Track Plan At A Glance
Layout Theme: Interlocking Tower
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Scale: HO Scale
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:
- Timetables of the railroad operations
- Equipment used on the railroad (locomotives and rolling stock)
- Appropriate Control Locations for Tower Operators
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.
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.
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.
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...
- Building locomotives and rolling stock
- Creating a control system
- Operating the interlocking
The Space would be used for...
- The Interlocking
- Tower Controls
- Staging for trains on the railroad
Money would be spent on...
- Locomotives and Rolling Stock
- Control System
- Room Environment
The Skills required to build the railroad are...
- Structure Construction
- Locomotives and Rolling Stock Construction
- Control System Design and Implementation
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.