Multi-purpose modules

Discussion in 'Modular Layout Forum' started by LoudMusic, Sep 11, 2006.

  1. LoudMusic

    LoudMusic Member

    I have an idea for a simple and inexpensive set of modules that could be assembled together to make one layout or added to a collection of modules (club?) to build a bigger layout. The multi-purpose and portability of the concept is very appealing to me for several reasons. I don't have a whole lot of space to play trains in right now; I'm planning on moving fairly soon (couple years); and I'd like to be a member of a club and we happen to have an active modular group in the area.

    So having not gotten any information from the local club about their module specifications I started out examining my options (cart leading horse, standard procedure). I assume they use the nearly universal 2' x 4' module size with 5" and 7" mainline centers and I hope they use HO. Otherwise this will get really expensive for me, and that's something I'm attempting to avoid.

    Without further ado, my concept is to use four 2' x 8' tables with modular standards for mainline ends that also have curves for connecting the four tables together in a square, 10' x 10' with a 6' x 6' operating 'hole' in the center.


    Using XTrkCAD I've tried lots of techniques to make the turns, and come up with some interesting ideas.


    Working with a 20" radius I made a few attempts to get around the bend. The top left corner is by far the simplest route, but creates a curve at the module joint. Is this bad? In the bottom left I was able to connect to the end of an existing main line and only used one turnout, but generated two curved crossings - in other words, highly unlikely. In the bottom right I made maximum space on the right side module for a possible small switching yard. I also avoided a curve on the joint, but it is forced to have another set of curved crossings.

    I would imagine that the club module standards call for a 1 or 2 inch inset on the rail for a joining piece. That's not a problem. But is it ok in private use to have curves over the edge of the modules, and no joining piece? Is this a viable concept? What recommendations do you all have?
  2. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    For my local modular club's standards, visit We use the standard 2x4 foot module, with allowances for corners (which require 40" radius - although this can be accomodated on a 2x4 module). Track centres are at 2.5" and 4.5" for standard double main modules, and centred (i.e. 12") for free-mo style. Our module interface calls for a 3" gap (use a 6" piece of snap track for the joiner), and the rail on the module must terminate in 3" of snap track (for rigidity). Modules that are always together need not have joiner track - i.e. the track can be "butt-jointed" when the modules are clamped together.

    You can also check NMRA standards for modules as well.

    Even if your module interfaces do not match the local club's stnadards, you can make a transition module that has you standard at one end, and theirs at the other, in the case you want to all play together... ;)

  3. LoudMusic

    LoudMusic Member

    I got my 5" and 7" centers standard from the NMRA modules Recommended Practice pages, but immediately assumed that was a bit deep for any real world club standard. It doesn't appear to leave enough room on the backside of the module to really get any modeling done. Moving the double mains out to 2.5" and 4.5" would make a world of difference in my concept.

    Do you know of anyone else who has tried a similar technique, some examples I could follow?
  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Take a look throught the gallery at Also check the "next setup" page to see if the last meet schematic is still up. Otherwise you can contact the webmaster, and he (Ron) should be able to send you at least a few - he may have put them up on the "previous setup" page, but it is a work in progress ;)

    The other thing that occurs to me is to build your corners as separate modules. That way, you can make them tight to fit your space, but leave them at home if your modular club calls for a larger radius than you built. Instead of 4 eight footers (which are a bit long for handling) you would have 4 four-footers (or six-footers) and 4 2x2 corners. 2x6 is about as big as you want to go, given the limitations of both building materials, and ease of handling.

  5. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    I guess the primary word here is "Standard". It seems to depend who you talk to. NMRA has "Standards". Free Mo has "Standards". Every modular club has "Standards". If you are going to be within a club and not interface your modules with any other group, you can use the club's definition. NMRA standards were produced, I believe, as a national standard to promote modeling for people with limited space and the desire to get together nationally or regionally. Free Mo was developed to provide more flexability by running point to point trains. If you are only concerned about your own modular layout, you can do whatever works for you.
    One final after thought. Don't forget the transportability thing. Will the module fit in your vehicle?
  6. LoudMusic

    LoudMusic Member

    Well being a computer guy the whole issue of 'standards' not being 'standard' is pretty familiar territory ;)

    Sticking with symetrical pieces (fewer templates to deal with) I've come up with a few variations. All fit in a 12' x 12' bedroom I may or may not have availble in a couple months.


