Bush Terminal 36th Street – Layout Idea

I’m not along in being a fan of railways running along the waterfront, especially those that worked around the New York city waterfront. I don’t know why we find railroads and car floats so fascinating but I know I enjoy the subject. Some fine examples of model railways that showcase these railways include Tim Warris’ Bronx Terminal and the superb job he’s done of replicating the complex trackwork that was a hallmark of the prototype and similar operations in the city. Another great example, based on neighbouring Harlem Terminal, can be seen on Carl Arendt’s Small Layouts website and was built by “Shortliner” Jack Trollope. Check out articles from the site here and here. It’s not just railroads and carfloats and this fascination extends to other examples of inner-city railroading. It would be hard to introduce the subject without yet another outstanding example: Bill Denton’s Kingsbury Branch. While the Bronx and Harlem Terminals are New York based, Kingsbury is based on an inner city line in Chicago. The attractions to these railroads are so well known, complex trackwork and peculiar turnouts, tight curves, short trains and lots of traffic and car movements are typical for these railroads. Those short trains were usually led around by an assortment of charming little industrial steam and diesel locomotives.

Fast forward to today and a few spare minute’s worth of model railway-inspired internet. A favourite stopping place for me during these moments is the excellent Industrial and Offline Terminal Railroads of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx and Manhattan. This site is very well designed and it runs rich with information on the scores of railways introduced by the site’s name. It would be hard to imagine a permutation of industrial or inner city railroading that didn’t exist in this area and isn’t featured on the website. Just be warned, it’s easy to spend a lot of time reading through the site. Don’t worry though, it’s a really enjoyable way to spend online. One line, in particular, from the site was the Bush Terminal featured on this web page from the site. Included on the page is a great, to scale, map of the entire line showing all the yard tracks, the wharfs and warehouses the railroad served. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear this track plan came from the pages of a model railway track plan book and was designed by someone who insisted on fitting everything on a series of sheets of square plywood – the whole railroad is just jammed into the city blocks that it called home.

I had so much fun tracing through the track plan and pretending my way along the route, imagining how it would be operated and how it might be modelled. Scrolling through the web page I came across the section describing a series of warehouses (“lofts”) and one in particular bordered by 36th Street, 37th Street and 2nd Avenue. The web page included a map highlighting the trackage at this warehouse. The plan was really compact and would be perfect for a model railway, check out the plan here. The area was bordered by tall brick warehouses and occupied an area of approximately two hundred by six hundred feet. An area this compact just begs to be explored as a model railway. If you haven’t already visited the web page, check out these pictures of this property: this one shows the whole site, peering into it, and this one showing a typical work day. Just imagine the opportunities for building some really impressive models of these classic brick warehouses, all the freight along the loading docks and trying to replicate those neat individuals from the pictures. This is just begging to be modelled and it would be a blast to attempt. Of course, for such a simple plan, it would be equally fun to operate as a model railway. As the plan notes the building is divided into a series of sections and of course was made up of different floors. Each of these spaces was accessed by freight elevators and cars would be spotted to best serve each of these destinations. Not only is there a challenge to fit the right number of cars at each of these doors but also the need to balance how long the cars need to be left in position to be loaded or unloaded and then also working around those cars when they can’t be moved at all.

The urge to translate this scene into a model railway that would fit into my home and my needs was irresistable. I’m almost embarrased by confessing to how quick I made my way home after work today and fired up AutoCAD to start making up my own version of this prototype and I wanted to share what I have so far here. Here’s the plan, drawn for HO scale:

I have elected for some selective compression in my plan. I was serious about trying to fit it into a space of no more than thirty inches and do it in HO scale and I think I have succeded. The basic planning block here was a forty foot car and I have shown these on the plan. The layout uses two turnouts and these would need to be handmade as shown. I have drawn them using curves through the switch, similar to how Atlas make their Snap Track turnouts and mine are drawn using an eighteen inch radius curve. If you didn’t want to make your track yourself you could probably easily subsitute a pair of Peco number 2 turnouts which feature a nominal radius just under eighteen inches.

