Layout planning

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Modeler's Moment - Pinch points can cause trouble

Two views of a layout's pinch point

A lot of modelers will try to cram as much track as absolutely possible into their available layout space.  There are a number of strategies that can be used to help maximize the running time of trains on a working layout, but one problem to watch out for while you're in the planning stage is a pinch point.  This is a location where the tracks come so close together that it isn't possible to have two trains pass at that location at the same time.  All the operation planning in the world isn't going to help as much as you might think, because at some point in an operating session, you will have two trains at the pinch point at the same time.  So, before you start on scenery and as you're still working on the track, take out your longest rolling stock and run it on both tracks of the pinch point at the same time to find anywhere in that section where the cars touch.  If it just is not possible to avoid clearance problems, it might be time to consider removing one of the two track sections that is causing the problem.  You could also consider changing the pinch point to a section of gauntlet track to ensure that exactly one train will ever pass that point at a time.  Oh, and before you go away thinking that this is only a problem on model railroads, the Seattle Monorail had a collision at a pinch point in its track in 2005.

Modeler's Moment - Eliminate S curves

Crossover placement on a curveWhen it's time to plan your track, keep in mind that S curves are generally not friendly to smooth, reliable operations. Sure, they may look great in photos, but when the middle of an S curve is too short, it can cause derailments especially with longer equipment operating through them. One way to eliminate S curves on a double-track crossover is to position the crossover so that every route through it turns in only one direction. This can be done as seen in the photo to the right; this example was on one of the layouts displayed at the 2008 National Train Show in Anaheim.  Keen observers will also notice that there is a curve a little further down the track that goes in the opposite direction, but there is a section of straight track between the two opposing curves to eliminate operational problems.

Podcast: Episode 10 - Model railroad tips from show exhibitors

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People installed on an HO scale moduleSome people installed on an HO scale module.

For this episode of the podcast, we're going to focus on model railroading and save the prototype history and data for a later show.  It's October, and now that the days are getting colder and the nights longer, that means that model railroad season is well under way in North America.  Model railroaders are home from summer vacations and are getting together to build, operate and just talk about their layouts with each other.  Also, model railroad shows are increasing in frequency as we head toward the end of the calendar year.  Last week I spent some time asking exhibitors at the Green County Model Railroad Club's annual model railroad show here in Wisconsin for their favorite model railroading tips.

Podcast: Episode 7 - The "Father of Railways", two junctions and selective compression

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Selective compression applied to a model building.A model of the Compressed Manufacturing Company in HO scale.

Never more than a day late, here's the next episode of the Rip Track Podast.  In this episode, we take a look at the life of George Stephenson, "The Father of Railways."  Then we hear the final installment of Randy Garnhardt's discussion of interesting juctions with a look at Clinton, Iowa, and Nelson, Illinois.  Finally, the Modeler's Moment describes the princile of selective compression as it is applied to model railroads.

Podcast: Episode 3 - all about railfanning

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Railfans out railfanning.Railfanning near Prairie du Chien, WI, in 2004.

With this episode, things are falling into place and the show is officially fully established. First we hear an excerpt from the Conversations About Photography Conference where Stuart Klipper tells us about some of his inspirations for railroad photography. Then we go over a checklist to ensure that railfanning trips go well. In our Modeler's Moment, we discuss how to use railfanning as a model railroading tool, and finally, there's a little shameless self-promotion to finish off the episode.

Podcast: Episode 2

Listen to Episode 2

We continue the show with episode 2. In this episode, we take a look at some interesting railroad junctions, some small rail-served industries and their modeling potential, and we hear a story about a newly hired switchman on his first trip to a distant yard for an assignment.

Modeler's Moment - One reason to switch to DCC

A complex control panel

There are many reasons to choose one control system over another, but this picture shows one of the primary reasons that I'm building my own model railroad with DCC. The control panel shown here has one DPST switch for each 10-inch segment of track in the layout's engine facility. Just moving a single engine out of the engine house on this layout could require the operator to turn on as many as ten separate power blocks as well as aligning four or five track turnouts. Using DCC removes the need for the separate power blocks as you simply select the locomotive (or multiple unit lashup) that you want to control; and if you've got stationary decoders on the turnouts, you can also align the route automatically with your controller by selecting just the route.

Modeler's Moment - Track planning with masking tape

Using masking tape for track planning

Okay, so you're probably like the rest of us where we start building benchwork without a definite plan for where the track will go on the layout. Or maybe you have a track plan and want to see how it will work in something more closely approaching the model's full size. In some of the more common scales, you can use masking tape to quickly lay out your track plan and more easily locate potential trouble spots. In N scale, like this photo (from a layout tour during the 2007 Midwest Region convention in Muncie, Indiana) shows, the standard 1 inch size of masking tape is a close approximation to the width of the track; in HO, 2 inch tape will work well. Once you've got the tape down, you can even put some rolling stock on it to see how it fits and "operate" it by hand before you cut any track. You can also set out any structures that you've already built or create mockups to see how they will fit into the scene too.

Modelling the Undec & Western

Undecorated N scale RSC-2

Undec & Western??? Yes, the Undec & Western. It's another term for freelancing. But why would anyone want to build a model railroad that never existed? The best answer is that the modeler likes too many different models to restrict himself to a particular prototype or era. But how do you make all that stuff up? Well, let's find out......

Modeler's Moment - Connecting the mainline to the yard

Interesting trackwork

Connecting the yard tracks to the mainline tracks on a model railroad can be a confusing problem for some modelers. For this problem, like others in the hobby, it's often best to follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). This example, which was used on an HO scale modular layout, uses four standard turnouts, three small-angle crossings and one double-slip switch. With this configuration, it's fairly easy to tell which route a train will follow through the junction, and by using only standard switches and crossings on the three mainline tracks, it is much less likely to derail a train already on the mainline. One other thing to note with this configuration is that the number of S curves a train needs to negotiate to travel between the yard and the mainline are minimized, further reducing the chance of derailments through the junction.

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