I’m overwhelmed with trackplanning and I think I know why: I’m starting at the wrong end of the design phase for me. I was getting frustrated because I just couldn’t settle on a plan. I want to build a layout not devote the rest of my life to it’s conception. With that revelation in mind, I awoke this morning to a stark hypothesis: that I think that, in general, I tend to approach layout design from the wrong end. Like many modellers planning their next great model railway, I have been pouring over track plans. I’ve been digging boxes of old magazines from our attic. In so many ways, this has been an extremely enjoyable activity. For the plans I’ve been posting online and those I’ve been admiring from these magazines, I try to visualise each in terms of scenic development and finally, operational interest. It’s been fun to look at a layout and see if it fits in my space but I think this is exactly where I’m going wrong. When I talk about operating a model railway I’m thinking in terms of running the trains and also the art of actually planning that operating session; determining what cars will move and then the fun of playing trains to move them. This is where I think I need to be starting from: what type of railroad and how does that industry work?
Regardless of the type of commodity being handled or even the broader question of freight trains or passenger trains I think I need to start with that commodity and plan it’s movement. With that established, I can forecast demand and the number of cars required to support that need. With the establishment of demand, I’ll get a sense of how often that destination needs servicing (i.e. switching). Continuing to cascade through this relationship I can see how the final step is planning track locations.
I worked out an example, based on coal mining, and I’ll post that in a few minutes. Hopefully it communicates the approach I think I want to shift toward employing. Coal mining is just a random example; I’m sure potatoes or commuter trains could work as well here and certainly would be closer to my interests.