Help Designing a Small N Scale Layout

Discussion in 'N Scale' started by jwaldo, Dec 22, 2006.

  1. jwaldo

    jwaldo TrainBoard Member

    I am currently planning a small (anywhere from 2x4' to 33x48") N scale layout. I'd like it to have plenty of switching, and, if possible, continuous running. Here's the 33x48" plan I have right now:


    The plan originally started off as a photo diorama, since I really don't like the scenery on my first layout. Over time, I added switching, a tunnel, and multiple industries, to compensate for all the other stuff I dislike about my first layout, and it became a whole new layout plan :eek: The minimum curve on that plan is 9 3/4", but I could go smaller. My 70 tonner will handle a 4" radius curve (not that I'd want one that sharp on the layout :eek:mg: )

    If anyone has any suggestions or other plans, that would be great! I finally have the foam I need to start, and I don't want this one to be an "I should'vedone everything differently" layout like my first one :embarassed:
  2. FiveFlat

    FiveFlat TrainBoard Member

    Hey Jim,
    I'm starting my 24"X48" layout as well. You can see it on my trainblog and new railimages. If you can, I would stick with the 33"X48" I'm finding a little difficulty planning for expansion on mine as it is 24". I like your trackplan you have so far, but why the spur inside the tunnel?
  3. Mark Smith

    Mark Smith TrainBoard Member


    I'd question putting two swithback sidings in, and having your only possible run-around start or end in the tunnel. Also, is that a siding IN the tunnel? How would that work?

    If possible re-design your continuous loop so that you do not use the curved part of any switch for the 'mainline'. That is what the big roads do and do for a reason. You'll be happier with the results if your turnouts turnout to a siding, not keep you on the mainline. I think you have three of these on what seems to be your continuous running track.

    I'd shorten the tunnel so there was not a switch inside, remove the siding in the tunnel, change the inner switchback siding to a non-switchback and change your switch orientation to eliminate the problem mentioned above. You'll still have the action you want but without the potential hassles.

    I wouldn't go below 9 3/4" radius just for the appearance of the train as you run it.
  4. jwaldo

    jwaldo TrainBoard Member

    I'd definitely like to stick with the larger size. I think I have a place to store it LOL

    The spur inside the tunnel is sort of the world's smallest staging yard, I guess. The edge of the layout on that side will be left open to allow access inside the tunnel.

    Really, the only place I'd want smaller-than-9" curves is on a siding. I've seen some crazy-tight prototype industrial track.
  5. mightypurdue22

    mightypurdue22 TrainBoard Member

    Just my 2 cents, Jim. I would strongly reconsider the turnouts and siding within the tunnel (unless I'm reading that incorrectly).

    Another option might be to make it a double main line, and use either of the mains for passing as needed. A crossover switch or a couple of turnouts can connect the two mainlines. I only mention this because once you get a passing siding in of any length, it will be half way around the layout. You have spurs on either side of the layout, so you'll have nice opportunities for operations.

    Good luck. Planning can be frustrating and time consuming, but it all pays off when your layout runs like clockwork.
  6. Powersteamguy1790

    Powersteamguy1790 Permanently dispatched

    You should avoid turnouts and sidings in a tunnel which is an area that you very limited access to. I would re-arrange that part of your layout plan.

    Stay cool and run steam...:cool::cool:
  7. jwaldo

    jwaldo TrainBoard Member

    Good advice so far :)

    The biggest issue I keep hitting is that it's, well, a really small layout! I think I'll have to make some sacrifices, like small curves and mainlines running through the curves on turnouts.

    The whole back edge of the tunnel will be open for access, but I could probably remove the stoarge track and move the other turnout back a few inches, out of the tunnel.

    I'm also trying to avoid having a nice, straight mainline parallel to the benchwork edge. That's how it is on my first layout, and as space-efficient as it is, it looks too "artificial" to me. This new plan is largely made to be photographed, and in all the pictures of my old layout, there's a nice, annoying layout edge running alongside the track :eek:

    - J "There's a Prototype for Everything" Waldo :p
  8. Mark Smith

    Mark Smith TrainBoard Member

    So Jim,

    Based on what we've said and your replies, what exactly are you asking for?
  9. Powersteamguy1790

    Powersteamguy1790 Permanently dispatched

    You can slightly rotate your track plan, to avoid the track parallel to table edge syndrome.

    You can run some very nice two axle diesels and small steam loco's on that track plan.

