NTrak Layout Plan

Discussion in 'N Scale' started by Leo Bicknell, Dec 25, 2008.

  1. Leo Bicknell

    Leo Bicknell TrainBoard Member

    As many of you have seen on my videos for a while I've been working on a number of modules for a while now trying to finish my home layout. At first, my plan was simple; 4 corners and two POFF's all with mountain line to make a home loop. However, the problem with this quickly became apparent, it's the same problem as at shows. With no way to cross between lines you're always picking up trains to get them in the right place. That won't do, so I started working on the crossover modules (which I'll be doing with FastTracks #12's), but that left me wondering how to arrange the home layout.

    After months of thinking, I came up with this:


    The modules with names (including "No Name", they have no scenery yet) are already in progress in some way. In particular two of the corners have no mountain yet, and I was thinking it would be nice to have some non-mountain modules so when I travel I could match what the local club has (mountain or no). I'd already thought of making the junctions have alt-blue, so I could hook up with that as well.

    So, I designed two custom 5'x3' modules, which was the size required to keep minimum radius on all of the corners (FYI, the blue on these is 18" radius on the tight side, and 22.5" on the easy side) that turn mountain back. This solves the problem of not everyone in the club having mountain, part of a loop can have mountain.

    By using standard modules between these blue can be split into dual mini-loops, or run as one large loop, which is cool. Might provide an easy way to split off a small loop for operations and the like.

    Then, I thought, if I do a smaller crossover (#8's should work) and make the middle modules 4'x3' I could get up to green and stay under the 3% maximum grade. Note the thicker black line is the skyboard, so the up and arounds disappear into tunnels. This also allows them to be used as setup tracks, set your loco on the down side (to keep the cars from rolling away!) and you can set up trains on both up and arounds.

    Lastly, I realized if I extend the yellow line out across the 5' corners I could have a way to mate with oNeTrak modules!

    Operationally I think this pretty much assumes blue and green are DCC, and the yellow line in the middle is on an auto-reverser (crossing over reverses you on blue); and if there was oNeTrak it would be DCC as well.

    I'm sharing this now, because it seems darn near perfect. There has to be something wrong with it. :) It gives me mountain line and non-mountain line to take to meet with people. It gives a way to get from blue up to mountain, something that has been missing from almost every green line layout I've seen. It provides a way to run green line not on the entire layout, something I'm not sure I've ever seen before. It provides two full sets of red/yellow/blue crossovers so there are plenty of ways to get trains from place to place. It gives you a way to reverse a train without taking it off the layout (work it over to blue, through the middle yellow, then back to where you want). It provides a way to hook oNeTrak into the layout. It provides a passing siding on blue (the alt-blue), and staging (using the blue to green up and overs from inside).

    Seriously, what is missing? Ok, I can't hook up to BendTrak, or T-Trak, but frankly the oNeTrak was just a bonus idea. :) It seems totally complete, pretty compact, and, the largest bonus, it will fit in the space I have available!

    One downside I see are somehwat large modules (2 4'x3' and two 5'x3'), but to get the functionality I see no way around that. I can do some lightweight construction on them. The other downside is 5' modules are totally non-standard, but they are paired so it's unlikely the 1' would make a difference. I do already own two sets of 1'/2'/3' bridge modules, so they could easily both be padded to 6' or 8' in a layout.

    I'm thinking building this layout may be my slightly modified direction. Please comment!
  2. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

    Let's see...

    x = {q + [q2 + (r-p2)3]1/2}1/3 + {q - [q2 + (r-p2)3]1/2}1/3 + p


    p = -b/(3a), q = p3 + (bc-3ad)/(6a2), r = c/(3a)

    Knowing pi r round, and cake r sq. The answer is simple...

    Yup...should work just fine...

  3. Glenn Woodle

    Glenn Woodle TrainBoard Member

    The modules should work. THe only problem for a home layout is if you need access to the pit. I don't know if you have a stool or a crawler on wheels?

    I like the "no name" corners. Sometimes it's best to leave plenty of space for a farm field or a part of a forest. Few or no stuctures to build, just lots of trees etc.
  4. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Definitely has potential for many hours of fun.

