the railroad initials and the car number?

The waybills are printed without that information, because it cannot be assigned ahead of time.

What? How are we supposed to tell where the cars in the train are supposed to go?

The car information gets assigned manually by the crews building the trains as the train is built. Your Active Staging Agents will read each waybill and select an appropriate car to assign to it, and write down the car's number and road initials on the waybill. The crew handling the train will then have all the information it needs to identify each car and get it where it needs to go.

What happens to the waybill when the trip is done?

When the car finally moves off the railroad into staging (off the layout) the waybill is discarded and the car is returned to the active staging area, ready to be used again in a different train.

You throw them away? Doesn't that mean you'll be reprinting a lot of waybills for each session?

Yes it does - it is the price paid for having a car forwarding system that adapts easily to Active Staging.

What do you mean by Active Staging and Active Staging Agents?

Active Staging, sometimes called Mole staging, is a system where locomotives and cars are recycled during operating sessions. This is unlike 'passive' or classic staging methods where many tracks are needed to store entire trains, which are used once and then go back to storage until the next session. An active staging yard can be as little as two or three tracks surrounded by shelves or drawers where train cars and locomotives can be temporarily stored. It is a manned operating job that usually sees a lot of action during an operating session.

Active Staging Agents, or ASA's, are the operators who run the yard and break down and build up trains during the session. During the session they build trains based on the printed waybills from Here to There, selecting cars that match the waybills from storage and placing them on the track, and adding the car information to the waybills as the build the trains.

Sounds interesting. How does it work?

There is no 'permanent' train storage in an active staging yard. Trains are built by ASAs from the available cars on the shelves or in drawers when they are needed. A locomotive is assigned and the train is give to an operator, who then takes the train out of the staging area to run on the layout. Trains that return to staging after a trip around the layout are quickly disassembled, the cars stored on the shelves or in the drawers as they wait to be used again. When new trains are needed, the selection process starts over again.

Read more about the benefits and methods of active model railroad staging

Why wouldn't I want to use a more conventional car card and waybill system?

Classic car card and waybill systems were developed for layouts with static, or single-use, staging. After the car and train it’s on has completed its only trip of the day it goes into storage and stays there, and the waybill isn’t flipped until after the session is over, making it ready for the next session. Many people set up the waybill cycles so the car is already staged in the right train for the next session, and once the waybills are flipped only the locomotive and caboose need to be changed. In this system the waybill can stay coupled with the car card.

But in active staging the cars are constantly recycled, being built into new trains over and over again. It's impossible to keep a specific waybill semi-permanently assigned to a single car card because there’s no telling what train or direction the car will be going next. The waybill card must be pulled out and replaced when the car is assigned to a new train. What ends up happening is you have a bunch of cars and are looking for the right waybills to put in them. This becomes a huge headache for the people in the Active Staging Agent positions because it's like finding a needle in a haystack. It can be done but it is very time consuming and inefficient which defeats the purpose of active staging. And it’s backwards from the way it should be done.

So how does Here to There help with this?

Here to There takes a different approach to building trains for an operating session. It's waybill-oriented instead of car-oriented so the emphasis is on preparing the train by what's being shipped where and how, the cars are just containers along for the ride. In fact the car card is no longer necessary at all; the car data (railroad initials and car number) is just copied onto the waybill form by hand to identify which car is carrying the load. Not coincidentally, this is how the real railroads have handled moving traffic since the very beginning, so it's very realistic.

Before a session, Here to There helps you create, assign and print out waybills for each train that arrives on the layout from staging, so all the paperwork is ready to go when the session starts. The ASAs can grab the waybills for a specific train at any time, and start building it by matching up waybills with cars and writing down the car initials and number on each waybill as the train is built. When the train is ready to go, the stack of waybills is given to an operator who then takes the train from staging and follows his instructions.

When trains arrive back in staging the waybills have completed their useful life and are discarded.

Sounds like a computerized switchlist program.

Here to There is a computerized system that sets up train and car movements before a session starts, but is very different from a prepared switchlist program. Here to There provides all the data needed for every car to be handled on an individual waybill that travels with the car, just like the prototype. By contrast, most prepared switchlist programs only provide limited data on printed lists to train operators and yard personnel, no one has complete information about any car or how it should be handled. If a car gets misplaced when running with prepared switchlists it is lost, there is no way to easily figure out what it is or where it should be going. This can't happen with the waybills printed in Here to There, which work more like a car card and waybill system - but simplified.

Prepared switchlists also take the fun out of deciding which cars should go on which trains, and how and in what order. They force you to be a slave to the computer, which already made all the decisions before you even showed up. Here to There helps maintain what's interesting about switching, letting you make the decisions and doesn't force you to do anything. If you don't like a particular waybill for some reason, you can simply crumple it up and throw it away with no negative effect on the session. You're free to find your own way to do things, and even to make mistakes. You are completely in control.

