Sunday, March 23, 2008


Just a quick note on sound.
 Now that I've run trains with and without sound, I definitely want sound. It does enhance the operation. In addition, the QSI Quantum Revolution is finally being released, so I can't wait. I only need a couple more locomotives for the basics, so instead of buying more I'll start adding sound.

5/23/2008 - Hmmmm. Didn't quite work out that way. I've got a bunch more locomotives and only one has sound (or a decoder) so far. And that one came preinstalled.

I'm going to build a layout!

I have a plan!

I've been through a great many potential plans as I've tried to decide if I really want to take the time to build a significant layout in this basement. Because of the shape of the room, the majority of them were large ovals with steady grades that allowed it to loop under itself and continue to staging under the main layout. I was trying to avoid the complexity of a helix since I have a double-track mainline, plus an extra single-tracked branchline. I'd like all staging from all three directions.

Recently, it occurred to me that if I move a door, then I'll have a small side room available as well. More space is a good thing, but the placement isn't great. But it did open the possibility of placing some staging there.

The other factor is that all of the plans would require a duck-under (more likely a crawl-under) or a section that could be opened since there would be multiple levels of track.

The current layout is a literal dogbone. It's a double-track main, and the line loops back onl itself, so the right track becomes the left track. This arrangement basically allows one 20' wall for modeling, along with the two 10' walls.
With the extra space from the side room, though, I can push one or both of those loops outside of the room and still have decent aisle space. The problem once again, though becomes staging.
Then the obvious struck me. Instead of a loop, build a helix at each end.

The helixes would be simple spirals, no turnouts and go down to a lower level of staging. It would also complete a loop of the entire layout if I want to have continuous running. Since the Hartford trains go through to Waterbury, each train will have it's own dedicated staging track, it would just return to the one it left from , but from the opposite direction. This reduces the number of staging tracks in half when compared to a point-to-point arrangement. Better still, the aisle will be a continous S-shaped aisle - no duck-unders. This is especially important since the basement also happens to be where I need to store my guitar amp, and I wasn't looking forward to duckunders, etc. with a 50 lb amp.

The Berlin staging will only need a small stub-ended staging, really only two tracks. There is only one train scheduled during a given session from this direction (and will head toward Waterbury, so it needs a track in the main staging as well).

The other great thing this will do is extend the Hartford side of the Highland line, leading to the station. There were a number of industries here, and also the long siding where the through freights drop off cars. So this will extend the mainline run nicely and will focus attention on the Highland Line.

Other than potentially limiting the length of trains, the helixes won't affect the operation of the layout at all. The trains will only use the helixes the enter and exit the layout. I could even use serial staging in the helix for the inbound trains, since it's a double track main.

Another nice feature of this design is that the staging and main decks will be level. It makes the construction much easier, with the exception of building the helixes. I'd like to use the masonite spline construction for the helix, but the thickness of the spline might be two tall for helixes with a small radius.

And ironically, there may still be a good amount of space in the middle of the room with this design, so it may allow some use of the basement for other activities.

I'll be taking some measurements when I get home today, and Bill will be over to check it out in about a week as well so I'll be able to see what he thinks. But I think I have a winner.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Not a lot to report on the layout itself, but it had been a while since I've updated the blog...

While I haven't fully made the decision to build the layout here (although I'm leaning heavily in that direction again...and might move a door to make some more room), I have been to a few ops sessions.

The layouts are of a variety of sizes and in various states of completion. What I've learned so far is that the size of the layout is of some relevance, but the sessions all tend to last about the same amount of time. The real key is understanding the limitations of the layout: How many people can run trains at once, and how many people are needed to run all of the trains? These two questions are slightly different.

How Many People Can Run Trains At Once?
This is affected by several factors. The amount of space for operators, as well as the number of throttles are the two largest factors. This is usually not too big an issue, simply because the track plan also limits the number of trains that can be moving at once, and a smaller layout typically has fewer trains at a time.

How Many People Are Needed to Run All Of The Trains?
In general, some operators will run more than one train, while others will only operate a single train in a session. In most of the sessions I have attended, the local runs for pretty much the entire session. Through freights (which may have some work)and passenger trains have shorter runs, and a given crew will probably run several. The number of trains to run needs to be high enough to keep everybody occupied most of the time.

So what's different on a larger layout? Well, it depends on what "larger" means. One two of the larger layouts I've run, the track circles back in the same space. There are a number of stops along the way, and some hidden track as well. The track plan in both cases include a decent-sized yard, and the work there keeps one operator well occupied for the session.

One of these layouts is set up in a block system, and you run every train through your block, and pass it on to the next block to continue the run. The other one I have only run the local, but you basically follow your train around the layout. Both of these layouts had a similar "feel" to the smaller layouts I've run, just a little more space between the stops. The train size wasn't necessarily bigger.

