Friday, November 20, 2009

Designing my train layout - 1

As a child I grew up with model trains. I was given my first train set when I was just two years old. Later, at the age of eight, my parents bought me a great Triang-Hornby train set when passing through England. Modeling activities stopped in school and college. While attending graduate school at Syracuse University, I bought a small loop of N-gauge track and used to run a train around my computer, much to the amusement of fellow students.
When I resumed active railway modeling in 1992, I started with Märklin, a well known German model train company. One of my best friends had Märklin train set and I always wanted those trains. Photos of my old Märklin layouts can be seen here and here. For a variety of reasons (chronicled in more detail in this article on my web site), I decided on a new direction.
I finally dismantled my Märklin layout towards the end of 2007 and cleared the train area in my basement for a new layout. As such, I had a clean sheet of paper to work with. My layout design was constrained by a few factors:
  1. Space: My old layout was just 4 feet by 10 feet. I felt that there was some scope for expansion. After careful measurement and negotiations with my wife, I determined that the actual space available for the layout was was 14 feet by 7 feet. However, there is a furnace close to the layout and I need to ensure that there is enough room around the furnace. Hence, I lost a triangular a nibble from this space.
    Now, 98 square feet is not much compared to the large spaces available to the typical American modeler. However, I felt that even this amount of space would be a bit of a challenge. Larger layouts are more costly both to build and to maintain. Its all too easy to bite off more than you can chew in this hobby! The shape of the available space is shown below. The available space is the area in white with thick borders. The diagonal section on the left side of the diagram is caused by the need to leave enough room around the furnace. Another issue is that this has to be a free-standing layout since I need access to things stored around the room.
  2. Operating style: This played a very important role in shaping the design of the layout. The one clear requirement in my mind for this layout is that it must support fully automatic computerized operation. Consequently two sub-requirements became clear:
    a. A continuous run is absolutely essential. A point-to-point layout is simply not suitable for automated operation given the need to switch locomotives around their trains.
    b. There need not be any provision for local switching in industries and freight yards as is common in most American layouts.
  3. Carpentry skills: I am not much of a carpenter - I just don't have a very steady hand and am a bit impatient. As a consequence, I wanted the benchwork to be as simple as possible. A major consequence of this constraint is that I decided to go in for a single level layout. Apart from being much easier to build, its much easier to debug computer control programs if the trains are visible at all times.
  4. Scale is HO (1:87.1): This is because I have a lot of European outline rolling stock in HO that I would like to run on this layout. Also, a large variety of HO scale equipment is available from manufacturers around the world.
  5. Minimum radius for the mainline must be at least 24 inches: This would allow the operation of most modern equipment although even this radius is too small for longer cars like the Amtrak Superliner car which is 85 feet long for example (nearly a foot in HO scale). There will be a fair bit of overhang for the longer cars on 24 inch curves but at least, they don't derail.
After spending a week or so considering these constraints, I updated my copy of 3rd PlanIt layout design software and got to work. In the next posting in this series, I'll describe the actual design process.

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