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Topic: Ambitious N scale layout, Glendive, MT Yard  (Read 444 times)

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Offline Blackbird Trains

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Ambitious N scale layout, Glendive, MT Yard
« on: November 12, 2018, 04:00:20 am »
Hi all.

I would like to hear opinions and so on for this layout.  Though it's a huge layout, I'm trying to keep a lot of things relatively simple at this time.  I am a very linear thinker and will be leaving most of the creativity to my much better half.  The industries are huge and fairly straight forward.  I painstakingly modelled the Glendive yard to scale the best I could and when I found a way to overlay a satellite view of it, it was plenty close enough.  Their mainline is over 2 miles long so I made my compromises in the length of the main and classification tracks.  The co-op is loosely modelled after a grain transfer place north of there.  Again, some shortening of track was necessary on all of these.  The coal mine is somewhat like some that are seen out near Bill, WY.  The unloading spot is inspired by a place in Superior, WI.  The boat represents a 685' bulk great lakes freighter and would make a great eyecatcher if I can find a model that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

There are mostly 2 main lines.  One that is just for rail fanning and can run somewhat on it's own.  The other is to service the industries in whatever direction seems right at the time.

The elevations are kept to a minimum on this level.  As I get better at this, I hope to add some second level stuff too.  Glendive kinda maxxed out my available space, so we will see.  I don't think this will be done in under a year or even two and that's ok.  I even hope I can figure out how to have working loading and unloading of the coal some day.  There are examples out there, I'll have to see if I can figure them out.

Thanks for any input you have on where it could get some improvement.  As a side note, the curves on the industry track are much tighter than the rail fan track as I will probably be using mostly switchers or other smaller locos and only about 50' cars for those areas.

Offline Tom Springer

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Re: Ambitious N scale layout, Glendive, MT Yard
« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2018, 07:06:15 am »
Having that much space must be heaven.

To start, presuming this is a room with access only from the center, not long the edges, can you reach every piece of track with your fingertip? Between uncoupling (unless you have really good automatic uncouplers), you'll need to reach down between cars.  You also have to clean the track, so all rails everywhere need to be reachable.  Generally, a 30inch limit is about what adult males can do. It looks at first glance that the yard at the top might be a big issue in these regards.

You have a good number of reverse loops; presume you have them handled. Are you running DCC with automatic reversing?  Because each reversing section needs to be as long as the max length of your trains, what is your longest train?

How do you service each industry?  Backing in appears to be the only way for some, if not all of them.  So ... if the Anhydrous customer is serviced by backing in to deliver/pick up cars, then what happens to the train when it leaves? How does it get out of that loop area?

How is Diamond Coal serviced?  Are cars delivered/picked up via the 2 track above the actual mine building?  How many cars do you expect to be there?  i.e, what is the length of the "cut" of cars on one of those tracks?  If more that 2, for example, how long would the train with the engine(s) attached to this cut of cars be?   When the cut is delivered to one of these tracks, is there sufficient track length before that wye turnout to the left to allow the train into this area without fouling turnouts or other track?  Will the train have to stop on the 3-way turnout or even in that wye section?  This might impact your reversing loop length or cause other electrical control/isolation concerns or issues.

I noticed that you have 3% grades coming out of some turnouts; I'd be reluctant to have such steep grades, because of past bad experiences with smaller grade changes when exiting a turnout, forcing some rework/re-configuration to solve operational issues.

That long track, shown in red, at the bottom of your layout, is indicated as hidden.  It's a very long reach to get to that track from the layout edge, and if it is truly hidden track, Mr. Murphy will pick it and name it "derailment city".  If you can, consider making some, if not all, of this track by using the Atlas rerailer track parts, so as to help catch any trucks that have left the rails and are heading for derailment. Won't prevent all derailments, but using those parts and running slowly through this area might be of some help.

And you might look at all the places where AnyRail has marked the curves with red lines, because your minimum curvature is not being met.  The "smooth flex" option might be able to help with some of these areas.

Lastly, my standard recommendation for every layout ... take it over to TrainPlayer and run some realistic train configurations you plan to use and see if things actually operate as you think they will.  I'm often finding things that I thought worked that don't in reality once I test them with TrainPlayer.  It can also be useful to see if sidings are of sufficient length.

