Model Railroading for Beginners

UNRR is my new model railway,
the HO scale
Utopia Northern.

Update: February, 2018

Here is a layout tour of my model railroad as of February, 2018.  We follow a worktrain from the East Utopia Yard all the way to Underhill where a reverse loop is located. (There's another reverse loop for trains in the opposite direction beneath Utopia City). Below the video is a step-by-step description of building the railroad.  All that is left are finishing touches and the usual maintenance issues.

This is Part 1.  
For part 2 go to "how to build a train layout"

A move to a new home has forced me to tear down my old Utopia Northern and start over again. The new train room is about half the size, about 15 x 15 square feet. This necessitates a major rebuild.

I have posted a photo record of the old layout at Photos of my HO model railroad, the UNRR  (The former Utopia Northern). You can learn more about the former UNRR at My Utopia Northern freelanced HO layout.

train roomThe new train room

The walls have been drywalled, taped and painted white. I have not installed a ceiling yet. If I do it will be a drop ceiling, not a hard ceiling. In the photo the workbench is at the left squeezed next to the furnace room. For those familiar with the former UNRR the East Utopia free-mo module is under the window on the far side of the room. A cut-down harbour from Fort Eerie will be installed at the left end of East Utopia beside the work bench. A section of Underhill North's engine servicing area is behind the door on the opposite wall where I'm standing to take the picture. These will be the termination points of the point-to-point UNRR. The harbour becomes a "fiddle" interchange. At the other end a track will extend behind the roundhouse as an interchange to "beyond the layout". 

The big question is what to do between these two sides of the room? These "modules" take up 2 x 8 feet of real estate. I want a walk-in without duckunders if at all possible. In order to pull it off I will need to restrict my primary radius to 24 inches and the narrowest choke points in the aisles to 18-20 inches. I plan to maintain a minimum of 24 inches next to these two modules and anything in the centre area has to be reachable from one side or the other. A tall order!

Robert Schleicher to the rescue

Robert published model railway magazines back in the early 1980s. I kept some of his issues against the day I might need to rebuild. I've kept most of my trackplanning collection. In the 1983 The best of Model Railroading Magazine's Trackplans Robert describes a master module that can be designed to fit a typical 11 X 10 foot room. This is just about the space I have left to work with. Essentially it's a folded dogbone with reverse connections. The problem is that the lower level is mainly hidden track unless two helixes are used to gain separation. I would prefer not to do that this time so I need to keep hidden track as accessible as possible next to the aisles. I also want to build in modular fashion even if the modules are odd sizes. At 74 years of age I don't want to leave my wife with a monster in the basement!

Rebuilding a model train layout is an opportunity to try new techniques (and make new mistakes). I still have some favourite methods and, being retired,  I don't want to spend a fortune on the rebuild. I've kept a lot of the dimensional lumber and plywood but I did not keep the homasote. I still prefer it as a sub-base because I like to handlay track, however, it is difficult to find in my locale. I will use my old Code 100 on the hidden sections and use Fast Track jigs to build the visible trackage in Code 83. I also plan to upgrade my turnout controls with servos and Tam Valley electronics when time and money allows it. You can find discussions and photos of installation of servos and signals on other pages in my website.

I have made my first cut and the first cut is the hardest! I disassembled my harbour scene and used my bench saw to chop the plywood base down to fit in the new location. So the UNRR is started again.

rebuilding model railroadRebuilding East Utopia

Benchwork Considerations

My preference would be to build everything with plywood because it is more stable than dimensional lumber such as pine. However, I have a lot of pine left over from the tear-down so I have decided to reuse it for the benchwork skeleton. I am rebuilding with removeable modules but I am not making them a standard size. They are being constructed to fit the room and the proposed trackplan. I am installing the legs with bolts and connecting the skeleton sections together with bolts. 

girder constructionGirder Construction

You will notice in the photo that I install top girders with a 1x3 attached to another 1x3 or 1x4 in an "L" configuration. I believe it was Linn Westcott that developed this method years ago. It allows cross pieces that support the subroadbed to be attached from underneath so the screws don't get covered with scenery and it is easy to adjust the height of the vertical supports. You can see some bolts with wing nuts attaching the components. I use Robertson screws or drywall screws and I do not glue the parts together except for the girders so that the framework can always be taken apart (not that I'm planning to move again).

