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Aaron Riley’s Metra Service Centre Layout

This post is made possible by Aaron Riley. I’d like to thank him for his assistance, his time and especially for supplying the images of his Metra maintenance facility layout that I first saw on Facebook (more information in the resources section at the bottom of the post). Adapted from a Robert Chant design in HO scale, Aaron has executed an exquisite small layout that in the photos does not look small. Let’s take a look around his Metra Service Centre.


Rob Chant’s layout concept

In the original Facebook post Rob Chant commented that while he “hadn’t designed [a maintenance facility style layout] before, he thought it would be something that would extend his model railway design skills“.

He said further that he thought “the layout owner’s space would be a good fit with his design and could include a load of detail and some support structures.”

I heartily agree with both perspectives. Rob’s concept and the layout Aaron built from it are outstandingly good and show what can be achieved in a small space. And remember, as you can see from the plan below it is not a lot of space; the layout is only 8′ (2400mm) in total length; with a total width of 4′ 5″ (1346mm) and maximum board width of 18″ (450mm).

Rob Chant's original Track Plan with numbers keying to Aaron's gallery of photos
Rob Chant’s original Track Plan with numbers keying to Aaron’s gallery of photos

And there’s a lot packed into that small space. Yet it doesn’t look crowded; quite the reverse is true. It looks wide, open and has relaxed look about it. Lived in, even.

Enough of the overview let’s dive in.


Looking around Aaron’s Metra layout

Image 1: Looking into the layout from the fiddle yard
Image 1: Looking into the layout from the fiddle yard

In image 1 above, you can see Rob’s use of the administration building as a view blocker ensures that the viewer’s eye is distracted where the layout ends, and the staging begins. It’s a great design feature. In addition, provides a verticality to what would otherwise be a flat, horizontal layout. it gives the viewer, no matter the angle of viewing, a framed view of the layout. It’s a thoughtful design feature that makes Aaron’s layout, and Rob’s plan a cut above.

Image 2: Looking over the administration building toward the storage and engine tracks
Image 2: Looking over the administration building toward the storage and engine tracks

In image 2 above, it is interesting to note Aaron’s prototype solution to the problem of overcrowding and short sidings. You’ll note the three-car set is fouling the two cars in the siding. This is common where older facilities were designed for shorter cars. Things get put wherever they’ll fit. During late nights most running facilities like this one are crowded, with train sets packed in like sardines. It’s nice to see that modelled, even if Aaron did so unintentionally. It really adds to the believability of the scene.

Image 3: View from the administration building - note the details in Aaron's scenes
Image 3: View from the administration building – note the details in Aaron’s scenes

In image 3 above, what I noticed first was the sense of openness. Taken from the other side of the Administration buildings, it is great that Aaron has been able to achieve this and fool the eye and the mind on what is a small footprint layout. And there is a wealth of detail too. I love the cracked hard standing area, not overtly achieved. Subtle but unmistakable. It is really great work and carried across the layout.

Image 4: A Metra transfer run prepares to leave for the heavy maintenance centre with a tired motive power unit
Image 4: A Metra transfer run prepares to leave for the heavy maintenance centre with a tired motive power unit

In image 4 above, what took my eye straight away was the photo-realistic building flat. It is an eye-catching feature. The prime mover looks to have just been loaded, as the tie-downs have yet to be fastened to the flatcar.  This transfer freight movement will be heading off to the upstream maintenance centre later where that prime mover will get a rebuild before being replaced into another locomotive. I’m impressed by how the scene has been dressed. With most of the buildings flat against the rear of the layout, wide-open space reigns. Cleverly done Aaron.

Image 5: With the maintenance centre behind you, it's amazing what you can fit in only 8 feet x 1.5 feet
Image 5: With the maintenance centre behind you, it’s amazing what you can fit in only 8 feet x 1.5 feet

In image 5 above, we’re standing roughly in alignment with the face of the maintenance centre buildings. No matter how many times I look at the scene, I just don’t see how it is not 16 feet long.

Image 6: Aaron's use of photorealistic buildings and large buildings add to the scale and apparent size of the layout
Image 6: Aaron’s use of photorealistic buildings and large buildings add to the scale and apparent size of the layout

In image 6 above we’re looking toward the heart of the maintenance centre. Cleverly Aaron has not tried to model the entire building, yet there is enough darkness to hide the fact that the buildings are not as deep as they appear to be. Once again, the height of the surrounding buildings, and the service centre, illustrate how even in a small space you can use the vertical to make things appear bigger than they really are. It is something I’ll be using on my current small switching layout when I get around to making the warehousing and other structures. Also, we see another of the photo-realistic buildings; with knocked out windows, rusty roller doors, and a run-down look from an earlier time. It grounds the newer parts of the layout and suggests a history we just haven’t heard yet.

