This tutorial presents the fundamentals of Timetable and Train Order (TT&TO) railroad operation. It is intended for newcomers to Virginian Railway operating sessions, as well as crews who need a refresher. Use the navigation bar above each lesson to go directly to other lessons, or just scroll down the page to visit them all.

The goal of every railroad used to move traffic over the line efficiently and safely. There are several ways to control train movement, but the most basic is to have a fixed schedule of trains. A timetable containing this schedule is published, and train crews are required to follow the schedule exactly. This works well, with two exceptions: A fixed schedule doesn't allow for unusual occurrances such as breakdowns or bad weather; and certain freight patterns simply aren't compatible with regularly-scheduled trains (e.g., seasonal merchandise, or factory shipments in response to irregular customer orders).

To accommodate these situations, railroads developed train orders. A train order contains direct instructions from the railroad dispatcher to a train crew. It might grant the crew authority to run an extra train (not listed in the schedule), direct the crew to meet another train at a designated station, or cancel (annul) a scheduled train entirely.

In addition, train crews need a clearance when leaving their initial station and at any station where they receive a train order. A clearance is a verification that the crew has received all the orders it is supposed to receive.

So how does this all work? Each crew member is required to carry a copy of the timetable and the rule book. Crews of "regular" trains (those listed in the timetable) run the train according to the published schedule. Crews of "extra" trains (not listed in the schedule) run their trains according to train orders they receive. When any train passes a station, its crew looks at the train order signal (the "order board"), and stops the train to pick up orders and clearance if the signal is red.

The dispatcher controls the railroad. If a situation arises that can't be safely handled by following the timetable schedule, the dispatcher dictates a train order to an operator at a station. In early days, train orders were sent by telegraph using Morse code, but by 1954 they were dictated over a telephone circuit. The station operator pulls a lever to set the train order signal to Stop, then writes the order onto a manifold paper form. When the train arrives, the station operator gives copies of the train order and a clearance to the appropriate crew members.

Modeling TT&TO Operations
My Virginian Railway models all of these features. Crews carry a rule book and timetable, and regular trains run according to the printed schedule ("fast clocks" run four times faster than normal, and all schedule times are based on these clocks).

A dispatcher keeps an eye on the railroad, and issues train orders when necessary to keep things running smoothly. A station operator sets the train order signals and may hand the orders and clearance to the train crew (see the next paragraph). Since there are nine stations on the railroad, and not nine people for station operators, one person fills the role of operator for all nine stations. Also, even though the dispatcher can sit in one room and dictate orders and clearances to the station operator in another room, often one person acts as dispatcher and station operator.

Finally, instead of the station operator handing train orders and clearances to train crews, these now are printed at each of the five modeled stations, and crews take them from the printer. For trains originating from "staging" (non-modeled) stations, crews walk into the station operator's office where the operator hands them the paperwork.

The lessons below explain each of the TT&TO components in detail. When you complete this tutorial you should have a good working knowledge of timetable and train order operation. To reinforce what you've learned, please read the information presented in the Paperwork section on the navigation bar on the left, and become familiar with the railroad's physical plant in the Tour section

The timetable contains the schedule of regular trains, as well as other important information for running your train over the railroad. This is the timetable we use on the model Virginian Railway. You can pick up a copy at an operating session. If you'd like a preview, here is a sample copy in Adobe Acrobat format, reduced to fit on legal-size paper, 8½" x 14" (the actual timetable measures 9" x 15" when unfolded). Right-click on the link, then save the file to your hard drive, where you can open and print it at your leisure. Print the second page on the back of the first sheet, then fold according to the folding instructions on the third page.

This is the train schedule in the timetable, with key features indicated and discussed in the table below.

Key Description Meaning
1 Direction column headers Trains are listed in columns (see #2). All the westward trains are listed together, as are all the eastward trains. As the heading says, read down for westward trains, and read up for eastward trains.
2 Train column headers Each column contains one train's schedule. Trains are grouped together according to class.
3 Station name Each station occupies one row. Reading across the row, each train's time at the station is listed in the train's column (see #4 for how to determine if the time is when the train arrives or departs).

