Layout Designs..Food for Thought.

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Brakie

Member
I thought it would be nice if we looked at advanced layout designing..This is meant to be food for thought and something that might help on the next layout..

First what is advanced layout designing? That is designing a layout above the basic loop that comes with a train set or a loop of track with 2 or 3 industries. See how truly simple advanced layout planning can be even for the beginner?

Ok, now we have the space for a nice layout..Now before we hop into designing a layout there are some questions we must ask ourselves.
1. What do we want in a layout? How many operators? Or solo operation?
2. Do we want a railfan type of layout where we can kick back and watch trains run?
3. Do we want prototypical operations?
4. Do we want to model a given area that we fondly recall?
5. Do we want single track with passing sidings? Double track main line? Branch Line?
6. Why was the railroad built to begin with? It has to have a reason for being.
7. Do we want staging? A working yard with engine terminal? A working passenger terminal?
8. And last but not least is what era do we wish to model?
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A well design layout should or perhaps must be a pleasure to operate for years to come. This will only come by a well thought out track design..When we design a layout we must take the time to study the above questions and answer them to our taste..Anybody can throw down a loop of track with 2 or 3 industries without much thought in planning. Now the bad part..They can and will soon become bored with that type of layout. Now had they taken the time to think out a well designed track plan they would enjoy the layout much better. See what I am saying?
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Now lets look at the types of designs..

1. A railfan type of layout.
This is a layout design for train watching..This could be designed after your favorite railfan spot now or from years gone by and long gone...Here is where staging yards will really shine. You recall the trains you saw like say a passenger train that rip through the general freights and of course the lowly local as it rolled by or perhaps stopped and switched a industry or 2.

2. Prototypical operations.
This is a layout set up to be operated like the prototype. The best part is it does not have to be basement size. This layout will have staging, a working yard, engine terminal and many industries to switch. Tony Koester and the other great thinkers of prototypical operation has suggested a staging yard next to a working yard..This will allow a train to enter the working yard, change crews, add or drop cars before heading off layout on another division, or it could enter the layout from another division drop/pickup cars before continuing across the layout to disappear into staging.

3. The lowly branch line.
Here is a track design fit for solo operations in a very prototypical setting. Picture this..A low drivered 2-6-0,2-8-0 or a 4-6-0 leaves the branch line yard to head up the branch with say 5-7 cars and a combine switching cars along the way and stopping at some appointed road crossings to pick up cans of milk or perhaps to leave some LCL freight with a waiting farmer in his pick up truck..Of course you will stop at the station at the end of the branch to unload the LCL, mail and passengers(if any) before switching the few industries or the team track...Fast forward the clock. You can do the same with diesels including the combine during the 50s early 60s..Fast forward you can still model a branch line but add a caboose instead of a combine. If you model to today then use a red flag or fred.

4. Point to point.
This type of layout needs more then one operator as a rule and I will hit lightly on it..A point to point layout should have 2 yards and 2 staging yards, single track with passing siding to be enjoyed to the fullest..Now you could use a point to point type layout for a branch line layout since only one train should be ran up the branch.

5. Out and back
This is a layout that is designed for a train to leave a yard run across the layout run through a reversing loop and return to the yard from which it came. Not bad for solo operations.

6. The famous loop...
A loop does not have to be boring..Add some industries, a small yard with yard lead inbound/outbound track, a small engine service area and the loop de loop layout will take on a life of its own and be very interesting and fun to operate..

7. Modeling a given area.
This type of design is slowly catching on..This is where you model a given area such as your home town or some other area that you like..
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Looking at a small 4'x8' layout.

By using the right design a 4'x8' layout can be a super nice layout..It is my thoughts that we should leave un-prototypical steep grades and mountains off that size of layout and use the space available wisely...By using foam you can add a river, creek or a highway underpass..Use a view block, trees or tall buildings to hide the flatness of the layout.
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Less is more.

The great thinkers of layout designs suggest that we use less track and not fill the layout up with track and they feel that a train should pass through a scene only once..I fully agree with those thoughts if we have the space for such a layout. To my mind nothing looks as bad as a spaghetti bowl layout design as it kills the affect of most layouts..I will mention that the modeler is of course free to use that type of design if they choose to after all it is their layout..