I understand car cards and waybills. Is this more difficult?

From an operator's point of view, it’s the same. If you already know how to use car cards and waybills you'll feel right at home, you'll find all the data you're used to. Shipper data, Receiver data, Routing, Commodity - it's all there on the waybill form. The only difference is the car data is written on the waybill form instead of on a separate car card. And you won't have a giant pile of thick car cards and waybills to carry around either. Since the waybills printed from Here to There are one-time use and disposable, they can be printed on regular or lightweight paper the way the prototype does it instead of cardstock that’s meant to be durable.

Is it difficult to set up?

It is not very difficult but it will probably be time-consuming in the beginning. You will need to enter information to describe your railroad - town names, sidings, interchange points and things like that. Then you'll have to describe the on-line industries your layout serves - the name, where it's located, what commodities it ships and receives, etc. And finally you'll have to describe the trains that run on your railroad, especially where they come out of or enter into staging areas. There is a special series of windows that should make these processes fairly quick and simple to navigate - but it will take some time to get all the data into the system, depending on the size of your layout.

Do I have to type in all the information about my cars, like the car number and initials?

No. Here to There doesn't keep track of your rolling stock fleet at all. It doesn't need to because all the decisions about what loads go in which cars are made by you or your operators. This seriously reduces your set-up time over other computerized switchlist or car card and waybill systems.

What about off-line industries? How do I find places and names to send cars to?

You can enter your own, but Here to There can import data from other resources for both on-line and off-line industries. In particular it can use the OpSIG (Operations Special Interest Group of the NMRA) data files freely available on the internet, capturing and adding these industries to the selections in the program. Once imported you can choose which industries to use, or add your own at any time. Entries from the OpSIG data may need some light editing as the data isn't always consistent, but Here to There has tools to help you identify and correct mistakes or grammatical errors.

The Help flies also have a guide that details the input file format so you can create your own data files in Misrosoft Excel (.XLS) format and import it directly into Here to There. And of course you can create individual offline industry records at any time using the same process as adding online industries.

So do you have to replace every single waybill on the railroad every session?

Not all of them. For the most part you are making new waybills for the trains that come onto the layout from staging. Cars that are already out on the layout already have waybills that will move them around and eventually off the railroad. Depending on your railroad’s traffic patterns that could be between 50 and 75 percent.

That sounds like it takes care of inbound cars - what about outbound shipments generated from online industries?

Once again Here to There looks to the real railroads to answer these questions. A prepared switchlist or car card and waybill system simply directs a specific car to an industry for loading, which is not realistic. On the real railroads, local industries contact the railroad and request a car to be delivered for loading, creating an empty car order. Then it's up to the operating department (you and your operators) to find a car that can be assigned to that order and deliver it to the industry.

How does Here to There translate that into model railroad jobs?

When creating outbound waybills, Here to There gives you several options. You can choose to start the waybill directly at the industry, Assign it to an inbound train from staging so the empty car will be taken to and spotted at the industry for loading, or you can give it to the Station Agent / Yardmasters to find empty cars on the layout and re-direct them to the industry for loading.

How does that third option work? Who is the Station Agent?

The Station Agent is usually a part-time, temporary job given to an operator who is not currently running a train. Their job is to scour the yards and industry tracks on the layout, looking for empty cars that can be re-assigned to the new waybills he is holding, which will direct them to pick up loads at local industries. He also works with the yardmasters to find these cars. They can be empty home-road cars, or foreign-road cars that can be loaded and sent back towards their home rails. If suitable cars can't be found, the agent hands the waybills off to the Active Staging Agents who will find a car and send it onto the layout form staging with the new waybill.

Why would you do any of that?

Several reasons - because that's how railroads really do it, because it gives someone standing around waiting something to do, because it's an interesting job that lets you do something with what would otherwise be empty cars returning home or to your yards for storage. If you've ever noticed a specific car that bounces between staging and a particular industry from session to session over and over again, the advantage of being able to do this will be readily apparent.

An Empty Car Order sounds different from a regular waybill - how's that going to work when it gets to the industry to be loaded?

It is. But since we are printing fresh waybills for every load, we can print an empty car order on one side of the paper and the outbound waybill on the other. After the session the layout owner simply marks the completed side of the waybill with an X and flips it over, and next session it will be an outbound load ready to be picked up.

Inbound loads also get a second side printing with a Return Empty To order on the back, so after the car is delivered and unloaded the owner marks the first side with an X and next session it's an empty car with instructions on where to take it to send it home. And if you are paying attention, now you know how the station agent or yardmasters can tell which cars are available to be captured and re-billed for delivery and pickup of new outbound loads.

That's pretty neat.

It is, and it can't be done this way with prepared switchlists or car card and waybill systems. Removing the waybills from their associated car cards causes chaos, and while it is possible to use temporary one-time waybills in a car card and waybill system it really isn't designed to do this. Here to There lets you run your railroad like the real deal does.

