Thoughts On Designing A ISL

Discussion in 'Track Planning' started by brakie, Nov 1, 2007.

  1. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    First like any layout a Industrial Switching Layout should be design according to the modelers givens and druthers and therefore there is no real "correct" method.With that in mind let's look at designing a ISL.

    First what to avoid.

    We should avoid any design that looks like a switching puzzle such as the famous"Time Saver" by John Allen.This of course was design for a switching contest at a NMRA meet.However,over the years this design always comes up in a discussion about ISL designs.

    However,this is not a very good design for anything other then a switching puzzle for what it was design for.

    We should avoid having to much track in a small area.We must keep in mind the need to add industrial buildings,streets and other scenery to include parking lots for employees and/or "drop and hook" trailers if the space permits.Don't forget some trees as well but,not a forest.Details can very from industry to industry but,avoid the trashy look.


    Note:As nice as it looks on our models incoming or out going shipments is not left unattended on a dock for security reasons.As a retired forklift driver I can tell you up front all shipments are taken inside and the out going shipments is left inside.There is nothing gain by leaving anything sitting on the outside dock because sooner or later it must be taken inside.You are just doubling your work load.


    The keys to a successful ISL design.

    First and foremost a ISL must bring pleasure to the builder as far as smooth operation and overall enjoyment.

    Let's look at one of my designs from one of my past ISLs.


    First both trail tracks was long enough to hold 1 locomotive and 3 50 foot cars or engine and 2 long cars such as 72 foot centerbeams.

    If you will notice I avoid having to serve a industry on a switchback by having to move a car from industry A in order to switch industry B..This is a common mistake many modelers make.Why not use a x crossing instead? Now look closely at the bottom switchback..

    But,there is a switchback on the bottom track!

    The distance between the switch and the first industry building was 3 50 foot car lenghts and one GP38-2 locomotive..The industry held 2 cars.There was no need to move a car.I did make two trips to switch this industry.One trip to pick up the outbound car(s) and to deliver the inbound car(s).

    Notice the small "yard" Actually that is not a yard but,working space.You see I have a track to leave the inbound cars and outbound cars while leaving my run around track open.Each track held 6 or 8 cars depending on the length of the cars being use.

    As you can see this layout gave me hours of operation enjoyment.


    Now this ISL was design as a end of branch line industrial area..As you can see it was rather straight foward and use basic switching moves.While it was enjoyable to operate it did not fit my needs and lasted less then a year..Looking back I don't know why I even bothered building this simple ISL.



    Again like any layout a ISL design is base on the modeler givens and druthers.
  2. Nomad

    Nomad Active Member

    Brakie, this is a great article. More on this subject please.

  3. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    One MR author I really like who wrote about industrial areas was Art Curren. He was focussed on the "landscape" - i.e. it was his assertion that the buildings and other structures replaced the natural landscapes found on other layouts. Instead of hills or forests for viewblocks, he proposed tall, closely spaced buildings.

    One of the most brilliant articles he wrote was in the late 1990s (I think) about "double-sided" buildings on a penninsula. This created a view block down the centre, and also effetively allowed twice the number of buildings, as they were different on the front and back, making it seem that they were different industries.

  4. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    I would consider my layout to be an ISL, even though it is 75 feet long. I just spaced things out more, longer industry tracks, larger buildings. I'm happy with it for the most part, and it seems to operate well. My two concerns are 1) the buildings are basically evenly spaced around the layout visually, maybe I should have jammed some of them up together, spaced others further apart. 2) I hope I don't get bored of the operations because it is basically taking cars from the interchanges to the industries and then back. Don't really have any yardwork or classification to do, although I may be able to work some of that if I knew more about it.
  5. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    You could always take the cars from the interchange to the yard to block them properly, and/or break them up into separate jobs. There was an article in MR a while back about the "Argentine" layout and all the various jobs that ran out of the yard. It was a huge industrial layout IIRC. I have the magazine at home so I'll look it up for you.

  6. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Andrew, if you have the date of the magazine, I may have it.

    One thing I could do extra is, as the cars are coming back to the interchange, I could have designated tracks where the cars would be sorted to, requiring me to break up the train and shuffle the cars to the different tracks instead of just shoving them all onto one track.
  7. Nomad

    Nomad Active Member

    Gary, that will be almost a given when you get your carcard system going.
    Without it, it will take forever for you to build a train. Believe me, I found out the hard way. Also, for me, it adds more fun to switching.

  8. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Looked last night - I think it's Feb 2007. It's the story "no mainline, but lots of railroads" or something like that. The layout has a huge yard, where various jobs for the connecting industrial district are assembled. The operations consist of running the yard, plus the seven or eight specific "turns" to various parts of the layout.

    I agree with Loren, that you should definitely sort (block) your outbound traffic. Not only is it more realistic, it adds a job for an operator or two.

    I would make the following suggestions:

    1) Grouping the buildings - unless it is really too late (i.e. track is laid) you can always change this. In fact, you can change it anyway. But without moving the track, you can still build up certain industries or areas more than others. You can also add different types of landscaping or structures in between to break up the flow. Almost like making each area its own diorama.

    2) Boredom setting in - Don't think so! If you like the operations part, you can always start in on the paperwork as well. Setting schedules for each industry - what amounts of commodities they'll need and how often. That way, each operating session can be a different day of the week, with different jobs to do.

    You can also introduce a "chance" card in the form of random bad orders, or a derailment, or track maintenance closing a section of track. You can also add the engine servicing requirements as a job (if you have such facilities). There's lots to do on a railway this big!

    Lastly, are you inclined to get others involved in operations? One of the things I like the bast about operations is the social aspect of it - not necessarily running the trains, but sitting around in the "crew lounge" talking about various projects or rr history, or whatever. One group I operate with even has a blog - Friday Night Group

    Hope that helps.