I do want to mention one more style of layout..This is the industrial switching type..These too must be well thought out least it becomes a living nightmare to operate..

Comment: I find it strange that after all these years these types of layouts are begining to catch on..I am happy to see that.
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So in designing your next layout I urge you to think outside of the box and design a layout that will not only look good but give you years of operational enjoyment.
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Again I offer this up as food for thought for those that may be interested or designing a new layout and in no way meant to be layout design rules.
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IronBeltKen

Lazy Daydreamer
Brakie said:
...So in designing your next layout I urge you to think outside of the box and design a layout that will not only look good but give you years of operational enjoyment...Again I offer this up as food for thought for those that may be interested or designing a new layout and in no way meant to be layout design rules.
What an excellent topic!

I'm always thinking about this type of stuff when I talk to people about my layout, I'm glad you included the 'railfan' style of operation in your list. It seems like most mainstream magazine articles talk about replicating prototype operations - which is OK, but a tad beyond the amount of effort I want to put into my participation in the hobby.

I agree about the idea of setting goals, figuring out what you want from your future layout. Mine incorporates both 'railfanning' AND point-to-point industrial switching. [...and with a rotary coal dumper in one corner and a New River mine in another, I can even run a point-to-point unit coal train over the main line.] There are as many different types of operating operating scenarioes I can plan as there are days in a week - each of which can keep me occupied for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on leisure time availability.

I'm almost finished laying the track for this monster, soon I hope to actually start having fun with it! :D
 
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dthurman

Guest
I also want to say good review! (where are those dang thumbs) I have always wanted a proto type design, based on solo operations (which I would venture to say is 80% of those that build a home layout) and still allow a railfan option.

I think though the item lacking in many of the books out on layout design and operations, is getting the visual that many newcomers have a problem with. So many books seem to give you a great start but then leave out the real meat you need. But I will say that Kalmbach has to have the 3 best books on the subject:

Track Planning for Realistic Operation
Realistic Model Railroad Operation
Realistic Model Railroad Design

I feel these are a must have in any model railroaders library. The Bruce Chubb book is also a great book though now out of print and the name escapes me.

I see they have a new one coming out, so I wonder if it is the replacement for Chubb's book.
Realistic Model Railroad Building Blocks

I think you should also consider how you plan on doing the power pack, DC or DCC, I know many will say why bother with DC, but many modelers are on a budget, and should be aware that you can still get great operations with a DC layout (I know as I am DC and on a budget)

Also add to the mix is how you will or if you will be photographing your layout. I think that should be a design consideration a person includes. Lighting, access to the inner areas etc.

Just wanted to toss some of those elements in. I wish when I built mine, design and actual construction had used the resources of websites like MR forums, now here and had my library of books all completed to start the study process. Also add in railfanning to et a better understanding of how a train would look in a setting, the places to locate resources for any that are doing a "proto" layout. I found out recently that our college in town Bradley University has almost a whole floor dedicated to railroads of our area, going back to the late 1800's with pictures, maps etc.

Brakie, I think we have the makings of another Clinic thread ;)
 

IronBeltKen

Lazy Daydreamer
dthurman said:
...I think you should also consider how you plan on doing the power pack, DC or DCC, I know many will say why bother with DC, but many modelers are on a budget, and should be aware that you can still get great operations with a DC layout (I know as I am DC and on a budget)
Dave that's a good point, I'm financially-challenged myself at the moment so I have to go with plain ol' DC for awhile. But I still think it's a good idea to avoid common-rail block wiring on a new layout even if you don't plan to use DCC right away. It's always easier to install those additional wires during the initial building process, rather than having to worry about going back and changing it after you've put on all the trains and scenery.

(I know this because I had to retrofit all of my steel mill trackage that got transplanted from the layout in my old house...what a pain!)
 

SpaceMouse

Fun Lover
Nice list.

In my short experience in this hobby I am constantly seeing people who design their layout with their current needs in mind but fail to plan for the possibility that their interests might grow. While this might be considered okay for a 4x8 beginner layout, it might be a disaster on a basement layout.

For instance, a person has a 4 x 8 layout and gets bored running in circles. He designs a basement or room layout that is a larger circle. It addresses the immediate need of boredom with the small circle, but does not address the problem that the owner got bored with running in circles in first place.

