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Take Me to Malabar - Model Railroad Design of the Day

Updated: Feb 11

BNSF's Malabar Yard in LA.

The basic act of drawing a track plan is relatively simple. Coming up with a theme, scope, and strategic plan that targets our true interests, and station in life is far harder, and takes much more introspection. Knowing which aspects of the hobby we enjoy the most isn’t as apparent as we’d think. However, once we gain those insights we are well on our way to creating a truly satisfying layout for ourselves. That's the first step. The second is coming up with the roadmap to get us there. Doing so often requires putting the traditional napkin sketch approach aside. Specifically, getting away from the weatherworn, default of associating "design success" with track density and employing every Rube Goldberg tool we can think of to shoehorn in an unrealistically long a list of "must haves".

Track is only one aspect of the rail environment we find so captivating and, in many cases, it takes very little of it to keep us blissfully engaged. It's only one element and doesn't always need to be the sole focal point of the design process, particularly if your interests skew towards "building stuff" as is the case with many modelers. Model railroading is a broad umbrella that encompasses far more than track. Within the hobby, structure building and rolling stock modeling have massive followings, and for good reason. If those are your core interests, shouldn't the design skew towards supporting them as opposed to devoting space to things you really don't give a rat's rear about?

The same goes for operations. (Assuming you even care about them which many people don't). Whether it be mainline running, branch lines, or yard operations that interest you, the design should lean heavily in that direction.

Let's look at an example that focuses on some of the most popular aspects of the hobby and ruthlessly sends everything else to the cutting room floor. In this case study we'll look at a modeler whose primary interests are:

-Structure building

-Rolling stock construction and weathering

-Yard switching

Enter BNSF’s Malabar Yard in Vernon (Los Angeles), California. If ever there was a collection of structures that begs to be modeled, this is it. Captivating architecture, color, texture it’s heaven on earth for a structure modeler. The facility is compact, easily modeled, and heavily documented on YouTube. Yard power seems to be everything under the sun and every color of the rainbow. Let's look at a plan that creates a platform for spending years blissfully building unique structures, displaying your prized rolling stock, and working a yard. With a linear format only eighteen feet long, it would easily tuck against the back wall of a room.

Operations consist solely of making up and breaking down trains. There is no “what happens when the train leaves the yard”…..because it wouldn’t. Yard work consists of back and forth shuttling with no need for run arounds. Since ladders take up so much room, I’m designing this as a stub. There is a foreground structure on the left to disguise the stub feature and one on the right to screen off the point where the main hits the wall.

Yes, the track plan is simple and is so without apology because it delivers everything that is needed to address core interests and wastes no space on things that aren't. It provides a venue for the popular "yard job" operating sessions, a platform for showcasing your rolling stock, and a compelling theme that would yield years of satisfying structure projects.

Yard throat facing south from Pacific Blvd.

Centennial Steel. Note the wig-wag signal.

Bing bird seye view of the north end of the yard.

Kennedy Name Plate Co. on Pacific Blvd. flanking the yard entrance. With a sign like that it has to be included!


Shown above are the key dimensions. One of the most crucial is the eight inches I've allowed for structure depth. Avoid the temptation to reduce this in an effort to squeeze in more track. Believe me, there is more than enough to keep you busy.

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