The Design of Small Model Railways

Downward spiral

Downward spirals
[125×80 cm²]
 Station building
 Segment turntable
 Helix with tunnel
 Goods facilities

When you’ve studied the previous plans on this website, you might have detected that most of my plans lack a modern feature: hidden storage tracks. Of course, hidden storage tracks do serve an excellent purpose: stowing trains away out of sight. This allows running trains according to a realistic schedule. It also allows you to run far more different train compositions. But why don’t I use them more often? Because in most cases storage yards, like fiddle yards, take precious space away. Non-scenic space. And space is scarce on small model railways. In some cases, half of the available area is used for hidden storage tracks only. And I believe it might be more interesting to extend the landscape all over the layout. You put landscape over the fiddle yards, but that decreases the accessibility of the fiddle yard. And my variant of Murphy’s Law states, that accidents always happen in tunnels (and other covered tracks).

In continental Europe, track plan design has taken another route. Hidden storage areas are placed deep below the scenery. Long inclines, mostly helixes, take the trains through extensive underground railway lines to the hidden stations. In some designs, there are even more hidden tracks than visible tracks. But that’s the price (figuratively and literally) you’ve to pay using these kinds of arrangements.

But is there enough room on a small model railway to create extensive underground trackwork? I wanted to explore if this is possible. This plan is the minimum I could design. An upper, visible terminus and a helix railway to the underground station. Because the layout is so small, only short trains are allowed. And because the incline is rather steep and the curves narrow, only short trains can navigate the layout. It’s all very minimal but I think, doable.

Downward spirales (perspective view)

 This perspective view shows how the helix connects the visible upper station to the lower underground fiddle yard.

To help you with constructing the spiral, I advise you to use an out-of-the-box helix. In this case Noch 53001 Laggies “Gleiswendel-Komplettbausatz Grundkreis” (base circle) and Noch 53101 Laggies “Gleiswendel-Aufbaukreis” (add-on circle). You can build a working 2½ circle helix without much trouble. Just follow the manual. The radius is a minimum of 360 mm, and the grade is approx. 4% (1 in 25), all within the limits for short trains. While with my other plans I’ve doubts about inclines and elevations, I’m quite convinced using Noch helixes will do the job satisfactorily. However, if you feel confident you can create your helix from scratch. There’re enough instructions and examples published on the internet. The helix gives enough room for reaching the underground station with ease. Accessibility is always something you should think about to avoid frustration when operating any model railway.

Transition to an incline

Please be advised that the transitions to and from the inclines can be a problem with rigid tracks systems like Trix C track. You cannot really bend the tracks to smoothen the transition. I assume that when using short two-axle locomotives and carriages the problem is manageable. With longer rolling stock contact issues may arise. The risk of derailments also increases.

 A three way turnout at one end of the railway museum in Neustadt an der Weinstraße in Germany. A picture book scene made to be recreated on a small layout. The Märklin version of this plan below uses the same type of configuration. This photo has been taken on August 2nd, 2020.

Eisenbahnmuseum Neustadt an der Weinstrasse
Segment turntable

A space-saving device more commonly used on continental model railways is the segment turntable. A turntable instead of points saves quite a lot of space. The segment version of it even more. And it is prototypical, but I’ve to admit, not that often used. But in this plan, the segment turntable comes to the rescue to make everything fit and adds operation value. Because segment turntables become popular, manufacturers are now offering kits that are motorized and even digitalized. In my design I’ve opted for Noch 66250 “h0 Fertigmodell Segment­drehscheibe”. This kit is no longer produced but is still available at some internet stores. There’re enough alternative products available on the market. Still, I’ve chosen this product because its geometry fits perfectly with my design. If you’re going to use a segment turntable from another brand, you may have to tweak things a little to make everything fit.

Because I wanted to use a ready-made turntable for your convenience, I had to make the plan for a 2-rail normal gauge h0. The segment turntable by Noch only supports 2-rail systems, not 3-rail systems like Märklin. I chose the track system made by Trix. I’ll explain later why. You can also use your favourite track system, but you might need some sections of flex track to make everything fit in this tight space.

Operations are simple. Passenger trains, goods trains, limited facilities and shunting and that is it. You can run around at the top station. So locomotive hauled trains offer slightly more shunting potential than railcars. But we have a four-track fiddle yard, so we can store four different trains. And that’s quite something for such a small layout.

