Long Trains / Switching / Spaghetti Track

Along with my book search to assist me in drafting a layout and my train era questions from a recent thread, I am equally interested in your views [practices] regarding track design. I have over simplified the options into three general track designs that I have toyed with in my sketching effort [HO scale].

(A) Long trains ==> a layout that allows for trains that have 14+ cars, a caboose, and 1+ engines [consists]. (B) Switching ===> a layout that allows for a lot of local switching activity along the rails [local deliveries, multi-track industries, multiple yards, etc.]. (C) Circular ===> a layout that has a lot of return loops, large interwoven circles, crossovers, elevated track, bridges, and tunnels.

In my many hours of studying track designs in MR articles, via on-line, home layout schematics, and train club visitations, I have not seen any one design (A), (B), or (C) emerge as the dominant selection. They each have clear advantages and, I suspect, limitations.

1) I am curious what design style you have and/or favor. 2) And, if you have torn down and re-built a new layout, did you stay with the same design style the next time? If not, why?

Sincerely, Matt

Reply to
Matt & Kathleen Brennan
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20 wagons, caboose and multiple locos.

A small amount plus a small add-on baseboard of a small industrial area. (basically a "time saver" with scenery)

Enough to give some nice scenes for the trains to run through.

My earliest layouts tended to consist of a station, yard and main line. (limited space) My current one has the station, yard, mainline and _large_ hidden staging yard. I still don't have the space for much more. One thing I have learned is that trains need a destination. Another is that the number of trains/locos/wagons keeps multiplying.

Regards, Greg.P.

Reply to
Gregory Procter

Primarily A, with some B here and there for switching interest. Most of B is on a second level with 5 industries to switch, with a max 9 cars possible to work per switching day. There is a 3 track yard off in another area which could be used to store cars.


Reply to
Kennedy (no longer not on The Haggis!)

Matt, My current HO layout is designed to operate point to point but has a continuous run. I like peddler freight operation and switching best. I do like to just watch trains run from time to time so having a continuous run is something I wanted but not for use in normal operation. The run is long enough to accommodate a train of about a scale mile in length with out appearing to chase it's caboose. I have elements of layout type C because I liked the feature, layout type A because it worked out that way and B by preference. My fist layout was a simple loop with a siding and spurs. My second was point to point. Since then I have always incorporated both. I like older steam era short lines and narrow gauge best so really long trains have never been a factor when working out a plan. Yet trains of 14 to 20 cars would defiantly be something of interest to me if I had the space to build sidings that could hold them. Bruce

Reply to
Bruce Favinger

Watch the Pretty Trains run.....

Needs at least 20 feet in HO to look good.

Drive the train......

Bookshelf or part of A

Control the routing......

Needs square feet of space

Each is a different way of enjoying a layout.

Jim Stewart

Reply to
Jim Stewart

It sound like you are a bit unsure of how you will want to enjoy your trains. I suggest that you can incorperate the features of all three styles (to a point) in a layout.

Matt & Kathleen Brennan wrote in news:41a0a4fd_3 @newspeer2.tds.net:

A shelf style layout with turning loops at the ends or lots of staging.

And why is this incompatible with (A)?? If the train runs through several industrial areas/towns it will have plenty of switching activity.

A good way to get a lot of track into a small space. but this type of design is falling out of favor. Personally I would not create anything more complicated that a Twice Around or a Folded Dogbone.

I have built a few. The first was a folded dogbone on a hollow core door. Second was a tiny design based on an Ian Rice design. It was a simple "Blob loop" that feed two staging tracks. The train came in, switched a few cars, and left.

Currently I have no layout. But I now favor the shortline model. Train picks up cars from an interchange with a Class 1 Railroad and distributes the cars to customers down the line. Works best as an along the walls shelf layout. Put in a bit af staging and you can make a hidden return track. Then you can watch the trains run.

