Track Plan At A Glance
Layout Theme: N&W 611 Excursion
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Scale: HO Scale
Era: June 7th, 2015
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 48" (Mainline) - 36" (Wye)
Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: April 12, 2016
One of the adrenaline raising types of railfanning is the train chase. Through the years, I've enjoyed this style of railfanning on an occasional basis. However, it's not easy to find routes well suited to a chase as many things need to be in your favor. First, you must have a route with a parallel road where the road speed limits are substantially higher than the train speeds. (There is no need to ruin a day of railfanning by causing an accident or getting a ticket.) Second, there needs to be plenty of public access to the mainlines - typically in the form of grade crossings - where there are places to pull over and park your car. Third, the mainline must be long enough to allow several stops to see the train. Finally, there needs to be interesting enough traffic and scenery to make for some good photos and/or videos.
Fortunately, a year ago, all of those conditions came together when the Virginia Museum of Transportation announced the American Excursion of the newly restored J-class Norfolk & Western 611. This particular set of excursions would be hosted on The B-Line - the former Southern Railway, now Norfolk Southern mainline between Manassas, VA, and Front Royal, VA, through the Shenandoah Valley. For us railfans, the line is well suited to chase as both VA-55 and I-66 run parallel to a substantial portion of the railroad and the railroad's speed limit ranges between 35 and 45 miles per hour on the route. I-66 has a posted speed limit of 70 mph for most of the chase route allowing for a safe, legal chase. There are also dozens of places to stop to grab photos of the train in action.
A couple of my friends and myself, headed down to Virginia to take part in the excursion weekend - both taking an opportunity to ride the train as well as chase the train. It was a bit of a surreal experience as apparently everybody who lived in the area decided to come out and catch a glimpse of 611 in action. For 50 miles, thousands of people lined the right of way to catch a glimpse of the excursions on beautiful summer weekend. (If you have a half hour to spare, there is a great YouTube video of the train as well as the crowds which witnessed the return of the Queen of Steam here.)
Naturally, after that great weekend, I began to think about how it could be scaled down into model form. Using the Minimalist Model Railroad design guidelines, I began to list out the essential features of the train chase of N&W 611. These included:
- Starting location at the Manassas, VA train station
- Railfanning Locations between Manassas and Front Royal
- Wyes at Front Royal and Manassas
- Model of 611 and the excursion train
Using a basement as the space for the railroad, I came up with the plan above. The 24'x44' layout features the two terminals of the excursion route - Manassas and Front Royal as well as about 15 to 20 railfanning locations from along the B-Line. To handle the long passenger equipment, the mainline minimum radius is 48 inches. Only for the two wyes, the minimum radius is decreased to 36 inches. In general, the aisles are kept fairly wide with the exception of a few pinch points which are set at three feet. This will allow a fair number of visitors to stand trackside and watch the excursion run around the basement.
N&W 611 charges through Front Royal, VA, on June 7, 2015. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
Operating the Railroad
Thinking about the idea of viewing the railroad as a railfan, the design allows for several different ways to experience the railroad. If you are on your own and simply want to watch the train go by, there is a continuous run designed into the layout. This means the the throttle can just be opened up and the viewer can just simply kick back and watch the excursion pass through the Virginia countryside. If the desire was to operate the train, the two ends of the railroad - Manassas, VA, and Front Royal, VA, are both setup with wye's so the prototype operations could be replicated (The entire train was turned on each wye before departing and returing). If you had a group of people come over to see the railroad, each visitor could take turns operating the excursion and chasing the train.
Resource Use on the Railroad
One key way to determine if the railroad has met the design goals from a minimalist perspective is to see how the construction of the railroad would use the four most valuable resources for model railroaders - time, space, money and skills. For this railroad, the goal is to capture the essence of the chase of N&W 611.
Time would be spent:
- Building Scenery and Structures
- Building the Excursion Train
- Railfanning and operating the excursion train
The Space would be used for:
- Prototype Scenes
- Railfan Viewing Locations
Money would be spent on:
- Scenery and Structures
- Excursion Train
- Room Environment
The Skills required to build the railroad are:
- Scenery and Structure Construction
- Locomotives and Rolling Stock Construction
As can be seen in the lists above, the resource use aligns well with the desired outcome of the railroad. While the track arrangement is simple, the finished railroad will allow the viewer to enjoy chasing 611 around the basement.