Building a model railway, part 1: planning the layout

Last time I showed you our old model railway.  In designing the new one, we had several constraints to honour.

First, we needed to be able to physically fit the new railway into available space.  The old one is 135 by 95 cm, and by pure coincidence it turns out that the space we want to put the new one into is the same size, plus maybe one or two cm in each direction.  So we made the new one exactly the same size as the old.  Here’s a sketch that I made of the old layout:

Second, we wanted to build the new railway in such a way that we have the option of someday linking up the old and new ones, so that trains run between railways.  That means (among other things) that we would be best off using the same kind of track as last time — Kato’s Unitrack.  It also had implications for the ways the two railways could be juxtaposed.

Specifically, room sizes mean that we don’t want to put the two railways end-to-end or side-by-side, but at right-angles so that they form an L shape.  And the shape of the room we will use means that we need it to be a “right-handed” L, i.e. the new railway, in portrait aspect, will be to the left of the old one, in landscape aspect.

Third, we wanted to include an N-scale model of our own house.  We’re lucky enough to have a good-sized garden and a small field next to it, so it’s not the easiest thing to fit in.  To check feasibility, I scaled a Google Maps satellite photo of our area and a diagram of the tightest radius Kato Unitrack kit together, to see whether the one would fit inside the other.  It did — just:

So we knew that approach would be OK with the smallest possible circuit, and could start to consider what else might fit within our 135 x 95 cm area.

Back in the day, we built the first railway using a combination of two Kato starter sets, augmented by a few additional pieces.  Those starters were the K1, which has “standard” 315 mm radius curves, and the N1, which has tighter 282 mm curves that fit inside those of the K1 circuit.  (I used the N1 size for the map-fitting exercise above.)  Irritatingly, it seems that both K1 and N1 have been discontinued since we bought them in 2004ish.  A bit of research showed that you can now get M1, which is K1 with a controller, but that costs a lot more and seemed unnecessary when you can pick up second-hand controllers pretty cheaply on e-Bay.  Instead, we got a V5 set (“inner oval variation”), which seems to be identical to the old N1, and a V6 (“outer oval variation”), which has slightly less tight curves — 348 mm — intended to fit around the outside of an M1.  So we got two concentric circuits, as before, but sized to include a gap between them.

I made the baseboard with a simple, light construction: a 135 x 95 cm piece of hardboard, and lengths of 2 x 4 cm baton.  These formed a supporting rectangle around the border of the base, and three additional struts across the board at the quarter, half and three-quarter points.  Our experience with the first railway showed that this is easily strong enough, light enough to carry from room to room without disaster, and easy to work with when you want to start drilling holes in it later for electrics.

Once the V5 and V6 sets arrived, I played with them a bit and then hit on the idea of joining them into a single track that goes twice around the board, with a bridge where the inner and outer parts cross over.  Here’s the first sketchy version:

Fiona and the boys liked this idea, so we decided that some variation on this was the way to go.  Once we’d made that decision, we were constrained by the plan to join up in an L-shape with the old railway: the inner loop needed to cross to the outer at top right (or, as this picture’s orientation shows it, bottom left) so that junctions on that side could take the track away off the side of the baseboard.  This also determined roughly how long the inner part of the loop could be and where on the board the top part of the outer loop would have to be  — the ends would have to be aligned so that they could be joined with the 89 cm wide outer track of the old railway.

We also discovered that trains really struggled to make it up and around inclined sections if they include curves.  They get along much better if all the curves are flat, and the inclined sections are straight.

Since both of the joining ends needed to be at ground level, this meant that the outer part of the loop would need to pass over the inner where the inner comes out to meet the old railway on the “east” side; and since that meant that the southern part of the loop itself would need to be elevated, that left us sloping down to ground level along the outer west straight.

With all this in mind, we placed the junctions, and used the various spare pieces of track to spread the loops out as far as we could to exploit the full space of the baseboard.  I cut a spare piece of hardboard into a U shape to support the elevated section of the track, and this in turn was supported on Jenga bricks.  This was the result (as viewed from the “east”):

The side of the board facing us is the one destined some day to join up with the “west” side of the old railway.  But we don’t plan to do that in the current project.  We should end up, in a few weeks, with two separate but adjacent railways in compatible styles, with tracks aligned such that the next time we fancy a modelling project we can then make the connections.

As you can see above, we ran a train on the new layout, using the controller borrowed from the old one.  It worked just fine.

Next time, we will start to permanently assemble the track and plan the contours of the landscape.

And in other news …

Today, I found that when viewing WordPress posts with Firefox 5 — on either Ubuntu GNU/Linux or MacOS — some of the images do not display.  This is new — I’ve never seen it before but today I’ve seen this in posts on both The Reinvigorated Programmer and my other blog Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week.  It seems especially prevalent when looking at older posts but affects some newer ones, too.  But when I use Google Chrome instead of Firefox, all is well.

Is anyone else seeing this, or is it just me?  And if it’s just me, does the fact that it happens on two very different computers mean that it’s something my ISP is doing?

UPDATE the next day: The problem turns out to be with my Firefox profile: when I made a new one on the Ubuntu box importing all my old bookmarks, it worked just fine.  So it’s a mystery, but one that I have worked around.

11 responses to “Building a model railway, part 1: planning the layout

  1. Or some naughty plugin buggering things up?

  2. With my copy of Firefox 5.0.1 on an Intel Mac with OS 10.6.8, I don’t notice any missing pictures (but how would I know? what’s missing in which posts?), although the only sushi in the first post, the only sushi is in the picture at the top.

    Re- invertegrated. The Sauro-Podcast. Oh, the latter’s been done.

  3. Does it have anything to do with that annoying OnSwipe theme that’s turned on by default for all WordPress blogs?

    P.S. Building the model railway with your family is very cool. One of my better childhood memories is the two level, 12’x6′ N-scale layout my father built and surprised me with for my 9th birthday. I still have the locomotives and many of the cars stored in box in the attic.

  4. Nice, the tracks are the border of a Möbius strip!

  5. ssp pointed out: “Nice, the tracks are the border of a Möbius strip!”

    Yes! When I was laying it out, I went through that exercise with the boys where you make a Mobious strip out of paper, then cut it in half lengthways and make them guess what the result will be.

    jeff suggested: “Or some naughty plugin buggering things up?”

    Bingo! When I run Firefox with a fresh profile, it displays the missing images. Good thinking. Now I need to figure out which plugin is responsible. Many thanks for the tip.

  6. jeff suggested: “Or some naughty plugin buggering things up?”

    Bingo! When I run Firefox with a fresh profile, it displays the missing images. Good thinking. Now I need to figure out which plugin is responsible. Many thanks for the tip.

    Hmm. I have now disabled all eight of my plugins. And all all eight of my extensions. I have even disabled the English (South Africa) language pack that somehow got installed. But I am not seeing the missing images, in fact even the few WordPress images that were visible to me before are now gone.

    Rats. I think I am going to have to start a brand new profile, then copy all my bookmarks across and reinstall all the plugins and extensions. What a pointless waste of time.

  7. Andrei Vajna

    Hope you’ve seen this excellent xkcd comic about model railways.

  8. I highly recommend the following Yahoo groups for your model railroading information:

    Small Layout Design:

  9. Erik Anderson

    There’s a Facebook group as well:

  10. Pingback: Building a model railway, part 2: | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  11. Pingback: We’re selling our model railway | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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