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Critique My Layout Idea

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  • Critique My Layout Idea

    Next month my wife and I will be relocating, and our new home includes a room in the basement I've already dubbed "The Train Room". In recent years I've had neither time nor space for a layout, but I've still been thinking of what I'd like, and I thought I'd toss my idea out for criticism.

    My layout will be free-lanced, set on a fictitious island off the Eastern seaboard (the first germ of the idea came to be after a vacation on Nantucket, and no I didn't meet The Man). I picture the island off the coast of New Jersey. It's too far to build a bridge, so everything goes on or off the island by water.

    Up until World War 2 the island was home to commercial fishing boats, their main industry being catching and processing fish. During World War 2 it became a base for staging troops and gear for embarkation to Europe, and the infrastructure (including the railroads) were improved toward that end. After World War 2 the commercial fishing continued, but the island also became popular as a resort/vacation area. This led to an increase in population to support the vacation industry, which in turn led to further improvements to everything required by people (including the railroads).

    The layout will be set in the post-war period. One "end" will feature a port where rail cars come in via car ferry and other goods come in via small boat/self propelled barge (I have a background story there, but that's for another time). There will also be a passenger ferry terminal served by rail. Stuff and people come in via the port and are transported to other parts of the island.

    I intend to have a "light industrial" district with switching opportunities (coal/oil dealer, lumber yard, dairy, etc). I have an old Korber power plant I bought probably 25 or 30 years ago that I never built, that'll require lots of coal to keep the lights on. Maybe a small boat-building operation if I can fit it. The trains will end up in staging.

    The layout will be HO scale, I have quite a collection of steam locos (some Bachmann Spectrum and some older Mantua/Tyco, and Rivarossi that'll need to be remotored for DCC).

    The room is somewhat oddly shaped, it's like a rectangle with one corner cut off, about 15' deep, 12 feet wide at the back wall but only 4.5' wide on the front wall (where the door is), the angled portion starts about 9' from the back wall. All told a decent space for a layout (about 150 square feet total).

    Now to start track planning!

  • #2
    Hi Mark,

    Your idea sounds like a good/feasible premise for a layout, but without knowing all your Givens & Druthers, it is hard to know whether it will translate into the type of layout you're hoping to achieve in the space.

    Take care,



    • #3

      Originally posted by robchant

      Hi Mark,

      Your idea sounds like a good/feasible premise for a layout, but without knowing all your Givens & Druthers, it is hard to know whether it will translate into the type of layout you're hoping to achieve in the space.

      Take care,


      Givens: the room, and a layout that can be built/operated/maintained by one person.

      Druthers: HO scale, steam era. I've always been interested in rail/marine operations, hence my thoughts on an island based layout with interchange via car ferry. Both freight and passenger operations, some switching but not interested in a switching puzzle.


      • #4
        Some things we'd need to know are:

        1) minimum radius - Some commercial steam will work on 18" but brass is rarely happy with less than 24". 60' passenger cars can look and run OK on 22-24", but 80' really wants 28" or more.

        2) Continuous running vs. point-to-point: It will be tight to fit a turn-back loop, the door and an aisle into the 4 1/2 foot end.

        3) One level or multiple - it's a tight space for a helix or a 'no-lix' connecting levels, but Rob showed us an interesting plan using a train elevator a few years ago.


        • #5
          Hi Mark,

          That's a start for narrowing down your G&Ds, and along with James' questions, you might also want to add:

          What brand and code of track will you be using?

          What is the minimum turnout number? Maximum grade?

          What type of benchwork? What is the maximum width of the benchwork? Minimum aisle width?

          What is the height of the bechwork?

          Can lift-outs and/or duck-unders be used in the design?

          How long is the longest piece of rolling stock?

          Are you running passenger and freight trains? How many trains to be run?

          Is your operational focus more on mainline trains, running locals, switching, yard operations, etc.?

          How many staging tracks do you need? Will the be double-, or single-ended? Can they be hidden?

          How many towns/stations would you like depicted on the layout?

          What structures/industries do you want included?

          What locomotive service facilities do you need?

          Take care,



          • #6
            Do an internet search for "Island" RRs. There should be enough for you to look at. Seems it would be point to point but it being an island, it could go all the way around it. It might even have a branch or two to different interior industries if it's "big" enough.
            Andy Jackson

            Santa Fe Springs CA

            LAJ/ATSF Modeler


            • #7
              Sorry for the delay folks, I wasn't a keyboard all weekend and it's too much to type on a phone.....

              Understand that about the only thing set in stone is the room and the HO scale steam era part. Nothing's going to happen except back-of-envelope track planning for a while (we're moving into the house first day of May, then unpacking and stuff starts).

              Min radius: I'm hoping to keep it to 22"-24".

              I'm planning point-to-point, the port area at one end and staging on the other.

              I'm not planning multiple levels, BUT I've considered doing a twice-around with a slight grade, so the back loop is a bit higher than the first. I know it violates the best practice of only going thru a scene once, but I think the inch or two of separation will help with that, and the longer mainline would be nice.

              I planned to try hand-laying my track. Because of the small space I was going to get the frog building tools from FastTracks instead of the full template, so I can curve turnouts as needed. Equipment will be small steam. Eventually I'd like to get my old Mantua Mikado and Pacific on the rails, but until then my big stuff consists of Spectrum Consolidations, Ten Wheelers and a Russian Decapod and a couple IHC Moguls. Well, a Spectrum 0-6-0T that'll go thru anything.

              I'm thinking of a vertical switch to get to staging under the layout. Most of the other questions I think will need to be answered during the actual design process.

              A search for "island railroads" gives lots of hits for Long Island Railroad and Rock Island Railroad, but there are a few.....


              • #8
                Hi Mark,

                Sorry ... I guess that I misunderstood ... I assumed you were looking for help with the designing as well ... good luck with the project.

                Take care,