Track planning is essential if you are a beginning model railroader or you own a train set with a simple oval of track and you now want to expand to a more interesting level of operation. Building a small layout will increase your modeling skills and, properly designed, can be expanded at a later time. To begin, we will create a track plan incorporating our own desired operating characteristics. The plan can be selected from a large variety which is available from books and magazines or can be custom designed by the modeler. Another common practice is to select a published track plan and modify it for your own use. For the purpose of this discussion, we will assume that we are starting with nothing and will develop our own plan. After reading layout design and careful consideration, we have selected a scale (HO) and discovered a location where we can put a 4’ x 8’ layout. The layout will be designed according to the following specifications :
TYPE: Rural short line Scale: HO(1:87) Period: 1930’s—1940’s Motive Power: Small steam and early diesel Locale: Southeastern U.S. Roadbed: Homasote on ¾” plywood Size: 4 ft. x 8 ft. Minimum Radius: 20” Turnouts: no.4 Track: Flextrack, code 70 Centerline distance between tracks: Straight: 2.0” Curved: 2.5”
In the 1930’s and 40’s, short line railroads abounded in the U.S. Many of them operated on a very tight budget and often purchased older locomotives and cars from class 1 railroads. It was not unusual at all to see wooden passenger cars from the late 1800’s following behind a 4-4-0 or 2-6-0 steamer. This fact works great for track planning when using tight radius curves.
HO is the most popular scale and provides us with the greatest range of equipment for modeling this period. Locomotives, freight and passenger cars of the early 20th century are readily available and can be easily modified and weathered to accurately represent this era.
I picked the southeastern U.S. area because that’s where I live. (I actually remember the years we’re modeling) You may wish to choose your own local area as the locale for your track planning.
Plywood is the most popular material to use when building a table top layout and is readily available at most lumber supply stores. Many track arrangements are glued directly to the plywood (like my first layout). This is not a good idea. Screws, nails and spikes cannot be driven into plywood without drilling a pilot hole.
I love homasote. It comes in 4 ft. by 8 ft sections and is easy, but extremely dusty, to cut. It is a snap to drive model spikes or screws into this material. I rip 2” wide strips on my table saw, bevel the edges, and use it exclusively for mainline roadbed. The saw is always wheeled outside to perform this operation otherwise I will spend a considerable amount of time cleaning up the fuzz.
The largest radius that will fit on a 4’ x 8’ layout is 22”. This will be our largest radius-20” will be our smallest.
Number 4 turnouts will work fine for this track plan. However, if you plan to expand the layout later you may want to use no. 5 or no. 6 switches in order to handle larger locomotives.
Flextrack comes in 3’ sections and is easy to cut and bend to form curves. It is the most versatile and quite realistic in appearance.
Track spacing is important, especially when using tight radius curves. 2.5” spacing on 20” curves ensures that trains on adjacent tracks can pass safely.
Now that we have defined the type of railroad and it’s specifications it is time to make a drawing of the track layout. Before drawing everything in detail, make a rough sketch of your ideas for track placement. Once you decide on an arrangement that you like, draw it to scale and make sure everything fits properly. Select a convenient scale (I like ¾”=1’).
Make an outline drawing of the 4’ x 8’ base (include lightly ruled grid lines in 1 ft. blocks) Draw the track plan starting with the curves at each end. Connect the curves with the straight track sections, draw the crossover, add the tracks to the industries and draw scale outlines of the actual industries you have chosen to install. The track plan shown in fig. 1 is an example of this approach. Your plan may look different. The idea is to establish a procedure to make sure the various track and structure components fit the space before construction begins. Track planning will always improve with experience
• Avoid jamming too much track in a small area.
• Use several types of industries that require different kinds of freight cars.
• Leave space for other details-the center area of fig.1 could be used for a small town.
• Make copies of your track plan and mark them up freely.
• Do not put total faith in your track plan! Before building your layout, place all track components on the layout surface and check for accuracy of the plan.