    Boxcab E50
  5. Bob Morris

    Bob Morris TrainBoard Supporter

    No obvious flaws to my eye. There may need to be some spurs added for operational interest, but from the standpoint of "watching the trains roll" it looks great!
  6. Pete Nolan

    Pete Nolan TrainBoard Supporter


    I admit that I have trouble with spatial relations. I'm not sure what I'm looking at. Is this representation of the layout in scale? I think not. When not in scale, I just have a hard time envisioning it. I just can't put it together in my mind. That's why I do my drawings in such detail:


    I just can't figure out what you are trying to do with the modules, or where operators would go to follow trains. More detail would help me comment.
  7. Ike the BN Freak

    Ike the BN Freak TrainBoard Member

    Should look like it will work. Thinking of doing something similar at home, just 4 POFFs with turn back loops, probably linking blue to red lines. And pretty sure I'll have cross overs on mine, somewhere...just dunno where yet.
  8. Allegheny

    Allegheny TrainBoard Member


    Will the rise from the Blue line to the Green line be complete by the time Blue lines cross in the left center module?

    Is it a level crossing or will the left grade (rising from blue to green line) pass under the grade coming from the right center module (longer rising blue to green line route)?

    If the left rising line passes under at the crossing, is there 2" of clearance at this point?

    You might want to check the crossing area with a mock-up or layout software to make sure you have the clearance needed.

  9. Inkaneer

    Inkaneer TrainBoard Member

    Problem areas: 1. It won't work for DC users. 2. It won't work for those layouts where both DCC and DC are used. 3. Under typical train show conditions putting two trains on one track is only asking, nay begging, for accidents to happen unless the operators are constantly on their toes [which I have yet to see happen]. 4. Getting to the middle modules will be very difficult. Seems to me a yard with all tracks accessible from all three main tracks would be easier and would eliminate that middle section.
  10. Leo Bicknell

    Leo Bicknell TrainBoard Member

    Ok, lots of things to discuss!

    Glenn; at home I would expect to operate this almost exclusively from the outside. The pits are too small as drawn. At a show I would expect there to be some more modules from other people, and both pits would be a minimum of 10x10 inside making inside operation possible.

    Bob; I'm not much of an operations guy. Unfortunately I haven't found other locals to run ops sessions, so that's out. When at a show it's extremely difficult to do an ops session given the chaos, and time allowed. Running a train in a circle while talking to the public is enough of a challenge. That said, I'm hoping as a single operator at home that the crossovers and lines up to the green allow for some interesting times.

    Pete; It is to scale. It may not be obvious to those who don't do NTrak on a regular basis what the sizes are. The corners are standard 3' NTrak corners. The six square modules in the middle are all 4' long, with the outer ones being standard depth (2') and the middle ones being extended depth (3'). The two junction modules are a somwhat unusual 5'x3'. So the entire layout is 11' wide by 14' tall.

    Typical running at a show is to just loop trains. Red operator walks around the outside, blue operator on the inside, and yellow on whatever side they find easier (in this layout it would be outside, due to the dual pit). Green would be to the inside of the upper pit. You loop trains and speak to the public, many of which have questions.

    The big problem at shows is setup and teardown. In smaller layouts there is rarely a yard; the few that exist are large (24-36 feet) and only come out to larger shows. Yards tend to have full crossovers. So when you don't have one you end up with no way to cross between red/yellow/blue; and with no sidings you have to set up your train on the main line, run it, then break it down. This at least gives a way to move between lines without breaking down a train, and the middle space can be used to hold trains (on the up and overs, on the blue lines in each direction and then let the outer blue loop); so it provides some flexability without having a yard.

    Scenery wise the named modules have been shown on Reality Reduced; Speed Trap is my warehouse with the TrainSpeed unit on it. Stone Bridge is the module I've been recently working on. Church corner is the finished graveyard scene, town corner is the one I was building in the last episode. The two "no name" corners have track and electrical (you can run a train on them) but zero scenery yet; the east and west junction are in wood, but no further at this time. The middle modules have not yet been built.

    Allegheny; Remember the green line is 3.125" higher than the red/yellow/blue. Coming off the blue line (both sides) the spur would disappear into a tunnel and go under the green line. Coming off green the spurs would disappear through the skyboard (the thicker black line). The magenta is to denote a separate electrical block (in my drawing, colors always indicate how track is wired); where the two magentas cross is intended to be one line under the other (not a level crossing).

