Please Help sith Layout Design

Discussion in 'Track Planning' started by popeye, Apr 4, 2006.

  1. popeye

    popeye New Member

    I am new to this hobby, and I would like to design a layout in my basement. I have an area that is approximately 9 feet wide by 20 feet long for my layout. Could someone please help with a design? I would like some type of yard, with a roundhouse, some type of coal mine area, as well as a town. It is also in HO scale. Any help would be very much appreciated.
  2. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Hi Popeye,

    Welcome to The Gauge!

    I would recommend that you look through The Gauge (there is a search tool) to find and read what others have done - there is a lot of information here to help "newbies".

    As for planning your layout, I would start with a scale drawing of the space you have available. Draw the walls, windows, doors, cupboards, waterheater - basically anything you have to deal with when you go to install a layout.

    You can do you drawing on graph paper, or you can look for some track planning software. RTS from Atlas ( and XTrkCAD from Sillub ( are both free. XTrkCAD is more like a real CAD program - if you choose this one, be sure to do the tutorial to get you going.

    Both will help you work out the actual size of the turnouts, roundhouse, etc, so you are not cramming things into the plan.

    So what else do you want to do with this layout? Some questions that will help with planning:

    - What era/time frame? Steam or diesel?
    - Location?
    - Railroads you want to include?
    - What industries do you want (besides a coal mine)?
    - What part of the hobby do you like (so far at least...;) )? Do you want to build detailed models? Do you want to run the railroad prototypically?
    - Do you want to have friends over to run it with you or do you like to be by yourself?

    Take a look for some of the posts by "Triplex" - he has a great list of questions that will help you focus more on what you want to do. That will help anyone who wishes to help you plan.

  3. popeye

    popeye New Member

    Layout help

    Thanks for the reply. I guess that I should clarify myself a little. I am not completely new to the hobby. My dad used to be a member of a model railroading club, and he would bring me along once in a while when I was younger. I really enjoyed that. Now, I have just recently had a son (3 months old), and I would like to build a layout in our basement for both him and myself.
    The time frame I am looking at would probably be in the late 1950's, with both steam engines and diesels. The location would probably be eastern Ohio, or Western Pennsylvania. My favorite railroads are the B and O, and Pennsylvania. I am unsure of other industries besides the coal mine. The layout will primarily be run by me, my son (when old enough!), and my father-in-law.
    I am really enjoying the planning stages of my layout, but I feel a little overwhelmed right now. I have tried to draw up a general track plan, but I have not been successful. That is why I have asked for help. The layout doesn't have to be a prototype, just something similar to what I described. A couple of other things I would like are a bridge or two, and a tunnel. Maybe I will be able to figure out how to post a drawing of my layout space and I can post it on here as well.

    Thanks again for any help.
  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Well, those are great roads, and a good location for a cola mine!

    Now what do you want to do with all that coal? Do you want a destination on the layout, like a power plant or large industry with a coal-burning generator?

    What about in town? Do you picture some local industries that would be switched by a local freight running from your yard?

    Once you have narrowed that down, you can start designating areas on the layout for the industries and their required trackage. If (for example) you want to use the "loads in/empties out" approach for the mine and its associated destination, you will have to plan for that. Think about how big a yard you might like - is it a full classification yard at a major point on the railroad, or a smaller local yard? (If the coal runs directly from mine to industry, you will not need to worry about having it in the yard).

    For posting pictures, look at the link in my signature.

    Your son will be there before you know it. I started taking my first daughter (now 4 1/2) to the train shop when she was about 4 months. She now likes to work with me at my bench in the basement. She paints old junkers, and other stuff, and does drawings of Thomas. She also likes the sound equipped steamer I have, and can easily run the train with the Digitrax Zephyr.

  5. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Your statement of desires helps a lot.

    As Andrew said, we still need the drawing of the space, which must show doors, windows, and other mandatory access points to be of much help. Also, drawing should indicate which sides of the space are walls.

