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Large “Starter” Layouts

We typically associate the size of a model railroad with its complexity, ease of construction, operational interest, and viability for entry level modelers. Such doesn’t have to be the case, however. An entry level or time challenged modeler that loves long main line runs can have his cake and eat it too if careful thought is given during the planning process and well thought planning decisions made. Establishing construction momentum early is important for anybody but is particularly crucial for those embarking on their first model railroad. If progress is steady, and construction road blocks small and few between, then enthusiasm continues to build and the layout can be propelled seamlessly to completion within a relatively short period of time. There are a few design tactics that go a long ways towards simplifying construction.

  • Keep the turnout count low, say fifteen to twenty

  • Keep the bench work footprint simple and uniform, devoid of complex shapes

  • Keep the bench work width narrow, say twelve to eighteen inches, with a few wider bumpouts as needed for scenery

  • At least initially, keep the track relatively linear. Aesthetic “S” curves do look better but might be best left for your second layout.

  • Keep the scenery simple. With today’s scenery products even simple grass fields can be made to look great with little effort. (Hint: use Heki #1576 grass mats for starters). Limit the number of complex geographical features such as rock faces, water features, etc.

  • Keep the track level and free of grades. You can add vertical relief with your scenery for visual interest.

  • Sticking with single track/avoiding double track will simplify things greatly

Let’s take a look at how this can be put into practice. The design below is loosely patterned after the Illinois Central Gulf in Southern Indiana in the late 1970’s but would be representative of what you’d find in many areas of the country and across many eras.

The goals of the layout are:

  • Ease of construction

  • Relatively low cost

  • Long main line run through interesting but, simple to construct, scenery

  • Operational interest for those interested in more than just rail fanning

If you build this layout, there are a few things I’d suggest to keep momentum going. First, hold off on building the industrial park and staging yards. Get your trains running first and then cut these in later. Second, since the viaduct is more complex to install, use a simple plank stand in initially and the add the actual bridge later (see photo below).

Operationally, handling car classification in the yard as well as switching the local industries will keep you more than occupied for ninety minutes to several hours.  You might be interested in knowing that during the late 1970’s the track condition was so horrific that the entire line had a 10mph slow order!  Implementing that operational restriction would further “stretch” your layout.  Watching a long dielsel lash up crawling over the viaduct would be more than interesting!

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