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SONO Tower Track Plan

Minimalist Model Railroading Case Study #6

SONO Tower

Capturing the Essence of a Tower Operation

Track Plan At A Glance

Layout Theme: Interlocking Tower
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Size: 12'x18'
Scale: HO Scale
Era: 1990s-2000s
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 30"

Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: April 26, 2016

In the first five Minimalist Model Railroading Case Studies, we've covered the idea of creating a model railroad around the perspective of the railroad crew and railfan.  However, there are lots of other perspectives to design a layout around.  For example, what about the idea of building a layout around another railroad job - like a tower operator? Tower operators can be found at critical junction points on a railroad and are responsible for moving traffic safely through this part of the railroad.

Building a layout around a tower operation, the essential design elements would include the following:

The design shown at the beginning of the article relentlessly focuses on these three essential features which are present at the SONO Tower on the Northeast Corridor in South Norwalk, CT.  This tower is located at the junction of the Danbury Branch and the Northeast Corridor and sees a steady stream of commuter trains, Amtrak trains, and the occasional freight pretty much 24 hours a day.  (The original SONO Tower has been turned into a museum - which you can visit on weekends in the summer and watch this action. Learn more here.)

As can be seen, the plan of the SONO Tower includes the main scene in the middle of one wall. The two staging yards (10 track traversers) along the two other walls are used to hold trains until ready to be run through the interlocking. The middle of the room is used for the tower operator's controls.  These could be as simple as a small panel with some buttons to throw the turnouts or something more elaborate mimicking actual tower controls.

Metro North passes Sono Tower

A Metro-North Commuter train passes SONO Tower in the summer of 2014. | Photo by Jim Spavins.


Presenting the Railroad

The idea with this layout plan is that the focus is on the interlocking operations and everything else about the railroad would be minimized. Most likely, the staging yards would be visually blocked from the layout room with curtains or a fold down door or panel. The entire visible portion of the railroad would consist of the interlocking and associated signaling. There would also be some scenery and structures around the crossing to allude to the location of the tower in South Norwalk. 

Sono Tower

A view of SONO Tower from Washington Street. | Photo by Jim Spavins.


Operating the Railroad

The layout could be operated with several people. One person would be focused on the tower operations while one or two other people took on the roles of the railroad crews running the trains from one point to another through the interlocking. The idea would be to follow a timetable of trains through the junction and directing them to their appropriate destination.

If it was desired, it may be possible to design a control system where this layout could be run by one person. Since the layout is small, in general, only one train at a time would run through the junction. With only about 15-18 trains able to be staged at one time, a session could last for about an hour or two. If you had people actually change out trains in the staging yard during the operation session, the number of trains run on a given session could be limitless.

Norwalk Drawbridge

The drawbridge over the Norwalk River. | Photo by Jim Spavins.


Resource Use on the Railroad

As with all of the plans, let's take a look at how the design constraints of time, space, money, and skills would be used on this railroad's design:

Time would be spent...

The Space would be used for...

Money would be spent on...

The Skills required to build the railroad are...

Overall, the layout would work well with the stated design goals of re-creating the essence of tower operations. There would be plenty of operating capability for the railroad as well as space to create the tower controls.

Prototype Information

Minimalist Model Railroading Case Studies

Capturing the Essence of Railroading

Introduction - Minimalist Model Railroading

Case Study #1 - Claremont Concord Railroad
Scale: O Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #2 - CP Rail's Kicking Horse Pass
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #3 - Trolley Museum
Scale: O Scale        Size: 2'x6'

Case Study #4 - N&W 611 Excursion
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #5 - CS Industries
Scale: O Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #6 - Sono Tower
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #7 - Boston and Albany Railroad
Scale: N Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #8 - Central Yard Engine Terminal
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #9 - Iron Horse Railroad Museum
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #10 - MM&R Timber Co.
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #11 - Springfield Metro
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #12 - South Station, Boston, MA
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #13 - Canaan, CT
Scale: N Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #14 - Chas Chemicals
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #15 - Westerly, RI
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #16 - Connecticut River Drawbridge
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #17 - Valley City Viaduct
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #18 - Wood River Railroad
Scale: O Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #19 - Portable Shortline
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #20 - Charter St. Steam Plant
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 8"x15'

Case Study #21 - Eastern Scenic Railroad
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #22 - West Springfield Yard
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #23 - Good Ol' 4x6
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 4'x6'