Reply to
Gordon Reeder

My HO layout is in a room about 14 ft. by 13 ft. It has a continuous double track main line, that can feed into a couple of low level concealed sidings from either direction. At a higher level is a terminal station with two main and one dock platforms, the longest being about nine feet long. (eight passenger cars and a loco). There is a goods yard alongside, capacity of largest siding twenty fourwheelers and a loco, and five roads of carriage sidings. Also at this level is a small loco depot, no turntable. Further across at the high level is a larger loco depot (Steam and railmotors), with turntable and eight loco roads. From the terminal station a single track branch line runs off to a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion. Trains can start from the low-level sidings and run around the main line anti-clockwise before either ascending to the terminus, or continuing on and finally diverting down to the other roads of the low-level, and vice-versa. Or, starting off from one set of the low level, they can run around and around and then descend to the other low level sidings, without going to the terminus. These are through trains on the main line from somewhere far afield that you just see passing through. Plenty of variety, all run by cab control, usually one person operating. Nowhere near enough space for all my stock on the low-level sidings, they have to be lifted off and on from storage shelves nearby. This layout allows me to run express passenger trains of reasonable length, goods trains of twenty waggons, (10 feet or so long) which doesn't sound much but looks convincing, and little trains on the branch line, along with rail motors, and shunting (switching) in the pass. and goods yard. Not much in the way of industrial sidings. Two diesel locos, thirty or so steamers. This layout is basically European, with some non-European intruders just for fun, but the same theory could be applied to a North American layout. Regards, Bill.

"Bruce Favinger" wrote in message news:Iacod.31674$ snipped-for-privacy@newssvr12.news.prodigy.com...

Reply to
William Pearce

Like Bruce F., I like a design that allows for continuous (unassisted DCC) runs but can be operated point to point. You can set a through train running and then operate your way freight point to point, dodging the "through freights" that run regularly.

I personally think a loop around a room using a duck-under is the way to maximize this and simplifies running because you don't have to worry about reverse loops. Some folks don't like duck-unders, though.

My present N scale layout loops twice around the room, with a peninsula. Track in the same area is separated visually and usually by some elevation.

Mike Tennent "IronPenguin"

Reply to
Mike Tennent

Thanks everyone. I appreciate all of the descriptions regarding your track designs. I am definitely leaning toward a combination of styles (A) and (B) with a little more emphasis on (B).

--------- My one Operating Session -----------

I do like the idea of using a "mole" in hidden staging to spice up operating sessions. My wife and I participated in an operating session a year ago which helped a lot in defining ideas that we would like to incorporate in our own layout. We didn't experience a "mole" in use, but it sounds interesting via the reading I have done.

Our operating session was quite entertaining. The layout was fairly large, it weaved throughout the basement, it was thin on switching, but the intent was clear and well defined. The head sets we wore made the event for us. We marveled at the range of train lingo and operator seriousness that was expressed through the headset communications. Some folks sounded like the 'real thing' as I imagined they'd sound. Others were more layed back and lighter in their tone, yet they certainly understood the instructions. The cross talk was quite educational and humorous at the same time. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

-----Dispatcher Board [Magnetic] ----------

The dispatcher was tucked away in a remote space under the mountain scenery. He only had a magnetic board to track train movements. That became problematic when people missed switches, mis-stated their position, or simply forgot to radio in at the appropriate time. Our dispatcher was forced to surface several times to visually identify certain train locations. I ruled out the magnetic dispatcher board based on the confusion. It seems that you need an electronic board OR the disaptcher needs to be in a perch over the layout [not likely] where he/she can see the layout.

------Time Table / Fast Clock -----------

I also lost confidence in the fast clock approach. There were several derailments, a couple of engine failures, numerous unplanned uncouplings, and etc. that basically threw the entire time table out the window - eventually. It was obvious that some folks tried in desperation to preserve the fast clock and time table while others recognized the impossibility as issues mounted. That led to some tension [mostly on behalf of the dispatcher]. I think he hit his head a couple of times tunneling in and out of his den, and that took its toll on him. As a footnote, both my wife and I were assigned to 'experts' so we escaped the tension completely as our partners were highly advanced in this operating process. We sat in sidings, and witnessed the issues from afar. They were fine [not major by any means], but it certainly caused us to really evaluate exactly what led to the issues as we made a mental list of the things to avoid in creating an operating layout.

Do you have experiences you can share ???????