A word about benchwork height. My preference for the unrr is to set the basic height of the main yards somewhere between 40 and 43 inches above the floor. I am over 6 feet tall but some of my operators are shorter. That height seems to be comfortable enough for laying track and doing scenery without causing a sore back. It is high enough to crawl under to do electrical work and still puts a second level separated by a minimum of 16 inches under 5 feet. My plan does not demand a second level although it could be done with two helixes. I'm going to keep it simpler this time (famous last words). The other consideration is that I have a bunch of shelving units and plastic drawer sets and a table saw that I want to store under the layout. I have to allow for enough clearance. Most of these units are around 3 feet high. The table saw is a little higher.

The other consideration is the trackplan. The lowest level of hidden track is set at 0 as the base level. This will be in the centre peninsula where the loops will be located. To provide a minimum of 4 inches clearance for HO track I decided to set these loops at 38 inches above the floor. This puts the former East Utopia module at 42 inches above the floor. I started by installing that module and added the cut-down harbour at the left end beside my workbench.

new model harbourNew Harbour location

Before continuing with unrr benchwork I hooked up my Lenz system and made sure everything was working properly. I also did some track maintenance to fix problems created in the move, put up a backdrop, and added a new wye turnout for the harbour. The main yard entrance turnouts are close to the right end of the module so engines can't go anywhere until I get some new track installed. This means I needed to get started on the connecting benchwork. I built the next module under the rear window at a lower level so I can adjust the height of the subroadbed. I have not yet decided if I will use homasote or try Woodland Scenics trackbed so I need to be able to finalize the track height later. 

benchwork corner constructionFitting the corner benchwork

The corner benchwork was installed to fit the space. It is "disposable" when the next tear-down happens sometime in the future. I use leg-extender screws to adjust the height of the modules so I can make them level. When I'm happy with the placement I add a screw or two through the back girders into the drywall studs. This keeps the benchwork anchored securely.

I plan to install the rest of the UNRR skeleton modules before adding subroadbed. This will give me a better feel for the space and the aisle widths. I usually operate alone or with a small crew. This means I can have narrow choke points to access the layout, but I still need to keep a decent aisle width. The aisles will be tighter than my previous layout and I will need to work with a smaller radius. I have ordered sweep sticks from Fast Tracks and some other track building supplies. My intention is to handlay Micro-Engineering code 83 track in the visible areas of the unrr and use my older Code 100 track for hidden trackwork.

The next step then is to build the benchwork and get the area under the layout organized. Right now it's a mess and difficult to get around with boxes and containers everywhere. Not to mention finding stuff I need that is still packed. That's OK. It's a long cold winter in Ontario. 

benchwork gridBenchwork grid

The basic skeleton grid is now built (January 24) and I have bought some Woodland Scenics roadbed and a few lengths of Atlas Code 83 track to try. This will allow me to extend the track from the East Utopia module so that I can do some switching. I also found a source for homasote in Barrie, Ontario (Simcoe Building Supplies). Several of the members of our Nottawasaga Club have bought a few sheets from them. I picked up a box of Midwest cork because it can be used with handlaid track. My order from Fast Tracks hasn't arrived yet. I can get some benchwork done in the meantime.

