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How do you go about designing a large layout?


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Hello all,

Just to set the scene, as some of you may know, late last year my beloved and I realised our long term dream of selling up in the UK and moving to Greece. This was a rather traumatic experience to be honest, the stress of selling one’s home in the middle of a pandemic was bad enough but to then move across Europe during it and under pressure to become residents here before the end of the withdrawal agreement, not to be recommended.

Anyway, we’re here now, fully legal and pretty much all paperwork sorted. In Greece where bureaucracy is notoriously legendary, that’s some achievement! Since getting sorted bureaucratically, we’ve been having a good rest to recuperate.

We still have to complete a land purchase and have erected a ‘flat pack’ house on it so I don’t have any exact measurements from which to make an actual layout plan but I can say that my basement will be at least 100+ square meters and set only partly into the ground due to being in a hilly area, the basement itself will be a very strong and solid reinforced concrete structure, typical for the region. Due to being at the very start of this process, I can choose virtually any shape of layout I wish, from something 10 metres long by 10 wide, well down to say, 5 metres by 20.

 

Now to my topic title, how do you go about designing a large layout?

Evidently, if you are following a particular prototype like @Tony Wright for example, your layout plan is at least, partly chosen for you. What about a freelance design?

 I am well aware of the American “givens and druthers”, where you make a list of things you have to include and another list of things you’d like to have but could sacrifice if necessary.

I have an added difficulty in that I model (should that be “follow”?) American, European and British, all in H0 scale. I do wish to be able to run say, a British train in a British setting and so on. How do I reconcile the fact that my British train will presently run through say, French or German scenery and then onwards through an American landscape? I must add that my British H0 collection is not that extensive simply due to the fact that there isn’t that much available so a small British scene will be sufficient but my American and European collections are rather more substantial.

 I am talking about a singular layout here rather than individual and separate layouts. This is to be my lifetime layout, the kind of layout that I have spent a fair bit of time dreaming about if only I had the space. It certainly doesn’t have to be portable, the only time it will need to be removed is when I am no longer here.

There was a time when I modelled the Chesapeake and Ohio, that I could have lifted say, Tony Koester’s plan or any other plan from “Model Railroader” really and adapted it to my needs but that is no longer suitable for me.

 I am very lucky to have a wife who is supportive of my hobby and who’s capable of offering ideas and suggestions but I thought I’d see what the clever folks on here could suggest too, please.

 I can’t even decide what shape of layout to go for, let alone a track plan.

Cheers,

John

 

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For me I wanted to model a particular place and time, worked out the layout to scale.. Then built a shed around the plans..

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Although you're not going solely for US outline, I'd still look to US basement plans for inspiration. They do have a knack of making plans where trains 'go somewhere' - naturally enough given the space, but I do get the feeling that given the same space, the average Brit would still end up with a single 'station to fiddleyard' layout.

There must be a way of having a layout with one main staging yard, and three 'Country of choice' scenes that inapropriate trains bypass via hidden track, whilst still getting a good long run. :scratchhead: :yes:

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Model Railroader produces an annual planbook that contains a great deal of food for though. That said, some of the layouts are designed more for a club type setting that would involve multiple operators and a group of people with a wide range of skills for wiring, scenery, maintenance, etc., etc.,. An old pal of mine gave me a sound piece of advice when it came to layouts based on long experience. Never build anything larger than you are prepared to maintain.

 

HTH

 

Cheers,

 

David

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Interesting observations, thanks guys.

Some of my “givens” which I have taken to mean “needs” are;

Capable of being multi national.

Two circuits/alternative routes available.

Large loco depot.

Large passenger station (Dammtor) (I already have a kit for this)

Secondary station.

Large freight yard.

Various industries.

 

My “druthers” or “desires” are;

Some spectacular scenery.

At least one viaduct.

Large river (combined with above?).

Port facility for my model ship.

A branch line.

Possible 4 track section.

Big junction/flyover.

 

 I do think this is all too much to ask so am willing to make some sacrifices to the above.

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Just some sketching to show how I might fill either a rectangular or a square area;

Layout planning

 

An initial sketch based on ‘B’ as above; EDIT: I only just noticed that I cut the letter identifiers from the picture, A is top down to E (PQ - Possibilities).

