There have been several folks recently looking for help identifying a location for a small urban New Haven layout. While it is relatively easy to find a location that is interesting to model based on industries and scenery, what I think is often missed is operational interest.
My first layout was based on Bill Schneider's who modeled two towns along the O&W. The local freight would work each town, and another crew could run the various through freights and passenger trains. It was a very fun layout to operate, and kept us busy for several hours at a time.
I picked Windsor Locks and Thompsonville, with the CT River bridge between the two for my first attempt. Looking back, it would have operated similarly. The local crew would switch out the two towns, with loads of long passenger trains and a couple of freights passing through while they did. But there wasn't nearly as much industry to work along the way as there was on Bill's and, more importantly, with a single level I couldn't possibly create enough staging for the frequent long passenger trains on the Springfield line. So I looked elsewhere.
I lucked out when I picked New Britain. This isn't the only way to build a small layout, or even a small switching layout, but I think there are some key factors that make New Britain a perfect city for this type of design. And I'm pretty sure there are other similar locations on the New Haven.
Small Switching Layout Features
1. Operations are localized. This is the biggest factor that I think makes this layout work well. New Britain has two locally assigned switchers, and Stanley Works has another. This is perfect for a small switching layout, since it keeps three crews operating on the layout for an entire session.
Compare this to a single town without locally assigned switchers. Through trains come into the layout, may drop off or pick up some cars or, if passenger, make a station stop. Then they continue back off the layout. A local freight comes in at some point, and does all the switching in town, and then the session is over. Sure, it probably comes back through town later in the day, but that could be hours later.
An alternative is a locale where multiple trains meet. Middletown on the Valley Line, or Plainville on the Highland Line are like this. Several trains come into town. One of them does the local switching, but all of them exchange some cars before heading back off layout. Plainville also has some through freights and passenger service, which would keep the crews that don't handle the local work busy for the session.
2. It's not on a major mainline. There are many locations that have locally assigned switchers and small yards. Ansonia and Meriden are two that come to mind. But the mainline traffic is extensive. Sure, Chris has proven that it can be done in a small space. With New Britain on a branch line, though, traffic is not only more manageable, but the passenger trains are shorter too.
3. Variety of industries. There are very large ones, and lots of smaller ones. The only types of cars that aren't likely to show up in New Britain are stock cars.
4. There's a good blend of traffic. There's daytime freights and passenger service. The freights provide work during the session, dropping off more cars in the morning, then picking them up in the afternoon/evening. So the crews break down and build cuts of cars like they would at a major classification yard, but without needing all that real estate.
5. It's at a junction. This provides some operational interest, but also more connections to the rest of the world. Yes, it complicates design and staging a bit. This isn't essential, but it's a nice addition. A junction that interchanges with another road would be even more interesting.
These factors all work very well for a small industrial layout, and ensure that there are plenty of operations for a reasonably sized crew.
Because it's a single city/town, I can build it closer to scale. On a layout where New Britain is just one of several towns on a main line, it would have to be heavily compressed. Chris picked the right kind of branch line to model for a focus on a local freight. He only had to make significant compromises in Middletown, and even then it feels and operates like it should. The other towns are all small, but they were on the prototype too. But for a location that is large enough to warrant locally assigned switchers, reducing the layout allows me to better model all of the railroad activity in the area.
It can also be economical because you often won't need as many locomotives. In fact, if I chose to model only 1953, all I would need are three switchers and a few RDCs.
Where to Start
Research, of course. There are several documents that are helpful in identifying where a good amount of operations is to be found, and then narrow it down to areas that are more manageable to model.
- Employee Timetables. There's a page that conveniently lists all of the locations on the New Haven that have yard limits. It also provides all of the passenger schedules so we can see what's going to be running through the layout.
- Freight Schedules. We can also look at where local freights originate and work. This provides additional operational interest, as the crews can assemble outbound trains, and breakdown inbound ones. It also provides the through train schedules. Julian Erceg has an excellent site that includes a number of New Haven ones.
- Engine Assignment Books. We can look at where switchers are assigned. Not all yards have locally assigned switchers, but they provide session-long operations. These switchers handle all the switching within yard limits. Of the three, this is probably the most important starting point for this type of layout. Fortunately, Charlie Dunn posted all of the engine assignment books we've been able to dig up on the NHRHTA forum.
Small Towns on the NH with Locally Assigned Switchers
These are all small towns on the New Haven that aren't on a major mainline (Shoreline or Springfield Line) and have a locally assigned switcher in 1949.
- Armory - 0975 - connects to B&A in Springfield
- Danbury - 0942, 0954 - Joe Smith's blog covers Danbury extensively
- Holyoke - 0950, 0957 - Interchange with B&M
- New Britain - 0802, 0812
- Norwich - 0814 - Interchange with CV
- Putnam - 0804, 0969 - Shoreliner 28.1, 28.1, 33.3
- Willimantic - 0940 - Interchange with CV
- Woonsocket - 0801
- Brockton - 0803 - Shoreliner 42.1, 42.2
- South Braintree - 0922 - Shoreliner 36.4
- Fall River - 0816 - Shoreliner 34.3
- Taunton - 0815 - Shoreliner 30.3
- Manufacturers Railroad (New Haven) - 0812 - Shoreliner 12.3, 38.3
- Seaview Avenue Railroad (Bridgeport) - 0816 (1952), 0801 (1954) - Shoreliner 12.3
- Union Freight Railroad (Boston) - 0600, 0601 (1954) - Shoreliner 34.1