    And I played with a layout on the 2x6 module design.


    I think mostly right now I'm just having fun thinking about it and playing with free software that doesn't completely suck. Woo!

    Probably the most important thing to do is get the 'standards' for the local club. Hopefully they won't be completely obscure, and even if they are I'd bet they'd be willing to buy modules off of a member who is moving away.
  7. cidchase

    cidchase Active Member

    Hi Loud,:wave:
    I think that dual-purpose module is a very creative idea! A couple of things that
    may help:

    1. The mainlines do not have to be straight or maintain the centerline except at the interface.
    2. I think that you're generally allowed to move the front edge of the module out, except at
    the interface.

    These may help keep the desired curve completely on the module. Also, possibly you could
    use a sectional curve for the removable piece. Just some ideas.:)
  8. LoudMusic

    LoudMusic Member

    Aaahhh, I'll need to work with table bulges. That should allow me to have straight crossings, and like you said, keep my curves within the module. Having additional corner modules seemed cumbersome to me.

    I'll work on this tomorrow at work when I'm avoiding work ;)
  9. railwaybob

    railwaybob Member

    Hi Loud. For construction techniques, visit my website:

    Rather than using four 8' modules, you might find that your track radius might be a bit tight. If you work out the geometry, you will find that a 2' wide module will limit your maximum radius.

    In module railroad clubs such as Ottawa Valley HOTRAK, we build special corner modules that allow us to use a radius as large as 54". Now, you might not use a 54" radius but you would certainly want something larger than 18" radius.

    As to "Standards", as has been discussed in other threads, it all depends on what you are going to use your modules for. If you aren't going to use your modules in a club setup, then you would take the best of the practices used by each club and incorporate them into your modules. For example, instead of using analog for train control, you might want to use DCC. To connect the power between the modules, you might want to use a 2-wire track power buss to power the rails with a 4-wire trailer plug connector between the modules. To control the DCC, you might want to follow some of the inter-module LocoNet connecting standards. To help line up the modules (in case you move), you might want to build your modules with alignment pins and clamp the modules together using C-clamps instead of wood screws. and a whole bunch of other things.

    There are quite a number of websites that demonstrate the use of modules and the standards used. Look at them and decide which ones you are interested in using. And of course, there's always this forum to ask questions.

    On the other hand, if you plan to operate in a club environment, like MasonJar and I do her e in Ottawa, then you have to follow the club standards.
  10. Operater

    Operater New Member

    Free Mo N Modulars.

    Hi Group, April 28th, 07.
    Saturday 11:25 Hrs. M.D.T.

    I Find this Board to B Interesting as I didn't Know It
    Really Existed etc.:) For Myself, While I Like the Ntrak
    Modulars as Its Where I Started From Really Years Back.
    I Find that I Also Like the Free Mo N Concepts as It
    Offers some Variety and Lets One Use some Ideals and Go
    From There etc.
    I Did Notice a Post from a Person in Ottawa, Ontario.
    on the Board - Interesting. To That Person - Do You Model
    in HO or N Scale. Reasons? While I Live in Calgary, I am Well
    Familiar with Ottawa Vally Ntrak as I Know Associates in
    That Group. Does the Name Tom Caine Sound Familiar.
    Some of the Modular Table Designs I've Seen Posted do
    Look Interesting. Wiould B Interested in Following Up on Some
    of Those Ideals:mrgreen: .
    I'll Close for Now, Will Post When I Can etc.

    Thanks Group,

  11. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    I've looked very carefully at a set of combination modules for my home and use at setups. I was particularly interested in the Free-mo standard because of the greater freedom in module design (module length and width allowed to vary except at module joints).

