Decisions made, regrets cast aside


I have toyed with  track plans for some time to see how best to fit a layout into the current space that I have. I’ve drawn out 50 different track plans, all of which will fit my needs and space, none of which really grabbed me emotionally.

I took another look at a layout I’d designed early in 2014 last week. Designed to be portable and to be taken to exhibitions. In the space I gave it (8 feet or 2400 mm long) the design was right on the perfect size if for me just a little short of perfect. There is nothing wrong with the layout design or operations plan; it works exactly how I’d designed it to work and with the attached fiddle yard it will be a cracker of a layout to work for extended periods at an exhibition.

It will be:

  • Easy to work by one person,
  • Take about 30 minutes per show (operating session),
  • Allow short bursts of work, interspersed with periods of talking with the people asking questions about the layout), and
  • Worked from the front of the layout.

To get a sense of what I’m aiming for take a look at this video from Model Railroad Hobbyist:

MRH shot the video on Mike Confalone’s layout (I loved it so much I bought his video and book set – they are really worth their weight.) Watch the thing and you’ll be hooked.


The layout is a fictional end of the line switching area. I’ve long been a fan of a little layout call Iota from a long ago RMC article. But while I wanted to make a larger version of the Iota, and have devised several track plans to do just that I’ve never been able to get it to work for me in my space.

You can see three of my published designs here:

  1. The Iota Shortline
  2. Iota in 8′ x 6′
  3. Room Sized Iota

I’d even thought about doing Box Car Haven (link here) as I have the space and boards ready to go. However, I wanted something simpler, with enough work operationally to allow me greater play time, and less staging and management.


The fact that my location and layout is fictional means little to me. I have thought about the location, its history, and its present in-depth. There’ll be a sense of abandonment, growth, decline and then regrowth in the scenic treatment; buildings will also show this time of change on their surface, with old parts, and new construction giving the viewer a sense of time having passed.

The layout sits at a datum of 49 inches off the floor. This is about right for my son’s eye height at the moment. My wife and daughter are a couple of inches shorter than my son and so for now the layout stays where it is. I’d like to have the datum moved up to my eye height of 66 inches above the floor, but then no one else would enjoy the show.

I’ve designed lines of sight into the layout to stop people from being able to see the entire layout at any one time, and forcing them to move, change their viewing angle, look around corners and peer through building alleys into the layout.

The layout though small works on the principle of a two person crew. So even through the engineer cannot see the distances he has to go, his conductor is on the ground guiding him in – just as in the real world of railroading.


I’ve changed all the freight car bogies over to Kadee fully equalised trucks. Proto-weighted the cars to their cubed scale-weight equivalent, and weighted them heavy down low but glued weights along the tops of the cars in the corners to ensure that I’ll get a little rocking motion; it’s not perfect or quite how I’d like it but I cannot fully scale down the physics. In this way the cars move in a very prototypical fashion along the rails – especially Boxcars and Covered Hoppers.

During testing on the mocked up track plan I had a couple of months ago, the cars moved pretty much like you’d expect a real car to move. My switcher strained to get cars moving (so I’d get to feed power in to take up the slack) and then I could ease back on the throttle to keep them moving. In HO scale (I also model in O scale) you have no idea how sweet it is to see a switcher stretching a train and watching cars fight the move until inertia takes over. Once the load stretches out you have to drive the locomotive like the real thing.

The last thing on my list is to limit the speed of all loco decoders to around 25 MPH. And I’m going to drop the output level of the bell, and the sound decoder in general.


As a whole package the design will work, at least for me, to allow a simple and easy to set up switching session any night that I want to for around 30 minutes worth of fun. There’s little management time required and the fun starts with only a limited amount of set up time. There are additions I’ll be adding to the layout to extend the run around the second wall of the garage to extend the switching room and to lengthen the operation time to about the 60 – 75 minute mark for longer operating sessions.

Added to that the CV changes I’ve made to make sure that trains simply do not stop but roll on means that all along the way I’ll be happy working the model to give me and the other operators a sense of what it really means to work my layout.


Gritty, run-down, rebuilt and modernised, the Hunter Valley RR will be a lot of fun to run. I’ve got to spend some time working the track plan out in AnyRail over the next week. Once I have that completed I’ll post a copy here and see what you think.