Layout planning

As per my premise in the OP, nothing set in stone, just trying out ideas.

Edited by Allegheny1600
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You might find this thread useful. 

This layout is being built to house a British outline layout in a Canadian basement so may well have some of the characteristics you are after. The helix may or may not be of use to you but there is a great deal more food for thought plus construction details.

 

Cheers,

 

David

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Thanks David,

That is indeed very interesting. He has done a superb job there, I will follow his progress.

In reference to your previous comment (from a friend of yours) about not building more than you can maintain, I think that is very sound advice indeed. To that end, I have various types of track cleaning devices that I hope will reduce the effort required regularly. However a friend of mine with an 18’ x 9’ dogbone type layout, has just discovered how much work it takes just to clean the wheels on his fleet, he says it will keep him going for months.

Just as well I’m no longer available to him else that would be a job for me.

Cheers,

John.

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OK, so you have 30x30 available.  You want to be able to "run" longer trains, of at least 3 different styles.  

How much height are you planning?  If you are starting from 0, then a 3m, or even 3.3m (9 or 10') tall room would definitely add to the available space, at comparatively limited costs (about 4.5 m^3 of concrete per foot height...or probably about $2000/ft height...given that the floor space is worth about $135 000, that's cheap...)

If I could, I would start with where the stairs are going to come down into the basement- and if I could, I'd start with a plan that allows at least 1' gap on the outside of the staircase to the walls.  If the basement is going to have a walk out, make sure that opening is big enough to drive a car into it.  Ask me how I know?  :)  

Next, washroom- if you are going to have a washroom, and laundry room, and a craft room for your SO, those "can" go in the middle of the space.  I'd do some careful thought about how to arrange things through the rooms first, before I'd design like that.  For example, if it is going to be a toilet & sink only, then running the railway through the room is perfectly appropriate.  Less so if it is going to have a shower...

 

The amount of layout you can build will depend on 3 things-  $,  willing accomplices and time you are willing to devote to the layout.  To an extent, $ is the real determining factor, because if you have enough, then getting accomplices is possible by the expedient of paying.  

I'd also suggest considering what YOUR goal is- is it to build a layout, or operate a layout, or scenic a layout?  If you've ever stuck your head in Jeff's Luneside layouts you will see fantastic scenic model railroads- the same sort of thing if you follow Jason Shron's Kingston Sub.


Multi Deck layout, with the 2/3 scenes being somewhat set up to allow to be used as staging for the alternate trains would be my thought.  So the big German station can be used to stage trains for the US layout, and vice versa.  Hung off the walls, with a removable section across the walk out.

Long Marton is built as a 8, with the middle bit being fairly thin (~1'), the station is on 3' baseboards, and the staging is on 30".  It's integral with the Lego railway @ home, which causes some benchwork oddities.  (the staging is between 2 levels of Lego...).  I don't have enough height to go to more levels than I have- I was somewhat stuck with what I got, in that I'd rather have had an extra 1' or 2', but even where we put the addition on, I know that I am down close to as far as I could have gone without blasting. (& lifting the house is a non starter, like buying Lego Monorail = divorce :)

I started with the track plan for Long Marton because I wanted a double track mainline station that was as simple as possible, in 1992 or so.  I'd freelanced my previous station, and didn't like how it had worked out, so went on to borrow from the best (Midland) practices :).  It grew to 30' because my current basement is 36' long, so 3' curves (they aren't, they are 30" & 28") = 30' to work with, which works as 30/6=5, so 5 sections to make Long Marton on.

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A good start that your UK modelling is HO scale. That removes one worry.

 

UK trains running through continental scenery may not be so much of a problem. If you focus your attention on the UK section of the layout when running UK trains, the rest of the layout is simply off-stage. This has been done in the past by others on much smaller layouts. The operator simply swings his stool round so the "wrong" scene is out of sight.

 

But my inclination, in that space would be to build more than one layout.

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Era?

 

I ask, because if you are into modern-era, it might be possible to create a west-European-bland layout, one that isn’t obviously country-specific.

 

Geology doesn’t respect national borders, and neither does vegetation-type, and although Snowdonian and the Almerian Desert clearly don’t look very alike, there is a sort of ‘middle wodge’ where you could get away with it. Modern man-made features can be pretty euro-bland too, although historic ones less so (Normandy and East Sussex come pretty close).