    But I have concluded that a standards compliant module set is very difficult to employ effectively as a stand-alone home layout unless you have a large space at home, at least in HO. In my case, I'm typically looking at a couple of walls of a family room or spare bedroom. The space-saving techniques we often use in home layouts don't work out well for what is essentially part of a large club layout. Examples:
    • minimum radius of modular layouts is much larger than most medium to small home layouts use.
    • passing sidings and train length are generally much bigger on modular setups than home layouts
    • getting the scenery to match the desired module end-profile consumes space
    • getting the track to match the required module end profile (position, straight, and level) consumes space
    • in Free-mo, standards require operation from both sides. So any backdrop must be removed from the module before taking to a show, and turnouts must be able to be controlled from both sides
    I'm not saying the standards are bad. They are not. But seldom does a portion of a large layout work well as a stand-alone.

    The best solution (I didn't invent it!) seems to be to incorporate 1 or 2 modules into a home layout, with the rest of the layout being a non-conforming "docking station". For instance, if I don't want to use 40" radius at home in the corner of the L, I build the corner section to my own standard, and leave it behind when I go to the setup. Then I pick the mating points of the module(s) with the corner section to be where I can meet the module end standards without messing up my home plan too much. The corner section becomes the "docking station" for my 2 modules (or even just 1 module if I prefer).

    I can enjoy being part of and operating a bigger whole, yet my home layout design can be better suited to the space available.

    are we having fun yet?
  12. railwaybob

    railwaybob Member

    Yes, I know Tom Caine very well. Spent the whole day with him and his son-in-law on Saturday at the Ottawa Central Railway Open House.

    HO Scale - I'm also a member of Ottawa Valley HOTRAK, along with Mason Jar.

    Module railroading has developed well beyond the "good-ole-days" of N-trak. The biggest developments were the introduction of DCC (in particular for us, Digitrax DCC), the use of styrofoam to get rid of the ½" or ¾" plywood deck, and the use of T-nuts and the bolt-in leg system to get rid of those steel or 2"x 2" fold-up legs. Unfortunately for many module railroad clubs, these new techniques, especially DCC, haven't been adopted, with the result that all the trains do is go round and round and round in circles.

    This discussion started out originally as a standard design for a layout that included corners. The length of each module was 8' which might be okay for a home layout that isn't going to move but can be quite a handful if the layout is being set up and taken down frequently.

    The rest of my discussion deals with those layouts that are being set up and taken down frequently.

    I belong to Ottawa Valley HOTRAK. Six - eight times a year, Bob and the boys rent a hall for the weekend. We each bring our own modules, set them up in a layout, and play trains for the weekend. Some trains run around and around and around in circles (not too many and not for too long). Some trains are passenger trains with regular schedules and stops at the stations along the way. Some trains are local freights that switch out cars at the industries based upon a car card and waybill system. These local freights are made up in a large yard (28' long in 8 modules) that are owned by two club members.

    No two layouts are ever the same. The layout is designed a couple of weeks before and depends on who can bring out their modules. There are a few modules that are owned by the club but not that many.

    The limitation on the length of an individual's modules is the back seat of the car. Most people build modules that are 2' wide and 4' long. They usually build two modules because the two modules can be packaged together with "carry-plates". This packaging protects the trackwork and the scenery. So, the limitation on the module length and width is the back seat or trunk of your car.

    Corner modules are a separate design. To get around the corner they are based on a set of two modules. They are designed a "footprint" - ie we want to incorporate as large a radius of a curve as we can get onto these two modules. But at the same time, we want to keep to the maximum length of 24"x 48" cause I have to fit those modules in to the back seat of my car. Currently, we design our modules on a 54" "footprint" or rectangle but cut off the corners so that the maximum length of the module is 48". You can see what this concept looks like at the HOTRAK standards page for corner modules.

    I own a large Dodge Caravan so I have no problem with 6' modules. I can truck a 6' module up and down my basement stairs but I can't take an 8' module up and down the stairs.

    Bob M.

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