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New Member
Well, I hope to have a final design drafted soon, I have some vacation time coming up mid-October and I want to use that time to get a great start on my first serious layout.

This is a 4' X 8' plan made in RTS. I'm still learning XtrkCAD, and I have seen the benifits, but it takes me 5 times as long to make a plan.


A few things: The brownish area is a mountain which the track will run under, and will be the only side that will be up against a wall. I will have plenty enough room on the remaining 3 sides to get to anything I might need. The squares represent random industries and such that are yet undecided, and the black lines represent scenery divisions. I may eliminate one of the 'U-turns' in favor of a small town to the right of the middle loop, but we'll see once I get some track laid.

Any advice is welcome!!


Diesel Detail Freak
My question to you is, if you've got the mountain against the wall, and the scenery dividers in the middle like you do, how do you see that inner loop?


New Member
Ah. I need to explain a bit. The scenery division isn't meant to be a wall, but the dividing line between scenes, (ie. industry to plains to mountain to town etc.) Anyways, I'll be able to walk around 3 of the four sides.


In Training Down Under.
The centre bit is interesting two tracks running in, and when your in just go round and round and them back out again??



Diesel Detail Freak
The centre bit is interesting two tracks running in, and when your in just go round and round and them back out again??

Good point, and at that, you've got to back in, or back out, there's only one way in & out, and no reversing option.


Fun Lover
Even though it takes you 5 times as long to make a plan (this is a short lived phenomenon as once you "get it," XtrkCAD will blow the doors off of Atlas,) you need to make the switch. You are taking double the space to acheive a result, and in this case, space will allow to both increase spaceousness and operational ability.

Concentrate your learning of XtrkCAD on making straight track, using the joint tool to connect straight track with flex, adding turnouts, and using the circle track tool to make your large sweeping corners.

Many beginners believe that more track going more places equals more fun. This belief rarely lasts after it is built as it is just as easy to get bored with a train running three loops as it is a train running one loop. The only thing that makes it slightly interesting is throwing the switch.

What does add to interest is creating reasons for trains to do things, such as delivering particular type cars to particular type industries.

These cars get mixed up with cars from other industries so you need a way to sort them out.

There is nothing wrong with setting a train in motion and watching it go, but in that it is just as effective, if not more effective, to have a single loop and develop the scene it runs through. You can add variety by creating a double main, so that trains can run both directions through the scene.

More loops running through the scene gives it the appearance of a Disneyland ride and creating realistic scenery becomes harder and harder.

You ideas are improving. I like the idea that you have created three scenes. I even think you intended that the two yards you created are representations of staging.

I also like the idea that you are developing your vision. Perhaps now would be a good time to describe as well as you can to us just what that vison is. I think if you wrote it out, it will help you refine your thoughts as much as it will help us guide you towards that vision.


Fun Lover
Take a look at Dave Volmer's track plan. It is 36 x 80" in N scale so you have a lot more space to work with. He recently added staging to it.


It looks pretty simple and to an extent it is. But adding staging makes it a lot more funtional. A better look can be found here:


He has staging clamped on so he can remove it.

Now lets see what it looks like.





It wouldn't hurt to explore his site a little.


New Member
Thanks guys! The double main idea is great.

As for my vision: What I would really like is to have a main staging and industrial area representing a large city or distribution center, and a small town in which at least some of the 'full' cars can be left and the 'empties' picked up and returned. So far my attempts at creating such a plan look toy-ish at best.

The top

XtrkCAD, here I come!


Fun Lover
That's a start, but what year is your layout. Where is it located, what are the major industries. Notice that Dave's layout is planned right down to the buildings--they have names and functions. If you don't know these things how can you make them fit. The railroad serves the industries and towns. Create the towns and industries first and bring the railroad to them.

Here's a plan of my railroad. It is HO scale so you have more space than this. It is set in 1885 in the Sierra Foothills of CA.