Reply to
Matt Brennan

I like the sound of this design as both you and Bruce have described it. It offers a nice balance between train watching and train operating.

Reply to
Matt & Kathleen Brennan

Matt ( and all! )

Design of a useful layout has been my bain for a few months. I have taken into account the things that I want the layout to do for me and started with that. For instance:

I am more of a railfan than I would like to admit and love watching trains go by. So, the plan I am shooting for is more geared to operation and mainline runs. Right now my interest does not include super detailing cars or engines, but does include railroad structures and line side industry.

Sure, there is more to it than just what is above, as I have taken into consideration buidlings and MOW stuff and I think that I have left room for that... I also see pix ( in MR and others ) of spaghetti trackwork that would be great to have here or there.

I think that the whole thing boils down to what you have room, time,and money for. I would like to think that by starting with what I want the railroad to do will at least get me started watching trains run ( ok, so I get to run them ), and I can expand from there.

Maybe I am wrong in this thinking, but what the heck, at least I get to start somewhere.


Matt & Kathleen Brennan wrote:

Reply to

I am also a railfan and enjoy watching trains run. I also want to do some switching in the future and am trying to run reasonably long trains (as has been said, train length is pretty much a function of the length of the passing tracks and sidings - further complicated by the steepness of the grades on the layout.)

Fortunately I lived in a small town (Waseca, MN) for a couple of years and married a gal from there who's brother is also a modeler. Between them they provide great historical insight to the area. Waseca happens to be a junction of M&St.L and CNW lines and has yards on both as well as an interchange track (a very tight curve). The diamond has been gone for several years along with the northbound track, but the DME is alive and using the yards and the rest of the tracks.

My layout is an attempt to emulate the Waseca of the '50s with both lines operational. I run freights of up to 12 cars (depending on motive power) and provide passenger service with the '400 pulled by F7s running AB on the EW CNW line. Also run a doodlebug for passenger service on the M&StL as well as small freights, both steam and diesel.

Being essentially a loner, I wanted: 1) to be able to have some continuous running; 2) switch a yard when I want to; 3) have several main line trains that don't repeat; and 4) service some industries. And, I wanted to have full signaling and "CTC" capability - with no block power switching. In other words, Fun, use of various skills (software, electronics, construction, imagination - if that's considered a skill).

All of the desires haven't been completely met and may never be due to my own, and space, limitations. However, here's the approach:

The layout is two levels; the bottom level is hidden and serves for reversing loops and staging. The top level shows the main lines and their junction and interchange at Waseca. A 6 track yard with engine servicing capability, TT and roundhouse is adjacent to the CNW main. So far there are only 3 industry sidings and one passing track on the visible level but there is room for another passing track and a couple more sidings when I do more construction.

The M&St L is mostly hidden, surfacing for about 12 feet to go through Waseca and the junction. Under ground there are reversing loops and a passing track at each end. I operate this line under computer control using CTI software and hardware, running two freight trains and the doodlebug back and forth through Waseca. Once a train completes its run there is a delay before the next starts in the reverse direction. The CNW operation has to watch for traffic at the Waseca junction (and vice versa - the signaling and automatic stopping sections help avoid accidents here.)

The CNW is mostly on the surface with an underground reversing loop and 6 track staging yard at the East end and a 5 track staging area (and loop) at the West end in another room. Track selection going into staging is automatic and a single button selects the outbound train. Unfortunately I set this up before transponding was available so have to keep track of trains manually with a magnetic board.

Hope I've given y'all some ideas...

