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I live in Utah and I was so excited when we started to get trains here. We now have LR transit and commuter rail. I would like to start a layout of my city. I have done a lot of thinking and looking into how to build custom models of the buildings in the city. The problem I am running into is that in HO, blocks are ~9 feet long! and in N scale, they are ~5 feet. It is not practical to build exactly to scale. How do you choose what to shrink down and by how much? Any suggestions on building city layouts?


The Flange Squeal
are you attempting to build the commuter/rapid rail system or the fright system, or both?
generally, unless you have a pretty significant amount of space, building an entire city can be challenging. these guys will be along with better advice im sure, but you may want to start with a section of the city, maybe one that includes more rail activity/industry than another. another idea may be to use backdrops to give your city the illusion of size.
My plan is to only follow the light rail line from the inter modal hub where freigh, amtrak, light rail, commuter rail, city buses, and greyhound all collide. I will then move into the city along the light rail line over time. I am planning to take many years to do this. I just need to figure out how to scale buildings to make the blocks smaller or it will seem impossible.

I want this layout to be sectional. I have thought about a few different sizes for the sections: 1x1 block, 2x2 block(this would be ideal, except for the enormous size), 1x2, 1/2x1, etc. My passion is people trains, as I like to call it. I will model some of the UP freight lines that interact with the amtrak and commuter rail, but my focus is the passanger lines.
Map of Dream

I have made a little map of want my dreams are for this model. I want to start either in city center (upper right box) or the intermodal hub (lower left). Just posting this so you all know what my vision is. I want to be accurate, but scale down the buildings or get rid of unimportant ones to decrease block size. Any suggestions on choosing what buildings and how to scale them to make them look believable?


A few suggestions, Peter. First off, if you intend more or less modeling the actual city these lines operate in, the key is to choose a few key, highly identifiable, local structures to include and fill in around them with generic buildings from commercially available structure kits.

Likewise, don't attempt to model city blocks to anything like scale. You wish only to convey the "impression" that one is looking at a miniature of the real city. Start by compressing the scenes as much as possible. Only the faces of the nearest buildings need to be reasonably to scale. Their depths can be significantly shortened and background buildings need only be 2/3 scale size to look believable.

Try to maintain at least three layers of structures from the front of the layout to the backdrop. Four is better. Run your track on the street nearest the edge of the layout so that you can make the hidden streets infront of the second and third layers of structures much narrower than scale.

These are just a few ideas. Kalmbach has a fairly good how-to book on creating city scenery, which I would suggest that you purchase.

Here's a city scene, which is about 3x10 feet, on my layout:



I have a sketch here of what I will probably be first doing: the SLC intermodal hub.

Here is a picture of google maps. This is an old image, so it doesn't even have the commuter rail or light rail platforms.

Here is my sketch:
I am leaning toward HO scale. I have always had HO and don't know if I want to go any smaller, especially if I am going to scratch build many structures. For HO scale, this first module will be 3' x 6'. (using the suggested 3' block size).

The one thing that this will do is make many of my modules 6' x 6'. I have looked into many different sizes to split it up, but 2x2 blocks seems to be the best. With this size, I will have all my seams in the middel of streets, but have the route of the light rail in the center of the modules.

You are probably right. I didn't think about the width of the track. I will rework it. I need to try a real track CAD program anyways. Thanks for the tip.

P.S. are you the same Jim with the article in the recent special issue of Model Railroader?


Fleeing from Al
Peter, I'm afraid I'm neither special enough nor talented enough to get an article published in MR. XtrkCAD would be a real good program to start doing your planning. You're forced to consider things like track size, curves, and spacing so you don't come up with an unworkable plan.
Below is a sketch I did after a couple hours learning xtrkcad. It follows the prototype track alignment pretty well. However, I may want to make more room for the bus stations and Intermodal hub station building.



Fleeing from Al
Peter, looks like a nice plan so far. The only issue I see is that bottom crossover is unuseable without another module attached since there not enough length to even pass an LRV and have enough tail track room. If that's the way you meant it, no problem. Otherwise, I'd move it and the left hand turnout further up so the crossover can be used on this module.

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