Track Plan At A Glance
Layout Theme: Scenic Railroad
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Scale: HO Scale
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 8
Min. Radius: 48"
Article by: Jim Spavins
Posted: November 8, 2016
Published: March 7, 2014
In the arc of railroad history, tourist railroads are still very much the newcomer to the scene. However, one of the oldest tourist railroads in the country, the Strasburg Railroad, is about to complete 60 years of tourist railroad operations in just a few years. Just like other common carriers, tourist railroads are beginning to have their own history with lines being formed, growing, declining, and closing up shop. While the tourist railroad aim is to preserve the history of railroading, just like many of us do with model railroads, these lines can make an interesting focus for a model railroad.
In order to design a layout around the theme of a tourist railroad, the essential features of the railroad should be:
- Main station terminal
- Scenic right of way
- Secondary terminal or turn-around point
The layout design at the beginning of the article is a freelanced scenic railroad but includes a number of elements from prototype tourist railroads. The railroad is intended to be located somewhere on the east coast and operate steam excursions. The main terminal is loosely modeled after the Valley Railroad in Essex, CT, and the Big Farm Curve is a hat tip to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad's famed Helmstetter's Curve.
The layout winds around the walls of the basement and onto a peninsula in the middle of the room. The mainline folds back over itself to gain mainline run length. While the layout is intended to operate in a point-to-point manner, a continuous running provision has been included in the design of the railroad. As can be seen, the layout is focused solely on this scenic mainline with the only switches on the mainline for the three passing sidings and another for access to the shop complex. It is rather rare to find an excursion line which also has operating industries along the mainline (although possible - see the Strasburg Railroad). For the most part, these excursion services were the last remaining viable economic activity for the line. In addition, it's a tough sell to the general public to get them to ride through a dense industrial area - even if railfans would enjoy it!
The Valley Railroad excursion prepares to head out on another run at the Essex, CT, Station. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
Operating the Railroad
The railroad would operate just like most scenic railroads. The train would be prepared and pulled into the main station at Hope Valley. The crew would take a trip up the line to the turnaround point at Woodville, runaround the train, and pull the consist back to Hope Valley. Keep in mind that tourist railroads don't run at top speed as the point is to amble along and enjoy the ride as opposed to get there as fast as possible. The total mainline run is 250 feet - which is just slightly over 4 scale miles which makes the total run over 8 scale miles. If you run the train at about 15 to miles per hour, one trip will take 35-45 minutes in real time! If you're the type of person who loves walking around with a through train at an operating session and loves hitting that long-long-short-long pattern on the horn button on the DCC system as you approach a grade crossing, this layout would be a lot of fun to operate. If you like switching, this layout probably isn't for you. A passing siding has been included at about the halfway point on the mainline between Hope Valley and Woodville so a train could depart every twenty minutes from the station at Hope Valley if you want to give a couple of crews a chance to run trains on the layout.
Resource Use on the Railroad
With the limited rolling stock and locomotive fleet needed for this type of railroad, most of the construction time would be spent laying the mainline trackage and building scenery. If you enjoy scenery, this layout will allow you to spend almost all of your available construction time on this activity instead of wiring or detailing equipment. With the four scale mile mainline, there will be a lot of trees to construct as well as lots of square footage to add details.
While the budget will be saved from a large rolling stock fleet, scenery materials can quickly add up on such a large layout. There would probably be thousands of trees on a layout such as this so finding ways to keep costs down on tree construction would be a must. In addition, scenic materials like ballast, ground foam or static grass will need to be purchased in gallon quantities. Since this is a scenic railroad, the number of total structures can be kept down on a layout of this size which will also help the budget. While there is a need to include some buildings like the station and small shop complex on the layout, the rest of the structures for the layout can be at your discretion to make interesting scenes.
The skills you will need to build this railroad will really be all about the scenery and detailing. Wiring for this layout will be about as easy as it gets for such a large layout and simple L-girder benchwork can provide the base for everything. With such a small rolling stock and locomotive fleet - potentially just one locomotive and a handful of coaches - taking the time to learn how to build these models isn't a problem. If needed, there are plenty of commercially available locomotives and passengers which can stand in until the magazine cover worthy locomotive and passenger cars are constructed.