 

If US trains are on the menu, a bit of research might turn-up matches (Southern Spain and New Mexico? Scotland and Maine? I don’t know).

 

I know we’re all supposed to build layouts where you can tell the location in the absence of a train, but this might be the occasion to break that “rule”.

 

PS: Huge space. It would intimidate me unless I was about 30yo again, because of the likely duration to near-completion.

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Very helpful suggestions again, thanks guys!

Peach, valuable experience there, don’t worry though, the climate here is fine to leave cars outdoors and the crime rate is very low indeed plus my cars are never attractive to thieves! I’m not sufficiently disposed to working on them either.

Joseph, the idea of moving so that I don’t see the “wrong” scene is simply perfect.

Nearholmer, yes, quite! I recall when I was in California, I thought how similar the countryside was to Southern Spain and I know from videos that parts of Canada have a very European look to them.

 

My main eras will be primarily present day for Germany but fate forces my hand with US stuff as my two favourite roads were subsumed into the UP in 1995 and 1996 so at the very least, they have to be a decade earlier really.

My British stuff is anything I can get hold of really but with a preference for early to mid eighties, blue and large logo.

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Even if you are not planning on doing auto repair...that is one of few mistakes I made when I built the (17'6"x24'6") addition on my house.  Note:  the 24'6" was determined by layout lengths !.  At some point I am going to end up with the problem of getting the 40" wide steam Traction Engine in through the 36" wide door.  Oops !

I'd also recommend, quite highly, building the layout as sectional.  Because that way, when you "need" to get behind bits of it, or above it, you can spend the day or two to dismantle the layout to do so.  Presently Long Marton is stored like so, awaiting me doing some more work on the room that the main layout lives in, along with getting a new furnace.  It made it a lot less daunting of a task than if it had been well and truely fixed to the walls.  Horses for courses though, as most layouts I have seen are tied to the structure of the house. 

The idea of the opposite side/height being staging certainly crosses my mind as being an efficient use of the space available.  If you start out with a plan of a helix with a large amount of track in it, then the whole layout becomes easier to manage- I'd start out with something like a 48" radius helix (3m square...) to get between levels.  It's a lot of real estate- but bear with me- I'd also design said helix to be the primary storage yard for the layout of the "opposite" type of train- so that you can store "offseen" the entire stock for the UK/US while running German/ect.  Even if you went down to 40" ( call it 2.5m square), that would give about a 1:75 grade.  (48"= 1:100, both at 3" seperation).

Mushroom layout design, big helix for storage, sectional, opposite type of station above/below, fairly generic scenic treatments outside of specific stations...that's where my mind heads.  Start with one of the stations & go from there in terms of construction.  (I'd start with the German passenger station, because the throat of that would be fairly epic...and the station is also going to be big...).  Don't be afraid of whipping together some of the layout that you KNOW you would have to rebuild either- I'd spend a short period of time building a round the walls loop early on, so that I can go "play trains" then carry on with the building of the layout from that.  I'd assume DCC and some form of automation effects to deal with staging, but that's me/my style, not of necessity.  

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My thoughts:

 

1) If there's going to be a bathroom/shower room down there, I'd rather have that near (or under?) the stairs, and completely separate to the layout (i.e so you don't have to walk through the railway to get to it. This is for a number of reasons but primarily

a) It lessens the likelihood of water (either liquid or vapour) getting into the railway room.

b) I'd rather not have any obstructions in the middle of the layout, but be able to see all of it. I was fortunate to be able to visit Pete Waterman's 'Leamington Spa' a couple of years ago. Very nice layout in many respects, but impractical to operate for anything other than 'roundy roundy' as the fiddle yard operator (who drives the trains) can't see the rest of the layout, so can't stop a train in the platform or observe signals.

 

2) Don't make it too big and complicated. There's a limit to how much you can maintain (I've made that mistake before). Fine to have a big layout with long open stretches of track, but the more track sections and point motors etc you have, the more to go wrong.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The ratio of classical Greek proportions is approx 1.6 to 1. On your 100sqm footprint that's about 8M x 13m. Does the shape of the basement have any consequences for the house above?  

 

Such proportions will be far better than square. There is an argument for a more elongated Base but the sense of space will be reduced. 

