Large modern n scale layout selective compression concern

Jerry Tarvid Mar 1, 2014

  1. Jerry Tarvid

    Jerry Tarvid TrainBoard Member

    Looking forward to more real estate and a much larger modern N scale layout has brought up a concern about the degree of selective compression that I should use. Modern era modelers such as I are faced with the fact that rail served industries are predominantly large operations. Those industries are fewer and farther between each other. A larger layout offers the possibility of more of everything or does it?

    Being an operations freak I might be tempted to model more industries than I should. Maybe what I should be thinking about is modeling the same half dozen industries I modeled on a layout half the size and model more scenic running in between. I honestly have to say this is a tough call. What is the consensus to selective compression when you have more space to work with?
  2. steamghost

    steamghost TrainBoard Member

    IMO that's going to depend on a lot of factors. It would help by telling us the old size vs. new size, what industries you currently model or what you intend on modeling. Do you want to be absolutely proto or would you be happy with look-and-feel?

    For operations, if you expand the business footprint, you can expand the number of spots for each, for more switching and perhaps more car types than before. You can lump several businesses into a business park with varying degrees of compression and still having "open" running room.

    There are also different kinds of compression aside from degrees. For example, you can just model the end of an auto loading facility without having the whole sea of cars in a parking lot on the layout itself. I've seen big rice mills and lumber mills with one boxcar being switched in a day. Hopefully for them it's not typical, but that's not something that would justify modelling the whole business complex to me.

    That said, the trend in N for along time is to get away from the selective compression that are part and parcel of the commercially-made model kits scaled down from HO. And N has always been more impressive vs the other scales in having "open" running between industries/towns. It comes down to how much of each you want. For my druthers, I'd want to reduce the number of industries and expand the remaining ones somewhat and have more scenic running in between.
  3. Team DTO

    Team DTO TrainBoard Member

    I'm curently less than one year in the hobby but am already planning future expansion. When I eventually build my around the basement empire with a peninsula or two, I will add some industries but not many. By spreading the industries and yards further apart with scenery, it will achieve a more prototypical appearance. The real world is a big place, sometimes less is more in a small space.
  4. Jerry Tarvid

    Jerry Tarvid TrainBoard Member

    In answer to the question of what industries I am currently modeling: large flour mill, large scratch built warehouse, large chemical plant, concrete plant with double ended siding, intermodal facility with one transfer track (the rest is back ground scenery) and three other smaller industries (propane, lithium battery mfg and packaged goods distributor). I like the business park idea!

    I'm looking at 100+ foot of mainline running (once around) and may already have too much in the mix considering I also have a sizeable yard and town with depot. The Eola Sub is set in the Chicago land area where everything is packed together, so I keep wanting to pack more things in to increase operations.

    I will have sufficient space to work with and am looking for a better understanding of how to use it wisely in terms of satisfying operations and visual appeal.
  5. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Some times industries are closely located, other times spread apart. It would depend upon the prototype scene you have in mind. I have always had troubles compressing the real world I know from having experienced it. When I reduce the scene, it always has me thinking something is missing.
  6. river_eagle

    river_eagle TrainBoard Member

    think modern day industrial park, many small to medium sized companies packed into small area, each business would need different types of
    product deliveries and pick ups.
    say injection molding plastic, pellets in, box cars out
    a metal fabricator, coils in, scrap gons-box, flats out
    and so on
    lead track siding with spur track running thru park with needed branches
  7. Backshop

    Backshop TrainBoard Member

    The most important factor that is going to impact every -- and I mean every -- part of your plan and scenery is "Artistic Preference". It's a term I use to define how much a layout is defined by reality -- that is, model scenes as close an exact copy as it can be to a real world one -- and how much by sense of satisfaction -- what elements or design are included that are imperfect copies of the real world but meet the visual and operational needs of the owner.
    Whether we are aware of it or not this view of our little world is key to how and why we use this option instead of that one for track placement, industry site footprints, roads, structures, landscaping, terrain -- even layout shape. And it's important to realize and name your preference when soliciting advice or suggestions from others. If each of you have a different Artistic Preference for a layout's "feel", then most of the advice is not helpful.
    AP has nothing to do with era, freelance/prototype, ops or roundy-roundy, mainline length, or any of the usual markers we define our model railroading with. But it is at the root of our decisions we make on those features.
  8. Grey One