As indicated by the notes at the bottom of the timetable, stations with train registers are listed in bold face type, and stations at junctions are listed in italic type. Each station's subdivision is shown below the station name, to aid in understanding which stations a train passes through.

4 Arrive/leave header/footer This item indicates whether the times shown in the column are morning (AM) or afternoon (PM), and arriving (-A) or leaving (-L) times. In the case of No. 181 (reading down because this is a westbound train), the header reads AM-L, meaning times shown are in the morning, and indicate when the train leaves the station. The final time shown in the column is the train's arrival time (11:52 a.m. at Glen Lyn, its final stop), so the time footer reads AM-A.

On the other hand, No.78 is an eastward train, so we read up. Starting at the bottom of No.78's column, the time footer reads AM-L, and we see it leaves Hinton at 6:31 a.m. The final time at the top of the column is 7:45 a.m. at Danville, so the time header reads AM-A to indicate a morning arrival time at this train's final stop.

5 Train's station time This is the train's "time" at the station. See #4 above for how to determine if this represents an arrival or departure time.
6 No-station indicator When a train's schedule lists no time or ellipsis (. . . . . . . .) at a station, it means the train does not pass through that station. This is a non-prototypical convention made necessary by modeling three subdivisions and including them all on one timetable schedule. When reading a train schedule up or down a column, ignore stations with blank times.
7 Two train times Sometimes a train will have scheduled arrival and departure times at a station. In this case, the first time (reading up or down, according to the eastward or westward direction) represents the train's scheduled arrival time, and the second represents the train's scheduled departure time.

Here, No. 177 is scheduled to arrive at Radford at 12:27 p.m., and depart at 12:47 p.m. The 20-minute delay allows time for No. 177 to set out cars for Radford. The arrival time included to help the crew keep on schedule – the train may arrive earlier than that time. However, the train may not leave earlier than the departure time listed.

So what? Clearly, a timetable is necessary if you're running a regular train. You need to know the times you may leave stations. According to Rule 92, a train may not leave a station prior to its scheduled departure time. Also, the timetable shows when your train might meet another regular train. For example, look at trains 77 and 78 at Klotz. The times are shown in bold face to indicate a meet, and the opposing train number is shown next to the time.

But a timetable is necessary even if you are running an extra train. Since extras are inferior to regular trains, everything listed in the timetable is superior to your extra train, and you need to know when they are scheduled at certain towns, so you can get out of their way.

Rules 86, S-87, and S-89 govern extra and inferior trains' behavior. Rule S-89 says that the inferior train must take the siding at least five minutes before the superior train's schedule time. So if your train is an eastbound extra meeting No. 81 (westbound) at Klotz, you must be in the siding by 5:34 a.m., since 81 is scheduled to leave Klotz at 5:39 a.m.

Now suppose you're running an eastbound extra near Radford at about 7:15 a.m. Looking at the timetable, you see No. 78 is due through Radford at 7:35 a.m. Okay, do you have 15 minutes before you must clear No. 78?

No! According to Rule 86, "An inferior train must be clear at the time a superior train in the same direction is due to leave the next station in the rear where time is shown." This rule applies to you because your train and No. 78 both are running eastward. Looking at No. 78's schedule, we see that "the next station in the rear where time is shown" is Pepper, where 78 departs at 7:25 a.m. Thus your eastbound extra must be in the siding at Radford no later than 7:25.

To Summarize To operate under TT&TO, you need to know the rules and understand the timetable. Use the timetable to identify regular trains that might affect you.

Use the rule book to learn what to do in various circumstances. Both documents work together to allow trains to operate safely on the railroad.

Keep an eye on the clock, and learn to judge how long it takes to run a train from one town to the next. When you pull into a town, check the timetable to see what superior trains are scheduled (in both directions) to determine at what times you need to be in the clear. Discuss these times with your crew members so everyone knows what to expect.


A train order conveys authority upon a train crew to perform a movement that is not covered by the timetable. Train orders are used to create extra trains, annul scheduled trains or change their times, arrange meets between trains, and so forth. If every train were listed in the timetable, and nothing unusual ever occurred, train orders would be unnecessary. But that's not how things work. Train orders give the dispatcher the flexibility to react to current circumstances, and keep the railroad running smoothly.

