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.
For this episode, we'll take a look at the progression of speed records set by steam locomotives for various railways around the world. In the Modeler's Moment, we discuss a quick and easy way to improve the appearance of the track on our layouts. We close with a quick recap of updates to The Rip Track website.
Turnouts that are far from the operating aisle can sometimes require some special treatment to use manual turnout controls. If the control can be mounted in line with the throw bar, a simple push rod is all that's needed. But if the turnout is at an angle other than perpendicular, you will need to use something like a bell crank to change the push rod's direction of travel. The crank can be made very simply with a scrap piece of brass sheet like we see on this HO scale layout. For this purpose, brass is more highly recommended than thick styrene because the holes in the styrene where the push rods attach will wear out much too quickly. If you're not adept at working with brass, check at your local radio control hobby shop for commercial bell cranks.
When you're building a layout for prototypical operations, you have to make it easy for your operators to see where the trains will go as they traverse the switches in your track. This can be done on a control panel through colored lights, but what if you don't use control panels or want to keep the operators' eyes on the layout? You could install the colored lights between the rails (like we did on the Wisconsin Central project layout for Model Railroader a decade ago), but to keep things simple, why not make a marking on the ground throws? A quick dab of green paint for the "normal" mainline route and red paint for the diverging route quickly conveys the turnout position. If you use bright colors for the indicator paint, yard operators can sight down the yard ladders to quickly see which track the ladder is lined to.
When you're laying track, try to keep the mainline through the straight sections of your turnouts. Trains are less likely to derail on the straight sections, so the more frequent direction of travel through a turnout should be through the straight section. On this set of NTrak modules, the passing siding is between the two outer mainline tracks, while another siding veers off the blue mainline toward the backdrop.
Don't forget to model the effects of dragging equipment. Run your hobby knife or saw along the ties between the rails for a distance to simulate the damage caused by dragging equipment. Just be sure to keep the damage at the same horizontal position on the ties. This example, which goes on for a mile or two, is on the former Algoma Central Railway in Ontario.
Handlaid track, like this track on an HO scale layout in Chicago, allows you to make some very complex track configurations. Just remember a few key points: every switch point and crossing frog is a potential derail location, and prototype railroads do whatever they can to simplify the tracks that they install both for ease of use and reduced maintenance.