That sector plate

I am planning on a sector plate at the end of my layout. Primarily, I would like to use this to complete the runaround loop but I have a bit of a vision of using it as a place from which trains could enter and exit from the scene.

In the three photos above (from the left):

  1. I’ve outlined the space for the sector plate in red marker on the plan. I did this as much to define it with respect to the rest of the plan as to help me visualise the room around it for scenic development.
  2. I built a very short staging “cassette” back when I built my N scale Bush Terminals micro layout. I used it in this photo to help visually reinforce the sector plate and its location.
  3. For reference, the plan.

There are so many great ideas that others have used on their layouts. From my list of Youtube bookmarks, here are a pair of my favourites.

I consider John Birkitt-Smith’s Ashburton to be a perfect example of everything an N scale layout could be. It’s beautifully scenicked, supports realistic operations…I could go on. The above video was produced by British Railway Modelling magazine and it’s superb. I watched the whole thing again while preparing this blog post but in terms of sector plates, fast forward to around 5:50 to see John’s great idea. Where traditionally we’d hide the sector plate behind a backdrop he’s actually left it out in the open. Sure the line disappears through the ubiquitous bridge but it doesn’t go through a backdrop, it simply heads into a cutting. The brilliance here is that the cutting is the sector plate. Once inside, the whole lot swings back to line up with the storage roads. As with Ashburton, my layout leaves the sector plate in a very exposed location and I can’t help but think that a similar approach might work for me too. I don’t plan a cutting but might try mocking something up.

Where Ashburton proved how attractive we could manage the humble sector plate, the approach used above for Brewery Pit, I think, is equally elegant. He’s using simple aluminum angle to act as the running rails. Of course, the beauty of using the angle is that it provides a higher side to make handling the whole assembly just that much easier and without accidentally knocking the trains over.

In both examples, the challenge is in powering the sector plate. In a scenicked Ashburton-style sector place I’d be awfully tempted to use a headphone jack as the fulcrum and also to conduct power. I’ve used this for turntables and liked it. In the Brewery Pit approach I’ve seen examples where modellers simply included a short length of the same angle fixed to the layout itself. When the sector plate was aligned with the appropriate departure road, simple bulldog clips from the office are clipped across the angle, at the joint and this simple mechanical connection keeps the plate aligned and bridges power across the joint.

Moving forward I’m leaning more heavily toward a scenicked plate. Ashburton uses a lever to move the plate itself and I’m leaning in that direction to. I plan a ridge of trees between the sector plate and the scene in front. If I can avoid reaching into this scene, that sounds like something worth designing around.

Lots to think about and that’s great. More tiny steps in a forward direction. Seems like I’m still heading forward. So far. So good.

Categories: How I think, Prince Street Layout

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9 replies

  1. Just a thought, Chris, but instead of a sector plate pivoted at one end, you could opt for a traverser (transfer table) which moves sideways. You can then keep the approach tracks parallel, and it may be easier to arrange for the scenics to slide.


    • Very good point Simon.

      In the same vein as the traverser simple cassettes could work too.

      The sector plate I’ve had in mind has only the single road. I’ve been drawing it with two just to make it easier to line up each of the tracks on the layout.

      There is only enough room for the sector plate’s pivot but not enough for the track to move as on a traverser.

      Given the plan for a vertical scenic element in front of the stage area I like something that doesn’t require reaching in any more than necessary. Hence the lean toward the fixed sector plate with a lever.

      I really need to mock up this part of the layout if only to help me visualize its form.


  2. Chris,
    I like the Ashburton treatment, but for what it’s worth I feel we overthink the whole idea of how to transition from scenicked to staging. We use all kinds of tricks to hide the obvious and in some ways,call more attention to it as a result.

    I have a very simple screen of bare trees and then the scenery just ends. After a time the eyes just accept it for what it is.


    • I agree with Mike…
      I have used a line of evergreens – something typically seen along the edge of a farm field, as a wind break. The track slips between two trees. I also designed my lighting so that the staging area is darker than the layout, which helps it to disappear from view. When running a train, people have never commented that there’s a whole stable of other trains just sitting on the sector plate.
      Granted, my space is larger than yours, so it’s easier to use lighting the way I have. But even in a small space, you may find that a screen along the front edge of the layout is all you need. Maybe mock it up and give it a try?
      – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

  3. Thanks Mike and Trevor. You’ve both raised excellent observations.

    I hadn’t considered the median that I think you’re suggesting where the treatment isn’t any treatment at all. Thinking about it today, I found myself remembering times when I’ve just finished putting together a turnout and almost regretting that I had to paint and ballast around it – I quite like the bare, unfinished wood, copper, and nickel silver. Basically, maybe the sector plate and its trackage could just stay unfinished? It might be nice to have an unfinished length of track to display the methods used to construct the track on the complete layout. I’m only gambling here, but I don’t think the contrast between this intentionally unfinished area should be too strong against the “finished” areas of the layout and I had planned on a border of trees dividing the scenicked area on the layout and agree that, that should be enough.

    By coincidence, combing around the internet to learn about other’s treatments I came across a photo of the Port Rowan sector plate ( and it does quite nicely illustrate the potential of this effect.



  4. Hi, Chris:

    Maybe paint all the raw surfaces around the sector plate flat black, dark grey, or the colour you use for soil on the rest of the layout?

    Then, with a thin screen of trees (possibly backed up with a view block of Scotchbrite or similar scouring pad material, which almost comes up to the treetops and has its top edge cut in a jagged, forest- like profile), it would be hidden in plain sight but when viewing from a low angle, you wouldn’t notice cars on the sector plate.


    • Hi Steve

      Thanks for the comments.

      The more I think about it the more I’m attracted to the idea of not hiding the sector plate at all and I find myself leaning toward ideas like what you’re suggesting.

      The area under the sector plate will be a reasonable expanse of plywood or similar sheet product. If only to tone its effect down washing it or painting it with some colour as you suggested would probably be a good thing to try. I was thinking about taking the colour I’ll use for my fascia and using it there too. Thoughts?

      As for the sector plate “bridge” itself I’ve been thinking alot about leaving it very unfinished. I would make a very solid effort at assembling the parts very cleanly but leaving them in their raw state. I’ve often thought that I like the look of the raw parts unfinished and that it’s a shame that we paint, weather, and scenic around them distracting from their beauty.

      I’m going to start on the sector plate over the next few days and as I have something more tangible in hand I’ll better be able to appraise what sort of finish should be applied to it.

      Thanks again, Steve. I really appreciate the thoughts.


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