ON the other hand, if the person is satisfied with running circles on a 4x8, it only makes sense that if they design a basement layout, that they continue with that type of design.
 
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dthurman

Guest
I think if you think along the DC line of wiring, that should help when it comes to isolating the DCC for better power distribution. I feel your pain on wiring, I need to break some of my bigger blocks down to smaller districts, also I had bought out Radio Shack of all their DPDT switches, and ended up with some that didn't have the center off :( another thing I noticed, their switches are not the greatest, some of mine are already fickle and you have to wiggle them a little to get contact sometimes.
 

SpaceMouse

Fun Lover
I love operating. My goal was to design an operators' layout that 4-6 people could run. It's like Brakie described almost to a T, two yards, two staging yards point to point. Now the problem. Every once in a while I just like to turn the trains on and let them run. Every loop I allowed for disappeared as I made choices for the operations and or prototype. Now it's a matter of running from staging to staging with a side trip down the short line.

In addition, I think my son likes running trains in circles

So, even though I have a pretty good point to point layout, I'm worried I will be shooting myself in the foot. (I could just take out my workbench and put a helix between the upper and lower staging to complete the circle.)
 

Lady_Railfan

House Mother, Cheerleader
Brakie, thanks so much. This isn't just food for thought, it's a feast! You guys will fall off your chairs laughing when you read how I "designed" my layout.

A friend at work moved and no longer had room for his G-scale layout, so he put a "for sale" note on the coffee-room bulletin board. I bought it virtually sight unseen, and left everything in boxes for several years. We eventually made the necessary landscape changes, and a friend here on the forums helped me design a workable plan. I only needed to add a few pieces of track. From that point, the layout has "just growed."

Its growth is temporarily stalled while I finish a "hotel" that I've worked on for several weeks. But I should be able to show you the latest version of the F&CGR in another week or three.
 

grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
Well, Brakie, you've summed up 5 years and 3 layouts worth of school of hard knocks info for me in one post! I hope someone new to the hobby will find and read this. It is possible to "get it right" on the first layout for a talented person who finds good info like this BEFORE they start building.

I'd like to add that visualization of the layout is paramount before starting construction. Do you have a mental image of what you're after? This type foreknowledge of what the modeler wants in a RR makes that visualization much easier.
 

jfugate

Modeling SP in the 1980s
I've been a member of the NMRA Layout Design Special Interest Group (LDSIG) since 1987 and they often have great layout design insight in their materials.

One such insight that I found very helpful was their notion of "Engineer" versus "Railfan". If you understand this distinction and where your preferences lie, it will help your layout design efforts.

Few if any are all RAILFAN or all ENGINEER ... most are somewhere in the middle along a continuum.

ENGINEER
The engineer thinks of himself running the train from the locomotive. To them, the focus is a single train, following it around the layout, and operating it as realistically as possible. Nice scenery and realistic details help the experience, but isn't an absolute necessity.

RAILFAN
The railfan loves to see trains run through realistic scenery. The more interesting the action, the better. A plywood pacific layout isn't nearly as interesting to the railfan.

Based on these definitions, some observations are in order.

The Engineer prefers a linear walkaround layout design, where it's easy to focus on one train, and follow it along it route. Layouts built by Engineer types can often be completely devoid of scenery and they still enjoy operations because the train is the focus.

The Railfan is comfortable with the older so-called "spagetti bowl" track plans because you can get lots of interesting action that way. The more train variety you can get, the more interesting the action. The railfan can greatly enjoy just sitting in one place and watching trains roll by.

Thus the old "central control panel" or tower operator style common in many clubs serves the railfan well, but leaves the engineer coming up cold.

Myself, I'm an engineer, with railfan leanings. I love the linear walkaround layout design configuration, but I do enjoy just watching trains run now and then. My two-person crew operating style is a delight for me in this regard, because as conductor, I am *required* to "railfan" the train as it runs. It's my perfect job!

(Yeh, it's a tough job I know, but somebody's gotta do it. ;) )
 

IronBeltKen

Lazy Daydreamer
I just remembered something else that might get overlooked: accommodating visitors.

There are areas on my pike where a guest will have to be 'inside' the perimeter to see many of the interesting details. On my old layout, an elderly visitor with osteoporosis was unable to negotiate my duckunder. This led me to use two easily-removable liftout sections, instead of duckunders, on my new layout.
 

