The Railroad: Planning

August 11, 2016

We moved last summer, and with that move came an opportunity to build a new layout in a new space. I built three layouts at the old house (none of them got past track-on-plywood benchwork). The space in the new house is 32 feet long by 13 1/2 feet wide – wonderfully large, but it proved to be quite a challenge to design for. I think that smaller rooms have fewer options, especially with a larger scale like O. With a large (for me) room like this, the possibilities multiply.

It took about six months for the dust to settle from the move, and from that point a few months of layout design failures followed by a few weeks of false positives. One day: “This is the layout I will build!” Two days later: “This isn’t good enough.”

Around this time, I was frequenting the excellent Model Railroader Video Plus, and came across two layouts that really resonated with me. The first was Tom Piccirillo’s Somerset County Traction System (O scale, MRVP link, track plan, photos). The second was Gerry Leone’s Bona Vista Railroad (Mark III) (HO scale, YouTube walkthrough).

Somerset County’s gently winding track plan is lovely, and it was inspiring to see that great scenes can be made in O scale with relatively little depth. Like many I’ve always wanted to build a layout with a great big yard, but in O that requires a massive amount of space. Your layout tends to be about the yard itself. Over time I’ve come to think that a shortline with several passing sidings and spurs allows for more interesting modeling and operation, given the constraints. It’s more about the journey than the destination, right? Tom’s layout exemplifies this.

The Bona Vista was a more direct inspiration for two reasons. First, Gerry’s layout space somewhat resembled my own (even though his layout was HO). Second, his track plan was delightful: clever and surprising. I like layouts that take a while to figure out what’s connected to what. The way that the Bona Vista curled around on itself and popped out and back in – a point to point without looking like it – was exactly the sort of effect I was looking for.

So I set about essentially adapting the Bona Vista to my space. It didn’t fit (it would have needed a space closer to 32x32), but I managed to come up with something that I think will work rather well. I adapted it by running one of the return loops through a wall into the next room to make it fit, but that’s okay. Right?

Here’s my high level track plan. Green shows the edge of the benchwork; blue is the backdrop.

March 2016 Layout Plan

It’s a point-to-point with a return loop at each end (not shown is a return loop underneath the large upper peninsula). At this point only the shape of the mainline is set. The four towns are less plans and more sketches of what’s possible in those spaces. I’ll build the mainline and then come back and cut in the siding and spur switches once I have a better feel for it in real life.

Construction progress as of mid August 2016.

(Panorama stitching made my curves look terrible. They are smooth, I assure you.)

Construction has already begun; I’d estimate that I’ve got about 30% of the benchwork built, and maybe 25% of the track. Work practically ceased during the summer, but I’m starting to ramp back up on it now.

Perhaps you are wondering about the era, location, and theme. To be frank I don’t have much railroad knowledge to draw on here, so the best I’ve got is that it will be based on a fictional shortline in the southern Appalacian foothills. Probably transition era, as I’d like to run both steam and diesel.

There’s more I’d like to say – about trackwork, lighting plans and so forth – but in the interests of actually publishing a post (as I have intended to do for many months now), I’ll save those topics for future posts and end it here. Thanks for reading.