Just a few thoughts to get things started.

Offline The Track Planner

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Re: Ambitious N scale layout, Glendive, MT Yard
« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2018, 08:02:57 am »
As most, who frequent this forum know, I normally do not offer comments or my opinions on other track designs. There is a large number of members who do a good job. That said, I thought I would offer my opinions. Being a professional designer, I always ask my clients a series of about two dozen questions, which gives me a fairly good understanding of what the client wants. At that point, it is my job to explain to the client what is feasible and what will work in the real world of model railroading. Below are a series of bullet points, in no particular order, covering my thoughts on the plan you submitted. Please understand these are simply my concerns with the plan, this will be "your railroad" and you should design and build it the way you want. The comments below are things I would change, adjust, add or eliminate.
 - First, any time someone wants to model a specific prototype feature, in your case the Glendive freight yard, they tend to not think in proportionality. Base on the size of the industries [on your design], it is my opinion the Glendive yard is way out of proportion to the rest of the layout. The length of the yard tracks appear to be two and maybe three times longer then the length of the largest industry served. A classification yard only needs to be as large as the longest train you will run on the layout. In your case, it is possible to have trains almost 28 feet long. In N scale some your trains would be 80, 90 up to 100 cars long! In N scale, in most cases, that is too long of trains for one person to run, the trains are so long, you'll need to keep track of both ends of the train, which will be difficult at best. Second, if you did run 80 car trains, the front end of the train would be approximately a third to almost half way around the room, before the rear of the train left the yard! In my opinion, based on the overall size of the room, a yard [at least] half the size would still work well.
- Second, much of your benchwork is too wide. For the average 6 foot tall person, 36" is about the maximum he/she can reach-in. You have numerous places where the reach-in is over 4 feet! Plus the reach into the lower right corner of the benchwork would, without question, require a access hatch.
- Third, your roundhouse, engine servicing facilities, etc. are also, in my opinion, too massive for the over all size of the layout. Plus you have a serious reach-in problem if you need to get to the yard tracks. Suggestion... 1) shorten the yard to at least half its current size, i.e. length, 2) move the engine service/roundhouse into the area previously occupied by the yard. This will narrow your benchwork considerably and make everything reachable.
- Fourth, I always try to avoid designing freight yards behind engine servicing facilities, 1) the reach problem of getting to derailed cars in the yard, is the biggest concern, 2) I prefer having the yard tracks along the front of the benchwork, where everything is within easy reach and switching cars is easiest.
- Fifth, trying design industries based in Wyoming can be problematic, even in N scale. For the most part, the industries are huge and take up a lot of real estate. Note: I live in Northern Colorado and I'm familiar with Wyoming and the rail industries in that state. One of your reach-in problems is due to the size of some of those industries.
- Sixth, you have a hidden turn-back loop that is hidden for way too long of a stretch, if there was a derailment inside the hidden track, it appears, it will be very difficult, to get to derailed cars.
- Seventh, staging yards... this to me, is the major omission on a layout this size. As designed now, trains appear to leave the yard, work the industries and return to the yard. Trains never actually go anywhere, except [maybe] between "on-layout" industries, which is not very realistic. Basically, trains run in an elongated circle. If you want a layout that operates prototypical, having staging yards is a must. My suggestion would be to include a helix in one corner of the room, either the upper right hand corner of the lower right hand corner. The helix would take trains to two lower level staging yards. The staging yards would include reversing loops at one end, so trains would automatically re-stage themselves, ready to return to the visible portion of the layout. Because you have the space, I would design in two staging yards, one under the freight yard area and the other under the coal/ore docks area. Having staging yards allows trains to come onto the layout "from somewhere" and "go to somewhere" off the layout. You need to think in terms of "beyond the basement", if you want a layout that operates like the real railroads. Plus, operators will get the real sense of "operating" their train and having the train actually going or coming from somewhere.
While I have numerous other suggestions, I think the above information is a enough to think about for now. Again, please understand, it is your railroad, built-it to fit your wants and desires. I'm simply pointing out areas of problem and concerns, from my many years of designing track plans for all sorts of clients and spaces, both small and large.

Offline Blackbird Trains

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Re: Ambitious N scale layout, Glendive, MT Yard
« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2018, 10:44:08 pm »
Wow!  I didn't expect this level of advice.  I can't thank you two enough!  I have some very good points to think about.

