The trackplan for the Denver and Rio Grande Western narrow gauge project layout is not very complex. This simple "peanut" shaped oval with one siding is about as basic as it gets. You can read more about the rationale for such a simple plan which suits the exhibition purpose of this display.
Size: 4 ft. wide by 8 ft. long overall(due to the design of the table and supports, the actual layout dimensions are two inches smaller in each direction.)
Scale / Gauge: HOn3 (HO scale, 3 foot narrow gauge)
Minimum Curve Radius: 20 inches
Turnout Size: No. 4
Modifying the Plan
So you like the plan, you're just not sold on the Rio Grande or narrow gauge? Maybe you've got just a little less, or more space. No problem! One advantage of a simple plan like this is that it is very easy to change.
You could make this a standard gauge HO layout without changing anything other than the clearances for the tunnels, rock cuts, etc. A 20 inch minimum radius curve will accomodate all but the longest standard gauge cars.
You could also keep the same basic plan and change the scale. Going to N scale (standard or narrow gauge) would give you very broad curves and lots of room for big Colorado scenery. Or you could keep the tighter radius and reduce the overall dimensions of the layout.
To go to larger, radius may become and issue unless you have room to enlarge the platform. One interesting option would be to use HO standard gauge track and build the railroad as an On30 display. The trackplan will work but you will have less room for the buildings in town.
Stretching or Shrinking the Plan
Obviously, any plan can be made larger without much difficulty. But could you shrink this plan at all and still make it work in HOn3? Yes. Blackstone Models lists 18 inches as the minimum radius for the locomotives used on this layout. Smaller power would allow you to squeeze that down a little more. Trim some of the scenery on the edge of the layout and you could get the railroad down to a width of about 40 inches without compromising operations. Length could also be shortened by about a foot without much impact. With photography a primary goal of this display, and having the space available, I opted to take advantage of a full 4x8 platform.
Touring the Layout
Beginning in the lower left corner, we'll travel counter clockwise around the railroad.
The scenic highlight of the line is a tall, curved steel trestle (Micro Engineering kit) spanning a deep river gorge. This scene is inspired by a similar trestle on the San Juan Central, a Model Railroader Magazine project railroad from the 1980s. Trains enter the bridge through steep rock cuts at either end. A high rocky ridge rises above the inside of the structure. From riverbed to mountain top, the scenery will be nearly three feet tall at this point, dwarfing the narrow gauge rollingstock.
Coming through the cut, our train enters a small Colorado town. The town, as yet unnamed, features a few small store fronts, homes, and of course a station and water tower. The only siding on the railroad, a small team track, serves the community. There would be lots of opportunities to add additional spurs and a run-around track here if operations were more of a priority on this line.
Leaving town through a grove of brilliant yellow aspen trees, our train disappears into a short tunnel.
Emerging from the otherside of the short tunnel, the train immediately enters a long curved structure over the tracks. This snow shed helps prevent this remote stretch of railroad from the frequent heavy snowdrifts that occur here through the long Colorado winters. And its a good thing too, because this side of the layout will showcase winter scenery high in the mountains. Some modelers might not feel comfortable with mixing fall and winter scenes on such a small layout. The high mountain divider down the center of the platform will prevent the scenes from mixing. Also, it is not uncommon for both seasons to be seen on the same trip in this part of the world where the weather can change as fast as the elevation. For photography, this gives us two railroads in the space of one.
When the train finally emerges from the protection of the snowshed, it continues to cling tightly to the side of a steep mountain slope through cuts, over fills, and even another curved trestle. Again, the scenery will extend more than a foot above and below the tracks here, giving the look of a steep mountain railroad without any actual grades.
As our train returns to the curve at the left side of the platform, it passes through another steep cut and back into the fall as it crosses the signature steel trestle. At realistic operating speeds a short train should take no more than a few minutes to navigate the entire railway. But with dramatic scenery and small details in abundance, the journey will seem much longer.
Those are the plans, all that's left now is to build it! Like any model railroad, construction will certainly bring some changes to these plans. Some will be brought by necessity, others by spontaneity. The layout of buildings in town for example will be largely determined once all of the kits have been built.
Take some time and study the track plan. Maybe you'll build a layout just like it. Maybe there's just one or two ideas you'd like to adopt. Construction will take place throughout 2011. Look for a new feature in the coming weeks!