Do I have to start fresh and create all new waybills for every session?

No. Here to There has options to save and recall specific waybill records or even entire sessions of waybills. You'll see the best variety of new and different waybill combinations if you re-generate new waybills each time you work with Here to There, but we understand that sometimes time is an issue and you just want to get a set of waybills printed, or you may like how a particular set of waybills worked out and wish to re-use them. You'll have that option if you want it and with just a few clicks you'll be able to load and print an entire sessions' worth of waybills.

Won’t the program just pick the same waybills every time?

No. Each time a new session is started, Here to There will select a random collection of possible loads to and from your layout’s industries, weighted by how often each industry is supposed to get any specific commodity. You set the frequency when you set up the industries and the commodities they ship or receive. An industry that gets a specific load “Infrequently” will get that shipment selected about one out of every five sessions, and one that gets a load “Daily” will appear in every session. You also specify how many loads to ship or receive during industry setup.

If a load you want to see run gets skipped you can easily override the suggested selections and add it manually, or leave out a load you don’t want to use. Each siding also has limits of how many cars can be sent to it each session, and most times you’ll need to pick and choose which loads you’ll actually run from a larger suggested list. These are limits you set when you set up your railroad so you can change them anytime you want to. Between the car frequency and siding limits there is a lot of room for you to customize how Here to There selects waybills for you!

Can you control the commodities shown, or add new ones?

Yes. There is an extensive list of commodities that comes with the program covering all eras. You can browse the list and choose whether or not to use each one. For instance, if you model the modern era, you probably don’t want to see Milk and Ice as shipments in your selections. Just un-check them and they will not appear when you generate waybills.

Depending on your era you may need to edit the car types assigned to each commodity – for instance, grain (wheat) was carried in boxcars (XM) before covered hoppers (LO) were invented. You may need to change some entries so the appropriate car types are used.

You can also add any new commodities you want if the ones provided are not specific enough or missing. You’ll add the commodity name and select what types of cars it’s carried in. Remember you’ll need to add or edit industries that ship or receive that commodity or you’ll never see it come up!

Most of the other lookup tables in the program are similarly customizable.

What’s this XM and LO stuff you’re talking about?

Since about 1917 the AAR (Association of American Railroads) has assigned letter codes to specific types of cars to help identify them. There are a bunch of fairly generic designations – XM for boxcar, TA for Tank car, FM for Flat car, etc. There are also some more specialized codes that get much more specific – for instance, an RBL is an insulated boxcar, a GBRS is a covered gondola with permanent racks to hold items like coiled steel. New codes were added when new types of cars were invented (like LO for covered hoppers) and sometimes changed or simplified from one era to another.

Here to there uses these letter codes to identify the type of car used to carry a commodity because that’s how real railroads do it. It doesn’t get too specific for simplicity’s sake, but you have the option to add more specific codes if you want to (or to change them if you like – you could change “XM” to “BOX” if you want to). It’s up to you on what to use and how to use it, but if you change codes around you’ll need to change them in the Commodity listing too or the program won’t work right. If you want to learn more about AAR codes in your era, a Google search on the internet will turn up lots of information.

All right, whose idea was this really?

I’ve put a lot of work into developing this system, but the credit for the concepts behind it goes to Tony Thompson, Dave Ramos and Ralph Heiss. Tony Thompson did a clinic presentation at an RPM Meet on using realistic paperwork in 2009, showing examples of how prototype waybill forms could be adapted for model railroad use. Dave Ramos attended that clinic and developed the basic waybill-only system for his New York Harbor Railroad layout with Ralph Heiss. Those two gentlemen explained it to me and I learned the nuances of the system by acting as Dave’s ASA operator for many sessions.

I soon decided to adapt the system for my own railroad, but I had concerns about scaling it up because my layout is larger and has more interchanges than Dave’s. I figured this would add enough complexity that having a computer manage the data would make the process go faster and less prone to error. And while I was at it, why not make it a system others could use too? So that’s where we are today.

Do I need anything other than your program to make this work?

Yes. Because it is so complicated, Here to There uses the power of Microsoft Excel to print waybills. So you need to have that program on your computer or you can't print waybills. The good news is that several older versions should work fine so you don't need to have the most expensive, newest version of Excel to make this work. Here to There also uses Excel spreadsheets for importing and exporting industry data. Many spreadsheet programs (including free ones) allow you to read or save data in the .XLS format though, so you don't need a copy of Excel to do that.

If you have a copy of Excel you will also be able to edit the waybill templates that come with Here to There, so you can make changes to support the look and feel you want. Note that Amesville Shops will not support users with questions or problems about editing waybill templates or reports - you're on your own if you want to make changes.

Here to There also uses Microsoft Access to store and manipulate data behind the scenes, but you don't need to have that program to run Here to There. If you wish to have direct access to the data in the system, a copy of Access will let you do that. The data is not encrypted or password protected so you can have full access to it at any time.