The only layout that felt significantly different was significantly larger. Five people were assigned to manage the yard work. Once again, the local(s) seemed to take the bulk of the session to run. Through freights were limited to two stops, and went fairly quickly, but there were a lot of them. The major difference, though, was in the scale. Passing tracks were long, and what is a quick runaround move on a smaller layout takes some time. There is a lot more time for railfanning as you follow your train between towns, or stops if you are only making a few stops. In addition, the number of trains and the number of operators is significantly higher since there is a lot more space. This felt much, much different because of the difference in scale.

Among other things that I have learned:
-"Long" trains don't have to be that long. I believe the largest train I saw was 46 cars. Even on a large layout, that looked huge. It was also about as large a train that the yard could handle on one track.
-Short, unblocked trains can take as long to switch as a long blocked train. On smaller layouts you can extend the operations by sending out unblocked or partially-blocked trains.
-Facing point switching also extends the operations. If you are planning on a small layout, an urban area with a mix of trailing and facing point switching may be more interesting. On larger layouts mostly trailing point (or operating the locals as turns, where they switch only trailing points) can help from making the session too long. Even if you are freelancing, pay attention to prototype track plans. At the very least you need a long enough siding to drop cars and runaround the train. But you may need at least one additional siding to facilitate splitting the train if needed without fouling the main.
-Two-way sidings can also extend operations. This means that there is a stub-ended siding in both directions off of one turnout. This gives you both a trailing and facing point turnout, but can also make switching moves more interesting since cars at the end of one of the sidings may limit how many cars you can move at once on the other.
-It's OK to make people wait. You want to have some work for just about everybody early on, but during the session it's OK for them to have to wait for the yardmaster to build a train. This gives the operators time to talk, railfan, and admire the layout. Just try to keep it so that no one person is hanging around too much.

Another tip is that it's a good idea to have somebody familiar with the layout responsible for the yard and the local. I'm still a big fan of two-person teams, and you can have one novice and one experienced operator on a team.

So, while I'm still in planning mode, operations has become the biggest consideration. That may affect which portion of New Britain I model if I have to reduce the size. I'd like to keep the operations to a minimum of four people. The two local 44-tonners will occupy two, and one person or team could be managing most of the other trains. I would manage staging, which most likely will include the Berlin line trains to local businesses and the Whiting Street yard. If I'm lucky, I can move another door which will give me a location to build staging that will not be under the other decks. I'll have to see how the geometry will work...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Planning the 'mini' layout

I've been working on the plans for what I'm calling the mini-layout. This is because we'd still like to move in the relatively near future, hopefully with a room of an appropriate size for the layout I'd like to do.

One of the nice things about the mini-layout is that I have a lot of what I'll need to get it operational in short order.

Operations will be based on autumn 1951, second trick.

The maximum train length, based on the sixe of the layout and particularly staging will be about 20 forty-foot cars, plus locomotive and caboose. I might consider expanding this to about 25 cars or so, depending on how the plan comes out.

The Berlin line (and thus the Whiting Street yard) are offline.

All staging will be stacked in a single location allowing access from outside the scenicked portion of the layout. Thus staging will be hidden from the operators, but the design allows the person operating the staging to see the whole layout.

By focusing on a single trick, I can identify what I will need to roster in the short run. The trains that will run during a typical session are:
OA-4 May pick up and drop off.
HDX-5 Drops off and picks up, could return later in the trick.
AO-3 Drops off and picks up.
YN-3 Does not drop off or pick up.

Operators would be:
Local Switcher person/team
HDX-5 person/team
All other trains team

The person operating staging could conceivably run the through trains. The time between trains would be spent shuffling trains in staging.

RosterThe nice thing about this schedule is that I already have a good portion of the roster needed, for example:
(3) DERS-2b (RS-2) locomotives (I need 2)
(2) DERS-2c (RS-3) locomotives (I need 1)
(1) DERS-1b (RS-1) locomotive (I need 1)
(1) DER-1 (DL-109) locomotive
(1) DEY-3 (S-1) locomotive
(2) DER-2 (FA-1/B/A) locomotives (I need 2 FA-1s)

I will probably have the DERS-2b and DERS-2c by the end of the month. The DERS-1b is readily available. So the only challenge I have is finding more FA-1 locomotives.

I have all of the hacks already or on order. The only thing that will be difficult is the light weight passenger cars, simply because there is no model available. I'll need about 4 to start, but can substitute heavyweights in the meantime.

I'm still working out the details of the exact plan. Bill Schneider built his in sections on foam at his dining room table. I like that idea, not just because it makes construction easy, but a semi-modular approach means that I can move portions to the next layout. The only potential issue is the clearance needed when using 2" foam instead of plywood or OSB. Another factor is grades, but if I build the grades by simply tilting the foam, then the same base can be reworked for a level design in the future. The grades will probably be necessary for staging.

The final decision is whether or not I want to tackle a helix. My concept (particularly for staging) could be problematic due to the necessary location of the helix if I use one.