Layout Plan=Conrail 1979 PENN/NY line.

Discussion in 'Track Planning' started by gottaBreal, Oct 8, 2006.

  1. ocalicreek

    ocalicreek Member

    I was just scanning through some old MR's for track planning ideas and came across Bill Darnaby's articles on using foam for roadbed. Some interesting ideas...I think he is on the cutting edge (pun intended) with foam construction, though by no means the first or only modeler to use the techniques he's proposing. Sorry, can't remember what year this was in...been looking through so many lately. But a quick search on the Model Train Magazine Index should locate his articles. You may want to look them up if you are seriously considering using foam construction.

    My learning curve with table top construction was this:

    Atlas plan book layout built on a ply and lumber table top (built per their little blue book's instructions). Followed by, tearing this out and expanding the area, but still using table top as a base. Then using foam (the white stuff from packing around appliances's, etc.) as risers and 1/4" paneling as subroadbed with cork as roadbed. I soon discovered a major problem...I didn't have a drill bit long enough to run from beneath the tabletop up through the space and scenery base (more white foam with plaster/papertowels) to run wiring for lights, etc. Wiring the track wasn't that hard as the scenery hadn't been put in place yet. But once the mountains and hills took shape I realized the beauty of open grid construction for access purposes.

  2. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member


    I agree with your lesson on "hollow" scenery - especially if there is any hidden track involved. The thinner the scenery shell, the easier it is to access from underneath. I have seen "foam shell" done with 1/4" or 1/2" sheet extruded foam. But if a plaster top coat is used, I don't see the weight savings or tree planting advantages of foam.

    Solid foam construction really requires a different approach. From what I have seen most of the solid foam builders end up making sections of their mountains removable to access hidden track. Where liftout access is not provided, mountains and ridges are often built with cutout centers of sheet foam. This gives some access from underneath.

    For poking through foam, a long ice pick, a small diameter metal tube, or similar all work just as well as a drill bit, and get around the short drill bit issue.

    I'm in a real quandry on my own layout of which technique to use for a 2ft x 8ft shelf layout where total change of scenery elevation is about 7" from river bottom to ridge peak and track elevation changes 4" from front to back. Solid foam construction would be very easy, and help keep the weight of the 2 4ft sections reasonable. Since the region modeled is the Oregon coast, many trees will need to be "planted". But how do I get at the underside of my handlaid track for Tortoise installation, feeder wiring (many required due to no rail joiners), and under-the-track uncoupling ramp installation? And will a plaster or other hard topcoat be needed to make the foam look like realistic earth and rock? If a hard topcoat is needed, am I back to drilling a hole to plant a tree?

    Traditional cookie cutter with my Homasote roadbed on plywood (or plywood/foam sandwich) makes underside access very simple for switch machines, uncoupling ramps, and wiring. Plaster on fiberglass window screen is very easy and cheap. Rocks and ground are easy to carve in plaster. But I could get very heavy very quickly. Planting trees in plaster is a pain.

    decisions, decisions
  3. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    I think that the foam scenery is for you... With the strength of the 2"+ stuff, you can also "engineer" some structure - it doesn't have to be solid foam. Nor do you need a full plywood base underneath. All the modules at are built with a 3/4x4 (actual if ripped from 3/4 cabinet grade ply) to 1x5 (nominal, if using dimensional clear pine) frame into which the 2" extruded (pink or blue) foam is set. Most people opt for a crossbrace every two feet. So that amounts to a 24"x24" grid. I don't think anyone has experienced sag or other failure of the styrofoam.

    As for the scenicking on top of the foam - it can be carved to pretty close tolerances for general landforms and even exposed rock faces. Just paint it and add ground foam or other texture into the wet paint as per usual. If you do want/need to coat it, try lightweight joint compound. It dries to a soild "foam" texture that can be pierced by an awl or other sharp tool. No need to drill through solid plaster for each tree.

    A set of 2 - 2x4 foot modules constructed in this manner can usually be handled by one person once boxed securely. This should give you an idea of weight.

    Alternately, I just read a back issue of RMC in which Joel Bragdon (of Bragdon Weathering Powders among other things) describes building the entire layout - including the structure - from a variety of foam products. There is an interesting picture of him holding what looks like a 4x6 layout up in the air with one hand...

  4. Jac's Lines

    Jac's Lines Member

    There is a decent webpage with maps, photos and station information on these western NY railroads -- Also see which has maps and photos of railroad stations in NY organized by county.

    It doesn't have much on the Conrail era, but does have decent general background information.

    I don't know how committed you are to the specific geography or time period -- and I am a little confused as to the specific location you are trying to model. There is a local shortline that currently runs on the old Conrail line between Corry PA and Olean (this is the Western NY and Pennsylvania RR at They do use helper locos, but I'm not sure on what specific section -- I'm assuming it was more in the PA section as the elevations are more extreme to the south and west of Olean.

    The stretch of the old Erie (later Conrail) line between Hornell and Olean might also be worth thinking about from a modelling point of view. Erie had a big repair/car shop facility at Hornell, which Conrail picked up and operated until the late 1970s (I think they closed shop in '78, but they've been rehabbed and now are the main assembly point for the Acela engines). The yards and facilities at Hornell, plus the interchange at Olean would give you some cool operating possibilities. Salamanca NY would also be a good choice for modelling. There was a big interchange there with the PRR.
  5. gottaBreal

    gottaBreal Member

    Yes Jac thats the kinda info I have been looking for. Thanks alot for all your ideas which im now going to take a look into.

    PS keep the ideas and thoughts coming.
  6. railohio

    railohio Active Member

    How about searching for railroad timetables and track charts on eBay or at local train meets? You can search using the division names I listed before to find exactly the lines you need.
  7. gottaBreal

    gottaBreal Member

    YA thats something Im going to look into. Im really starting to get an idea of what Im going to model and have been leaning torwards a Buffalo interchange with the TH&B.
  8. gottaBreal

    gottaBreal Member

  9. gottaBreal

    gottaBreal Member

    Thats what I have come up with and would like some INPUT on what I should keep change and or redo.

  10. galt904

    galt904 Member

    I thought the closest the TH & B got to Buffalo was an interchange with the CASO at Welland???

    Interesting concept though. How long are the yard tracks? They appear to be a bit on the short side.
  11. gottaBreal

    gottaBreal Member

    Ya the TH&B thing is just a name rather than what really is there. Its the interchange with canada rather than just the TH&B. Those tracks are able to be about 20 feet long if i needed them to be. Im going to make them around 6 feet long with a runaround.
  12. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    In addition to the extra length, I would also allow a cross over between each yard "just in case"...

  13. ocalicreek

    ocalicreek Member

    The reverse 'lead' you have drawn allowing access to the industries along the backdrop seems to run into some sort of building, and doesn't allow much room for a loco and cars to get back there and switch out those industries. Is this intentional?

    Also, I can't remember if you said, but are you planning to hand lay your track? Seems like a track-layer's dream with so many turnouts and crossings.

    Unless your staged trains are primarily run-throughs remember the planning 'rule' of balancing staging length with passing siding length. Your shifters and locals could drop into the hole while a longer through-freight drags by, but longer trains wouldn't be able to pass 'in-scene'.

    Looks great.

  14. gottaBreal

    gottaBreal Member

    Ya I am planning on handlaying the track just for that reason. Also I dont plan on having any trains over the 6 foot siding size. However like you said I can just tuck the train into the Yard lead if need be. Also that track your talking about is meant to end short. I had only 1 track going into the building however I added that one just in case. I really like the idea of big buildings with the tracks going in them.

    Anyways thanks for the coments bro.

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