Design. Edit. Design. Repeat.

A lot of my focus to date has been on refining my design scope for this layout. I know I’m not done yet but I’m also far enough along that I can distinguish those elements that are questions on layout design and those that are track planning. The main plan hasn’t deviated far from my first mock operating session (click here to read about that) to now but I feel like it has been qualified by each photo, story, and conversation I’ve been having. For the next few paragraphs I’m going to let go of the layout design elements and focus just on how well the track plan has been coming together.

Approximately 1-1/2" = 12"

Approximately 1-1/2″ = 12″

I shared the above sketch before. I brought that sketch into Templot so I could start laying out actual track locations to test for siding lengths. I find it easy to incorrectly guess where a siding is or how long a car is when it’s just individual paper templates or models on cardboard and less so when it’s actual track sections arranged into a plan.


Though a draft preceded the above plan, this really is the first proper interpretation of my track plan in Templot.

The layout is asymmetrical in design where the main track pushes out to the front of the stage at about the position where I think I’ll most often stand to operate the layout. This provides two great, classic railfan three-quarter views of the train arriving and departing. You’ll notice there are a lot  of subtle “S” curves in the track. I’d normally preach against such arrangements but the minimum radius here is thirty-six inches and none of these curves are in locations where I’ll be pushing or pulling long strings of cars through them.

I like how the passing siding (runs along the back of the main) and the team track (to the right) both use the diverging route of the turnout instead of a more fluid crossover arrangement. To my eyes this reinforces the “siding” nature of these tracks. The tightest curve on the layout leads to the “branch” (siding on left-front edge of the layout). I wanted that strong curve to really indicate that this line was leaving the main track. Again, relying on the theatre metaphor, trains on the branch are encouraged to get a little closer to the audience, almost to the point of inter-mingling with them, before moving off to the wings. Since the staging area is moved toward the centre of the layout the scene at the end of the branch can use the full depth of the layout and distracts from the sense that both these tracks are parallel and terminate in about the same place.

There would be no good without bad and this is as good a time as any to discuss some of my concerns.

I said I liked the effect the staging yard’s location had on the scene. It is aimed at centre stage and trains all run straight out to the audience. Of course that meant that the yard itself sat in about a foot from the end of the layout. This left only about three feet for the run-around loop and the tail track. My train length for this layout is four cars and one caboose. A quick bit of math backed up by placing the actual models on this plan shows that it only barely fits. I’m trying to depict a railway built for more traffic than it now hosts and think that if the train is shorter than the siding it looks like how that story sounds.

The final concern regarding the staging location is how I’m actually going to “hide” it or otherwise deal with it in the middle of a finished scene. Some quick measurements on the plan show that the area at the entrance to the staging yard and the branch track is barely two inches across. I have trouble imagining a subtle scenic treatment that would distract the viewers eyes from staring at that sector plate all the time.

The only way to give more space to this trouble area, at the entrance to the sector plate, was to shift the whole sector plate to the left. The narrow left end of the layout is angled and at the end of the branch track is barely four inches wide. I was worried that by trying to cram in the sector plate as well, the ground I’d literally gained at the head of the sector plate would be lost in the depth of the scene surrounding the branch.

As the original plan illustrates, I can place the end of the sector plate the full depth of the layout away from the front edge. Naturally, from this location I can aim the departure roads right at centre stage. Moving the sector plate to the narrow end of the layout means that either the departure roads are parallel to the front edge or face the back. Parallel would just further divide an already narrow scene in a way that would only serve to highlight how small things are. I’m adamant that I’m not using a curve tighter than thirty-six inches on this or any future layout and some quick sketches made me concerned that the first curve out of the staging yard dictated a centre stage a bit too far to the right of where I wanted it to land. Where the parallel lines divided the scene and made it look smaller, to me, I felt that this might have the same effect along the layout’s length effectively breaking the overall scene down into three, tiny, sections. Even to my eyes, it didn’t look at like the long lazy scene I was after.

The more I played around with different plans and the more I formalized them in Templot the more convinced I was starting to become that the original was the best way. In small layout planning design can be a culmination of individual changes, each one small in nature, such as moving tracks one inch or a few degrees at a time.