    Stay cool and run steam....:cool::cool:
  10. jwaldo

    jwaldo TrainBoard Member

    I suppose that what I'm looking for is a photogenic layout with interesting switching. My own planning ideas are somewhat limited. Beyond that, I'm pretty mcuh open to any ideas. There's a reason I prefer building locos to designing layouts :embarassed:
  11. jwaldo

    jwaldo TrainBoard Member

    I suppose that what I'm looking for is a photogenic layout with interesting switching. Beyond that, I'm pretty much open to any ideas. My own planning ideas are somewhat limited. There's a reason I prefer building locos to designing layouts :embarassed:
  12. Mark Smith

    Mark Smith TrainBoard Member


    It seems that you are pretty convinced the layout you've sketched is very close to what you want. If so, I'd build it and run it. It meets your desires even if there are some ways it could be tweaked.

    As for photos, I am not a model photographer so that isn't something I can give any expertise to, but here are some thoughts. Beyond a mountian in the background, what are you thinking scenery-wise? What do you want in your photos? Seems you should be thinking of "Where's my camera and what is in the background and foreground when I compose my scene?" "What do I want to be there?" "What would get in the way?"

    I agree that curves and "not along the front edge" are good. Take a look at some great model photos and ask yourself what else you like about them. What that you see could you create in a similar way using the time and models you have? Maybe you've already done this exercise. I'm sure that's how the mountain got in, but is there any more?

    Maybe do the Model Railroader thing and place camera icons around the layout at different angles and picture what would be captured in each view. Tweak what is in that view - track, track angles, building, scenery, etc., until you feel happy.
  13. jwaldo

    jwaldo TrainBoard Member

    I am indeed quite happy with it. However, I was also quite happy with my first layout's track plan. Then I ran trains. :embarassed:

    Also, I'm still open to smaller plan ideas. 33x48" is kind of pushing it for the space I have. It was originally a 30x48" plan, until I laid out a full-size diagram in masking tape and realized it wouldn't work.

    As for scenery, I'm going for SP, southern or central California, possibly late 60's, early 70's. Perhaps modeled on my own area, which seems to fit the layout design nicely. The very edge of a town, with some industrial buildings, then the RR track, then hills.

    A lot of what I want for the new layout comes from running and photographing my current layout and thinking about what I'd like to have done differently. Which basically comes down to:

    1: Switching. My current layout is basically an oval with a couple of sidings. I really didn't think that switching was important when I designed it. Proved myself wrong pretty darn fast.

    2: Avoiding having the track right up against (and parallel to) the layout edge.

    3: A background. By which I mean something other than the far wall of the garage. Hence the mountain, and maybe some more buildings and stuff.

    4: More buildings and details. The current layout is 99% open space, with a couple tiny industries, and eventually some trees.

    5: More portability. I'd like to be able to take it outdoors for lighting, and keep it inside for running, especially in the summer, when it is about 130 degrees in the garage.

    So, I guess it's not really a replacement for the first layout, just more variety.

    And here's a shot of the first layout. I'm also working on some stuff to fill that empty expanse of cork:

  14. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    My thoughts on it echo some of the previous comments.

    -If you put a divider down the middle of the layout, either a verticle board or a cliff like ridge, you could actually switch that back spur and it would give you more scenery options. Hidden track is a bad idea. Trains get stuck and derail. Track gets dirty and can't be cleaned.

    -the outer switch back is ok, because it gives you the possibility of using that area as a inglenook.

    -I would turn that inner switchback into a simple spur.

    -How does the drawing compare to actually laying the track? I do not think your drawing allows for switch lengths and actual curve radius required. You may be better off actually laying things out and seeing how they fit instead of drawing up the plan. small layouts can be very tricky, especially when it comes to structure placement. You may not be able to squeeze most commercial structures between those tracks.

    Otherwise i think the plan is ready to setup.
  15. jwaldo

    jwaldo TrainBoard Member

    I've been thinking of a divider. Somehow my limited planning abilities keep getting in the way :eek:

    Great idea using the outer siding as an Inglenook siding. I never thought of that. And I thought I'd given up on making the layout a switching puzzle :p

    The plan is actually very close to the Peco code 55 turnouts I'll probably using. I used some actual curves and turnouts when laying out the 1:1 plan, and it turned out very well. The main reason I had to expand the size was to fit in an industry for the outer siding.
  16. ppuinn

    ppuinn Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    I, too, will echo some of the above comments regarding the switchbacks. Perhaps you could eliminate the switchback in front by having the turnout from the lower left curve serve the building where the 2 switchback tracks are presently located. The track that currently leads to the switchback would still cross the track coming from the left, but it could then split to 2 sidings that point toward the lower left corner. The switchback inside the loop could be eliminated by extending the 2 siding toward the left side of the layout and maybe a third curved toward the back. All served off of the runaround track on the right side of the layout (providing tracks for Geeky's Inglenook Puzzle, if you'd like).