    Then comes type of layout and layout operation. Do you want continuous run, or are you happy with a point to point? How many trains do you want running simultaneously - 2? 3? Is double deck an option? What about single deck with staging underneath?

    How wide an aisle do you need to be comfortable? Would you prefer 36" aisles at the expense of some track? Are duck unders acceptable to you? Would you prefer a liftout or gate section? Or must it be a walk-in plan (I'm in this category so don't feel bad about such a requirement)?

    What is the biggest steam loco you anticipate using? What is the smallest radius curve you want to see that loco operate on? Will there be passenger trains? Given the dimensions of your space, I would normally design around a 5ft train length, which is engine and 7-8 40ft box cars. Is this too short to be acceptable? What is an acceptable maximum train length?

    By answering these kinds of questions, and with the information you've already given, you have already done most of the work of designing your layout. With this information in hand, you have eliminated most of the options that won't work for you.

    Hope this helps
  6. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Fred has got some great points too - for example if your father-in-law is to be an operator, how does he feel about duck unders and such?

    Depending on the way you plan the scenery and visual breaks between parts of the layout, you might be able to get longer trains without them looking like they are "chasing their tails". To get the feeling for a real "coal drag", you might want to be able to go to 10-12 cars or more.

    Anyway, think about Fred's questions too and I am sure that we (collectively) can come up with something suitable. As Fred says, what you are doing now is the hardest part, and the most work, of the planning process.

  7. popeye

    popeye New Member

    layout help

    I would like to be able to use a switcher in town around the industries, and I would like a good size yard.
    I think that I would rather have a continuous run, but have not ruled out a point to point either. I would also like to be able to run two or three trains at the same time if possible. I don't think that I want a double deck. I think the layout will probably be a duck under, but it could also be a liftout or gate as well.
    I am not sure on the biggest steam or radius for that matter. All of this is new to me. I understand that the broader the radius, the easier it is for the trains to navigate the curve. This is where I hope that you all can help me. When I get home this evening, I will take a picture of the scale drawing of my layout space, and post it sometime tonight.

  8. popeye

    popeye New Member

    I tried to post a picture of my layout space, but was unable to. I could not shrink my scanned picture enough to only be 65 K bytes. Mine was around 415! Very frustrating. So the best I can do is to describe it to you. As I look straight ahead at my space: the left most wall is 9 feet long. It then proceeds to the right for 10 feet, before turning back towards me for 2 feet. The back wall then proceeds to the right for 10 more feet. Then the right side wall will be 7 feet long. I am sorry this sounds so complicated. It is basicly a 9 by 20 foot rectangle, with half of the rectangle being only 7 feet wide, and the other half being 9 feet wide. The entire space is 20 feet long. Any layout designs with the items that I have previously mentioned will be appreciated. At least show or tell me how I should break up my space for the best track design that I can have. I am open to any and all suggestions. Thanks again.

  9. yellowlynn

    yellowlynn Member

    You seemed to have described it pretty well, but....... The 9 foot wall on the left, windows? Doors? Then the first 10 feet, then the next 10 feet where it is 7 feet wide, windows? Doors? All that is necessary to know unless you are going island type.

  10. Nazgul

    Nazgul Active Member

    Hey Ty, is this it? If it is, save this will be the right size. If you have "picture studio" or other software that will let you draw on it, place windows, door, obstructions, ect. in their appropriate place. You came to the right place.

    Attached Files:

  11. isboris4449

    isboris4449 Member

    Hello Popeye,

    The layout Design Special Interest Group has a Layout Design Primer that will answer many of your questions about designing a trackplan. It covers several of the things you may want to consider.

  12. popeye

    popeye New Member

    Nazgul, that is the EXACT picture! Thank you! All of the walls are poured concrete basement walls, except for the wall on the right side that is 7 feet long. It is drywall. There are no doors or stairs to deal with. There is a window on the right side wall, but it does not matter if it is covered up. Thanks everyone!
  13. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    If there are no doors and no stairs, and walls all around - how do you get in?