Fast forward through a lot of anxiety that could be the basis for a fantastic, angst-filled, teenage romance story and I’ve arrived at this. The sector plate has been moved and while doesn’t aim directly at the back of the layout isn’t parallel to the front either. I’m quite pleased with a lot of other details. I was so impressed with how well this looks that I printed out a full sized copy of the plan, taped it all together, and placed some stock on it.

DSC01421This is the end of the branch. I was concerned that it wouldn’t be deep enough. Frankly, it is too narrow. Where I originally hoped I could develop the scene behind these cars I think I’ll think about ways to imply industry or like elements in that extremely narrow band in the front. This scene is truncated and was always supposed to be. It is “on layout” staging representing the end of an almost abandoned branch. It exists to provide contrast to the slightly less deceased balance of track on the layout and trains here use the track to go but not necessarily arrive somewhere.

In each iteration of the plan this area, at the entry to the sector plate, is the focus of most of my concern. I plan on using a continuous backdrop along the back of the layout. Instead of bringing the backdrop down the middle of the scene here, I wanted a band of thick trees or similar “soft” scenery to distract the viewer’s eyes here. If it works, these trees will draw from those on the backdrop. Moving the sector plate didn’t provide acres of new room but enough that I feel like I could do something and that something would be “just enough”. What do you think?

So here are photos of the whole layout. Staged in the run-around loop are the “four cars and a van” train length I was after. You can see there’s lots of room for a few more cars. Of course, when I stick with four cars I’ve got room to lazily drift into this track. I see trains here running on the eight to ten mile an hour slow orders that are such a defining characteristic of this type of railroading. I can only imagine that as much as I enjoy watching trains at this speed it must be mind-numbing to crew. By the time our train makes it here, it’s not dropping the cars anywhere as much as “there, that’s good enough” before giving yourself a well-deserved chance to stretch your legs after having nursed that Alco up the line for the last four hours.

I already like the way cars look placed on the public siding here. This siding can hold five or six cars but is expected to really only ever receive one or two. In real life this siding is another double-ended loop but like so many from the Island is bisected by a road crossing. My layout starts at that road crossing and I’m only modelling the cars placed on this end. At Island locations like Milton and Morrell, the siding would be divided into two halves: one half being a public siding for loading cars and the balance for storing cars. I’m not modelling the storage half.

Just some randoms from this end of the layout. I’m standing in about the location where I’ll most often be stood to operate the layout. I’m watching a runaround move and pretending I’m trackside. In the centre shot (aerial of the caboose) you can see the effect of the turnout placement. Using the opposite hand for both turnouts would create a much more fluid and traditional crossover but I wanted it to look like sidings off the main and not, to my mind, sidings that were themselves part of the main track.

Where I’ve been investing time in testing the track plan, now that it’s at a place where I’m really starting to like (and I mean “really, really like”) it I want to spend some time mocking up scenic elements now to test the placement of tracks. I have a vision here of rural railroading and this scene needs to work in that respect as well as it does operationally.

Categories: Prince Street Layout

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5 replies

  1. Chris,
    For what it’s worth, I think you’ll see the spaces differently when you start defining them with tree mock-ups or whatever you have in mind. The vertical elements will make a significant difference.


    • Thanks Mike

      I think so too. I’m betting on this in fact.

      I’ve never mocked up trees before and I’m trying to figure out what I could could try. I don’t think I’ve ever read any articles on the subject either. Have you?

      I do have some ideas on the landforms and think I’ll break out some more corrugated cardboard.



      • Cut up some dollar store sponges? Crumpled-up paper napkins? I’m liking the mockup, Chris. You are putting a ton of thought into this. Sorry to hear C’town has reached the 150 mm of snow club!


  2. I meant 150 cm of snow club! Ouch!

    • Thanks Eric

      That sponge idea is pretty good. I’m embarrased to say that for this effort, like any good mock-up I want the effect and not the detail. Pity it’s winter and everything’s buried under a lot of snow because it had occured to me that I should be able to find a shrub or some natural “tree like” in some field that could be gathered up and placed quickly in the scene to help test things.

      I was thinking about trying some rough landforms in cardboard next, again to help develop the scene. I’m having a lot of fun with this full scale planning effort and want to continue to explore it. Being able to do so is certainly joining my list of reasons why I’m so glad the layout is so small.



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