Starting track work

I decided to try installing the Woodland Scenics Track-bed instead of cork to see how it would compare. The first step was to draw the centre lines for the track for the parallel curves from East Utopia. Because I haven't received my sweep-sticks and curve jig from Fast Tracks I resorted to my old method of laying out the curves: A wooden yard stick with holes drilled at two inch intervals for the common radii I planned to use. 

centre linesDrawing centrelines

I insert a nail at the 1-inch mark and then drill holes to accommodate a pencil at the radius points (1-inch beyond the actual ruler markings). Then I can lay out the first curve with the pencil and follow up with a black marker. I measure 2 inches for the centre line of the inner curve and use the same radius point to draw that curve. I used free templates from Fast Tracks to find a curved turnout that would serve my purposes for the track to the station. Using it as a guide I drew in the placement for the turnout.

The Track-bed has a scored line on the bottom so the halves can be separated. This is necessary to lay out a curve, otherwise the Track-bed will buckle (more than cork would). 

laying track bedLaying Track-Bed

I cut the Track-Bed apart on my workbench with a new, sharp utility blade. Instead of using carpenter's glue to secure the Track-bed I opted for matte medium. Yellow carpenter's glue or white glue dries very hard and brittle. The matte medium is more flexible. I laid down a thin full-strength coat with a putty knife and an old paint brush. I laid the outer strip first. This keeps the marker line visible as a guide for placement. I tacked the strip in place with common pins. 

pinning Track-BedPinning the Track-Bed

I found that I could remove the pins after about 10 minutes. I would not be able to get away with that with cork. It would shift position. The Track-bed stayed put in the matte medium. 

Rolling Track-BedRolling Track-Bed

After removing the pins I used an old wallpapering roller to smooth the Woodland Scenics Track-bed. It is more pliable than cork so I thought it wise to run the roller over it.

David, a friend of mine who models British prototype in HO, sent me a description of how he lays the Woodland Scenics roadbed:

I'm using the WS roadbed on my new layout. I'm also using their Scenic Cement to hold down the roadbed and the track. I try to mark out a center line and put pins in then push the roadbed halves up to it. I sometimes use the foam glue to hold down the roadbed, but it does grab rather quickly. I usually spray a bit with rubbing alcohol then eyedropper the glue along the side. I put the track in place and hold it with pins. I like the T-shaped pins from the craft store, but straight pins also work. I put them outside the rails between the tie ends. This lets me lift the track if I have to. When I'm satisfied, I hold the track down with pins at an angle so that the track is pressed onto the roadbed, then I mist with alcohol and flood with Scenic Cement. There are still a few problems at joints on curves. After testing, I find that a spray of alcohol and water (or water and detergent) will soften the glue enough to move the track."

He added that there are six or seven hundred ways to do anything and modellers can usually get two ways to work! I'm going to try his way on a section of the new layout.

Working with Fast Track aids

I had ordered some Sweep Sticks in common sizes I planned to use: 20, 24, 26 and 28-inch radii. Fast Track Sweep Sticks are designed to fit together to set out and lay commercial trackwork. I had bought 5 lengths of Atlas Code 83 to get started (and to demonstrate how to use these aids). 

Fast Tracks Sweep SticksUsing Sweep Sticks

The inner track from East Utopia is 26-inch radius. The first step was to lay out the curve. The centre of the strips have cut-outs for marking the centre line to aid in laying the cork or Track-bed. I had already laid in the curves with a yardstick so I proceded to check the radius and lay in the curves. I had put in easements by hand where the track connects to East Utopia. An easement, or French curve ( I actually have a French curve ruler) "eases" the 26-inch radius to a slightly larger radius where it connects to the straight track. I usually offset by about an inch where the curve begins. This "eases" the engine and rolling stock into the tighter curve, more important with longer wheelbases. It also looks better. In the photo you can see how two adjoining Sweep Sticks maintain an exact radius when slipped between the rails of the commercial track. There are notches for spiking the rails. I don't like using glue under the track because it is difficult to remove the track once it is glued in place. I speak from experience. White glue or carpenter's glue can be softened with windshield wiper fluid. Drywall and foam adhesives are impossible! Note in the photos some of the left-over adhesive that held the pink foam to the plywood. I should have turned the plywood upside down when I cut the subroadbed. I had to scrape the adhesive away with a chisel before I could lay out the Track-bed.