The elevation off the turnouts is something I missed for sure.  As it sits, I'm not afraid of the 3% grade as a whole, but I will definitely work on making the transitions much better.
The reach problem is something I've wondered a bit about.  I think what I'll do is set up a mock table that would have those kinds of reaches and see what I think.  I'm 6'4" with long arms, but that may not be enough.

I can put some extra effort into into the area of the hidden track in the tunnels.  The re-railers are a great idea and that wall right now is an open studded wall at this point.  An option may be to run the trains out behind it so they are in the open or do the scenery in such a way that I can have a hatch that I can open from the other side, should there be a problem on that side.

I'll take a closer look at the reverse loops too.  And this will definitely be a dcc controlled setup.  I will let the layout determine the max length of the trains rather than the other  way around.  Just like rail length, that is one of the compromises that I have to make.  If I can get a train with 30 cars from time to time, that will still be impressive.

I will go and spend some quality time with train player as well.  I should have already done that.  Small fail... LOL

Now to Track Planner's guidance.

I am thrilled to have input from someone like you as well.  You have hit on many of the same points as Tom so I won't repeat my possible solutions here.

The reach problem will get addressed thoroughly when I get home next.  (I drive truck over the road, so hometime is limited. It also affords me lots of time to dream and scheme.)

I'm not sure if I made it clear above, but this is only half of my basement.  The other side isn't as open because it has the furnace, water heater and laundry in it.  I can however take as much of that area as possible too.  You mentioned doing one or two staging yards with loops underneath.  I had not considered this at all and I think I have the perfect space behind the scenes for just that.  I could have trains exit and enter in at least a couple different spots through scenery.  I love this idea and I'll include some of that other space in the updated layout.

As far as Glendive is concerned, that was inspired simply by the fact that my dad worked there in the 50's and I had the room to do it.  I will have to take a long hard look at it from a different perspective and decide if I want to keep it.  To change it all would make it "not Glendive" and that's not necessarily a bad thing.  It would open up a lot more possibilities with this layout and I do like your thoughts on how to revamp it.  I could maybe save the model of it and keep it in my back pocket for future use in a much bigger layout.  If someone wanted to get a club started in my area, I have a 20x60 shed that would make a nice spot for something like this.

This is now hours after i typed the last paragraph and I have decided on a major makeover to take many of your points into consideration.  Glendive is out, the elevator will take on a new place to be included in the new yard, and the coal places will get shifted around some though I probably won't change the size much if at all on those.  Keeping in mind that the end goal is to have them be working models of loading and unloading eventually.

I can't thank you both enough for your input and I think by widening my scope a bit, I will end up with a much more user friendly and fun layout to run!

Offline Tom Springer

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Re: Ambitious N scale layout, Glendive, MT Yard
« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2018, 05:00:08 am »
As you rethink things, here' area few other considerations.

First, what era is your layout? The presence of the roundhouse and turntable mean ... what?  Steam?  Early diesel?  Transition?  Why?  Because if your era is before the mid-70s, trains probably had a caboose.  Why is this a consideration?  When it comes to sidings and industry service, when the engine(s) moves cars, where is the rest of the train "parked" (while detached).  If there is a caboose, does it need to be considered when a train is left somewhere? And of course, it impacts the length of a train when looking at siding lengths. It also has to be handled when a train arrives/departs a yard.  If steam, the engine service is different from diesel, and do you want to provide facilities for either/both?

Second, when using turntables in a model railroad, it is best to provide a small straight track section that attaches to the turntable, to ensure that entering/leaving the turntable won't cause truck twisting issues.  In N scale, we generally use 1 to 1.5 inches; in HO I think 2 to 3 inches is about right.  Some turntable manufacturers provide/require a small piece of specific track to make the turntable connection, which accomplishes this purpose.

Third, you said previously that you might be using a switcher.  Where and how will it's needs be handled?  Is it just a yard switcher, or would an industry own one?  If the latter, does that industry need support facilities for it?  A service/home track, etc. ?

