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Fundamentals of Railroading HO Scale Track Plan

Fundamentals of Railroading

Demonstrating the Basics on a Portable Layout

Track Plan At A Glance

Layout Theme: Mainline Railroad
Layout Type: Portable Layout
Size: 4'-8" x 13'-10"
Section Size: 27" x 56"
Scale: HO Scale
Era: 1950s-2000s
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 24"

Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: October 11, 2016

This month will be Round and Round October - a series of four portable model railroads simply designed for trains to go around in circles. These plans are focused on building display layouts to go to train shows and feature highly detailed scenes.  Operations is a secondary priority.

Train shows serve several purposes. For many here in the US, a train show tends to be a shopping expedition to find unique or out of production items. For some, it is more entertainment - to see the various layouts and attractions setup as part of the event. Since many shows have a range of visitors from experienced model railroaders to those unfamiliar with the hobby - a useful component of a train show can be an introduction to the hobby of model railroading and the railroad industry.

This layout is a portable layout designed to explain the fundamentals of railroading and model railroading. The loop would feature various examples of what could be found along a railroad right of way - from stations to tunnels to sidings and signals. Several interactive screens placed around the outside of the layout would allow train show visitors to press a button to learn more about the features built into the layout with short video and audio segments.

In addition, the layout would be setup well to showcase the basics of model railroad construction and techniques. Numerous construction techniques would need to be employed in order to build the layout from benchwork to scenery to trackwork and wiring. During the layout construction process, videos and photos can be taken which can then be shown on the screens positioned around the railroad. A companion website or app could be developed alongside the layout to give visitors a more interactive experience at the show as well as a reference after the end of the event.

In order to add visual interest to the layout beyond the scenery, numerous animation elements could be included on the layout. These could include working grade crossing gates, day to night lighting effects, welders, working vehicles, and building lights.

Operations on the Railroad

In order to make sure trains are always running during a train show, a pair of general freight trains would be setup in opposite direction on the two sidings. Each train would then be set to circle for about a half hour and then be switched with the other train that is parked in the siding. While the one train is parked, this would be the best opportunity to quickly clean the locomotive wheels in order to ensure smooth operation for the duration of the event. Typically, these layouts need to run continuously for six to eight hours a day so having the ability to easily maintain equipment is a worthy feature to include in the design of the layout.

Keeping with the theme of teaching about the basics of railroading, each of the trains which are set out to run at a show should be comprised of various examples of railroad equipment such as box cars, hopper cars, covered hoppers, flat cars, tank cars, gondolas, and of course a caboose.

Trailer Layout Plan

The arrangement of the layout sections and accessories in a typical 5'x8' enclosed cargo trailer. | Photo by Jim Spavins.


Transporting the Railroad

The overall footprint of the layout was designed to fit in a typical 5'x8' enclosed cargo trailer. A total of three shelves would be built inside the trailer to hold the various layout components. The bottom shelf (trailer floor) would contain all the layout accessories needed to setup the layout. This would include items like spare parts, tools, skirting, signs, screens, control system, barriers, and trains. The two top shelves would contain the six layout sections.

Additionally, the layout footprint was also designed to be easily included within the typical footprint of a train show. Many of the larger train shows are held in convention centers which are setup in a 10'x10' grid (a typical trade show booth is 10'x10'). When including barriers around the layout, the total floor area needed for the railroad is 10'x20'. This provides a roughly 2.5' to 3' aisle between the layout and the barriers which is enough to hopefully keep wayward hands from touching the railroad.

For Track Plan Tuesday's, I am digitizing all of my old track planning notebooks and sharing the designs here on the website.  To see all the plans, visit the track plan home page at: jimspavins.com/jimstrackplans.