New Member
Well, heres the scenario: The area I was going to use has changed, and I have been forced to rethink my whole design. I will not be doing a full 4X8, but I have quite the adventure ahead trying to use all the space I will have.

Back to the drawing board. Literally.

As for your questions, SpaceMouse: I want to do a modern era CP Rail model in the Alberta foothills region. The main industries are oil, gas, wheat and tourism.

New layout in the works!


Fun Lover
Good for you, rethinking is good. But, you are too quick with your answers. You are answering in generalities. What do you see when you close your eyes and imagine it. What is your vision. CP modern in foothills is not a vision. A vision is a Dash-9 pulling black tankers and silver covered hoppers through majestic douglas firs on an arched bridge over a raging river (or what-ever it is you see.) There's something in your head that captures the feel you are going for.


New Member
well, I've been doing a lot of thinking and redesigning, and I've come up with a good layout.

First off the room I will be building in:


I wanted to build a layout that used the narrow shelf, that way I can best use the space I have. It gives me somewhere to expand from, since the shelf carries on for another 20 feet or so then turns and runs another 14 feet. The shelf is 7 1/2" wide. I plan on putting the main part of the layout 6" below the shelf.

From the edge of the shelf to the corner on the left is 40 1/2", (the little room is a bathroom). From the left corner to the support beam is 62 1/2".

If you're wondering, we won't be playing darts over the layout, the dartboard is coming down. Also, the light switch on the left wall controls the lights directly above the layout, will fit neatly between two levels of the layout.

Now to the meaty stuff:


The 2' by 4' on the left will be level with the shelf. That is going to be a collection of oil and gas pumping stations. Colemann Village is where all the workers and their families live. Down in the valley is the train yard, the oil and gas refineries and a small sorting area for incoming supplies. I'm hoping the 1' by 3' cutout will work well enough so I can reach all points of the layout without knocking my scenery over. If I have to, I can move the entire valley area over a foot and still have room to get around the right side before falling over the couch.

And the lower staging area, representing all points East, South and West:


I'm not 100% on the staging area, but it should do.

Already, sock it to me!


Fun Lover
You're improving, but you are not there yet, I would think. The staging is well thought out. You also seem to be thinking of a railroad that goes here to there as opposed to running laps.

A big limitation is the RTS program, or at least your use of it. You are building everything with sectional track, because that is easy with RTS. But railroads don't use sectional track They lay the track where it needs to go. Imagine that you have to build a car, but all you have are tinker-toys to work with. No matter what you do with them, it will still look like a tinker toy car.

That is an exaggeration of course, but a lot of what you are doing with sectional track is reworking to make the sections line up and get close to doing what you want. If you use XtrkCAD and flex track, that same energy is spent making the railroad make sense in terms of how it supports your towns industries, etc. You are spending the time making all the components fit instead of making the track fit and adapting the components

A good track plan makes sense from all the perspectives.

With that in mind, try to shift your awareness of your layout a bit. Instead of standing above the layout and watching the train run over hill and dale, over and under bridges, around the loop and doing it again, get down to track level and watch the train come into your scene. Then watch it roll out of the scene and to the next scene. Picture your layout as a series of say 3-5 scenes where each scene is a town or industrial park or scenic elelment. Now work a way that while you are looking at one scene the others are completely out of mind.

A good book to read for this concept is Realistic Model Railroad Building Blocks by Tony Koester.

The ideas is that any model railroad is a series of scenes that represent some function of the railroad and meets your needs in terms of what interests you--which is why everyone wants you to really define your vision. No one can really help you unless we know what you want. And when we are forced to guess, our answers tend to be vague or centered on the track.

This is kind of like if you wrote a novel and wanted to know if we liked the story and all we did was correct your spelling.

According to Koester, a Model Railroad can be any number of layout design elements depending on the size of your space. This is a layout I designed from one building block. My layout on the previous page is three building blocks--1) Train City and yard, 2) Rock Ridge and mine and 3) the bridge over the waterfall and forest.