Fourth, your flip up section might be an issue, with that curve leading into it at the top and especially that 3-way turnout (or any turnout) on it. Using a simple straight track across a flip up section can be "interesting" to align, wire for conductivity and things.  Both the curve and the turnout within the flip up section may turn out to be a real challenge.  If there wasn't a flip up section, if it was an open walkway, would a point-to-point design work in it's place?  Two yards, a "source and destination" approach, maybe?

Fifth, what is the widest door in your house?  When you carry something through it, a box for example, how much clearance do you have (elbows, for example)?  So imagine doing that in your 24 inch aisles.  Can you?  Down the aisle from the doorway and in via the flip up section?  And if others come to look at (or even operate) your layout, can they handle 24 inch aisles?  I once tried a 24 inch aisle. Now it's 30 inches as a minimum for me.

Lastly, a lot of track means a lot to maintain, a lot to wire and a lot to control operationally.  Especially if reversing sections are present, and/or turnouts are numerous.  Some times more is less and less is more.  It's your call.  In model railroading, compression is paramount and a necessary evil. I'd love to have the D&RGW's Tennessee Pass fully modeled with very long trackage, mid-train helper engines, and 150+ cars, but I have to settle for 10 cars (if I'm lucky) and keep remembering that is a "representative sample" and the best I can do.  Fortunately, I like switching puzzles a lot, so I spend most of my time working with 2 yards - point-to-point ops - and not worrying about how I can get 150 cars per train.  Only took me most of my life to get there, unfortunately.  But for some reason over the last few years, I've been operating less and designing more ... thanks to some addictive program called AnyRail.  It allows too many "what if" designs to be tried.  Which for you might be a good thing.  Experiment with compressing, scaling and what you really like from your current design and you will end up with a great layout ... and the envy of a lot here.

Offline Blackbird Trains

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Re: Ambitious N scale layout, Glendive, MT Yard
« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2018, 03:04:01 pm »
Thank you, Tom for the added advice.

So you know, I've pretty much started over after realizing how good a lot of the points layed out earlier were.  Things were way out of proportion and I will look at the new plan in a different light.  I think it's going to be more of a fun layout now with more going on in a much smaller scale.  Since I still intend on the two coal industries (they may take on a much different form as well), I have done some running in train player and will keep room for the occasional 40 car consist for that.  As it sits I have knocked down my yard considerably and the longest classification track can now hold about 25 of these cars.  I've talked to a friend that's an engineer and he tells me it's not that uncommon for them to have to finish putting a train together from two tracks in the yard before leaving and that helped determine the size of the yard.

I will take a closer look at not having a flip up or if I do, I'll keep it to a very simple single or double track.  I expect that to be a challenge and that's ok.  For me, a straight point to point is a non starter.  However, a nicely done pair of reversing loops at each end is not out of the question.  I dabbled a bit with a bridge I could duck under as well, but don't think that'll be a great option as it will take two large helixes to make it work and I'd like to keep them at a minimum or in what will now be the off site area with the staging yard.  I have a much more crazy plan that will involve a helix in the future that I won't get into here for now.

The actual era is not going to be real specific but lean toward the modern.  I do intend to run a steamer or two, but only as an excursion train or nostalgia.  As I think about it, it could actually be its own little industry area with a small yard, turntable, and roundhouse. It may make a very interesting little section of its own and I can keep the main yard much simpler and streamlined.

I'll look at my walk around space closer too.  I'm going to lean toward a 30" isle space as you suggest, there just might be a couple spots that you have to squeeze a bit to get into those areas.

I'll probably post some of my progress on the new layout to this thread to ask some specific questions about an area or two.  It will need a thread of its own at some point.  If I posted the layout right now, you already wouldn't recognize it.  I've added the other side of the basement in as there is a good sized unused space that would make a great spot for off site staging and work track.  Roughly 9' x 11' and space to run a track behind the wall of the train room to have them come out in a different spot if desired. Tons of possibilities that I will have a blast playing around with in, as you put it, a very addictive little program called Anyrail.  That's what makes the idea of doing these layouts so fun, is we can simulate everything before ever pounding a nail.  It may be months before I'm ready to build benchwork, so plenty of time to experiment.

Thank you again for all your advice.  It is greatly appreciated!

Offline Tom Springer

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Re: Ambitious N scale layout, Glendive, MT Yard
« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2018, 12:46:48 am »
Model railroads are never finished.  Some take years and are constantly changing, much like the prototypes.  Don't get discouraged.  With all that space you've got enormous opportunities ahead. And plenty of envy.

