If you enjoy the operations of switching cars and delivering freight, this plan pulls a lot into just 4x8 feet. While the "mainline" is just an oval, you could spend hours working your way around the railroad picking up and setting out cars on multiple sidings. A variety of customers ensures you'll have plenty of interesting cars to work too.
Layout at a Glance
- Scale: HO
- Size: 4x8' (48x96")
- Minimum Curve: 15" radius
- Minimum Switch: No. 4
- Maximum Grade: none
The 4x8 platform is a common layout size, especially for a first layout. Construction of the platform itself is straight forward. You could follow these plans for a simple platform, or adapt the open grid platform as shown on the Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Layout.
The plan shown here provides a level track bed for easier construction and operation. The only grade on the railroad would be the spur up to the coal trestle. You could also cut out the benchwork in this corner and lower the scenery - keeping the track level.
This trackplan is designed around standard track sections, but you could also substitute flex track. For sectional track, here are the pieces you'll need:
- 15" radius curve - 1
- 18" radius curve - 23
- 18" radius half curve - 2
- 18" radius 1/3 curve - 2
- No. 4 Switch, Left - 6
- No. 4 Switch, Right - 2
- 30 degree crossing - 1
- 9" Straight - 19
- 6" Straight - 1
- 3" Straight - 3
- 2" Straight - 1
- 1" Straight - 1
- Bumper - 5
Note that on a complex plan like this, even if you decide to stick with sectional track, you may find it easier - and cheaper - to use standard size pieces and simply custom-cut them to length using a pair of rail-cutters (available at most hobby shops.) This will give you the exact fit you want without having to try and match up a bunch of small pieces.
Scenery and Structures
The structures shown on the plan match the footprints for a variety of Walthers kits. You could of course substitute buildings to model different customers or from other manufacturers.
The layout includes five customers, working clockwise around the layout from the upper left, they are:
- Cold Storage Warehouse (plus an electric substation beside it)
- Coal Depot - the trestle and office building are used here, the lumber shed has been relocated to be part of the American Millwork complex.
- Freight Station
- American Millwork
- ADM Grain Elevator
Walthers' "Merchants Row I and II storefront buildings are also shown to create a "Main Street" commercial district. There are many other kits that could also be used here.
Operations and Rolling Stock
Capturing the feel of a sprawling complex like this can be challenging on a small railroad. The condensed switching area helps add a sense of complexity to the scene and will make operations easier as you work the multiple sidings. A run around track is also included, but you'll have to plan ahead due to the diamond.
The refrigerated warehouse will receive reefers and insulated boxcars. Hoppers of coal can be spotted on the coal dealer's trestle. (For a more modern layout, you could easily replace this corner industry with another small business or even a team track to fit the odd space.)
Boxcars would be the most common arrivals at the freight depot, although the occasional gon or flatcar could also show up. Two spurs here allow multiple spots.
American Millwork will receive lumber in boxcars or flatcars. Finished products may go out by train or truck. And of course you'll have plenty of covered hoppers moving in and out of the large grain elevator. This tall structure helps act as a view divider down the center of the layout. Although not shown, there would be room to add some expansion silos for a larger structure as well.
With the tight curves on this layout, not to mention the amount of traffic, smaller cars (a scale 40') would look and work best. One exception to this rule may have to be slightly larger covered hoppers for grain service, but you can still confine yourself to shorter cars, or even 40' grain-loading boxcars in an earlier era.
All of that traffic would keep a local freight quite busy. This could be modeled as a shortline or industrial railroad, or a branch line of a larger company. A small Geep, switcher, or light steam locomotive switcher like an 0-6-0 would be perfect motive power.
With smaller locomotives like this, spending a little extra time to ensure your track is laid well, and powering switch frogs will go a long way towards increasing your enjoyment. Uncoupling magnets on the sidings would also make switching easier.
You could use a car-forwarding card system to set up operating moves, or just set up a train with a few random cars and head out on the line to make your pick-ups and set-outs as you see fit. With all of these industries, no two sessions ever need to be the same!