New Layout Build – Part 1: Design, Decisions, Ops Method and Track Plan

New techniques, a new baseboard type, and a small footprint are coming together for a simple, yet very operational, small layout.


Design – Decisions and purpose

First off let’s take a look at the decisions affecting the design.

There are several layouts that keep popping up on various feeds of mine including Cleveland Flats (in 1:48 scale O gauge) and the Fort Smith RR layout (also in O gauge) both by Kurt. Along with these layouts and many more like them came a recent post by Lance Mindheim regarding the The “Thirty Minute/Three Hour” operating session guideline.

Lance writes: “When it comes to model railroad operations, I’ve noticed what I call the “thirty minute/three hour rule”. It has to do with how long the average person can run before burnout, boredom, or both sets in and they’ve had enough.

Lance’s 30 minute Op session applies to the single operator, while the longer time period applies to the group operator on a larger layout. Most of my layouts (including this one for which I’ve not yet come up with a name) assume that most people will tire of operating within the 30-45 minute range and thus can be operated in as little as 15 minutes or as long as 45 minutes by a single person or a two person crew – working as engineer and conductor. An Op session includes arriving at, switching in before clearing up and leaving the modelled scene.


Design – Operation flexibility

I wanted a layout design which allowed varying lengths of work. That work length  depending on how much time I had available. I’ve come up with three scenarios that fit within three session lengths of 15, 30 and 45 minutes as follows:

  1. A single customer with one or more cars  to switch for those times when you just want to switch something – let’s call it the 15 minute session,
  2. One or more customers with one or more car(s) at each location, for those times when you want to spend a little more time switching, but not have a full operating session – let’s call it the 30 minute session, and
  3. Two or more customers with one or more cars at each location for those times when you have between 45 minutes and an hour and two operators. There is added complexity where cars being held at the customer’s site may require re-spotting during the switching activity- let’s call it the 45 minute session.

I wanted operational flexibility since the time I have available may change in the middle of a session. So what may start out as a 45 minute session may end after only 15 minutes (perhaps something has come up to which I need to attend – the washing or ironing for example).


Design – Operating Method

To allow for operations flexibility I’ll be using switchlists as the operating method on the layout.

Switchlists allow for a series of moves that can be ticked off by crews as they complete the work. Meaning that should someone else decide to continue an interrupted Op session they mark off their moves as they’re completed, before shutting down the layout, ready for the next operator to come along and continue the Op Session, and so on.

My switchlist will mimic the prototype in their look, but will have an activity column to let operators know what they are to do at each industry (for simplicity’s sake) and a checkbox column to allow crews to mark completed switch moves.

The activity column will provide for three activities:

  1. SETOUT – where a car is set out a named location and spot (where applicable) which for example may be “Industry 1, spot 3”,
  2. PICKUP – where a car is picked up from a named location and spot (where applicable) which for example may be “Industry1, spot 1”, and finally
  3. HOLD – where a car is still being unloaded at the named location and spot (where applicable) which will require the car to be respotted after any switching moves that require the car to be moved. For example at “Industry1, spot 2” the car is not finished unloading. We need to setout a car at the same named location spot 3, which is further down the spur for a specific commodity. So we would pull the car from spot 2, setout the incoming car at spot 3 and then respot the partially unloaded car at spot 2 before finishing switching.

Since I intend to use blue flag protection at each location where we are switching into customer premises. I’ll eventually build a bill box for each location to contain details of car/spot assignments. Initially though I’ll be using A5 clipboards with the customer’s spotting requirements.

I’ll delve more deeply into the operating method in a later post during the build. Suffice to say that switchlists as I envisage them allow simple, easy to understand instructions to crews who may be operating for the first time. They also allow start/stop short operating sessions by many operators over different days (so long as crews mark cars off as they go).

My goal for an operating session of any length is to focus on switching action, not on the paperwork. That can happen in the background during the Ops setup session.


Design – Track Plan

Right now I’ve completed up to version 4 of the track plan – the first one that I’m really happy with. The next step is to play with the thing for real on the layout surface to check for fit and to see how things will look.

I’m trying something new in the design as there is no runaround on the scenic area of the layout. I’ve moved the runaround outside the scenic area by using a fiddle-stick to contain the runaround/rest of the world. By doing so I get more switching on the scenic area while still allowing the train to be turned (the loco running around the train).

Also by varying the length of the fiddle stick you add flexibility to train lengths and thus the scope of the operating session – such as how many cars you can switch in a complete session. Version four’s plan is below:

I’ve recently begun using SCARM and find it to be refreshingly simple and easy to get used to. I had my first layout up and running in 10 minutes from installing the software. For a free piece of software (for small and simple layouts – if you want to build larger more complex layouts you can purchase a license to unlock more features) it works very well. It get’s the Andrew’s Trains tick of approval.


The state of play

I’ve completed the layout board, glued down the foam and built the supports. Most of the wood was what I had on hand. There were a couple of purchases, along with wood, screws, and other bits and pieces I had on-hand. There’ll be a post next week on that process. I’m about $110 Aussie in so far on the build process. I have all the track I’ll need (including turnouts) but have to complete the work to get them ready for DCC. We’ll discuss that in the next couple of posts.

For now I’ll sign off. If you would like to see more of these types of posts on the blog and on Facebook make sure to like and subscribe as appropriate. I’m looking forward to reading your comments and keeping you up to date on the build process.


Resources

If this is the first time you’ve come across operating methods as mentioned above there’s a great primer available at Freight Train Operation and Model Car Forwarding Methods by Dave Clemens.

Available as a PDF download it covers many operating schemes with short explanations of each. (If you head to the Pacific Coast Region NMRA’s clinic page you’ll find a bunch of other useful clinics and handouts for your reading pleasure too).

Don’t forget that I’ll be covering the paperwork to be used for this layout in a future post.

All the best and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Andrew

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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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1 Response to New Layout Build – Part 1: Design, Decisions, Ops Method and Track Plan

  1. Pingback: New Layout Build – Part 2: The challenges of a new type of baseboard | Andrew's Trains

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