This is an example of a train order. The table below explains what each part of the train order is, and how to use it.

Train order
Key Description Meaning
1 Form number (19) Form 19 is the blank form on which train orders are written, and which is handed to the train crew. Technically, a crew may get a Form 19 order without stopping the train ("hoop it up"), as opposed to a Form 31 order, which requires the crew to stop the train and sign for the order, but on this model railroad, crews are required to stop for Form 19 orders.
2 Train order number this is an identifying number assigned to the order by the dispatcher. This number will be listed on the clearance, so be sure to check it against your clearance card (see below).
3 Train order date The date the order is written
4 "To" train identifier The train to which the order is addressed, and the station where the crew will receive the order. Notice that the order is addressed to "C&E" which stands for "Conductor and Engineer." Also this order is addressed to the crew of an an engine, because no train exists until the order is executed.
5 The order text These are the words dictated by the dispatcher; they tell the crew what to do. In this case, the order creates an extra train with authority to run from Klotz to Roanoke. Since the dispatcher and train crews know that Roanoke is east of Klotz, the train this order creates will henceforth be known as "Extra 446 East." The order text ends with a period, and is followed by a line that states the dispatcher's name.
6 "Complete" section After the dispatcher dictates the train order, the station operator reads it back, word-for-word. When the dispatcher is satisfied the operator copied the order correctly, he says, "Order number 7 made complete at 4:35 a.m." The operator writes COM plus the time and his initials in the spaces at the bottom of the train order. An order is not valid, and carries no authority, until it is made complete by the dispatcher.
So what? This simple order carries with it several implications you must consider. First, it creates a train that is not listed in the timetable, and no other crew on the railroad knows about it. It is your responsibility to identify all superior trains, and "clear" them (keep out of their way).

As an extra train, Extra 446 East is inferior to all regular trains, so check the timetable and the clock to decide when to pull into a siding and let a superior train go past. It is the dispatcher's responsibility to keep extra trains apart, so check your train orders for information about other extras. Rules 86, S-87, and S-89 dictate how inferior trains must stay clear of superior trains.

Remember also that Rule 82 says a regular train "owns" its schedule in the timetable up to 12 hours after the listed times. So not only do you have to check the clock and timetable, you need to know if superior trains have passed certain stations. The train register vontains this information, and that's why you need to check it.

If your train, Extra 446 East, is inferior to all regular trains, how does it rank with other extra trains? According to General Instruction 3 on the back of the timetable, "Eastward trains are superior to Westward trains of the same class." This means your eastward train (Extra 446) would hold the main line when meeting a westward extra train (see Rule S-88).

But how do you know where the westward extra trains are located? You don't. You have no knowledge of any other extra trains on the railroad – only scheduled trains listed in the timetable. The dispatcher writes orders that tell crews what to do when their extra trains will occupy the same area (see the next example).

This is another train order printed trackside at the stations. It has the same parts as the order above, but the text and purpose have changed. The table explains how to understand and deal with this order.

Train order
Key Description Meaning
1 Form number (19) Same as above. This is a Form 19 train order.
2 Train order number Same as above. This is order no. 9.
3 Train order date Same as above.
4 "To" train identifier Same as above, except this order has two addresses. This order is addressed to the crews of trains, not engines. An order is addressed to a train when the train exists at the time the order is dictated. Also notice that the direction (East or West) is part of the extra train's identifier. In this case, Extra 446 East was created by train order No. 7, above, and we assume that Extra 237 West at Danville was created by some other train order. If this order were going to a regular train listed in the timetable (e.g., No. 77), the address line would read, C&E NO. 77 AT DANVILLE.
5 The order text Same as above. In this case, the order sets up a meet between Extra 446 East and Extra 237 West at Radford.
6 "Complete" section Same as above. This order was made complete at 4:39 a.m.
So what? As with the previous train order, you must understand the implications of this simple order. This is the first each crew has heard of the other train. Now both crews know there is another train headed toward them, and they must meet that train at Radford.

