Track Plan At A Glance
Layout Theme: Railroad Location
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Scale: HO Scale
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 4
Min. Radius: 30"
Article by: Jim Spavins
Posted: August 9, 2016
Published: March 7, 2014
I think there are many of us in the hobby who gained our interest in railroads from spending some time out trackside observing real railroads in operation. Some of us would like to take those enjoyable memories spent trackside and scale those down and recreate them at home. On a trip out to North Dakota, I happened upon the Hi-Line Bridge over the Sheyenne River in Valley City. I was able to spend the day hanging out in Chautauqua Park and watching the BNSF freight trains rolling across the bridge. It was a relaxing spot and one which would be nice to replicate to capture the essence of a great day of railfanning. The essential features of this model railroad should include:
- Spectacular bridge scene
- Appropriate mainline railroad traffic
- Comfortable vantage point to watch trains
- Hands off operations
The final design of the railroad (shown at the beginning of the article) includes the one main scene featuring the Hi-Line Bridge and two staging yards in a loop to loop configuration. The staging yards have capacity for five trains to operate over the viaduct.
Presenting the Railroad
Most of the time, model railroads are relegated to basements or attics or spare rooms far from sight for non-hobby guests. Part of the reason, as many of us have seen, is that layouts under construction can be a mess and less than desirable to show off. In addition, many times very little money is spent to finish off the layout space itself as the builder prefers to sink available hobby dollars into the layout and equipment instead of room finishes.
However, this type of layout lends itself very well to being shown and we can think about the space a bit differently. In this case, the idea is that the layout becomes a part of the function of the room. The visible portion of the railroad can be framed out to act as a rather large animated three dimensional artwork along the wall. The staging yards can be built into furniture for the room - in this case a bar top and miscellaneous book cases. This makes the room more conducive to having guests over as the focus of the room isn't purely on the railroad - it simply acts like a backdrop to the main function of the room. Access to the staging yards would be through the staging access areas inside the bar. Simple flip down doors can keep everything out of sight. Depending upon how adventurous you are with your carpentry skills, adding some glass or plexiglass areas to the bar top or bar sides could help give visitors a backstage view of the operations as well as provide additional access points to the staging yards. This might make keeping an eye on the operations of the trains easier.
Operating the Railroad
Since the layout is meant to be enjoyed as a railfan, an automated control system would be an ideal way to operate the railroad. Since the layout is supposed to blend into the function of the room as opposed to dominate the room, this feature would have the added benefit of simply being able to have trains run while guests are over without the hassle of digging out the throttle, plugging in the address, and then babysitting the train running around in circles. With the loop to loop design of the layout, the automated control system could build in an irregular pause between trains just to keep the railfans in the room on their toes as to what is coming next.
A BNSF grain train heads east over the Hi-Line Bridge in Valley City, ND. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
Resource Use on the Railroad
The initial time spent on the railroad would be concentrated on building the cabinetry and benchwork for the railroad. Since the layout is intended to be in a finished environment, this phase will probably need to be completed quickly. The actual bridge scene could be completed at slower pace once the benchwork phase is complete as a nice set of drapes could hide the scene until it was ready for its big reveal. The rest of the time constructing the railroad would be taken up by completing the rolling stock fleet as well as programming the automated control system. Overall, this is a layout that could be built relatively quickly so much of the time spent with the railroad would be spent just enjoying watching the wheels roll through the scene.
The space has been used to incorporate the Hi-Line Bridge scene as well as turning the rest of the room into a socializing area. Book cases or display shelves could be added to the walls to display other equipment that wasn't running.
The two big ticket expenses for this railroad will be the locomotives and rolling stock fleet as well as the finished cabinetry which will be required. However, if you are thoughtful in material and finish selection, this layout could be built on a reasonable budget.
Along those same lines, the big skills which will be needed for the layout are rolling stock and locomotive detailing, painting, and weathering along with carpentry skills. The cabinetry skills are useful outside of the hobby so that could be a worthwhile learning goal. In addition, if you decide to automate the railroad, you'll need to learn some programming to create a system to run the railroad.