The Design of Small Model Railways

A bookshelf railway

A Bookshelf Railway [200×40 cm²]
 Interchange track
 Oil depot
 Goods shed
 Loco spur

A slightly modified version of this page has been published in Model Trains International magazine, issue no.45, March-April 2003.

This plan is a classical bookshelf layout. I’ve tried to limit the length to 2 m, because I’ve experienced that in small houses it’s sometimes hard to find longer walls you can use. Most bookshelf layouts, like this one, are difficult to bend around the corner. The pointwork does not allow it.

From a railway builders point-of-view this plan is not optimal. But in order to get interesting shunting operations it is advised to build in some irregularities. In this case the two crossings can be omitted but the looks of it are great. What I would always plan is the possibility to run around your shunter. Now you can serve every siding. If you don’t have this possibility you’ll find the need for two shunters at both ends coming up soon.

This plan also has a interchange track at point . I suggest using the cassette system I’ve first read about in Rice’s books [Rice, Iain: An Approach to Model Railway Layout Design - Finescale in Small Spaces]. This is a piece of track you can disconnect from your layout. You can put a train in the cassette, disconnect the cassette from the layout. You can now stow your train away and put in another cassette with another train. This implies that there should be free space at the lower end of the layout to have room to manoeuvre the cassettes. If you’re good in mechanical engineering you can construct a vertical lift.

 The industries around a harbour is one of the scenes of the small layout “Smeerdijk”, built by Derk Huisman, Henk Wust and Jan van Mourik. This diorama could be seen at the Nederlandse Modelspoordagen of 2016. This dense built-up area is a fine example for this layout.

Smoother pointwork

This plan also uses Fleischmann Profi track. The 18° switches cannot be called smooth. If you have more space available, you can consider using smoother pointwork instead of expanding the tracks. In the picture below I’ve re-designed the plan using PECO track. I’ve used the medium curve switches with a angle of 12°. Consequently, the plan gets longer with 25%. The overall length is this new plan is 2½ m. Oddly enough, the plan gets also shallower, because with PECO the distance between two tracks can be reduced from ±70 mm to 50 mm. The width is now 30 cm instead of the 40 cm of the original plan: a reduction of 25%. As said before, I’ve the nasty habit of minimising all dimensions, but you can use the space gained for adding whatever you fancy.

A Bookshelf Railway with Smoother Points

When I reviewed this plan, I drew the conclusion that the one cassette track in the upper-left corner could be quite cumbersome. It will be difficult to put a cassette in and out. So I made another variant using cassettes differently. The cassettes can move reely on a smooth surface, this makes changing them more easy. I also mirrored the plan to make the interchange track more accessible. The area at the left depicts the surface on which the cassettes can be placed. The factory at point  on the original plan has been removed. The storage tracks remain, hidden as cassette-tracks. Or, if so desired, you can make both storage tracks fixed, thus making the area for the cassettes somewhat shallower. The background of the layout is drawn in blue. You lose some length for your scenery, but you'll gain possibilities for train movements.

A Bookshelf Railway with Cassette

 And as encore I’ve coloured this last alternative with a cityscape.

A Bookshelf Railway with Landscape
Electrical wiring

 The drawing below shows my suggestion for the electrical wiring of the plan. The scheme is for analogous (non-digital) control. I’ve tried to use the colour scheme of Fleischmann.

A Bookshelf Railway with wiring

I’ve used the so-called “Cab Control” wiring scheme. Each section can get its power from either controller Tr1 or controller Tr2. This is done with the switches at the lower side of the scheme. The middle position of these switches turn the voltage of the track section. The switches are called ON-OFF-ON switches. They are not present in the Fleischmann catalogue, you’ll have to buy them at your local electronics shop. The scheme employs a common ground: the back rail. This implies that, at the section breaks (red triangles), the front track only should be insulated. This is done by replacing the metal rail joiners by plastic ones.

Every section can be fed by either Tr1 or Tr2. Two locomotives can be controlled independently. By setting the switches in a “smart” way, you set the correct right-of-ways. I think two locomotives controlled simultaneously is quite enough for a layout of this size.

The scheme also show the controls for the electrical turnouts. These can be controlled by using simple momentary push-buttons (1×ON).

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