What does operations mean for a Small or Micro layout?

Originally posted on the old HVL DasBlog –  Wednesday, May 15, 2013

For the small layout builder/owner/operator their exist challenges that modellers with larger layouts do not face. For example; if you have a 20 foot long layout with additional staging your trains actually do go somewhere, even if it is only 20 feet. But they do go somewhere and switching takes place in more than one location. On a Small or Micro layout the same is not true. Often you’ll be able to see everything all the time. In order to give the sense of operations I came up with a set of “rules” for the game that provided me with a starting point, an end point, and the means to know where I was in the game of “MR Operations”.
The Game
MR Operations is no different to Monopoly, or any other board game. You have pieces, that move in a certain way, according to set rules on a pre-configured gameboard. There is a known starting point and an end point of the game, although this can be changed by mutual agreement of the players.These are my “rules” so far as Small/Micro operations go:

  1. Trains must come from somewhere (they enter the stage)
  2. Trains should do one or more of the following whilst on the modelled portion of the layout (on stage)
    • Change Direction,
    • Change Consist,
    • Do work appropriate to the nature of the train.
  3. Trains must go somewhere when finished the actions outlined in point 2 above (exit the stage)

While formulating this simple set of three rules I took into account all types of layout designs. Thus the rules allow for:

  1. Double ended Small/Micro layouts
    • with fiddle yard to fiddle yard via a station/named location
  2. Single ended Small/Micro layouts
    • with a fiddle yard at one end and a terminus on the modelled portion of the layout
  3. Freight only operation
  4. Passenger only operation,
  5. Loco only operation or,
  6. A combination of any and all the above.

I developed the idea of a SuperNook before I had setout the rules above. However the reasons behind it were clear in my head. I wanted a freight based layout that provided all of the functions that you got with a UK based end of branch layout, that could be applied to almost any style of railroading, anywhere.

Image 1 is an example Supernook.

Image 1

The Supernook in Image 1 above has five distinct zones:

  1. A – is the switching lead/branch/main line – depending on the layout style
  2. B – an industry lead/storage siding
  3. C – an industry lead/storage siding
  4. D – is a passing siding/loop
  5. E – is the short switching lead to allow a run around to occur and/or the entrance or exit from the modelled portion to another fiddle yard

The SuperNook provides the Small/Micro layout operator with a purposeful and practical method of play, that keeps interest for the longer term. The rules do not take away from Car Cards, TT&TO, DTC or any other operating system, they do however focus the mind on what you want to achieve from a small layout and give you the means to map out the path to get you there.


Small layouts allow for greater detail but can suffer from limitations to operation. By using the rules I’ve confined myself to above you’ll achieve more satisfaction from your creations, have greater enjoyment in the longer term, through a better more flexible design that allows for better game play.



About Andrew Martin

After a long IT and Telecommunications career in the USA and Australia, I've decided I need a break, I've changed focus and now work in the public transport sector - a complete change of pace. Hobby wise I'm focused on model railway layout building and modelling. I blog, write and publish as often as I am able.
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