My current favourite track plan

I tend to repeat certain track plans or layout designs. I get fixated on a particular arrangement or a line. Above is what I’ve been drawing and redrawing over the last few weeks.

It’s based on three turnouts.

Cars enter from “interchange” to “loop” and from there are delivered to “customer” (most of the time) or “team track” (every so often).

The scenario is based on those industries you already know I favour where our focus is feeding cars in a conveyor fashion like at a grain elevator, salt unloader, or maybe a new propane dealer.

The plan is a thin, linear design as I always favour. It’s size is determined by these simple geometric principles: the turnouts are equal in length to the lead on the far right (so, in HO this might be around 11”). Multiple that length by three and subtract that from the available shelf length. Then divide that by three.

Categories: How I think, Track plans

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8 replies

  1. I used this track plan as one-half of a two-sided N scale layout. If you make the interchange 5 cars, the customer 3 cars and the loop 3 cars in length, you have the makings of a 5-3-3 Inglenook sidings. As long as you keep the headshunt to the right of the right-most turnout 3 cars plus locomotive, the Inglenook math works. Of course, it also works with a 3-2-2 arrangement as well.

    Because my layout was two-sided, the track to the right continued around to the other side. A strategically-placed highway grade crossing that couldn’t be blocked during switching created the headshunt limitation. In this way, I was able to play the Inglenook game when I wanted and just switch cars when I didn’t want the headshunt headache.

    Of all the layouts I’ve built, this side of that layout was the most fun and prototypical to operate.

    • That’s cool!

      I originally sketched my variation when I was teasing the Inglenook idea to see what else could be composed based on that simple premise. In my favourite variation I used the interchange as five cars then both sides of the loop as three cars, the left-most headshunt being four cars. At the very end of that left-most headshunt I put a diamond crossing. The complete premise of that plan was to represent the interchange between two railroads.

      In this variation I’m planning to really stretch things out to emphasize distance my minimizing the depth. The N scale variation is 96×6” while the HO one is twelve feet long but only a foot wide. In both options the premise is working through inbound cars to deal with their loading or unloading in almost real time. The wildcard here would be the occasional car that would be left on the team track.

      Have you written about your plan? It sounds fantastic and I’d like to see pictures.

  2. I like this plan for several reasons.

    First, I like long skinny layouts. The most consistently satisfying part of my current layout is 1’ by 12.’

    Second, I like rules of thumb, algorithms, and metrics. Later today, I will go downstairs and compare your track plan and your metrics to what I am doing already. Maybe I will find some changes that will make some of my work more satisfying.

    I got laughed at a number of years ago for encouraging odd numbers of buildings, trees, even cars in trains, but there is a long history in art of such devices and of shapes like triangles for organizing space. Why reinvent the wheel? If it worked for Constable or Delacroix, why not for Keys?

    I have a consistent fantasy of a cameo or shadow box with both the baseboard and backdrop being Golden Sections.

    So many ideas, so little time!

    • I have this belief that there are natural relationships in track planning beyond simply the spacing between two parallel tracks. The proportions of this plan represent those as I see them. Things like turnouts are a fixed length. If I’m switching a siding I like to have about twice that track’s number of car spots so I don’t have to break the train multiple times to work the whole track. From basic variables like this the plan evolves quite logically.

  3. Could you expand on how the geometric principles are used to determine the length of the layout? I’m rather puzzled as to how it works out.

    • Hello! Sorry to have not responded sooner.

      I like being able to pull a full length of cars from a siding. Reasoning that if I arrived with cars for that track already on my train I’ll keep them with me and they’ll be a handle I lift the other cars with. I’ll reach in to lift three cars with a train that is also three cars plus an engine so, at the height of this I need to accommodate six cars plus the engine.

      The second factor that expresses the length of this layout is the set it three scenes it represents. As this long thin shelf arranges the scenes in a linear fashion I reason they’re a constant length so I divide the shelf length by three. Before dividing the length I’ll subtract the turnouts and engine length so the result is siding lengths:
      12’ shelf
      -two turnouts in the main 2×12’’
      -one engine 12’’


      So “industry” is 3’ in length as is “interchange” and the loop. Since industry is reached by track behind interchange the industry track is longer than 3’ and maybe more like 6’. This extra run, to me, is the sense of going somewhere when we travel to get those cars.

      Hope this helps.


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