Pennsylvania-Reading Anthracite Lines (PRAL)

Crew members shuffle the logging line during an operating session.
Crew members shuffle the logging line interchange at the base of Bear Mountain.

The PRAL is the extensive, beautifully sceniced model railroad built by the Short Line Model Railroad Club.  In the summer of 2014, a small group decided to try their hand at running the PRAL as an operational railroad.  The club had not held operating sessions to any significant level over the years, so this was a ‘new to us’ venture.  As most crew members were relative rookies to operations, we were literally starting from scratch with a layout that had not been designed with operations in mind. Please note that PRAL operating sessions are restricted to club members.  If you are interested, please contact SLMRC leadership to inquire about joining our crew.


Our goals are:

  • have fun running the railroad
  • make the operations sessions fun for operators of all skill levels
  • improve our knowledge of how railroads work
  • improve our DCC skills
  • learn how to tune our motive power and rolling stock so they run really well
  • give potential members an additional reason to join the SLMRC

Once we decided to jump in, we needed a plan.  To get started, we faced five major tasks:

      1. Operations were defined as trains originating and terminating while doing some railroad work along the way.
      2. Locate the PRAL on the Pennsylvania map, ultimately choosing Hornburg (just west of Tamaqua) as the Eastern terminal (RDG and LV connections) and North Umberland (PRR connection) as our Western  terminal.
      3. Name every location and track on the layout, then post ‘good enough for now’ signage on the fascia.
      4. Develop an operational plan for the railroad.  At first we just focused on the 50′ long branch line, a few trains and a hearty crew of 4 to 6 members.  Within a few months, we greatly expanded the scope to include the 250′  double track main.  Our current plan includes mainline and branch passenger, freight and coal traffic.  Some manifest freights run
        terminal to terminal, others work local switching dropping and picking up cars along the way.  Coal traffic is very prominent.
      5. We are currently testing a car card method of managing the 180 to 240 cars that move in typical operating sessions.
Car cards identify the destination of each piece of rolling stock on the layout.
Car cards identify the destination of each piece of rolling stock on the layout.

We are now refining many of our methods and control procedures to smooth out our operations.  Our progress to date has been accomplished without physical changes to the layout, but we are now considering priority upgrades based on our experiences.  Expansion of the operational plan will allow a broader mix of possible operating options to include mainline running, local freight, local switching, and terminal switching.  As the city of Hornburg nears completion this Spring, more than 10 additional local switching sites will become part of our adventure.  A major coal mine at Montvale Junction should come on line at about the same time.


We currently publish a monthly ‘first-come, first served’ email call board for job selection and are considering some type of ‘seniority’ system option.

Operations are scheduled for the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month.  Motive power should be fired up and ready to go by 6:45 PM.  After a short dispatchers meeting, trains start to roll.  Most sessions last about two and a half hours. We cancel operations if a weather advisory, watch or warning has been posted by WGAL for any part of Lancaster county for that Monday afternoon or evening.

The branchline is seen here getting a workout during an operating session
The branchline is seen here getting a workout during an Ops Session

It has been a fun, rewarding and learning process for every member of our crew.  We are all better model railroaders now than when we started.  It will be exciting to see how far our operating sessions progress by this time next year.

PRAL Schematic as of 2-15-15
SLMRC Ops Schematic as of 2-15-15