The scenery should be kept simple. The landscape is rural with some fields and wooded areas. Don’t overcrowd it with lots of buildings. Having said this, I believe this plan also allows for a densely urban setting in Japanese style. Anyhow, I’ve placed a castle in the middle of the helix. I admit it is a cliché. But the size of the layout is unrealistic in some sense. So why don’t have some fun and use Auhagen 12263 “Castle Lauterstein? Romantic and with a small footprint. In reality, Lauterstein castle in Marienberg, Germany, is a ruin now. The model is a fine reconstruction of this medieval castle. Well, a ruin could also be a perfect fit to create a romantic scene. I see lots of possibilities…

 These three drawings show the part numbers for all levels of this plan. The underground station is rather basic with no run-around possibilities. But still a storage capacity for four trains, which is not bad for such a small railway. The 2½ circle helix creates enough elevation to allow easy access. The pit of the segment turntable also needs height.

Downward spirals (upper section)
Downward spirals (middle section)
Downward spirals (lower section)
 1×Trix-62064  Rechte rail 64,3 mm
 1×Trix-62071  Rechte rail 70,8 mm
 4×Trix-62077  Rechte rail 77,5 mm
36×Trix-62130  Gebogen rail straal 360 mm, hoek 30°
 6×Trix-62172  Rechte rail 171,7 mm
 3×Trix-62188  Rechte rail 188,3 mm
 2×Trix-62206  Gebogen rail straal 437,5 mm, hoek 5,7°
 2×Trix-62207  Gebogen rail straal 437,5 mm, hoek 7,5°
 2×Trix-62215  Gebogen rail straal 437,5 mm, hoek 15°
 2×Trix-62224  Gebogen rail straal 437,5 mm, hoek 24,3°
 2×Trix-62229  Rechte rail 229,3 mm
 4×Trix-62230  Gebogen rail straal 437,5 mm, hoek 30°
 1×Trix-62236  Rechte rail 236,1 mm
 1×Trix-62430  Gebogen rail straal 579,3 mm, hoek 30°
 1×Trix-62611  Wissel links 188,3 mm
 4×Trix-62612  Wissel rechts 188,3 mm
 2×Trix-62671  Meegebogen wissel links 30°
 2×Trix-62977  Stootblok 82,5 mm
Back to Märklin

I originally designed this plan for the Märklin C track system. But I couldn’t manage to fit everything within the surface area. One piece of track sticks out. This short piece of track has to be placed on an extension: a small foldable or removable piece of baseboard. This was a compromise that I couldn’t accept for myself. So, I changed the plan slightly to accommodate a segment turntable. This in turn forces me to change the track system to two-rail. I choose Trix because its geometry is exactly the same as the Märklin C track. It made the redesign so much easier.

 This plan for Märklin C track uses a three way switch instead of a turntable. This makes constructing the layout easy because all track pieces click together without any adjustments. The layout has a 1½ circle helix only, the contents of Noch 53001. This gives enough but minimum room for the underground station. But I advise you to spend some extra money and use the 2½ circle version. This extra “headroom” will make operating the underground station more comfortable.

Downward spiral (upper section)

 These two drawings show the part numbers for all levels of this plan.

Downward spiral (lower section)
Downward spiral (lower section)
-24064  Rechte rail 64,3 mm-24071  Rechte rail 70,8 mm-24077  Rechte rail 77,5 mm
24×-24130  Gebogen rail straal 360 mm, hoek 30°
 3×-24172  Rechte rail 171,7 mm-24188  Rechte rail 188,3 mm-24206  Gebogen rail straal 437,5 mm, hoek 5,7°
 2×-24215  Gebogen rail straal 437,5 mm, hoek 15°
 3×-24224  Gebogen rail straal 437,5 mm, hoek 24,3°
 2×-24229  Rechte rail 229,3 mm-24230  Gebogen rail straal 437,5 mm, hoek 30°
 1×-24236  Rechte rail 236,1 mm-24360  Rechte rail 360 mm-24430  Gebogen rail straal 579,3 mm, hoek 30°
 1×-24611  Wissel links 188,3 mm-24612  Wissel rechts 188,3 mm-24630  Driewegwissel 188,3 mm-24671  Meegebogen wissel links 30°
 2×-24977  Stootblok 82,5 mm

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