SpaceMouse

Fun Lover
Joe,

Sam Posey called it Operators and Scenery Guys with Koester on one end and Furlow on the the other.

You definition works too. There was one guy at our club that made really nice scenery. He has not been back since we started operating.

It's a hard call for me. I love operations, but I'm building my layout, an operating layout, because I though it would really cool to see trains run through the Redwoods. Still, if that's all they did, I wouldn't run the trains.

I don't know if I'm in the middle or on both ends. I can't say I'm a little of this or a little of that because I want to operate like Koester on layout as fun and detailed as Furlow's. I'm pretty passionate about both aspects.

Cake and Eat it. I say.
 

grande man

Bonafied Grande Nut
CSX_road_slug said:
I just remembered something else that might get overlooked: accommodating visitors.

There are areas on my pike where a guest will have to be 'inside' the perimeter to see many of the interesting details. On my old layout, an elderly visitor with osteoporosis was unable to negotiate my duckunder. This led me to use two easily-removable liftout sections, instead of duckunders, on my new layout.

Good points! It's strange, but I never even gave this a second thought when we started our current layout. It just never dawned on me that anyone would want to come see the RR, so it was built for LGM and I only. Big mistake! The next one will be much more accomodating.
 

Brakie

Member
CSX_road_slug said:
I just remembered something else that might get overlooked: accommodating visitors.

There are areas on my pike where a guest will have to be 'inside' the perimeter to see many of the interesting details. On my old layout, an elderly visitor with osteoporosis was unable to negotiate my duckunder. This led me to use two easily-removable liftout sections, instead of duckunders, on my new layout.

Ken,Good point for those that plan on having visitors..However,in my case and those that I know we just invite close friends or the operating group and most stay with a 30" isle way for their layouts(IMHO 36" isle way is better if one has the space).Of course the layout I am building doesn't fit the group operating plan but a solo or at the most 2 man operation one as a engineer and one as a conductor/brakeman. :D

I decided for me it will be best to go with a foot wide duck under across the door way instead of something fancy like a lift out section since my layout will be a round the walls urban industrial branch switching layout.. :D
 
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IronBeltKen

Lazy Daydreamer
Brakie said:
I decided for me it will be best to go with a foot wide duck under across the door way instead of something fancy like a lift out section since my layout will be a round the walls urban industrial branch switching layout.. :D
I wish I'd had that option Brakie [for around-the-walls], but my garage walls are totally covered by shelves, which in turn are saturated with junk that somebody, someday might need to use (none of it owned by me of course!) ;)

Here's yet another question to ask ourselves: Are all the tracks reachable [within arm's length]?
 
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dthurman

Guest
CSX_road_slug said:
Here's yet another question to ask ourselves: Are all the tracks reachable [within arm's length]?
I have 1 spot in the back corner I can't reach well, but have to stand on a stool, and then c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y place my hand on the scenery and reach. I can pull the layout from the wall. I am pretty tall 6' 1" and have a pretty long reach, but even at that, 36" is a stretch. I am guessing the best reach in should be around 28-30"??
 

JeffShultz

Stay off the tracks!
I have a friend who is restricted to a powered wheelchair. 32" doors are a problem for him.

Even so... I've got 30" aisles on my layout, although they may be adjustable out in places. I think with the right height ramps, I can get it so his head and shoulders will be above the layout, but the controller for his chair will be underneath it slightly.

One way or another... I want this to work.

Could you make your layout ADA compliant if you had to?
 

Russian

Saskatoon railfan
Good point. I've had my layout for a month now and rebuild it 6 times during that period (photos are scattered throughout the forum...), before finally getting what I wanted.

I'm the standard solo 4x8 operator and must agree that you can make a lot out of it. What I ended up doing is having a very busy loop. It's a single-track main with one long sliding alongside, a big yard with a locomotive depo, 3track station (including the mainline), and a couple industries, with a reverse loop in the middle. Should really start coming together once I get the scenery going.

The way I planned, besides passenger operations and mainline running, I also have yard duty, transfer duty and industrial service. I will also try to convert the reversing loop into a branchline that runs through the city. That should diversify operations greatly.
 




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