Suppose you are the crew of Extra 237 West, and you arrive at Radford. What do you do? First, you must pull into the siding because your train is inferior to Extra 446 East. Remember that an eastbound train is superior to a westbound train of the same class (see General Instruction 3 on the back of the timetable, as well as as Rule S-88). Furthermore, you may not leave Radford until Extra 446 arrives and goes past your train. You are not allowed to assume that Extra 446 has already come and gone; you must actually see the train and identify it as the one you are supposed to meet.

So how do you know the train passing you is Extra 446? Well, first you look at the road number of the engine.

Extra trains are identified with the road number of the lead engine, and they display white signals (Rule 21). So if the oncoming train is flying white flags and the lead engine is no. 446, you may be certain the train is Extra 446 (note: white flags are not modeled on this railroad, so you may ask the other crew to identify their train if necessary).

If the oncoming engine is not 446, it must be a regular train, which you should already know about because you've checked your timetable to learn which, if any, regular trains are due through Radford at the time you are there.

If no scheduled trains are due and the engine is not 446, you should contact the dispatcher by telephone to find out what's going on.

How long do you wait? What if Extra 446 can't make it to Radford? The answer is, you must wait as long as necessary for Extra 446 to arrive. If circumstances prevent Extra 446 from proceeding to Radford, the dispatcher will annul the order for the meet. That order would read, ORDER NO. 9 IS ANNULLED.

So keep an eye on the train order signal while you're waiting for Extra 446. If it changes to red, check at the station to see if the order is for you (i.e., look on the printer beneth the modeled station for an order addressed to you).

A clearance authorizes a train to leave a station. This is the Virginian Railway clearance, with the key features indicated, and explained in the table below.

Key Description Meaning
1 Name of form Identifies this as a clearance card. Some railroads used the letter A in a box for easy recognition, but the Virginian Railway did not.
2 Station name Clearances are issued at a station, and the name goes here.
3 Clearance date The date the clearance is issued.
4 "To" train identifier The train for which the clearance is written. Notice that "Conductor and Engineman" is pre-printed on the form, and not abbreviated "C&E." This is because clearances are issued to trains.To clear a train, the station operator calls the dispatcher with something like, "Roanoke clears Extra 446 East with 19 orders numbers 7 and 9, and no 31 orders" then simply writes the train number in this blank.
5 Order numbers for the train These lines contain the numbers of the Form 19 and Form 31 train orders the crew should have in hand. In this case, Form 19 orders number 7 and 9 (discussed above) were written for Extra 446 East at Klotz. There were no Form 31 orders written, and the word NONE appears on that line because the instructions at the bottom of the form say it must.
6 Dispatcher's OK After the operator calls with the clearance information, and the dispatcher is satisfied it is correct, the dispatcher says, "Clearance is OK" and states the time. The station operator writes this time on the line below the O.K.
7 Operator's initials and dispatcher's name When the dispatcher okays the clearance, he also states his name. The operator writes his own initials and the dispatcher's name on the two lines provided.
So what? You need a clearance in order to leave your originating station, or a station where you have received orders. If you are running a regular train, it's likely there will be no orders at your originating station, so the clearance card will have NONE on both the Form 19 and Form 31 lines.

Think of a clearance card as a "packing list" of train orders you must have before leaving that station. In this example, you must have orders no. 7 and 9. As discussed above, order no. 7 created Extra 446 East, and no. 9 set up a meet with Extra 237.

If you don't have the orders shown on the clearance, do not leave the station – you do not have the necessary authorization to run your train. Walk sto the station operator's office and resolve the problem.

The train register records which trains have passed a station. Train crews need to check the register to learn if superior trains that they are concerned with have passed the station, so they know what action to take. Likewise, every crew must enter its train information in the register, so other crews will know about the train. This is a sample train register, with the key features indicated, and explained in the table below.

Train register
Key Description Meaning
1 Station name The station where the train register is located.
2 Train ID The train's official identifier. For example, a regular train might be No. 76, and an extra train might be Extra 446 East.
3 Signals "Signals" are the flags or lights carried on the engines of extra trains (white) or multi-section trains (green). Regular trains do not carry signals. If you're running an extra train, enter W (White). If you're running a multi-section regular train (extremely rare), enter G (Green) in this column, except for the final section, which does not carry signals, so enter N (None). If you're running a regular train, which does not carry signals, enter N.
4 Conductor name or initials Enter your name or initials in this column.
5 Arrival/departure times Enter the time you arrived at in town, and the time you departed.
So what? The train register tells you which superior trains have passed so you know if you can proceed. You must sign the register to let other crews know that your train has passed.