    Also - you can email me your picture if you wish (click on my user name at left, and select the email option. You will not be able to attach you picture in that message, but it will establish contact... ;)). To save the picture above, right-click and select "save picture as". You can then modify it with MS Paint or other simple drawing tool.

  14. popeye

    popeye New Member

    There are stairs to get into the basement, along with a door. I just gave the dimensions of ONLY the layout space. By the way, on the right side of the layout, which is only 7 feet wide, I could bring it out to be nine feet wide if is was needed. Just something for thought.

  15. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    Here's a benchwork plan for a walk-in around the walls style.

    The larger areas on the left and right are for return loops so you can have continuous running. It is basically just a sample to get you thinking about how to use the space. I gave almost no thought to how you would include the industries and yard that you want, so please don't think this is a recommended starting point.

    In terms of the space, are you having to fit in any other related features - chairs/lounge for operators, workbench for modelling, storage? or do you have another space elsewhere for these things?


    Attached Files:

  16. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    That means at least one side of the space doesn't have a wall. Which is it? Which side can you enter the layout area through?
  17. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    The "bottom" of the layout in the picture I posted is open to the rest of the basement.

  18. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    Well, it is a starting point. My first priority would be to make the areas for turnback curves 5' wide instead of 4'. As they stand, you can have 22" curves, max, and only on a single track.
  19. popeye

    popeye New Member

    I was thinking more of a duck under-type layout. That would give me more track space. See what you all can come up with. I thought that maybe I could have two openings inside my layout space, with a rather large area (4 feet wide) in the middle. The layout would then resemble a figure 8. What do you think? Thanks for all of the replies and suggestions. Keep them coming!

  20. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    I would strongly urge you not have more than one operating pit. Ducking under gets real old real fast - don't ask me how I know this! The other problem with a duck under is that while it may not be physically taxing now, accidents do happen. Injure your back some how, some way and the layout is now useless. This happened to my Dad on a 11x16 layout he spent over 10 years constructing. After he injured his back, he never finished the wiring or track work that had to duck under to access. Instead, he built scenery and structures for a couple of years on the accessible part, and then gave it all up.

    Another point for Andrew's design is that most (but not all) prefer to see their trains fairly close, and walking along the edge of the layout, controller in hand, is often much preferred to central control panels. You can see which way the turnouts are thrown, and see what you are doing for coupling/uncoupling moves. With walk-around control, you come much closer to seeing what the engineer at the cab would see, than sitted at a control panel 8ft away with various indicating lights facing you.

    I agree with widening the turnback curve areas IF you are going to be running larger engines or passenger cars. That's way I asked what the largest steam engine you planned on running is, and whether you planned on running passenger trains. These 2 questions drive your minimum radius requirement.

    I would modify Andrew's design slightly and stack the 2 reversing loops (one on top of the other) in the right turn back area. This would double your main line, and give you a significantly longer run than a duck under donut shape.

    The last point I would make in favor of Andrew's design is that is lends itself to phased construction. This is a good-sized layout for a first layout. It will not be completed quickly given other demands on your time. It will not be cheap either. I would start with a 4x8 (or 5x8 depending on choice of minimum radius) plan you like in the left turnback area. Then when you are ready, if you still like your plan, and you are still in the same house with no plans to move, you can incorporate at least half of that 4x8 into the buildout around the walls. When you get to the right turnback area you can set up a temporary dogbone arrangement until you are ready to build the 2nd reversing loop. The yard or industrial area or mine at the front can be built as a final project with all your new-found skills and abilities to be the masterpiece everybody sees when they come in. At each phase, you can stop and operate the layout. If you never go beyond that phase, that's OK too, you have a workable track plan.

    my thoughts, your choices

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