Reply to

Matt & Kathleen Brennan wrote . . .

```````` Hi Matt,

Let me throw out some thoughts, ideas and suggestions that came to mind after reading your post.

You have broken different model railroad types down into three categories, A, B and C. My first thought is that it seems like you are trying to decide what type of layout you want by what is the most popular, not by making a decision based on what YOU like, which would ultimately be the best type of layout for YOU. I could be wrong but that was my initial reaction. Based on the amount of research you have done into layout types, I am most certain that you are familiar with the concept of listing your Givens and Druthers, as stated by John Armstrong in his writings. I would recommend you do this if you haven't already. Another suggestion I just read recently on another group, was to relax in a quiet area with your favorite beverage nearby, relax, put your feet up, close your eyes, and let you thoughts drift to images of trains you recall from your memory. What did you like? What seemed of interest? What got you interested in trains and in wanting to build a layout in the first place? What locale or time period is most of interest to you? Steam or Diesel or both? You get the idea. When you start identifying some of these areas, it will make it easier to make some sort of Givens and Druthers list, at least in general, and ultimately lead to an easier decision of the type of model railroad YOU would like to have. From there you can pick the type you would like to build just for YOU.

In my opinion, the most popular layout would be, using your system of identification, a combination of types A and B. Type A is generally referred to as a "railfan layout", where you pretty much stand/sit back, and just watch 'em roll. N-scale lends itself well to this type of layout. Type B is a layout for those who's desires for a model railroad tend towards "operations". And Type C is traditionally called a "spaghetti bowl" layout. These were in vogue mostly 40-60 years ago in the hobby but with the ease of walk around control in the past decade or two, staying with your train through the layout, as of course the engineer on the prototype does, has mostly taken over. As was mentioned they have pretty much fallen out of favor, but one proponent of the style, and who has in fact built one himself, is ex-prototype railroader and hobby author, Jim Mansfield.

As I mentioned above, my guess would be most layouts would be a combination of A and B types -- either actually or if the builder had enough room to do so. That is what I am trying to do in my 24 by 38 foot basement. I like ops but also like watching them run. I could make one heck of an urban switching area with a branchline to other industries in the space I have, but I want some running room, too. So in general, I will have one wall as staging, and the other three as double-main running on the old CB&Q, mainly set in a rural area but coming through a small, as yet unnamed, urban location before returning to staging. This will allow fairly decent length trains, passenger and freight, to run on the layout. Some will just pass through between Galesburg and Chicago, IL, and vice versa. Some will drop and pick up blocks of cars at the main yard in the city area, including some express and mail cars on the passenger trains. Plenty of local switching chores in the area in the city, as well as across the canal and outlying areas on the way back out toward the rural area.

There will also be some interchange activity with other railroads via locals and "transfer runs" to other areas off the mainlines and staging in appropriate locations. At one point out in the country, a single track will diverge from the eastbound main and that will be the start of what I'm calling the Illiniwek River Branch. This rural branchline will meander throughout the central portion of my basement, stopping to switch at a couple small agricultural towns, and eventually end up at a coal mine jointly owned by the CB&Q and the IC. So you see, I'm not limited to one or another type of layout, but have combined two types, I feel, quite nicely.

There are some great resources online for considerations and suggestions based on experience and hard data, in the areas of what type of, and how, to build a model railroad. One excellent source is the Layout Design Primer which is located at:

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It is a compendium of articles written by members of the Layout Design SIG but is accessible to non-members at the above link. It is a work in progress. IIRC, Jim Mansfield whom I mentioned above, has written a piece there explaining why he thinks the "spaghetti bowl" type layout is still a viable option. Check it out...

I believe you said in the past that you aren't participating in any of the Yahoo Group email lists, but for those who do, a couple which are EXCELLENT in this area of layouts are the

Layout Design SIG at

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the Operations SIG at
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and the Layout Construction SIG at
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These are just three which would have some bearing on putting together a layout, but there are others which deal more with down the line type topics such as scenery, structures, modeling, etc.

Hope some of this is helpful, and if you have any questions or need clarification, etc. on anything, just let me know, online or off.

More later . . . Paul - "The CB&Q Guy" (Modeling 1969 in HO.) snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com

Reply to
Paul K - The CB&Q Guy

Hi Matt.

