The Design of Small Model Railways

Around the corner

Corner railway (upper part)
Corner railway (lower part) [250×200 cm²]
 Loco spur
 Industrial railway
 Interchange tracks
 Loading bay
 Factory building

Most bookshelf layouts you see in model railway plan books are quite long. But that makes sense, because a relatively small layout of 2 m length could have 2 m long fiddle yards. This adds up to a overall length of 4 m. But when you have a small house it could be hard to find a plain wall of 4 m length outside the living room. The most obvious answer is work around the corner. The layout is split up into two legs of about 2 m long. And such a corner is much easier to find in your house. Anyhow, I’ve tried to make a layout for an inside corner. But the first problems you’ll encounter are about the pointwork. It’s hard to “bend” complex arrangement of turnouts into a 90° corner when using standard sectional track. Otherwise you’re forced to custom build the points, and that’s something I want to avoid for these plans. To complicate things further, I wanted to use smooth curves. One reason people build bookshelf layouts is the fact that ovals for small spaces need sharp curves and steep turnouts. That’s not very realistic. A straight bookshelf layout can do without them, but a corner layout faces the same challenges.

This plan tries to be an acceptable compromise. I’m using smooth curves and points. In this case the Roco-Line system from Roco. This plan has also another objective, namely modeling modern goods traffic. Most shunting layouts feed small industries with one or two cars at the time. Trains are combined or taken apart at interchange tracks and the cars are distributed. But modern transport rail doesn’t know this kind of traffic. It isn’t cost effective. Nowadays industries don’t get one or two cars, but complete trains. If you want less, you’re not serviced anymore. This is bad news for modelers, because complete trains take space and that’s just what small layout modelers are lacking. Change to a smaller scale or model a prototype of 50 years ago are the standard solutions, but I wanted to see what can be done.

This plan doesn’t depict industries anymore. The enormous scale of modern industries who need a complete train every day makes it impossible to model. So I’ve left that part out. What’s left are the interchange tracks. The mainline railway company supplies the cars and a private shunter takes them to the industrial area, which is outside the scope of the layout. The mainline railway comes from the front at point 1, the backside tracks belong to our private company at point . At point we find a loco spur for our mainline locomotives. At point we find the interchange tracks. There isn’t a run-back possibility, so your mainline locomotives are locked up until the private shunter takes the cars away. If you want you can build a small traverser at the end of the interchange tracks to run your engines around. Staging is done with cassettes at point . Personally I prefer this system over a classic fiddle yard with turnouts or a traverser. The loco spur at point also leads into a cassette. This offers extra possiblities for changing engines.

The track at point offers some additonal shunting possiblities and leads to the factory at point . This should be a tall building to hide the transition between scenery and background. The bridges at point have the same purpose. The train length is limited to about 1 m. That isn’t much but I prefer short trains running over smooth pointwork over longer trains running over steep points. You can easily expand the length of the legs, but keep in mind that longer interchange tracks at point also lead to larger cassettes at point .

The operational value isn’t large. It’s all more or less English style, where proportion is more important. But most English plans are modelling pre-war prototypes, this one is situated in our modern era. This layout models something of the emptieness of industrial areas. For most people these aren’t their favourite holiday spots, but I like the atmosphere.

Alternative for Corner Railay (upper part)
Alternative for Corner Railay (lower part)

 When you don’t like the cassette-system, I’ve drawn a variant with turnouts. Both the mainline and the private industrial line split into two seperate tracks. The storage capacity isn’t as large as with a cassette system, but could be sufficient for some kind of basic operation. Adding some extra centimeters at both legs would benefit this solution, because the maximum train length is reduced to 90 cm. The general idea I wanted to put forward is that it might be a solution to start fanning out for the fiddle yard in the visible area. Use medium radius turnouts for the (nearly) hidden tracks. This saves room in your fiddle yard.

Expanding the layout

I’ve driven the design further. I’ve tried to increase the operational value by expanding the layout. This new plan isn’t just one small layout, these are two small layouts interconnected. Well, you could say that I haven’t fulfilled my small layout criterion of 2  maximum. This plan is about layouts in small rooms. My house has such a small room, measuring 2×2½ . And I just wanted to see what you can do if you’ve such a room at your disposal.

Small Room Layout
[250×200 cm²]
 Industrial railway
 Interchange tracks
 Container terminal
 Classification yard
 Hidden fiddle yard
 Loco spur

The left hand side of the layout is a re-design of my first plan. The mainline railway comes from the back now, the front tracks belong to the private company. I’ve added the possibility to run-around locomotives. I’ve also added a container terminal instead of the industry. You can buy remote controlled container cranes. So next to the obvious rotation schemes for the goods cars you can add rotation schemes for containers. Or is this just over the top? Anyhow, I think a container terminal can be the option for a realistic industrial model which is fun to operate.

 The possibility of having a working container crane could be seen on the layout of Montfrooij Modelspoor, named “Kaj-M”. This diorama has been exhibited at Rail 2009. The layout depicts a sea harbour. This theme offers lots of possibilities for shunting, but requires the art of selective compression to transfer the wideness of a port to the relative small size of a model railway layout.

Montfrooij Modelspoor - Kaj-M

At the right hand side we find a classification yard. Here cars are sorted to form new trains. It also functions as our second interchange yard. So basically, cars are moved from the interchange tracks to the other, swapping railway company every time. I think four storage tracks is just enough to get the operational potential you want. There’re also two hidden sidings at the back, depicting some faraway connections. You can unhide them and add them to the classification yard if you think those hidden tracks are hard to reach.

Between both scenes I’ve drawn tracks without scenery. Just for two reasons. First, it acts as a scenic divider and second, most often you’ll find a window at that side of the room. And your household wants to reach the window for obvious reasons. But those household activities can damage your precious scenery. So I advise, leave the scenery out. At this spot, the private line has just one track, but the mainline has some staging capacity. Don’t expect to much of it, because one track is also needed for shunting in the classification yard. I didn’t design an oval. I didn’t find any reason for it because I wanted to have point-to-point operation. And I wanted to avoid the obvious “bridge-for-the-door”. I don’t like those contraptions. You can make fail-safe circuitry to avoid trains falling into the pit. But in a small room, you should also block the door from opening when you’re bridge is down, otherwise your bridge is crashed when the door is opened. (Doors, in most cases, open inwards.) Think about it.

To operate this layout you’ll need one mainline engine and one private shunter. And a collection of goods cars. That’s all. For the record, the track work is Märklin K-track. I just wanted to know the peculiarities of the K-track geometry. As expected, it is quite good for a sectional track system. But the looks of the double-slip (small radius) aren’t that good but ok. The three-way turnout is symmetrical and unprototypical, but I needed the thing to save space. So I put an overbridge at point over it to hide the ugly duckling.

The plan as it stands now can be easily adapted to fit your specific floor plan. Both legs of the plan can be easily extended by increasing the length of the storage tracks. The width can also be adapted by adding extra straight tracks.

Ready yet?

These plans aren’t finished yet. I wouldn’t suggest copying them off blindly. In fact, these are study room exercises and the plans need a lot of re-work until they meet your requirements. But when you’re in to running according to timetables and rotation plans, layouts with classification yards can just be your cup-of-tea. But these point-to-point schemes are not a good choice for main stream modelers who want to see trains running (around).

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