This layout was an experiment to see if I could build a good layout with only one layout design element.



New Member
Many adjustments later, I have another track plan. Initially I was going to try and model an oil refinery and oilsand mine, but the logistics of such a design are beyond my abilities. Unfortunately, I am at a loss as to what industries I am going to model. However there is plenty of room to do whatever I choose. (Right now I'm thinking of having a steel area, plastic manufacturers and a couple of auto assembly plants. This, however, will change on a whim until I actually have buildings on the layout.)

The plan:

The teal represents the mainline, with the lighter section highlighting the 3.8% grade incline to the shelf loop. the far right section represents staging, but obviously if I want to let a train run for awhile, I only have to throw a couple switches to keep it flowing through.

I left what should be plenty of room for me to move about the layout to reach anything I need, but we will see once the wood is in place how far I'm actually reaching. There are a couple places where I can tighten the layout if I need a little more room to move about. I'll only gain about 6 inches at the most, but it should be enough.

I feel I'm getting close to a design I can start building, but theres a bit of room for improvement yet, I suppose. Any ideas, or comments welcome!
You might want to consider adding the buildings you think you will use to your track plan. You mentioned a steel mill, but didn't say which buildings. All of the steel mill buildings are large. In a 16" x 144" area in N scale I have a blast furnace and two rolling mills. I had planned to use the coke plant flat against another wall with the coal and coke handling equipment built 3d. I thought I had left enough space, but am finding the arrangement I want will take more room.


Fun Lover
I wouldn't press this point unless I thought you could handle it.

What I see with your layout is trackwork that a train can move around and do things.

The leap I'd like to see you make is creating a plan where products and raw materials move and the train facilitates this movement. The railroad gains a purpose.

This is a quantum shift in your thinking--one that will allow you to grow with your layout as opposed to outgrowing it during construction.


Fun Lover
Questions to consider.

What products come from where and how are they distributed.

How does your railroad sort these products to create ease of delivery.

Where are the markets for your products? How do they get the raw materials?

How do these industries fit into the environment you are modeling?


New Member
Good questions, Mouse. These are the problems that prevent me from moving on from the planning stage.


Fun Lover
Good questions, Mouse. These are the problems that prevent me from moving on from the planning stage.

They don't need to be, but they might need a little research and we can be of help.

You said your industries were oil, gas, wheat and tourism. I don't remember what year you were modeling because that makes a difference. A good steam engine makes for a nice scenic tourist run as does a domed luxury passenger train.

You could build an oil refinery that brings in crude by rail, truck or pipeline depending on year and location. They refinery would also need various chemicals, solvents for cleaning, repair parts, and of course they would export oil, gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, etc.

Wheat could use huge silos, and have as support industries, a feed and seed with farm equipment etc. The operation could be huge. Instead of silos you could model a mill.

Gas I don't know about but suspect they have a refinery similar to crude oil.

So the flow of traffic would be something like

Rest of the world (raw materials)-->yard-->industries(in)-->industries (products out)-->Yard-->rest of the world.

You have plenty of space for this. start by looking in your Walther's catalog for models of an oil refinery, mill, silos, etc. and see what kind of space you are needing. You might also look at what other modelers have done. There's a web site that features hundred's of model railroads, but I can't remember the link off hand and it doesn't seem to be in my favorites.

Then create a series of scenes: one for each industry (I might pick one or two); a town representation with team track, passenger services, one or two light industries; a yard or interchange to sort cars into destinations; some mountain scenery maybe. Start by looking at your space (the set-up you have is fine) and dividing the area into scenes. Try to bring the train through each scene only once like they do in the real world (it can go into tunnels.) I picture 5-6 scenes. You can run backdrops to divide scenes if you need to, but natural breaks are good as well.

The hard part is over, you are getting closer. You have chosen your road and now you are narrowing your focus. As you create your scenes, the reason for your track will and how it runs will start to come more clear. You will find all the things you think you wanted and more.
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