So how does it work? A train enters the scene from the outside world on sector plate shown. I originally imagined using a turntable here and might return to this thought. Cassettes would work equally well. Whichever method you use, it will be only the length of two boxcars. It will overhang the end of the layout but only just barely. I am really proud of how this plate is used; it’s not only a way to stage trains and cars in and out of the scene but in most operating sessions it will be how a train is turned so both facing and trailing cars can be switched. The plan itself is really just a 3-2-2 Inglenook layout but with one of the two car tracks reversed so in a small part it would bring a bit of a challenge similar to a Timesaver layout.

Naturally one could just stuff the layout full of cars and have at it. I think it might be fun to plan an operating session from the perspective of the shipper ordering empty cars or awaiting inbound freight. This approach would guide what cars are needed at what locations and the order those cars will be placed. I would really want to have cars move between locations on the layout under the pretense of moving a freshly unloaded car to a nearby door to receive an ongoing load. I think this approach will really provide me with lots of excuses to move cars across the layout and have to “run around” these cars. These runaround moves will be performed by moving the car and engine onto the sector plate and using it like a locomotive turntable.

You’ll note from the plan the area shown entirely in hatched (dashed) lines. This is the area around Door H on the plan. When I first started drawing this layout I planned that the entire scene would end at the edge where the sector plate attaches. If you do extend the track and create Door H, there isn’t exactly enough room for a full car length. Freight doors on this layout are all spaced forty feet apart. Door H won’t fit this plan. Instead of just letting it overhang, forty feet from Door G, I would place it closer with maybe only twenty feet between the doors so a car could be placed at either but not both at the same time. It gets even more fun if a car is destined for both locations and you need to figure out which gets served first. The other challenge borne out of Door H is the switching lead, I would not extend the siding itself and leave it at only two cars long. The logic for leaving this lead alone being that most cars are delivered to Doors A through F and G (and H) are exceptions.

I didn’t want to invent too many model train operating “challenges” but it did make sense that these warehouses would have as many places to receive a car as possible so I have two doors, C and D, that actually foul the entry to the layout for an inbound train. I wouldn’t schedule too many cars for these spots but it could be fun.

Drawing this plan I did think a little about the question of staging extra cars on the layout. Naturally it would seem to make sense to hide this siding in behind the buildings and access it directly from the sector plate. I left it out ultimately as I really wanted to uphold the elegance that really drew me to it all in the first place.

As mentioned, the whole layout will fit in a 6×30″ space. I have plotted a copy of the plan that you can print out on a 22×36″ sized sheet of paper, click here to download a PDF of this plan, full-size for HO scale, for yourself. Of course, if you’re a native N scaler like I am it won’t be long before your realising it can be built exactly as shown in a much smaller area or extended to use a few more cars. Mind you, keep those expansion plans in check as the layout fast loses it’s charm if it gets too big.

Categories: Bush Terminal

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8 replies

  1. Check out the construction of a local model rrder David Ramos and his NY Harbor RR. It involves freight on both sides of the Hudson and float barges. It’s a basement empire. There’s also some Youtube vids of operation is you search New York Harbor Railroad.

    • Thanks for the great comments, Phil. I’m sorry I forgot to note the New York Harbour Railroad in my post and regret not including it. I try to check in on the layout’s website often and really enjoy watching the YouTube videos he’s posted. I think he’s doing an excellent job of modeling these railroads, the industries they served and how they related to the city they all ran within.

      Have you ever had a chance to see the layout in person?

  2. Nice post by the way…. Some of the most complicated yards were on both sides of the Hudson and East Rivers.

  3. V-e-r-y interesting material here, Chris. Certainly, space is at a premium on any waterfront, and your micro- or mini-layout concepts would be very much at home in such an environment.

    Thanks for the links you posted. While my Vancouver layout is also waterfront, I took the easy way out by saying that the aisle is the water for those industries with access to shipping, such as an import-export trans-shipper and car-ferry to Vancouver Island. No water-modelling for me!

    Long live industrial railroading and switching layouts!

    • Thanks Eric. Sorry for replying sooner. I think there’s a lot of exciting stuff in here for the model railroader.

      I’m not as familiar with the Vancouver inner city rail lines but I have found some great maps of the industrial trackage that used to be found in Victoria and I imagine something similar in the area where you’re modelling.


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