 

 A few people have been able to choose their space, but not many!  If you could extend out to have an L that would be better again than anything rectangular. 

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I'd beg to differ on the L-shape v rectangular idea. Firstly because in an L-shaped space, the places where you can see the full layout are limited.

 

Secondly, for an end-to-end layout, it is easier to operate singlehanded if the terminus and fiddle yard (or two termini) are opposite each other.

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7 hours ago, RJS1977 said:

I'd beg to differ on the L-shape v rectangular idea. Firstly because in an L-shaped space, the places where you can see the full layout are limited.

 

Secondly, for an end-to-end layout, it is easier to operate singlehanded if the terminus and fiddle yard (or two termini) are opposite each other.

Sorry but that's the point or at least one of them. If you want incompatible scenic locations you can separate them better in an L. I don't agree that simply turning round is good enough.

 

As for operations unless I missed it Mr Allegheny didn't specify how he would operate the layout and personally I would expect some automation. Look over Andy 's layout Llamberg which can be found in layout topics. Anything multi level covered by camera and screens. Maybe this isn't the way the OP wants to go but if I had a dedicated room I wouldn't put a single level simple layout in it :nono:

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1 hour ago, RJS1977 said:

I didn't say anything about it being a simple single level layout.... ;-)

There's a couple of chaps in New Brunswick with fantastic multiple level layouts. With big basements they tend to be able to get some decent height on an acceptable grade without a helix, and it allows a very complex layout. You can follow the train through multiple scenic breaks (eg. Port, lumber town, grain elevator, etc), very sinuous, and then before you realise it you're above or below one of the other scenes.

 

I do find many of the layouts I dream up in my head to be flat. A run of 10m will give you 20cm of clearance at a 2% grade.

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10 hours ago, RobinofLoxley said:

but if I had a dedicated room I wouldn't put a single level simple layout in it :nono:

Does depend on how big your 'dedicated room' is, though.

 My room is 17ft x 8ft, and my layout is a very simple, single level affair. The reasons being - first it's American O Scale, so proportionally the space is only a bit bigger than 8 x 4 in HO, and secondly, simple suits me. I hand-spiked all the track, which took a few years. It will still take me more years to complete it scenicly. Cleaning said track doesn't take hours. The wiring (DCC) was equally simple, just one power district.

 I don't have hours and hours of spare time (yet!!) so what would be the point of building a layout that takes hours to run? The operations I like are switching & exchanging trains between Class 1 & Short Line. The prototype doesn't need complex track plans for such operations, so neither do I. 

The one thing I did that I would recommend especially when building a large layout, was to plan out the track laying sequence so that I could run trains from fairly early on in the build, starting with the freight spurs, then the oval around the room, & finally the siding (passing loop) that enables two train operations. That way I could have a break from track laying & just play trains even on an unfinished layout.

For the desperate or bored, the full sorry saga is available starting here....

 

 

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Thanks guys.

Ooh, interesting conversations, this is what I wanted to stimulate!

Operations;

Again, my interests vary on a day to day basis such that one day I will want to sit back and watch trains circulate, the next, I will do some switching, the next I will operate per timetable and so forth.

However, although I am a mostly digital user, I am not interested in any kind of automation. I do get it, especially when it comes to watching trains circulating but I cannot get interested, I don’t want to and my brain doesn’t either. Plus, I’d rather spend that investment on other things.

Experience with large layouts;

Some! I’ve been a member of four different clubs around the UK and a couple of groups in France.

My first own built large layout was built in two linked attic bedrooms with split levels in my old house in Derby, this was largely an American outline layout. When I moved up north, I eventually purchased a layout of 27’ x 9’ from my local club called “Leigh Moor & Randale Summit” - this looked like a four track section of main line but was really only a folded single line with two long loops. Under analog control I could set it up so two trains could circulate, after I gave it digital control, it was easy to run three at once - single handed. I thought it was fairly non country specific but it was actually too British to run my various foreign trains on so I sold it quite a few years ago now and went small layouts for a while. This was not that satisfying to me.

More thoughts;

I am being drawn towards the idea of a multi deck project with say, British at the highest level (I am very drawn to the latest 00 releases and such height would disguise the narrow gauge look), European and American below.

 I can justify trains travelling through France, Germany, Austria in sequence, on one level but I simply cannot reconcile then skipping into North America for example.

