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Westerly, RI, Amtrak MOW Track Plan

Minimalist Model Railroading Case Study #15

Westerly, Rhode Island

Capturing the Essence of a M.O.W. Terminal

Track Plan At A Glance

Layout Theme: M.O.W. Terminal
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Size: 13'x19'
Scale: HO Scale
Era: Late 1990s
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 30"

Article by: Jim Spavins
Posted: July 19, 2016
Published: March 7, 2014

One of the quietest locations on the Northeast Corridor between Washington, DC, and Boston, MA, is a short stretch in southern Rhode Island. This is one of the few portions of the line which only sees Amtrak trains - no commuter trains and virtually no freight traffic. However, in Westerly, RI, Amtrak still has plenty of activity - albeit as a home for its maintenance crews.

Just to the north of the Westerly passenger station sits a six track yard which serves as a storage location for Maintenance-of-Way (MOW) crews when they are performing work in the area. Through the years, all kinds of equipment has been found in this yard from ballast trains, tie replacement machines, high rail vehicles, rail welders and grinders, catenary maintenance vehicles, and cranes among other equipment. The variety seems almost endless and varies a bit with the type of work which is being performed in the area. As a modeling subject, MOW operations and equipment are almost always overlooked despite this department's incredible importance to keeping trains smoothly running out on the mainline.

Westerly, Rhode Island MOW Yard

An overview photo of the Westerly Amtrak MOW yard in the late 1990s. | Photo by Jim Spavins.

All of this activity was at one time controlled through the Westerly High Street Tower Operator located just to the west of the yard. All the MOW equipment would need to get clearance to enter onto the main and have permission to perform the needed work for the day on its portion of the line. The steady stream of passenger trains would be diverted appropriately to the opposite main from where the work was being performed. During some of the more eventful heavy construction periods in the lines history, like the placement of catenary in the late 1990s, incredibly busy MOW operational periods for the line could be replicated.

In order to capture the essential features of the Westerly Amtrak MOW yard in a model railroad, we would want to include the following:

Amtrak in Westerly, Rhode Island

An Amtrak train zips through Westerly in the summer of 2001. | Photo by Jim Spavins.

Operating the Model Railroad

For the most part, the operational activities for the layout would focus on MOW crews leaving the yard and heading out to work on their projects for the day and then returning when completed, as well as new equipment arriving from Providence, RI to the north, or New Haven, CT to the south. Work crews would need to schedule time out on the main with the Westerly tower operator to work on whatever the project is for the day. The tower operator would need to divert trains as appropriate around the MOW crew. In all, several operator roles would be needed to run the layout from the tower operator to the MOW crews to the passenger train crews. Scenario cards outlining different work for the day would present the need for differing equipment as well as ever changing operating patterns to keep the layout operation fresh.

If you want to go over the top with the operations, there are numerous examples of automated M.O.W. equipment from cranes to tie replacement vehicles in HO scale.  This means it might even be possible to have the work crews come close to almost doing the maintenance "work" required on the railroad.  Check out the video of this working Plasser & Theurer Stopfexpress Rail Stabilizer here and animated crane model here on the Model Railroad Hobbyist YouTube channel as some examples.

Westerly, Rhode Island Layout Benchwork

L-girder benchwork design for the Westerly, Rhode Island layout. | Drawing by Jim Spavins.

Resource Use on the Railroad

This type of railroad would probably be the most satisfying to someone who enjoys building specialty railroad equipment and also enjoys the logistics of dispatching. There isn't much in the way of switching, but there would be enough activity to keep the tower operator on their toes for several hours.

During the life of the layout, time would be spent building the MOW equipment and passenger trains. In addition, time would also be spent constructing the various buildings and details to capture the flavor of the MOW facility - such as the radio tower in the middle of the yard for the MOW crews. Most likely a lot of scratchbuilding or kit bashing will be the order of the day for a railroad such as this. As discussed above, many HO scale manufacturers have begun producing MOW equipment - even operating equipment - like high rail vehicles and cranes - which might bring the difficulty level of executing this railroad down a bit. Research on the work that real railroads need to do to build and maintain their right-of-ways will also be an interest which could be explored with this layout.

One of the nice parts about the MOW equipment is that each "train" is very short. This keeps the layout relatively compact compared to the amount of operations which can be provided in this space. The narrow shelf design allows for the longer mainline to give the crews a place to work as well as the smaller staging yards for the Amtrak trains. The staging area provides room for two Amtrak trains in each direction which should be enough to capture the variety of potential passenger train types on the line at any given time.

Prototype Resources Around the Web


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