    Grey One TrainBoard Supporter

    I expect you already know this but I'll put it out there anyway.
    Abstraction / Compression / Realty
    We Usually Compress:
    • Number of tracks
    • Number of cars and locos
    • Size and quantity of buildings
    • Minimize your focus on most of your industries. One or more could be abstracted down to a single spur with a backdrop alluding to more.
    • Maximize your attention on one.
    • Try to spread out the various parts of the industry to increase the travel between them - or concentrate it for the opposite reason.
    • Include a two or three track interchange with a dedicated yard goat. This can provide additional allusion to your minimized industries.
    I'm not sure if I addressed your question but I hope it helps.
  9. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

    I'm a modern modeler as well. My layout is relatively small - a 4x8 - it's designed so about half of it is natural scenic space (mountains, rivers, etc) and the other half is man-made (town, yard, etc). I wanted to have an intermodal facility but realized intermodal facilities don't exist in small towns like the one I'm modeling, so no intermodal facility -- the container and TOFC trains just roll through town. I am allocating space for three small industries - one a produce transfer facility, another a lumber yard, and a third yet to be determined.

    I think it all depends on the size of your town. If you're modeling a big city, then large industrial operations are a must. For small towns, you'd want to be more humble.
  10. robert3985

    robert3985 TrainBoard Member

    An easy way to determine how much selective compression is needed for any indoor model railroad is to realize that no matter what the scale, there are certain givens, no matter how big your space is, the main two being the length of a typical human arm and how long a mile is in your scale.

    (1) The first given is that to operate an engine, you need to be able to reach it, which limits the operational depth of a scene to about 2.5 feet (3' at the very MOST).

    (2) 33' in N-scale is a mile. That means in 100' of mainline track in N-scale, you have exactly 3 scale miles of track. Not much.

    Running trains prototypically for Class 1 railroads means passing sidings and blocks. How long do you make 'em? How long is your longest train? Your longest train (that will stop and spot and retrieve cars) should fit into each passing siding. Priority trains and run-throughs can be longer. Typically, in N-scale it takes about 12 feet to construct a passing siding that will allow a train that's about 10 feet long along with the turnouts on either end. How many cars in N-scale is a train that's 10 feet long? For me, in the Transition Era, 9' 7.5" equals one Big Boy, 30 40' cars and a caboose. Then you want another 12 feet for the train to run. That's no less than 24' for a block.

    In 100' of mainline, 24' blocks means you'll only have four blocks. If you're happy with a little more selective compression, you can designate one passing siding length as a minimum block length, meaning you could viably fit eight blocks into 100' of mainline. Remember, there's usually an empty block between trains for unrestricted running meaning that for 24' blocks, you'd only be able to run two trains at unrestricted speeds in 100' of mainline. Double that for 12' blocks...four trains.

    Of course, if you've got a double track mainline, double the number of trains running at unrestricted speeds.

    You don't need a passing siding in every block, although prototypically railroads would "like" that, but seldom have them due to expense and time constraints (shutting down the mainline to insert turnouts and/or blasting and grading).

    In 100' of mainline with 24' blocks, you'll have at least one passing siding in your yard and at least one out on the mainline somewhere, preferably two. Depending on where you place your major industries, is where you'll also put your passing sidings.

    Double that if you decide on 12' blocks...which realistically would still be at least one designated passing siding in your yard (probably more) and three out on the mainline. It depends on how you group your industries and if you want more distance between them. UP uses a lot of center sidings, which double as crossovers and save space and expense. I use them on my layout too since I'm modeling prototypical LDE's (Layout Design Elements).

    Of course you might decide that a block length of 14' or 16' 5.5" is better for you. I chose the 12' and 24' lengths as being "typical" and tied to 6' long removable layout sections which I employ in my layout.

    In any case, I'd say that you've probably got too many big industries planned. Some of them, such as a major concrete plant can generate a lot of different cars, but can be represented by a completely out of sight yard that would only occupy a 6" depth or so and could be completely hidden, with switching done using a video camera to see what's going on. That scenario can save a lot of space and imply greater distances between stops. However, your trains would still have be able to park somewhere and my Ideal Concrete Plant is located on the east end of my Devil's Slide Center Siding along with the Devils Slide Station, a small siding (for the short Park City Mixed which typically switches this industry) and a trailing point siding on the west bound mainline.