Image 7: Aaron's use of tall photo-realistic and large new structures add to the vertical scale and complement the small footprint of the layout
Image 7: Aaron’s use of tall photo-realistic and large new structures add to the vertical scale and complement the small footprint of the layout

In image 7 above, you’ll note the uncluttered nature of the layout. There’s work going on here, but there’s room to get about, without bumping into things. This particular scene also shows the actual depth of the maintenance centre buildings, just a car length long. Not that you’d notice while switching. The layout ticks so many boxes for me in regard to how small layouts should be built. With thought and care not only in the design but also in the execution of that design.

I guess by now there’s no hiding it: I’m a fan of this layout. There is so much to learn from how Rob has designed and Aaron has built the layout. And there is much more that you can add to what’s already here. That’s for another post and another day, however!


What’s in the next post?

In the next post, I’ll show I’ll share my knowledge of the types of depots that passenger trains operate from in my experience.  It’s not something that is often discussed in the hobby press, or online groups. So if you have no idea what I mean by a running depot, we’ll cover that in the next post, and in the series of posts that follow.

Till next time; Andrew


Resources

  • Aaron’s original post on the Micro/Small Model RR Layouts group on Facebook – membership of the group required to access the post (and well worth it too!)

Staying in Contact

Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways:

A tuning fork just begging to be modelled

Introduction

If you have not seen a tuning fork layout, it is a very simple 1 turnout operation. If you are still not seeing it in your mind, think of the letter ‘Y’. Most of the layouts I’ve seen assume either a mainline and a siding, or two sidings. However, that does not mean little operational potential. I found a video by Thornapple River Rail Series on YouTube [Link is below] this week and it got the creative juices flowing.

Packaging Corp of America - Grandville MI

Image 1: The location of the facility from Google Maps

The kicker is that the second of the spurs is used to allow switching to take place on the spur itself. Before you do any more reading watch the video (It is 18 odd minutes long but if you start at about the 4:36 minute mark you’ll get the gist pretty quickly).

Video 1: thanks to Thornapple River Rail Series

Operations

If you start at about the 4:40 mark into the video you’ll see the following occur:

  • Loco and first three cars cut off from the train
  • Same pulls forward of the spur switch, and reverses across Viaduct St SW toward the plant
  • You’ll notice the second spur on the outside of the plant as the train pushes back toward the plant
  • Once the roller door comes up, the train pushes back into the dock area, picks up the outbound cars, and pulls forward again to clear the switch for the spur
  • Next, the outbound cars get pushed onto the exterior spur
  • Inbound cars get pulled forward onto the spur again, the switch is reset, and the inbound cars are pushed back into the dock
  • Loco cuts off, pulls forward to clear the switch, and once changed over, pushes back to hook on and pump up the air on the 3 outbound cars
  • Pulling forward the loco and three outbound cars cross over the road and re-join the train
  • Just to add the cherry on top, the train then reverses back to the yard with the engineer riding the caboose

Now all of this takes between 10 – 14 minutes of video time. But what a fantastic way to spend your 5-20-5 minutes of daily modelling / operating time (read a post on that concept here).

If you want to make it last a little longer, first re-arrange the incoming cars into the order as required by the plant. Additionally some cars may not be unloaded yet, and they need to be moved off-spot, and then back on again with new inbound cars. Some cars may need to be left off-spot on the exterior spur for the next switching session.

Layout idea

While I mainly model in HO my true passion is 0 scale (and bigger when I can manage it). Alas I have not the room for a big layout to run those sized trains – yet.

The layout - via BING Maps

Image 2: The complete layout (click for a larger version of the file)

For an 0 scale layout I cannot think of a better idea. You could easily do that in 12 feet and no more than 12 inches wide. If you really had the room you could do it in 18 inches wide and go nuts with weathering, winter trees as in the video, and the knocked over Armco barriers. Glorious! The big gotcha here is that the switching lead ahead of the switch has to be longer than 2x the maximum number of cars you switch into the dock. Don’t forget to add a loco length on top of that too.

So if you switch in 3 cars and out 3 cars you’ll need to have six spots plus a loco length to allow the switching to take place.

Hope that this gets your creative juices flowing. And thanks to Thornapple River Rail Series for posting the video. I am going to be looking through a bunch of his videos now for other similar ideas for my layouts in the future.

It’s a sunny and pleasant Saturday afternoon in Ballarat, hope you’re enjoying your day where you are.

Resources:

Google Maps: Location

Bing Maps:     Location