    Some are advocating moving the turnout on the curve to the straight portion of the loop. Granted, prototypic practice is to take the main straight through the turnout, but you'll introduce a nasty S-curve that will hinder operations. Additionally, if you plan on doing photography on this layout, then the sharp S-curve through the turnout would be very noticable. Leaving the turnout on the curve yields better reliability in switching and a nicer appearance, plus it gives a siding that is MUCH longer. If you plan operating on this layout, you probably won't be racing around the oval at breakneck speed...moving at yard limit speeds (just a little more than a person's walking pace) will minimize the necessity of having the mainline only go through the straight portion of the turnout.

    I'm also in agreement with those suggesting the tunnel entrance be moved back far enough to make the run-around turnout visible. If you have your heart set on storage out of sight, then use the 0-5-0 to move cars to a shelf off the layout. If you want to "store" cars on the layout, consider making an interchange: leave the "storage track" out in the open and add a second track sort of like a branchline next to it that goes to a false diamond on the left side curve where the branchline track "crosses" your RR and "continues" to the left (to future expansions?).

    Instead of the tunnel, you may want to consider using view blocks of trees, hills, and/or buildings to hide the portion of the loop in the upper left hand corner. Take a look at these pics from my layout.

  17. jwaldo

    jwaldo TrainBoard Member

    Here's a quick revision with buildings and stuff instead of a tunnel. \

  18. Mark Smith

    Mark Smith TrainBoard Member


    I like the suggestion that's been made of a scene divider: to have a ridge (one of Southern Calif's golden grassy hills, perhaps) run diagonally across the layout in basically the place your two upper middle buildings are. Make this hill high enough to hide the track on either side from a low angle. It might extend far enough on one side to let you model a cut for the mainline, but I would probably only do that on one side (upper right seems to have the room and would give the option of a 'double track' shot). You can then photograph a train coming through the cut on one side or coming around the curve on the other.

    Such a scene divider creates operating interest. You can treat one side of the layout as one town and the other side as another. The trains then disappear from each town, they don't just go to the back of the loop, still in sight. Two for the price of one.

    In the right front corner how about cutting the building and siding a little short so you can put a building or another low hill along the lower right hand edge of the train board. This would run from the front of the board past where the sidings currently end. This would give you a background for shooting across the layout from the middle left hand side toward the industrial siding and industry. That's one place I see you'd now be shooting 'off the board'.
  19. Triplex

    Triplex TrainBoard Member

    Peco turnouts are continuous-radius, not numbered straight-frog. They're quite compact.
  20. ppuinn

    ppuinn Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Several years ago, someone proposed making small (6 inches by 8 inches) interchangeable modules that had buildings and industries on them. Depending on the operator's mood, they could swap out one scene and replace it with another that fit in exactly the same space. Having a convenient module also made it easier to work on a model at a workbench rather than on the layout.

    If you are going to use this layout for photography as well as for operations, you may want to make interchangeable modules to increase the number and variety of pictures you could take for the square feet of layout you have available.

    Eliminating the tunnel and using view blocks made of a ridge, buildings, or trees will give you twice as many viewing angles/scenes, too. The height of the view blocking objects only has to prevent you from seeing the far side of the layout when you are taking pictures (usually done at a slightly lower angle, almost like railfanning); but if you put it a little higher, it makes it possible to hide trains from an operator (for a moment anyhow) on the far side of the layout and give the illusion that the train has covered more distance because it is out of sight.

    You commented about the need for a backdrop to prevent seeing the far wall of the layout room when taking pics of the layout. I made a foamboard backdrop that could stand by itself as a backdrop for a diorama I used when I gave a clinic on modeling background trees. See both of the Background Trees albums on my albums page linked below, and take a look at the basic backdrop and how the different background tree flats changed the appearance of the diorama. Perhaps something similar would work for your situation.

Share This Page