    Will it be tight? Yes. I believe the back-most line can be at the full 3.125" at that point and not violate the 3% grade. The other line has about 6 feet of run to go down, which at a full 3% gives me 2.16 inches of clearance (rail head to rail head) at that point. I believe I need to allow about 24' in scale, or 1.8 inches; and then of course the thickness of the track has to be included. I suspect that short section of track on the upper path will be virtually unsupported over the lower track (perhaps just a thin bit of metal under it); all the more reason to have it behind the skyboard and hidden.

    If I had a bigger room I would do my blue-green on a pair of six foot modules and do it all visable; but that wouldn't fit in my room.
  11. Richard320

    Richard320 TrainBoard Member

    I've been mentally running trains around trying to get from place to place. One flaw I see is that add-on pink-line reversing setup. If that is included in a larger layout, what if the thing is wider than illustrated here? The green line will be okay, but that area behind the skyboard will have a gap. Although I guess if you always keep them together it wouldn't matter. Forget I said anything.

    I doubt if many people will be too happy with the level crossings on that onetrack spur(tan line), either. Stopping all three lines at a show while you cross sounds like a recipe for disaster; someone's bound to be distracted at some point and you'll experience a broadside wreck with a 40" fall

    Overall, I like it! If something doesn't quite work right, you'll only have to scrape one module bare again, not disturb an entire layout with contiguous scenery. And you can always rearrange the modules.

    Do you own a large truck? Which gives me one final thought... Some of those modules are pretty big, and your train room is obviously in the attic. Will you be able to wrestle them downstairs and into the truck around corners and down stairs? Especially after scenery is added?

    By the way, love your show.
  12. Leo Bicknell

    Leo Bicknell TrainBoard Member

    I don't like the wording you used. It's not that it won't work with DC and DCC, but that functionality will be reduced.

    Obviously if red is dcc and yellow is DC, then running a train through the crossover is asking for trouble. Same yellow/blue, same blue/green. So yes, that is absolutely a limitation. It is fine for each line to be its own technology, as long as you don't want to cross over.

    However, with some smart wiring for the middle two modules magenta and yellow sections that can be mitigated. By wiring a toggle to power the pink from Green-Off-Blue you can pull a train into the pink area, stop it, switch over (which may or may not include changing engines) and move on. If you have DCC locomotives that also run on DCC it still works.

    This design is at it's maximum functionality with DCC and one auto-reverser, but I think there are minor tradeoffs when DC an DCC are mixed, and they are well know (e.g. not unique to this configuration).

    As for two trains on one track, if DC I agree, this is asking for trouble. I've done it and someone always messes up the block boundaries. With DCC it works fairly well with two trains per loop with attentive operators. As long as you run about the same speed and watch in front and behind your own train there are typically few issues. With non-attentive operators there are wrecks. Here again though, that's a generic problem, and not one of this layout, I think.

    Access to the middle modules in this configuration is very difficult. In the space I have I can't go any wider in the 11' direction. I could go one more module in the 14' direction making the pit larger. For home I think I'll just have to deal with the lack of space. This is obviously a non-issue in a show where each mini-loop might be expanded by 10-20-30 modules; this is just the bare minimum configuration.
  13. Leo Bicknell

    Leo Bicknell TrainBoard Member

    Yes, those two modules become a permanent pair.

    If anyone likes operational challenges it's the one-track folks!

    Truthfully, if I power that (I can just make the brown section dead, for looks only) I would do power routed crossings, which would necessitate interlocking both directions. So if trains approached from the wrong side they would hit dead track. I've seen a lot of oNeTrak that ends up looking like the letter P in shape, and I was thinking this might be a way to connect the base to yards on the main layout. That is, trains would not cross very regularly but rather 3-4 times per show. Better than taking 80 cars off and moving them by hand....

    Fortunately not an attic. I live in a part of the country where the "bonus room" over the garage is standard since there are no basements, so it's a fully finished interior room; just long and narrow. I've been getting them up and down so far with no issues.

    I have an enclosed trailer I use to move modules. When I get done I'll likely need a larger trailer!

    UPCLARK TrainBoard Member

    This is your layout, so whatever you ultimately decide is the right thing for you. I would strongly suggest you consider some operation and at least a limited yard for your home operations. I've constructed my home layouts with (1) strictly Ntrak modules, (2) modules mixed with nonstandard construction (poor wording but you get the picture), and (3) freelanced construction. By far and away, when the new wears off, construction method 2 provided more fun.

