The broken view / the overlap

I’d been playing around with some simple lines on a piece of paper. Representing lines of track, I imagined what it would be like to run trains in this place. As I pushed my pretend trains around I realised how much I lacked a sense of their movement. At first I thought I might simply build two independent layouts and alternate their use: Perhaps one day I use the scene that represents the place where the big railroad provides cars and on another day exchange that scene with the other one, the one that hosts the act in which we deliver the cars to the customer.

Then I wondered: could they live in the same place? Maybe overlap?

end view

In plan, it looks like this:

plan view

I build a lot of model railroads that exist in basic rectangular volumes. I find enticing the idea of breaking that front line to introduce a curve.

end view2

With some time this morning I made some coffee and formed these views to help explain the idea. While the above view is not the one I considered first, I now imagine standing here and like the way that way the foreground takes interacts with the distant view.

(To help explain things I propose the following set of sketches. I’ve reduced the entire installation to a monochromatic view and will colour the subject in red to focus the conversation.)

Scene A: The reason

1 load unload

Occupying perhaps two-thirds of the scene’s face this scene is highly detailed and focused on why the railroad exists. Maybe it’s where we deliver the coal to, load the potatoes from, or the terminal of our interurban empire.

4 switching load unload

Standing here to operate a train in this scene we find that it wraps around us to focus our attention on the railroad’s purpose. I’m amused with the idea that in our peripheral vision we can still relate to our origin but it’s “far away” and it’s not immediately obvious how we got to here from there. In this scene we see the train interacting with its purpose.

Scene 2: The interchange

2 interchange.png

Lesser detailed, this scene’s priority is to act as the origin for movement into the layout. Note how it wraps around behind the major scene allowing access to re-rail a derailed car and how it invites you peek in behind the curtain to interact with the model. Both sides of the backdrop are decorated with a sky and even a horizon’s scenery.

2b interchange backdrop.png

I can’t always see the engine but don’t need to since at this place we’re watching the train being exchanged – one set of cars for another. Our attention shifts from the arrival of a locomotive to the work of its train.

5 switching interchange

When we’re operating a train here, we stand centered in this space and  while we could look to the side to see where we’re going the act of doing so is not unlike looking further down the road. With no scenery or track connecting the two areas we can’t simply go there by moving a little bit. Clearly, we need to travel further.

Scene 3: The broken plain

3 broken plane

Using a cassette, sector plate, or like means of off-stage track that is only added when we need to move a train from the background scene to the foreground this is the wall we break through – that “hole in the sky”.

Variation 1: Drawing into the scene

6 possible removable staging

Scene 2, by its area, inherits a lesser visual priority. Further the view of the train is limited since much of it is behind the backdrop of Scene 1. If it’s the place where our train exchanges its cars for another set could we add a removable length of track to provide those cars into the scene?

Nothing new here as the idea of removable staging is so apparent in the hobby. It has a place here too. As with many of my recent designs I use staging here to provide only cars in contrast to the section at the opposite end of the layout that is required to move the train from one scene to the other. I suppose if I really wanted to get carried away this length could take advantage of my Matchbox idea and it could slide into the main body of the railway between use.



  1. I’m continuely in awe of the creativity and ingenuity of these designs. I agree with Simon, that’s a very clever use of space.

  2. If you could get rid of the seductive tyranny of that curve but keep the idea of one portion of the railroad in front of the other, you could hinge front scene to rear scene in the left corner. When front swings out, front and rear form an L.

    I like cassette staging as much as anyone, but using a cassette to switch from one layout segment to another only 500mm away is a lot more “railroad thoughts” than I am willing to entertain. At present.

    1. I hadn’t thought of hinging the front until you suggested it. Might make access easier too. Further I like the way the layout could change, transform, when opened. That’s an idea I’ll hang onto. Thanks!


  3. Love this scheme, I can also visualise it as a snake, front section 2/3rds convex to the viewers, and rear 1/3 concave. Keeping the same sky colours and tones, you could also change season, with each section showing clearly defined and modelled seasons. If you mirrored the layout at the left side as illustrated, you could depict the whole year..

    1. Certainly an important detail is maintaining a consistent sky and horizon across both scenes but you could play with the lighting over each scene to accentuate each’s focal point.

      You could also contrast in ground cover. If one end were a coal mine you could really build more dark tones to contrast.


  4. Those are really nice sketches highlighting the designs you’ve created, Chris. By contrast, mine would have looked like pencil lines with accompanying singed eraser tailings and lots of rubouts. ‘Cause that’s what they would have been.

    Oh, and glad to see Prince Street Terminal back. It’s been a long 2,423* hours without more.
    (*only an estimate)((Camelot! Shhhhh. It’s only a model.))

    1. Thank you for the warm welcome Eric. Earlier I had started the corresponding Prince Street Facebook page to provide a landing place for quick posts and leave the blog proper for deeper dives – it’s good to have this post to prove the concept and I’m happy with how it worked.

      Most of my sketches are frantic pencil lines so it was nice to steal some time and do something nice.

      Thank you again.


    1. Thanks Tom. Always wonderful to hear from you. The new place has room and in a nice configuration that suits layout building – certainly more space than I’m in need of.

      I’m enjoying your posts recently too. Great stuff!


      1. Good to hear you have some railway real estate Chris. I’m just trying to get mine shipshape so that I can start my layout as I’ve got loads of ideas bubbling around for all sorts of projects but life just keeps getting in the way!

  5. That’s brilliant. Begs for a sector plate along the left side, two or three tracks perhaps.

    I’m not sure why the sector plate need be temporary though – if it’s permanent, alignment would be a snap.

    1. Thank you Stephan

      A sector plate is crucial to the plan working. I didn’t want to get into detailed track planning in this post but the tracks from the foreground scene to the background one are not connected within the envelope of this presentation so the only way to move from one scene to the other is some form of sector plate, cassette, etc. to physically move the train from the back to the front and back again.

      The more I play with this plan the more I want an equal length of off-stage track on the other end too. Somewhere where cars are fed into the layout from so that area can be invested in the play of coupling and uncoupling instead of storing trains.

      My reason for not typically including staging fixed to the layout is the public places where my layouts are located. I’m trying to tighten up their appearance and not flanking them in the visual mass of the two yards, I feel, focussed attention on the story within the stage. That said, you’re right. One platform containing all three elements (the layout and both staging yards) would be easy.

      Thank you again for the comment. I really appreciate it.


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