In the background you can see a scratchbuilt curved turnout being fabricated using free Fast Track templates. The basic radius on the back track is 28-inch radius to maintain a minimum 2-inch separation between parallel tracks in HO. Tighter radii need wider separation. The curved turnout will lead to the station track that used to be a stub track from East Utopia that had to be backed into by the Budd car. It wasn't very practical on the previous layout. This will be an improvement.

Turnout assemblyCutting turnouts to fit

Much of the track that had been salvaged from the old layout was damaged during the move. In many cases this is only a matter of replacing missing ties, but the next major interchange on the new layout required some judicious cutting and fiddling to get the trackwork to fit. That's the beauty of handlaying your own turnouts. You are not restricted to the manufacturer's design. 

I had to tighten the spacing between the slip switches and the other turnouts to fit the layout I had designed with Cad Rail. I did this at my workbench so I could solder together the turnouts as several discrete units. This helps in the final installation. I shifted to cork roadbed for this section because the cork will hold the spikes better than the Woodland Scenics Track Bed. I also drilled 3/8-inch holes for the throw rods. I don't know if I will get to the stage of installing servos, but it is better to pre-drill the clearance holes. I will probably use hand throws for now to save money and time.

A few track laying tips

A few suggestions came to mind while I was laying out the trackwork on the lower level. This area is a combination of Code 83 where track is visible and Code 100 where it will be hidden. I'm using the Code 100 because I have quite a lot left over from the old layout so I might as well save money and use it. Track from different manufacturers is slightly different in the rail cross section. I ran across this problem mating Micro Engineering Code 83 to Atlas Code 83. I need to use the Micro Engineering rail in the Fast Track jigs. The lengths of Atlas track I picked up seem to have a wider base. It was necessary to file the web to get the Micro Engineering rail joiners to slip on. A trick I use is to start slipping them on with rail nippers instead of pliers. I find the nippers grab the joiners better. Then I stick one end into the edge of the plywood benchwork and press the joiner on until it is about halfway. This makes it easier to join to the next rail. Again, I use the rail nippers to press it home. I have gotten into the habit of always filing the bottom of the rail at the joiners and the edges of the web. What many forget to do is to also lightly file the top of the rail to remove any burr left by cutting or snipping the rail. The ends should also be dressed. The nippers will leave a clean cut on one rail end but I often find I've cut it at a bit of an angle. When using commercial track I solder the longest lengths of track together keeping the rail that slips through to the outside so that I can maintain a smooth joint through curves. I try to stagger the joints slightly. I found the Sweep Sticks helpful. I'd lay in two of them to hold the track roughly in the radius I want and then soldered the next length while it was still straight. After soldering I would flex the second length of track to the radius and tack the loose end approximately in place.

I prefer using O gauge long spikes instead of track nails, but either will work. I pre-drill the centre of the tie using a #58 or #60 bit in my Dremel (depending on the spike I'm using). When laying the track on cork directly on plywood the drill bit is set to penetrate the top layer of the plywood. An O gauge spike is long enough to do the job. The heads aren't noticeable after ballasting. It is important not to drive them in so deep that the centre of the tie is depressed because this can tighten the gauge of the track. A little bit of play is OK. I leave a slightly wider gap between soldered lengths of rail and the next unsoldered lengths to allow for any contraction or expansion due to humidity and temperature. Usually it is only necessary to solder 3 or 4 3-foot (or metre) lengths of track together to get around a half circle in radii from 24 to 36 inch. To be on the safe side I will often solder in circuit board ties where two lengths are joined to stabilize the joint. The whole idea is to avoid a kink in the rail ends that can lead to derailments. This is especially important if the track is to be hidden. Of course, when handlaying track I have to spike each rail to the ties instead of cheating by spiking the centre of the ties. The hidden track will also get sides of masonite or cardboard to protect equipment from hitting the floor should it derail.