    As a basic plan, it works. The electrical aspects, crossovers and return loop can be overcome.

    I would wager that within 6 months of getting your plan functional, you're going to start thinking about operations to some extent.

    You are spot on, with show operations but when you're at home "Lone Wolf" operating, IHMO, there needs to be reason for the railroad to exist. If it's nothing more than breaking down a train to deliver a few cars here and there around the layout, it will keep far more enjoyment over the long haul than constant continuous operations.

    One related but off the topic question for you, are you looking to participate with a local Ntrak club or start a new club? I'm not familiar with or even know of an active Ntrak organization in the Memphis area.
  15. mfm_37

    mfm_37 TrainBoard Member

    That'll work for DC, I designed a similar club set up at Timonium two years ago. The blue line double loop part at least. Didn't have special junction modules like yours so it had to be run as a figure eight or as two small loops. We found that the DC guys weren't all that worked up about the switching for th figure eight, so it wound up DCC most of the weekend. The second duckunder to get inside the second blue loop was a bear for some.
    Placement of the reverse section and the autoreverser is the key. An AR1 will work for DC or DCC- found that out the same weekend.

    For DC, one whole loop needs to be reversed. DC power for one loop needs to be reversed as the train progresses. It's best with at least two operators. One in each loop.

    For DCC, you can get away with a shorter reverse section. The double loop I did spaced the crossovers a couple of modules apart. One of those was a four foot bridge. The reverse section was the yellow line that was common to the two loops. Worked out to be about 10 feet long-8 feet of modules plus the distance to the crossovers on the end modules. My crossovers are two foot modules, btw. The further apart the crossovers are located, the larger the reverse section and longer the train.

    I like the oNetrak access. Never thought of using yellow for that.

    Martin Myers
  16. Leo Bicknell

    Leo Bicknell TrainBoard Member

    The yard is actually being considered, but there's a problem. :) I have two yard designs I'm considering building, both with some unique-to-ntrak features. However, I like to run long trains so both yard designs accommodate long trains. While there is no issues building a 36' long yard for an NTrak layout there's simply no way for me to hook up something like that at home, I just don't have the space. I'd also like them to be quite well made in both construction and scenery, so all of these other modules will be done first to hone my skills.

    Even at home I tend to run my long trains, so I wonder the value of making a smaller yard....

    Memphis has no NTrak club per-se, but there is a small group of local folks. They meet at the NMRA meeting once a month and have a semi-permanant setup in a local warehouse. Nice people and some nice modules, but overall not what I want to do. Having been in NVNTrak which would have a show every weekend over the summer, sometimes two in one weekend I really got addicted to showing off to the public and setting up in places like malls and festivals. The local folks here don't really do that.

    If I could find some more local folks interested in those sorts of setups I might consider helping to create a local NTrak chapter proper. Until then I'm trying to do meets with other clubs where convenient. I set up with Gateway NTrak from St Louis last month, and I'm trying to work out a setup with Nashville NTrak in January or February. As I'm working out the kinks in my traveling setup I'm also considering some slightly further, but larger events; for instance Oklahoma City in 2009.

    UPCLARK TrainBoard Member

    Leo, PM sent Friday 12/26/08.
  18. Leo Bicknell

    Leo Bicknell TrainBoard Member

    I did a lot of thinking about this over the holiday break, and decided I really didn't like the two middle modules to get from blue to green. While I think they would work, the combination of steep grades and tight curves is really going to be tough on trains, and the large modules (4'x3') would be tough on me to move around.

    I've doodled around several different geometries and done some math trying to fix it and here's what I think is the best idea. It switches them to a pair of 6' modules, with the green line coming down at it's maximum 3% grade to meet the blue-green transition line which is coming up at 4%. Not being a community track it need not hold to the 3% standard, and well, I can't do it all at 3%. That said, all runs are nice and straight, so there's no curves to hang up the trains.

    I think 6'x2' modules would be a lot easier to maneuver, plus it means less track joints. This does make the entire layout larger, and is going to really cramp the space that I have available at home. That said, I probably wouldn't have the entire thing set up that often.

    Here's the updated plan:


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