Three separate levels!

Plus, a potential storage yard on a very low level, phew! And I want the stuff without traction tyres or multiple locos at the top! I strongly suspect the only way to link these levels is via a large diameter helix or even two, one at each end. 
I am thinking of screening each level off from the one actually being operated, by removable curtains Velcro’d into place like exhibition layout screens are, this way I only see one scene at a time.

Finally - I am drawn to the ’L’ shape of layout, whether it will be with equal sized legs or odd, I cannot say but likely veering towards the golden ratio.

Cheers all,

John

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The North American section would have the longest trains but the simplest structure. 

 

But scenically even France has pine forest zones so all the countries that you mention bar the UK can be linked by forested sections. We do have them but it would be a bit of a stretch. So surely American stock and European can run through the same section of scene but maybe on different tracks at slightly different levels but never appear in the same scene together. 

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13 hours ago, Allegheny1600 said:

Thanks guys.

Ooh, interesting conversations, this is what I wanted to stimulate!

Operations;

Again, my interests vary on a day to day basis such that one day I will want to sit back and watch trains circulate, the next, I will do some switching, the next I will operate per timetable and so forth.

However, although I am a mostly digital user, I am not interested in any kind of automation. I do get it, especially when it comes to watching trains circulating but I cannot get interested, I don’t want to and my brain doesn’t either. Plus, I’d rather spend that investment on other things.

Experience with large layouts;

Some! I’ve been a member of four different clubs around the UK and a couple of groups in France.

My first own built large layout was built in two linked attic bedrooms with split levels in my old house in Derby, this was largely an American outline layout. When I moved up north, I eventually purchased a layout of 27’ x 9’ from my local club called “Leigh Moor & Randale Summit” - this looked like a four track section of main line but was really only a folded single line with two long loops. Under analog control I could set it up so two trains could circulate, after I gave it digital control, it was easy to run three at once - single handed. I thought it was fairly non country specific but it was actually too British to run my various foreign trains on so I sold it quite a few years ago now and went small layouts for a while. This was not that satisfying to me.

More thoughts;

I am being drawn towards the idea of a multi deck project with say, British at the highest level (I am very drawn to the latest 00 releases and such height would disguise the narrow gauge look), European and American below.

 I can justify trains travelling through France, Germany, Austria in sequence, on one level but I simply cannot reconcile then skipping into North America for example.

Three separate levels!

Plus, a potential storage yard on a very low level, phew! And I want the stuff without traction tyres or multiple locos at the top! I strongly suspect the only way to link these levels is via a large diameter helix or even two, one at each end. 
I am thinking of screening each level off from the one actually being operated, by removable curtains Velcro’d into place like exhibition layout screens are, this way I only see one scene at a time.

Finally - I am drawn to the ’L’ shape of layout, whether it will be with equal sized legs or odd, I cannot say but likely veering towards the golden ratio.

Cheers all,

John

 

I think were I going for the multi-deck approach, I would probably have three completely separate layouts with their own fiddle yards, and not bother with the gradients.

 

I was going to suggest having a train ferry that could be lifted between the UK and European sections but the problem of 00 v H0 scale comes into play. A solution could be to have two ferries with identical stock on them, but to the relevant scales. So a British loco shunts 00 ferry wagons on to a 4mm scale ship, and on the level below, a French loco shunts H0 wagons off. Similarly the Golden Arrow could pull up alongside a 4mm scale passenger ferry and some time later the Fleche D'Or would depart from alongside its 3.5mm scale equivalent.

 

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23 hours ago, RJS1977 said:

 

I think were I going for the multi-deck approach, I would probably have three completely separate layouts with their own fiddle yards, and not bother with the gradients.

 

I was going to suggest having a train ferry that could be lifted between the UK and European sections but the problem of 00 v H0 scale comes into play. A solution could be to have two ferries with identical stock on them, but to the relevant scales. So a British loco shunts 00 ferry wagons on to a 4mm scale ship, and on the level below, a French loco shunts H0 wagons off. Similarly the Golden Arrow could pull up alongside a 4mm scale passenger ferry and some time later the Fleche D'Or would depart from alongside its 3.5mm scale equivalent.

 

Doh, completely overlooked the OO/HO complication.

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