Probably the two most confusing items on the train register are the Train column and the Signals column.

>In the Train column you should enter your train's official identifier, as it would appear on a train order or clearance. For regular train, this would be the abbreviation No. and the timetable train number. For an extra train, you should write X, the number of your train, and its timetable direction, E or W. For example, if you are running the extra created by order no. 7 above, you would write X446E. Do not enter the informal name of your train, such as "Celco Job," "Radford Turn," or "Coal Extra." Other crews know nothing about extra trains, and any orders they may receive relating to your train will refer to it by its official number (Extra 446 East), not by an informal name.

The rules for the Signals column are simple and straightforward: Enter W (White) if you are running an extra train, and enter N (None) if you are running a regular train. Multi-section trains are rare on this railroad, so just refer to the discussion above regarding green signals if you happen to be assigned to a multi-section train.

Here is the rule book we use on the Virginian Railway. You should be familiar with and understand the rules in it. The key rules are discussed below.

Rule A Discussion
Employes whose duties are prescribed by these rules must provide themselves with a copy.

Employes whose duties are in any way affected by the time-table must have a copy of the current time-table with them while on duty.

Pick up a copy of the timetable and rulebook from the table in the crew lounge, and carry it with you during the operating session. Refer to it often so you are comfortable handling various situations.

Rule B Discussion
Employes must be conversant with and obey the rules and special instructions. If in doubt as to their meaning, they must apply to proper authority for an explanation. As you might infer from this tutorial, you should understand the rules and how to use a timetable, train orders, and clearances. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to ask someone.

Rule G Discussion
The use of intoxicants, tobacco, or narcotics is prohibited. We don't use drugs or alcohol, and if you must smoke, please do so outside the basement door.

Rule H Discussion
The possession of food or beverages by employes on duty is prohibited. No food or drink in the train room, please. You are considered "on duty" any time you are in the train room, whether running a train or not. You are off duty in the crew lounge, where the refreshments are located.

Rule S-71 Discussion
A train is superior to another train by right, class or direction.

Right is conferred by train order; class and direction by time-table.

Right is superior to class or direction.

Direction is superior as between trains of the same class.

This rule establishes superiority of trains in several ways. As it says, "right" is conferred by train order, but "class" and "direction" are conferred by the timetable. Recall that the timetable schedule lists thw class of regular trains, and General Instruction 3 on the back cover establishes direction superiority. Regarding "right," a train order might make a westbound train superior to an eastbound train with, EXTRA 237 WEST HAS RIGHT OVER EXTRA 446 EAST.

Rule S-72 Discussion
Trains of the first class are superior to those of the second; trains of the second class are superior to those of the third; and so on. This rule establishes the superiority of regular trains. Check the timetable to determine if a regular train is of the first class or the second class.

Rule S-73 Discussion
Extra trains are inferior to regular trains. Self-explanatory.

Rule 82 Discussion
Time-table schedules, unless fulfilled, are in effect for twelve hours after their time at each station.Regular trains more than twelve hours behind either their scheduled arriving or leaving time at any station lose both right and schedule, and can thereafter proceed only as authorized by train order. Just because a clock shows a time later than a regular train is due to leave a station, doesn't mean the train actually did leave. Unless the nearest train register shows a train passing a station, you should assume it has not passed. It "owns" its schedule for 12 hours after the listed time and each station. Even if this means your train sits in the siding for hours, that's too bad (after all, you're getting Union pay). The superior train could come by at any moment.

Of course, the dispatcher might issue a train order that would allow you to proceed, so keep an eye on the train order board if you're stuck at a station. The order might have the regular train run late by a certain number of hours or minutes in which case you add that time to the scheduled times and make your movement decisions accordingly.

Or the order could set up a meet between your train and the superior train, or the order might annul the superior train entirely, thereby removing it from the schedule.