    Just for giggles here's a drawing of my over all layout with 180'+ of mainline running. Although I could "fit" more industries into this plan, I'm choosing actual locations and the vast majority of switching will be in the Ogden/Riverdale LDE, with a PFE Facility and Icing Platform, Ogden Union Station (with passenger car switching and servicing) and an attached REA facility, UP and SP full engine servicing facilities and RIP facilities, A major Slaughterhouse and adjacent stock yards (the largest east of Chicago), the huge Sperry Grain Elevator, a yard power plant, a large Less-Than-Carload Freight Station and yard and an interchange with the Bamberger, a local electrified branchline that serviced many urban clients from Idaho to south of Salt Lake City, and had industries in Ogden proper as well as a little yard and engine servicing facility. Out on the mainline, there was the huge Ideal Concrete Plant at Devils Slide (which supplied most of the concrete for the Hoover Dam project), several stock pens, one at Baskin and one at Devil's slide. Cars were picked up and set out at Echo, including cars for delivery to customers on the dark territory Park City Branch, then those to be set out at Devils Slide to be switched by the daily Park City Mixed. Even with a 36" layout depth, I couldn't model the Ideal Concrete Plant, so its yard is represented by a small under-the-mountain yard that'll be seen with a surveillance camera and tip-out screen on the fascia. Here's the plan, which excludes Ogden/Riverdale which I haven't finished yet:


    Unlike you, I am not concentrating on picking up and setting out, although I am including what was prototypically done in the locations I've got room to include. My emphasis is on helper operations between Ogden/Riverdale and Wahsatch, with lots of Big Boys and 3700 Class Challengers running the rails along with Turbines, F's and Geeps, with the many passenger trains that plied these rails every day between 1947 and December 31 1956. Prototypically, this section of the UP didn't have a lot of picking up and setting out, which was confined to the Ogden/Riverdale urban area, and the area is too mountainous for many industries other than those which are mineral or livestock related.

    What does a 35 car train look like in scenery that allows the whole train to be seen? Here's a view of a UP Livestock Despatch train that (if it had run on the Wasatch Grade) would have been a priority train and wouldn't fit my 9' 7.5" passing sidings, but would probably fit a 10' passing siding. Although 40' cars are a lot shorter than many modern cars and container cars, I'm thinking that a 10' modern train is about all you're going to get in your mainline length, except for priority freights...which still need to fit the blocks, if not the 24' blocks are what you might want.

    Anyway, hope this gives you something to think about and also a formulation that will assist you in satisfying your operations and scenery-to-track ratio preferences. Just remember, you're almost always going to be dissatisfied at least a little. Gotta make some hard decisions just because of the limitations of attempting to depict huge machines in even bigger scenic settings...even in 1:160th scale.

    Bob Gilmore
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 2, 2014
  11. Backshop

    Backshop TrainBoard Member

    If you're doing Eola, that means Joliet, that means the yard and engine facility, that means the METRA terminal, that means the river ... and you're also talking industrial park. That is a lot of stuff -- are you only going to to do one or two of them, or bits of all of them? Unless you have more space than robert3985 you will really face some hard choices about this.
    Do you have any figures on how big a space you have?
  12. Jerry Tarvid

    Jerry Tarvid TrainBoard Member

    I want to thank everyone who took the time to post their ideas and perspectives. This is exactly what I need to broaden my thoughts and widen my perspective.

    Backshop - Artistic Preference - I'm still searching for mine and therefore any ideas / perspective are relevant to this thread.

    Gray One - As you can see in my mock up the layout flows from west of Aurora flour mill - Eola yard - industrial parks - city of Downers Grove with depot - Chicago industrial with a small amount of open scenery in between.

    Bob - The layout may have triple track in certain areas like the prototype. Note: sidings and crossovers are not shown for this mock up. Fantastic track plan that I will have to study further.

    I may have three times as much real estate to work with; however I may not want to work that hard and long to build it.

  13. Grey One

    Grey One TrainBoard Supporter

    As much as I like yards I strongly encourage you to cut waaaaay back on what you have here. I would keep one of the major yards but reduce the trackage and reduce or eliminate the others. You can allude to them or just do a 2 or 3 track version.It really depends on what you want.