We've probably all been through the same process you're going through. My advice is that you try to get around and see what others are doing, and get a feel for what YOU like, before you do too much building. Otherwise, you run the risk of building something that you'll quickly grow tired of as your preferences change/refine.

My N scale layout represents about 45 miles of ATSF mainline in Oklahoma. There is (or will be when it's finished) about 120' of modelled mainline, and at each end of the layout there is a hidden six-track staging yard with turning loops. One staging yard represents Texas, and the other represents Kansas. There is also a 30' long hidden continuous running track connecting both ends of the layout, which does not foul the staging yards.

If I just want to run trains on my own, I switch in the continuous running track, and set one or two trains running around slowly (same direction) on one throttle, while I operate another train (usually a local freight) on another throttle.

When friends come over for an operating session, I switch the layout to point-to-point mode (using the staging yards). I originally intended to use a fast time clock, but for the reasons you've mentioned I have never implemented it. Instead, the through trains (passenger and freight) running between the staging yards sequentially set the tempo of the railroad. By dropping off and picking up cars at the classification yards, the through freights create traffic/business for the yard operators and the local freight operators. It all works surprisingly smoothly, and we have a lot of fun.


Reply to

It sounds terrific. I like the option of running continuous trains while operating the RR by yourself. That has been mentioned by others, and it sounds ideal.

I am anxious to acquire some of the books from my list. Those will help me a lot in determining track options to achieve some of the ideas I am formulating.

Thanks for sharing your ideas and your layout design.

Most Appreciated! Matt

Reply to
Matt Brennan

Matt, While your gathering a few books you might try to find either the Jan. or Feb. 1980 issue of MR that has an article by Andy S called the "San Jacinto District". This is a very simple point to point track plan ( from staging to a terminal and back with some stops along the way) it based on the actual Santa Fe branch line in Southern California but would be applicable to any place and any era. Its a very modest plan but when you start looking at it you can see there is a lot of operation delivered by such a simple design. Also the article explains very clearly how the line was operated. You can also see how easy it would be to connect the ends for a loop or how you could stretch, bend, twist or turn in to conform to various spaces and layout shapes. Very simple, very clear and very functional. In a recent MR a layout was featured that modified this plan for a continuous run but the new article did not really touch on the operational aspects of the design to the degree or clarity of the original article. Even if you do not build this design these few pages speak volumes. I'll be glad to scan and email you the article if you wish. Bruce

Reply to
Bruce Favinger

Bruce, if you don't mind would you be so kind as to e-mail this article along to me? Thank you.

Brian orion at accesswave dot ca

Reply to
Brian Smith

Bruce Favinger wrote: >>> I'll be glad to scan and email you the article if you wish.

That'd be fantastic. Thanks so much! I very much look forward to studying it.

Thanks Bruce!

Reply to
Matt & Kathleen Brennan

Paul K - The CB&Q Guy wrote: >>> Let me throw out some thoughts, ideas and suggestions mind after reading your post.

Excellent insights and suggestions.

I have decided to configure a layout that incorporates both (A) and (B) with a continuous run option as described by others. I am anxious to purchase a few of the books from my list [my wife will most likely surprise me with some], and I am looking forward to receiving the article from Bruce that describes operations centered around a point-to-point design.

There have been a ton of great suggestions, reminders, and ideas within this thread. Your step back and 'dream approach' has been my daily routine for quite some time. It has served me as a pleasant distraction while commuting. I even carry a small audio recorder in the car to save any neat ideas that come to mind while I am in transit. I also carry a digital camera to every train show and club opening, and I have collected many train images from the internet and from train magazines for possible ideas as well.

Your list if links are great. I have spent many hours pouring through the LDSIG website. Their articles have been terrific teaching tools. I belong to the OPSIG group and their quarterly magazine [The Dispatcher] is excellent. I am reaching input overload, but that's OK. I have been sorting and sifting my collection of images and articles and that has helped me a lot. Slowly, I am creating item-specific, 3-ring binders to use as reference books. I must say, the internet is the most incredible resource. I cannot imagine succeeding without it, though many people certainly did.

Your layout design certainly answers many of the desires I hope to achieve in my final drawing.

As always, Thanks Paul !!!

I will certainly contact you as questions and obstacles present them self in my drafting effort.

Most Sincerely, Matt

Reply to
Matt & Kathleen Brennan

Brian, Matt, I will be happy to email it to you guys. I will have to wait till monday to scan it as my wife has a suitable scanner at work and she is off this week. Check your mail boxes Monday nite or Tuesday morning. Bruce.

Reply to
Bruce Favinger

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