Speaking of perspective

Earlier today I finally shared two new posts on my layout planning. I’ve been re-reading them and reflecting on what I wrote and I realise that this shift in focus is only limited to a method of deciding on the size of the layout or how much track to fit; it’s also recognition of how I want to interact with the layout during an operating session.

I feel like we regard the design of a model railway like it’s a competitive challenge to see how much track we can stuff into a given area. I remember reading in an old British book on the hobby where the author distinguished between model railways and models of railways. I liked that distinction and think it’s worth considering. With this in mind, I enjoy treating layout design as an architectural activity in which we look at which elements are important to the overall composition and which are not. We also take into account not just who will operate the layout but also how it will be operated.

It’s that “how” that I was reflecting on after my posts this afternoon. I can’t remember ever building a layout that wasn’t designed to be “operated”. Operation here is the act of designing train movements over the line. I think that traditionally I have operated the layout in a prototypical manner but it’s still just a game of moving toy trains. I wonder if there’s a chance here to model not just the physical railway but also the work and activities that really make the prototypical railway come to life? In many ways I hope that whatever I build it has been designed to bring me into the scene as an active participant and not just someone far removed from the scene who just makes the train move.

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2 comments

  1. I agree with you Chris.. I also want to make a design that is somewhat prototypical, but not to the point of modelling a railway exactly. I want something more than a roundy roundy, but not so much that I need a crew of ten to operate. Im more for single operator design…
    I also like the aspect of designing, creating my industries in-line with what I see in prototypes. Im not one for replicating down to the nth degree.

    I admire those wonderful show pieces like the Brits make, but at home what are you going to do with a 3 foot board and a few inches of track? That’s modeling to make a model…. but not my primary goal.

    I too want to interact, operate and explore rail operations on a simple level. There’s lots to learn about railroad operations. Signaling still perplexes me lol. I also want the fun of incorporating electronic elements into the layout for all sorts of things.

    In the meantime I acquire pieces and create in my mind….

    1. I think you’re on the right path. I think through all my pondering on layout design I’ve started to become curious about the British show layouts. I’ve been collecting the various British model railway magazines longer than American ones and find that lately more and more home layouts are appearing in the British magazines. A lot of these are much closer to what we would consider typical in North America: yards and industries, shelves attached to walls, etc. I do wonder about the “exhibition layouts” and how enjoyable they are to operate and the effect of having multiple operators. I think I’d really like to have a couple of friends driving trains and then perhaps a third running the signal box bringing trains in and out of the station.

      One thing’s for sure, thinking about model railways sure is fun.

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