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New England Central Track Plan.

New England Central Railroad

HO Scale Basement Layout Designed to Grow

Track Plan At A Glance

Layout Theme: New England Shortline
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Size: 24'x44'
Scale: HO Scale
Era: 1990s
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 36"

Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: November 17, 2015

In the summer of 1999, I had a chance to visit David Barrow's famed Cat Mountain and Santa Fe layout. (See a video of the layout from another modeler here.)  The version of the layout at the time was the one which first popularized his "domino" approach to layout design and construction. 

The visit left an impression on me for a number of reasons.  First, the room was completely finished - it felt more like a museum than someone's home.  Second, most of the construction of the layout was done outside of the layout room.  Many of the usual trappings of a model railroad space - the extra materials, boxes of kits, tools - which are usually found overflowing from under or around a layout were completely out of sight.  It felt better as a visitor and really kept your focus on the layout.

After the visit, I outlined some thoughts about an ideal home layout for me based on this style of layout design and construction.  The basic concept I was looking for was to create a layout which was an accent to a family room or man cave type of space with a separate workshop/staging area.  The layout could be built one or two sections at a time in the workshop - where it would be ok to make a mess - and then the final layout sections moved into the finished room.  Since it would take a couple of years to build the sections of the layout, a temporary loop could be built around the walls to allow trains to be up and running fairly quickly.  When sections of the layout were complete, a portion of this temporary loop would be replaced with the finished layout section.  This would allow the layout to only be out of service for brief periods of time while the new sections are installed.  In addition, there would be a great deal of immediate satisfaction watching trains roll through a completed scene almost instantly.

David Barrow's famed Cat Mountain Santa Fe layout circa 1999. | Photo by Jim Spavins.


Since I enjoy New England shortlines, the layout designed above is loosely based on the New England Central Railroad in the late 1990s.  The yard is the focal point of activity (think Palmer, MA for those familiar with the railroad) with several trains originating and terminating at this location.  A rather large industry provides some switching as well as an interchange track.  Operating sessions are meant to be laid back affairs with just a couple of trains and most folks just enjoying the finished part of the room socializing.

There is plenty of space still left in the basement with this plan so if there was a desire to expand the layout, some of the leisure space could be sacrificed for layout by adding a peninsula or two.  Also, if some part of the layout just isn't working, it would be easy to simply replace a couple of sections instead of having to take down the entire layout.  In theory, as skills and materials improve, the entire layout could slowly be upgraded one section at a time as both time and money allow.

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.