  9. ocalicreek

    ocalicreek Member

    Timesaver critics beware...

    As one who has built and currently operates a timesaver, I feel obligated to chime in and offer you a different perspective.

    First, I built it as a test bed for hand-laying track. Only five turnouts, so not a huge expense in cash, time, or committment.

    Second, I considered what possible scenic scenario might warrant or even require such a convoluted and limiting track arrangement. Of all the possible scenes, (and there are several) I chose a river landing. Specifically, a long, narrow spit of land jutting out into a river where real estate is not plentiful but, being the highest point up river where barge traffic becomes feasible, a desirable piece of land for rail to river transfer.

    Third, I took some of the random nature out of the plan, i.e., the game of just moving cars around. I selected a dock with crane along a row of pilings, a stone dock with a coal trestle for loading to trucks or barges, an oil depot for fueling river tugs, etc., a section house, and a former transfer dock now used as storage for the section crew. This gives me a good selection of hoppers, tanks, flats and box cars (even the occasional low-sided gon) to switch.

    I am adding a three foot 'staging' track which will be scenicked, as a place to shuffle or fiddle cars. I will also most likely adopt some sort of car card system in the future. Some trains may require complex maneuvers, but many will not. Trains pulling onto the layout with cars destined for either the coal dock or freight dock only have to perform a simple switchback (really just a trailing point maneuver). The oil depot complicates things by calling for a 'respot when finished' rule, and that it is fouling the runaround. A work train will show up and complicate things from time to time.

    Scenery was important to me so that was a big factor in building this little layout. Turnouts are hand-thrown and frogs are wired. An MRC steam sound module provides an added dimension, or will, once my switcher is completed (superdetailing a Mantua 0-4-0 Shifter).

    It really is a very good design that provides great interest and challenge when set in a plausible scenario. John designed it as a game for his regular operating crews to play upstairs after a session in the basement. Only a little more creative effort was necessary to take the classic plan and turn it into a functioning switching layout with a good story line.

    I have posted a few pictures elsewhere on some older threads, but maybe I'll get a few newer shots up soon. We'll see. Until then, please don't bash the timesaver. A plan is only lines on paper. A layout is what you make of that plan.
  10. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    GalenThe "Time Saver" was design for a NMRA switching contest and will still work today for a small layout like it was designed..
    However,switching layouts has come a very long way since the 50s and finally getting serious recognition as a acceptable layout after being scorned for years.

    Personally I feel that a switching layout should be properly design in order to give hours of operation enjoyment and not hours of fusteration by being poorly plan even you added a staging yard to enhance the operation of the "time saver".
    I am also a strong believer in following prototype track designs in industrial areas..
  11. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    One other note (or maybe two or three) on the TimeSaver approach:

    As a switching layout, it does have prototypical equivalents. There is a website (I'll post the link when I find it) that lists some real world trackage that matches the timesaver notion. Of course, these will have "unlimited staging" so to speak, so are arguably a modification, as per Larry's note.

    However, there are other reasons to build a switching layout than just running trains in a challenging puzzle :eek: ;) My local NMRA chapeter has constructed one, and it fills a number of roles:

    - Public relations tool. It is taken to local rr events like shows and open houses. It also is available on loan to club members. Kids ove running the trains back and forth, as opposed to simply watching trains go round and round in many other display modules.

    - Practice/test bed. Club members are invited to participate in the building of the module itself (now done). They are also welcome to build structures for it, help with wiring signals, install bridges, trackwork, and so on.

    - Education. Many club clinics are based on working on the module. A lot of the lessons learned building this timesaver are incorporated into members' home layouts.

    My $0.02

  12. ocalicreek

    ocalicreek Member


    I don't think the timesaver was designed specifically for an NMRA switching contest. It has been used in that function (both in back-to-back and single forms) but I don't think that was its original purpose. I could be wrong and am willing to accept that I am with some proof, but I don't think I am. We could ask the folks over at the Yahoo G&D group...of which I am a member. I could also check Westcott's book on John Allen and see what it says, as I have a copy.

    I agree with most of what you have said about switching layouts. But one man's frustration is another man's enjoyment. I don't find the timesaver frustrating at all, at least not the way I operate it. And that's WITHOUT the additional staging, currently. It's very challenging, but that's fun for me.

    I guess that's what makes this hobby so great - we can all enjoy it however we like. It seems from your drawings that you have built alot of complicated trackwork, that the simple plans didn't hold your interest and that's fine too. I think you have some good insights into desigining an ISL. Thanks for sharing, and for your thoughtful replies.
  13. ocalicreek

    ocalicreek Member

    Here is, I think, correct information about the origins of the timesaver. There is also a link from this page to various incarnations of the plan by different builders/modelers.

    John Allen's Gorre and Daphetid Railroad - The TimeSaver

    But, just to show that I'm a fairhanded guy, here's a link to an opposing viewpoint by Craig Bisgeier. He seems to think that it was built for NMRA conventions, but I wonder where he got his info. Even he is not sure who built it originally.

    The Timesaver
  14. ocalicreek

    ocalicreek Member

    And another thing about staging - I've considered making it a 'badlands' that's off limits during the switching moves while it is on its own as a stand alone layout...for reasons of grade, or perhaps a bridge or crossing that can't be blocked, etc. These are real-life scenarios that must be considered.

    I remember photographing a pair of SP units in an industrial parking lot. The siding ran through this lot to get to the loading doors. The units were just idling there...but the funniest part - they had blocked a few cars in! Well, I suppose it wasn't funny for the folks trying to move their cars and get to lunch. But the train crew was nowhere in sight. This can be an added element to any ISL to make it more 'challenging' and prototypical.

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