A point-to-point layout is just a style; looping back on both ends is often the case chosen for that style of road.  And if you have access at each end, you can make part of the loop-back on each end hidden, so it looks like the train goes somewhere through a tunnel and then "later" returns via the other tunnel.

It might help the development to just lay the mainline first as a "simple" very long "loop" so trains can run.  And maybe consider building the layout as a series of "modules" so that work is done in stages.  Since you're building in a basement, one thing I learned years ago when I had one, was to make sure the wood "aged" before actual construction. Get the wood and let it sit in the area it will be used for 2 to 3 months to adapt to/dry out for the environment; should do that for all layout rooms, but basements and humidity have to be considered as impacting substructures, especially. Fresh wood from a store can be "green" and the moisture in it needs to adapt to the room it will be in.

If you want to have a separate small steam roadway, maybe consideration of a feeder line might work; all railroads have some related short lines that work the areas the big guys don't find it cost-effective to handle...usually for small customers who wouldn't have rail service without the smaller, independent lines. And "interchanging" can make for interesting operational aspects.

One thing you haven't mentioned is whether you want DC or DCC.  One thing to consider as you begin the redevelopment is the complexity of wiring.  And shorts. And operational aspects of turnout switching, and of course, the reverse loops. For your large layout, DCC would be a better choice, if your engines can be equipment for that. DCC would make block isolation a lot easier and much fewer toggle switches to deal with to get the isolation/short issues handled. And automatic reversing with DCC is really nice. As you design, keep in mind where your blocks need to be, and choose your method to indicate them on the roadway segments in your design.  (And labeling all the tracks/sections is a big help as you work over time. And work in TrainPlayer.) Electrically isolated segments are important to successful running and troubleshooting shorts and other issues. And they can later be called "districts" as the prototypes do to help with defining operations and how things need to be handled. On the prototypes, each district has its own superintendent and usually a separate MOW (track) crew. You do plan to have MOW work, right? If nothing more than an operational capability to clean your track. That's one aspect of model railroads that doesn't get thought about enough. Some engine's are more sensitive to dirty track because of the choices manufacturers make on the electrical pickup design they use. The older the engine, the more this is a problem. But even newer ones have this, as well.  (There's discussions on other forums about why one big manufacturer chose a poor design for a new product.)  The more track you have, the more important you will find keeping it clean so one "bad spot" doesn't propagate (breed) all over the layout over time. Guaranteed those will be in the hardest to reach places.

One last but important consideration: for the structures you want to use, you should make sure they are available, if not ready owned. There's some industry consolidation going on with N-scale suppliers; even Walthers seems to be reducing it's N-scale presence.  If there is a specific kit you really want to use, I'd recommend getting it now, if you don't have it. The longer you wait, the harder it will be.  3D printing will be the future and this will impact manufacturers.  A lot of discussion is going on via other forums about 3D printing and N-scale.  I'm jumped into that as well, with both PLA/ABS and wood cutting machines now. I wonder what we N-scalers will see in terms of structures and associated parts available from manufacturers in 5 years, especially with so many smaller ones retiring or just closing up and moving on. And if you decide to have a short line with a smaller industry or two, those kits are probably ones where the manufacturers are disappearing.


Looking forward to your design progress.  With envy.

Offline TrainzLuvr

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Re: Ambitious N scale layout, Glendive, MT Yard
« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2018, 05:35:15 pm »
Hi Blackbird Trains,

Here's something that would definitely "steer" you in the right direction (no pun intended):

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLo07YixWLhKbNtb6gmXmUVOt6q6xP_y_G

It's a playlist of presentations from Bill Beranek ("The Track Planner" user on the forums here) featured on YouTube Model Builders Tuesday Night stream.

As a full disclosure, I'm not associated to Bill in any way, and this is not a "plug" for him, but a praise for his generosity. He freely shared some of his knowledge on the subject, which I found extremely useful. It changed the course of my layout build and made me reconsider many things I originally intended to do. Suffice to say, instead of building an over-glorified race track for trains, I am now on my way to creating a "living" railroad as part of a big transportation network. :)
« Last Edit: November 18, 2018, 05:37:13 pm by TrainzLuvr »