The Layout Design
So it's on to the design stage of the layout. This is a brief description of the various thought processes I went through when designing the layout.
First I prepared a list of 'Must Have' features that I felt I really must incorporate into the layout.
1. A twin track main line for continuous running - (I do like to watch the trains go by)
2. A single track branch line with both passenger and goods traffic.
3. Enough storage sidings to accomodate at least 8 full length trains.
4. A central operating well with a lift-up access opening.
5. A station layout incorporating 2 through platforms and a bay platform for local traffic.
6. A small Goods Yard.
7. A twin track steam loco shed.
8. A branch line terminus with some form of local industry that would generate rail traffic.
9. Enough space to model at least a small part of the town served by the main station.
10. Some form of local industry which would require a separate siding (Brewery ?)
Then came a list of things I would like, if possible, to incorporate.
1. A Diesel Maintenance and Fueling Facility - (For the GWR 'Flying Banana' Railcars I have)
2. Coaling and Ash Removal facilities.
3. A turntable - (I already had the turntable and motor from my previous 'Chipping' layout)
4. A Permanent Way Department - (I had already built a breakdown crane for my previous layout)
5. A river or canal scene with a rail over bridge or viaduct.
6. A rural/farming diorama.
Due to the limitations in the size of the layout room (8ft-3in x 6ft-2in) it was abundantly clear that, even in N Gauge, major compromises would have to be made and that split levels and gradients would severely interfere with any scenic modelling. That left me with a 'round & round' type of layout with hidden storage roads along one of the long sides of the room. Assuming that the main station area would be on the opposite side of the layout, how then could I fit in a branch line and terminus? A few quick sketches and calculations revealed that the storage roads would take up a little over 350mm of board width and, assuming a maximum board width of 750mm, that left me with about 400mm of free space in front of the storage roads. Not a lot of room, but enough for a very simple branch line terminus design. I remembered seeing a small 00 shunting plank layout in a magazine which might fit the bill and, sure enough, having found the article and resized it to 1:148 instead of 1:76, with a bit of rearrangement of pointwork it fitted the space nicely lengthwise and even left a bit of width available for a few low relief buildings and structures representing some sort of industry to generate rail traffic.
Turning now to the other side of the layout, I wanted to create several distinctly separate scenes in this area which would, hopefully, make the running tracks appear longer than they actually were. I've never been a fan of straight lines of track along one side of a layout with unrealistic bends leading to and from it so I roughly sketched in a long, sweeping curve of track linking the two ends of the storage roads. This immediately created three discreet areas for scenic development. Two, good sized, triangular sections in each corner of the room and a quite shallow area linking these two areas together. One of the corner areas was large enough to accommodate a reasonably sized station with a few buildings to the rear and side of it to give the impression of a larger town area beyond. The other corner was where I would need to have a lift up access board but was the only space large enough to incorporate the river/canal scene I wanted. After much head-scratching and screwed up pieces of paper I came up with a design which ticked all of the boxes though the construction of that board would be quite complicated. That just left the link area between the two corners and I managed to create just enough space to get an industrial siding and a brewery in.
I use Winrail for designing my layouts so, having roughed out the basic design on graph paper, it was now time to see if it was physiclly possible andidentify any potential problem areas. To my delight, not to mention surprise, it all went together quite easily and I quickly had the basic design established. I've been using Winrail for about 12 years now and I particularly like the way it 'optimises' flextrack curves to produce eliptical curves with smooth transitions. The hardest part was optimising the positions and orientation of the points leading into the storage roads in order to make the approach curves as gentle as possible. Even a 1° rotation of a point can make a huge difference to the ensuing curve radius. Minimum radius is 320mm in the hidden areas and 450mm in the scenic areas though, due to the way Winrail works, these are only momentary as the radius is constantly changing. For example the radii of the station approach curves actually vary between 450mm and 1250mm.
This then revealed the amount of space I still had available for the MPD, Goods Yard, PWD siding, Coaling Stage and Turntable. I won't go into a blow-by-blow account of how it evolved into it's final design other than to say that it took many hours of fine tuning to get it to it's present state. In the end I am quite pleased with how it has turned out and am satisfied that traffic flows will be both realistic and interesting. The sharp-eyed among you will, no doubt, spot a facing point leading to the Goods Shed but I could find no other way of achieving what I wanted to do. A more prototypical single slip did not fit the alignment of the approach tracks so I had to console myself with the thought that in real life even the mighty GWR had to bend the rules occasionally.
During a pause in designing the main station area I has a 'Eureka' moment in respect of the branch line terminus. I was thumbing through an old magazine and came across a small 00 scale dock-side layout that was a mere 18" wide and it suddenly came to me that I could do something similar. A few tweaks here and there to the track plan gave me enough space to construct a small harbour scene and Parmouth Harbour was born.
Over the course of the following months the track plan was fine tuned and the scenic areas developed in more detail until it became the design you see below. On the whole I am satisfied with the final result into which I have managed to incorporate everything I had on both of my wish lists. I even managed to fit in a long headshunt/programming track and a main line relief road.
The next stage was to turn theory into practice, but this came to a grinding halt as I needed further surgery to my hip that was not available in China. Hence my relocation back to the UK.
As a bit of further information with regards to control methods, locos will be controlled from my ESU ECoS Controller but all pointwork and electromagnet uncouplers will be operated from a mimic control panel with bi-color LEDs indicating route settings.
More on that later.
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