Whenever I get to operate on a switching job, like the Ash Service Train, I’m the Conductor/Brakeman.  I like to use hand signals to direct the train movement.  Obviously, it is of great importance to review the hand signals with the locomotive engineer ahead of time.  This is best done during the briefing prior to commencing ops.

To keep things simple, I have five basic hand signals which can be placed into two categories: Movement Control and Movement Direction.  This makes communicating with a new operator as easy as possible.  I always stand at the end of the train where the signals would be given on the real thing.  Sometimes, due to limited space, this might mean I’m on the opposite side of the layout, however still in a position to see the movement and for the engineer to see me.

The following pictures were taken from the 1920 Michigan Central Railroad Company – Rules for the Government of the Operating Department.  Naturally, we railroad model operators are in much more confined spaces.  Therefore, I have modified the motions to be compact lest we hit another operator or part of the layout.




PROCEED – the above motion is modified by limiting the hand motion from the horizontal waist-level to head height.


SLOW – the above motion is modified by holding the fist steady at shoulder height with arm bent (elbow pointing downward).


STOP – the above motion is modified with forearm held horizontally at waist level and the fist is moved left-to-right-to-left-to-right across the body width only.



I use modified hand signals seen from another railroad, the name of which I cannot remember.

MOVE TOWARD ME – with the palms of both hands facing the chest, the hands are rotated towards the signaller.

MOVE AWAY FROM ME – with the palms of both hands facing the chest, the hands are rotated away from the signaller (kinda like pushing away that third helping of Thanksgiving dinner being offered!).

The Movement Direction signal is given first (the engineer changes direction of the locomotive on the throttle if necessary) and the Movement Control given after.

There are, of course, many other signals like Apply Air Brakes, Release Air Brakes, Couple etc. These can be implemented as operations become more sophisticated.

Adopting hand signals adds yet another layer to how we operate, getting us a little bit closer to how it was.