The process for designing a model railroad layout seems pretty straightforward. The idea is to work out a design that meets your particular needs and aspirations within the context of available layout space, your skills, time, and money. I also want to affirm that you will need to consider competing priorities for time (the needs of your work, family and friends) and for money (it is a hobby after all).
In nearly all model railway/model railroad magazines there are descriptions and photos of layouts. Most of these descriptions will at least have a paragraph or two on how the owner decided what the layout design requirements were and how the final track plan came into being. I have hinted previously about some of the features of the prototype that I liked and wanted to incorporate in a model railroad design. In the US, reference is often made to layout planner John Armstrong’s “givens” and “druthers”. Givens are what you have to have for the layout (space, your chosen scale, type of control system, etc.) and druthers are what you’d like to (realistically) have for the model railroad (e.g. rural industries, interchange, number of stations, yards more important than scenery, etc.).
Whatever the terminology and processes used for decision-making, it is very likely that modellers begin their quest for their “perfect” layout design with a series of doodles which progress to sketches and then to a scaled-out plan. In my case, it was no different.
While the previous blog posts may have given the impression that my thought process about prototype and location was relatively straightforward, it wasn’t. Considerable time and research was required to give me sufficient understanding for what I wanted within the parameters of the layout’s physical location. Doodles and sketches became part of that process; testing new ideas or discarding others. As such, my sketches therefore reflect the fact that I was combining my knowledge about the prototype and aspirations for the model railroad at different points in time over the past few years. In addition, I looked at hundreds of layout plans from my collection of model railroad magazines (and the very handy Model Railroader track plan database) and also some prototype yard drawings. I will go into detail about this research in another blog post.
I made literally hundreds of sketches, many with just a few alterations and different operating options. Except for early sketches, the general configuration of a double-deck around-the-room design remained constant. Some of my earliest sketches included a helix in the central peninsula area but I gave up on that idea pretty quickly.That being the case, I had to use a grade to move between decks. I couldn’t get sufficient length to have a big gap between decks, one on top of the other. I compromised with a deck separation of 8″ (203mm) with a stepped-out deck design (i.e. the lower deck is in front of, and not under, the upper deck). I have operated on layouts in Australia with that design and it never bothered me that the two decks were arranged this way.
Nearly all my sketches just show the main lines (DME and BN) without detail for the yards in each town. I keep the layout plan for each town separate and then I mock up the design on the baseboard with track to better visualise how things look in reality. I make adjustments at this stage.
I will just show a few examples of some layout design sketches I made to illustrate the point that playing around with track designs is both necessary and exceedingly helpful to get to a “final” plan. I haven’t included any of the “back-of-the-envelope” type sketches but they were important in developing different ideas. Please note that the first sketch shows the garage doors at the top of the page while the other sketches have the garage doors at the bottom of the pages. You can refer to the previous blog post with the diagram there showing the dimensions of the garage and the position of the side door.
The last sketch here made it to a scaled diagram, albeit the diagram above is more scaled sketch than detailed plan. You will note that turnouts and the individual town yard plans are not included in these sketches. As I mentioned, I like to get the general design for the main lines on paper first, working out the town yards individually, before putting the two elements together with the track unfixed on the baseboard. Suffice to say, the final sketch above has been modified several times on paper and on the layout itself. When I get some time, I will redraw the plan as close to what the layout now looks like and put it up on the blog.
I should also admit that between the time I drew that last sketch illustrated above (a few months ago) and when I finally got around to putting track down on the baseboard to see how it all looked, I did experience a crisis of confidence where I thought it all didn’t work! I spent another month or so looking at other design options, including alternative DME routes (e.g. starting the line from Brookings, South Dakota, and heading east to Marshall, Minnesota). In the end, I finalised the positioning of the towns and continued with the plan for a double-deck layout going around the walls of the garage with a central peninsula. Most of the changes with this configuration have been in the detail and relate to improving the layout’s operational potential without too many worrying compromises. Two significant alterations to the paper designs shown here related to changes in the placement of the grades between lower and upper decks, and the positioning of my staging yard, all worth a future blog post in itself.
Let me conclude this post by saying that the “final” design on paper continued to have several iterations after I put track down (unfixed) on the baseboard. I really needed this physical 3D perspective to make sense of everything. I looked at different positions of turnouts, sidings and spurs, but the main line pretty much remained the same. Other people may have been able to achieve the same result with greater precision on paper or by using model railroad layout design computer software like AnyRail or 3rd PlanIt. For me, the iterative process worked best because I find it difficult to visualise things straight from a detailed diagram – I need to see the real thing! Whatever method you prefer, in the end you will eventually succeed in the transition from paper (or computer screen) to baseboard from where further adjustments can be made.