    • Do you want to duplicate operations of the prototype? - Even soo you could cut back the size of your yards
    • Do you want to sit back and watch long trains run though mountain scenery?
    • Do you want to run a local freight through an industrial areas?
    • Are you looking for one man operations or a crew?
    Possible Exercise to Try:
    If I was you I'd try eliminating 25% to 50% of your turnouts. Then go back and see just how many you must have to be happy.
    • Concentration of focus / energy - 20%
    • Economy of scale - About 60% - give or take
    • Flexibility to move between - About 20% - give or take
    • Try to do your balancing based on those loose concepts. Don't force yourself into a corner where you won't let yourself change anything.
    If I Had That Space?
    • I would layout a modest version my yard
    • I would layout a short version of the main
    • I would run trains
    • Just sit back and run trains while day dreaming.
    After a while the overall plan would develop and I would sketching it out on paper. I'd have at least 20 sheets with the area printed on it and I'd just sketch variations on it. I'd change rooms and go for a walk around the block. I'd come back and try a totally different approach.
    But that is just me.
  14. BarstowRick

    BarstowRick TrainBoard Supporter

    My take would be the more yards the better. One thing I'm missing on my present model railroad.

    Personally I like the plan and would like to see you move forward.

    Is it me or is this website slower then slow?
  15. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Working fine here. Hard to say, with a few million ISPs, weather bothering some communications networks, etc.
  16. Jerry Tarvid

    Jerry Tarvid TrainBoard Member

    The emphasis of this layout is on prototypical operations with limited open scenic running. The layout will be built around a modular 30" X 72" open grid platform. It is therefore possible to 'slip' in an extra module here and there for scenic running or for block spacing as required.

    The Eola split main yard currently serves three purposes. Esthetically it looks like the prototype even though it is used differently. The yard closest to the lead edge of the bench work is the classification yard. The far yard is for open staging. I typically run 6' - 7' long trains during operations and twice that for scenic running.

    Gray One - Yes there are too many yard tracks! I need to reach a happy medium that does not dominate the depth of bench work and destroy the scenery to track ratio even for a yard scene. I may need to cut the split yard down and use both yards for classification and add a remote staging yard to feed the layout. This is where your artistic perspective is extremely helpful in finding mine.

    Thanks for your vote of confidence Rick. You can count on the fact that I will have plenty of yard space.
  17. BnOEngrRick

    BnOEngrRick TrainBoard Member

    My N scale double-deck layout will encompass an area 53'x27'. I have the plan set up so that the lower level is urban/industrial, with a double track main and large class yard. The upper level will be rural, single track with passing sidings in small farm towns spaced out around the area. That way, I can get all of what I feel I need , have adequate switching opportunities, and still be able to have a long mainline run.

    Something else you can ponder (the double deck feature).
  18. robert3985

    robert3985 TrainBoard Member


    Looks like you're building a layout based on 6' X 2.5" sections, which is a good size. Deep enough to take advantage of N-scale's great scenery-to-track ratio, and just long enough to be able to handle by yourself if you need to break it down or add to it in the future.

    I'm not going to critique the plan, except to say that it looks like your maximum mainline radius is 18", with the rest of your mainlines being inside that. I'd go for making 18" your MINIMUM mainline radius and add track on your double and triple mainlines (as is prototypical) at 1.25" or 1.5" increments to the OUTSIDE of your 18" curves. You've got plenty of room for 18" mainline minimums if you get away from the idea that all of your straight mainline trackage has to run parallel to the layout's edge. Angle it, and the towns it runs through for a much better "artistic" look. Running everything parallel to the layout's edge emphasizes the edge and ties it together (a bad thing). You want your layout's edge to appear to be separate from all the scenic elements on your layout, appearing to your mind to be a "slice" of reality, rather than a layout. Also, very very large radius "photogenic curves" of over 100" radius (I have some that are in the 200"+ radius range) can really add to the "look" of trains running on your track.

    Since you're modeling "modern" with big, long engines and long cars and trains, having them on 15" radius curves is going to really be pushing believability, and besides that, they'll look like crap. If it were me with the space you've got, I'd consider a minimum 20" visible radius on mainlines, with an 18" absolute minimum for your big mainline engines.

    I'd also use #6 turnouts (which have a 23" effective diverging track radius) as a minimum turnout, on mainlines and your big yard. You can go smaller than that in industrial areas, but if you're not using Kato Unitrack, I'd seriously consider learning how to lay your own turnouts, with the help of Fast Tracks and people in this forum.

