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Planning A Model Railway Layout

From experience, I can safely say "It is better to spend 10 months planning a layout and 10 weeks building it than the other way around!"

Why, well given time and discussion with other modellers the plans can change for the better, not to mention your own expectations, requirements and capabilities will develop - just like a fine wine a plan matures with age.

For my loft layout we had various external influences dictate that once the baseboards were built then we had a gap of about 2 years before we could start work on the layout proper...  This was a blessing in disguise as the original plan was not only flawed but would have taken much longer to complete and involved more difficulty.

True to Life Location

There are various approaches to planning a layout, the first being building a faithful reproduction of the real thing whether in existence or demised.  Once you have a copy of the original track plan you need to decide if it will fit into the chosen location in the chosen scale, as is or do you need to abridge the design or find an alternative that will fit!

In reality most stations take up a lot of room modelled in 4mm/ft.  Modelling in 3mm/ft or 2mm/ft may be required if compromise on location or accuracy cannot be made.  Many choose to compromise so that they can fit the location into the space, leaving part of the location out of the model plan or to change it by introducing a bend or bends to fit it in.  If you are anxious to be true to life then these are tough decisions.

Fictitious Plan

I feel this is the best approach for a home layout in most cases.  It enables the modeller to build a layout to suit the available space and terrain!  When they build the prototype there is first a need for it to exist (we can skip that bit for our model!).  They then look at where it needs to start from and then they choose a route to the destination.  The terrain to traverse, dictates if they need a tunnel, a bridge, a straight or a curve. 

My suggestion here is to build the terrain first (with one eye on what you can do with the model).  In my case, I built the baseboards at the height I could and covered as much of the usable loft area as possible in the best way to fit people (operators) at strategic points.  I then decided what I wanted from the railway - in my case it was;

  • A dual continuous modern image main line
  • A single preserved wooden sleeper track branch line
  • Light signals on the main line
  • Semaphore signals on the branch line
  • The main track to be as long as possible
  • No fiddle yard just hidden sidings (all other stock in view)
  • DCC operation
  • Eventual Computer controlled sequencing of the main line
  • Branch line to be (Station)end-to-end(hidden sidings)
  • Different levels of track
  • A main line station area I could lift and use in an exhibition if needed
  • A tidy room with creature comforts for correct operation
  • Reliable running
  • Build in 3 phases so that I can enjoy the layout at an earlier stage
  • All complex track-work within main line station area

I came up with a simple a design, where I would have an 8 track hidden siding that had two concrete sleeper tracks that went around the loft by mounting a 2 degree (2IN in height) incline by the time it reached the opposite side.  There would then be a two track crossover that either routed to a further 2 inch incline back to a main line station positioned above the hidden sidings, back around the loft via the crossover or by switching the crossover (as for phase 1) the trains would simply divert back down a 2 inch slope to the hidden sidings.  This meant a train leaving the hidden sidings would traverse twice around the loft before returning from whence it came.  Perfect for computer control...

Most of all I could built the first phase, run trains and test, then build the station, run trains and test and then build the third phase (the branch line on the inside of the main line).  Building in phases is all part of the plan!  It allows me to modify the future phases of the plan to suit what has actually been build - there lies the next axiom to planning....

A plan is just a blueprint of what you intend to do.  When building the prototype a railway engineer would continuously be changing the plan to solve unforeseen problems or to improve the method after learning from the experience of the previous construction.  Sometimes in modelling it is good to have a conceptual plan of the type of railway you want to build but leave some of the details of construction to work themselves out at the time.  An example of this was that I had intended to go around the loft to the other side on the flat baseboard and then raise the track 4 inches in one third of a circuit.  One day in a eureka moment! I realised that by starting from the off and raising it 2 inches over a third of the circuit, the whole ramp would be kinder on the long trains I had intended to run...  Obvious with hindsight but not always at planning stage.

Added By: phowes on 08th Aug 2009 - 19:35
Last Updated: 08th Dec 2010 - 00:45

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