More and more model railroaders are choosing to build multi-level layouts. Using L-Girder benchwork, possibly with a helix to connect levels, a modeler can build a much larger layout in the same area by stacking levels.
Seperate levels are also a great way to hide staging yards or storage areas for trains. These levels in particular don't require a lot of vertical clearance. While access to the tracks is always important for maintenance and derailments, with propper train detaction, these yards can remain virtually invisible to your operators and visitors.
But what if you do want a little light in these yards to help spot trains, double check occupancy and switch alignment or just for routine cleaning? The answer may be as close as your nearest Christmas tree.
Holiday lights can make great layout lighting. In addition to the staging yards seen here, you can use these bulbs and LEDs to light other layers. Blue lights can be used to enhance night scenes.
Bulbs or LEDs?
Until recently, holiday lights were available only as incandescent bulbs. These lights work well and still have some advantages today. The color of an incandescent bulb is much warmer than an LED (Light-Emitting-Diode) most of which yield a cooler blue-ish light more similar to a fluorescent bulb. If you are looking to use small bulbs to light a finished scene, this type of light may be preferable, but there have also been some great improvements in LED lighting as well. Also, the old incandescent light strands are certainly less expensive than LEDs.
Light color and initial cost aside, LED lights really have a lot to offer for modelers. First is long-term cost. Yes, they are more pricey up front, but they use less power, produce less heat and last much longer than old lights. If you're hanging lights in a lower level, changing bulbs may not be a lot of fun. Plus, as everybody knows, "When one light goes out, they all go out!"
For lighting staging yard, light intensity is more important than color value. LED's have a definate advantage here. But you want to make sure to choose bulbs that will project light - some smaller LED's (like those used in control panels for example) show brightly but don't really cast a beam. Again, newer LED bulbs have solved many of these problems along with some improved color values as well.
The cost of LED lighting has also come down considerably. You can save even more if you plan ahead and purchase your layout lighting at after-Christmas sales.
Installing the Lights
Installing the lighting is pretty straight forward. One thing to keep in mind is securing the lights so that they will not interfere with train operations. Nothing like having the lights you've installed to help fix a derailment causing one! Mount the lights as high as possible. Not only does this improve clearances but also light distribution.
String the wires along the benchwork for the level above, or behind a valance. Use insulated wire hangers or staples to attach the wires. Make sure the plug is in an easy-to-reach location, or plugged into an outlet that can be turned off when not needed.
These Christmas lights make a fast and easy solution to lighting almost any dark spot on your layout. So deck the layout and see what you've been missing.