    If you are building this in sections, I would encourage you to make it so you can easily break your layout down into sections for transportation and/or adding or changing sections in the future, which means being aware of where the section joints are and terminating your scenes cleanly without running a few track over the joint.

    If you've maybe got more room in the future, you could easily add more distance between industries by just adding LDE's in between your already built sections. That's one of the things about doing the layout back-to-back as you've's easy to expand.

    I don't have room for my entire layout yet which will fit in a 40' X 40' space (with 3' aisleways all around it), so, since I've built it in sections, I work on various LDE's in the space I've got now, which is about 10.5' X 26', which gives me plenty of space to work on two 24' to 30' LDE's depending on their configuration. I've built adapter sections to allow me to run trains while I'm working on each LDE and this keeps my interest up. I also have a couple of railroad buddies who have decided to build their home layouts using this sectional/modular concept which I spent three years working on, and we are able to buckle up with each other at shows.

    Here's what's presently in my "train room" and which I work on and run trains on. It consists of the Echo Yard LDE and the Devils Slide/Wilhemina Pass LDE with a couple of adapters to keep the trains running. Where the red lines are in this drawing indicate "modular" ends, which adhere to my modular standard:

    When I'm done with a section or LDE, I store it either in my garage or in my trailor, then start work on another. I have my 80% finished Curvo LDE stored in the garage as of now, and I work on a transition section that adapts my trackage to my buddy Gregg Cudworth's, which is an LDE of the twin tunnels and twin Warren Truss Bridges over the Weber River at Taggarts...which is in my foyer by my front door! Am I married? Hahahaha...nope. That's how I can get away with the entire basement being studio, workshop and train room.

    Bob Gilmore
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 3, 2014
  19. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

    I feel your pain. First, I have the same quandary about my own layout design. (a future "mid-dream" layout) And second, I'm pretty familiar with the area you model so I can both appreciate its potential and understand the frustration of "picking your favorite child" so to speak.

    I would say with regards to your layout, I would really focus on what YOU truly want to do. There's plenty of interpretations of such a popular area to model...don't worry about trying to do it "perfect" or "the right way". In my mind I would ask if your intentions are for regular ops sessions. If so, I would probably increase the number of industries versus the scenic runs or stressing about too much track. The layout I operate on most often is track heavy. If it was posted on this forum, it might be panned for spaghetti reality you don't think that because it is very well designed and executed. So again, don't worry about how it's *supposed* to be done...laser focus on what you want it to be.

    *My* prototype is more like Bob's...lots of mainline operations at the end of the day. Honestly I'm not sure how that will translate for an ops session. And especially if I can't build enough passing sidings to pull it off. It will surely take a lot of space if that is to be the primary focus. So, I have tried to embellish typical switching ops to be able to have some bit of traditional operations. Is that the right thing to do? I dunno. I still have a ways to go before I get to that decision point, but I wonder if I'll listen to my own advice.

    Good luck, your plan looks great and should be a magnificent layout as it stands.
  20. Jerry Tarvid

    Jerry Tarvid TrainBoard Member

    Keep in mind the track plan is just a 'mock up' of scenic elements I'm thinking of having on the layout. My concern has to do with effective use of space and visual appeal. Thoughts on scenery to track ratios, scenic running gaps, degrees of compression and artistic perspective are greatly appreciated.

    Rick - Given my potential space availability I have chosen a single deck layout with plenty of walk around room. This will be great for operations and doubles for walking when watching trains run, lol.

    Bob - I will skew the track work so that nothing is parrellel to the bench work and use 19" minimum curves if possible. I will be using Unitrack with custom degree curved track sections and custom length fillers for multiple short sections.

    Doug - Thanks for your vote of confidence. Expanding from a bedroom sized layout to a family room or basement sized layout opens up numerous possibilities. In fact more possibilities than I can imagine at the moment. That is why I am soliciting thoughts from those who have been there and done that. My responsibility is to use that knowledge wisely when integrating into what will become my artistic preference.

    There have been great suggestions given. They have already begun to open up my mind to options I had failed to give any thought to. Industrial parks are quite prevalent in the Chicago land prototype and will provide what I need in less space. I seriously need to relocate my open staging and make full use of the Eola split main yard(s). As I continue processing the ideas and perspective given there will be more light bulbs come on.

    Thanks for taking the time and sharing your thoughts.

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