Rule S-83 Discussion
A train must not leave its initial station on any division, or sub-division, or a junction until it has been ascertained whether all trains due, which are superior, have arrived or left.

Stations at which train registers are located will be designated by time-table.

As explained above in the timetable sections, you must check the train register at register stations, and you must enter your train's information.

Rule 83A Discussion
A train must not leave its initial station on any division, or sub-division, without a train order or clearance card. You need a clearance to leave your initial station, or any station where you receive a train order. Technically, you should also get a clearance at Rich Creek and Pepper, where you change subdivisions, but we ignore this part of the rule. If the order board at Rich Creek or Pepper displays Clear, you may run through that station without stopping for a clearance.

Rule 86 Discussion
Unless otherwise provided, an inferior train must be clear at the time a superior train in the same direction is due to leave the next station in the rear where time is shown. This rule applies to two trains running in the same direction, one of which is a regular train with its schedule in the timetable. If your train is running ahead of a superior train, your train must pull into the siding at a town before the superior train is scheduled to leave the next station behind you where time is shown in the timetable.

Rule S-87 Discussion
An inferior train must keep out of the way of opposing superior trains and failing to clear the main track by the time required by rule must be protected as prescribed by Rule 99.

Extra trains must clear the time of opposing regular trains not less than five minutes unless otherwise provided, and will be governed by train orders with respect to opposing extra trains.

This is fairly self-explanatory, and the clearing time is discussed in the train order sections above.
Rule S-88 Discussion
At meeting points between extra trains the train in the inferior time-table direction must take the siding unless otherwise provided. The inferior train always takes the siding. "Unless otherwise provided" means a train order might read something like EXTRA 446 EAST MEET EXTRA 237 WEST AT RADFORD AND EXTRA 237 HOLD THE MAIN.

Rule S-89 Discussion
At meeting points the inferior train must take the siding and clear the time of the superior train not less than five minutes, except at schedule meeting points between trains of the same class, where the inferior train must clear the main track before the leaving time of the superior train.

The superior train must stop at schedule meeting points with trains of the same class unless switch is properly lined and track clear.

The inferior train always takes the siding. This rule also says that the inferior train must be in the siding not less than five minutes before the superior train is due to leave the station. When two extra trains meet, there is no scheduled leaving time, so the inferior train has no time constraint. This is fine because the first train to the station is obliged to wait until the meeting train arrives.

The last sentence of this rule means that superior trains may not barrel through the town, but must stop unless the crew can ascertain that the switches are properly lined and the track is clear.

Rule 92 Discussion
A train must not leave a station in advance of its schedule leaving time. Most of the times shown in the timetable schedule are leaving times. These serve to keep trains running close to schedule. Even if you arrive at a station early, you may not leave early.
Rule 99 Discussion
When a train stops under circumstances in which it may be overtaken by another train, the flagman must go back immediately with flagman's signals a sufficient distance to insure full protection, placing two torpedoes, and when necessary, in addition, displaying lighted fusees. When recalled and safety to the train will permit, he may return.

The front of the train must be protected in the same way when necessary.

This is your safety net! Any time your train must stop unexpectedly or it fouls the track while stopped normally (e.g., for a meet), send out the flagmen!

For example, you might be running a long coal train that must meet a regular train, and your train is too long to fit completely in the siding. Flag your train where it still occupies the main line.

On this model railroad, flagman figures mounted on pins are located near most stations. Stick one of these figures into the roadbed while your train is stopped, and remove it before you proceed.

When in doubt, flag! If you are forced to make an unscheduled stop, don't spend time wondering if it's appropriate to flag your train – just do it.

Then what? Okay, your flagmen are out and your train is protected. Now what? It's up to you – make some decisions!

If the situation is temporary, coordinate with the crew of the other train. For instance, in the too-long meet example above, ask the crew of the opposing train to wait until you pull your train forward onto the main behind it, and proceed when your caboose is clear.

If the situation is more dire, such as a disabled train, call the dispatcher by telephone and request orders. Keep your train flagged until you receive orders telling you what to do, or until help arrives and you are able to move your train into the clear.