That's why I cut the plywood subroadbed a little wider. An NMRA scale gauge is invaluable. I even use the edge as a ruler to check that rail ends aren't kinked. I use a metal 18-inch ruler to keep straight track straight when spiking. It is also a habit of mine to take the time to paint the side of the rails with Floquil rail brown (or equivalent paint colour) before ballasting. This lowers the profile of the rail visually and makes it look more realistic. I have sometimes sprayed the track instead of painting it by hand. This is the common method of painting Fast Tracks turnouts after fabrication and cleaning. Woodland Scenics makes a paint pencil that is an alternative to hand painting. Use whatever works for you. Just remember that track is a model, too!  Don't rush this step. I will usually leave the painting until after I have soldered in the drop wires to every length of rail. If not, a wire brush in a Dremel will do the trick to clean the edge of the rail to prep for soldering. Some modellers solder the wires to the bottom of the rails and feed the wires down through the roadbed. I find this too labour intensive. When I've tried to do this I often ended up with the wire and the hole in the wrong place. I solder to the sides of the rail. It is not noticeable after painting. Some modellers will use a different paint colour (like yellow) to mark the ends of blocks. Even with DCC, having blocks or sections of the layout controlled by toggles and/or circuit breakers in a good idea to help with troubleshooting. I'll have more to say about wiring in the next installment. I have completed the basic trackwork for the lower level loop on the right peninsula. The next step will be to wire it. At that point I will be able to run trains out and back to East Utopia so I can start a little bit of operation. It is now early February. Still cold and snowing as anyone who has been watching the weather in the US northeast can attest to. It only stops at the border on the weather maps. Those midwest storms that hit Milwaukee and Chicago usually find their way into Southern Ontario. Not all the storms come from northwest Canada. The prevailing winds over Lake Erie and Georgian Bay have been dumping on us pretty steadily. Not as bad as Buffalo, Boston or Halifax! I digress. It's been a great winter in the basement train room.

By March 1 the reverse loop has been wired. I had loaned a few tortoise switch machines to our club and now that the club is building a new layout I brought them home. I can use them for the turnouts at the reverse loop. Work is going slowly because I am also helping with the renovations at our new clubhouse. Go to the  Nottawasaga Club layout to see what we're doing.

Installing Tortoise switch machines

A few comments that may be helpful. Work on the subroadbed has stalled because I need to build a bridge across some tracks and this will affect both alignment and grades on the adjacent section. This means that several of the handthrows will be awkward to reach. As I have those tortoise switch machines from the previous layout I decided to bite the bullet and crawl under the layout to install them. I had not predrilled for an actuating wire to throw these turnouts. Because both turnouts had been handmade I was able to desolder the point rails and carefully drill clearance slots from above. I used a 3/8" drill bit and rocked it back and forth to remove plywood between two drilled holes. I reinstalled the throwbar after pre-drilling a #56 hole in the middle of the circuit board throwbar. I also filed off the copper cladding around the hole and checked it with a meter to be sure I hadn't accidently created an electrical bridge between the positive and negative rails.

 Installation of the tortoise is a two-person job in order to get the machine centred properly. There are jigs and templates that can be used, but I wasn't going to all that effort for a couple of machines. I attached wires to the outer contacts that are used to power the machines and made them long enough to reach two barrier terminal strips that were hooked up to a 12 volt power supply.

wiring for TortoiseWiring for Tortoise machines

While I worked from below the benchwork to position the actuating wire up through the hole in the plywood through the throwbar my friend, Bill Payne, touched the wires to the barrier terminals. By alternating which terminals he touched, the tortoise actuating wire would move from side to side until he could see that the machine was positioned correctly to achieve the correct throw. This method duplicates the action of a correctly wired toggle as shown in the directions I downloaded from the tortoise manual on their website. I haven't decided where I will put the panels or how I will construct them so this was a "rube goldberg" way of testing the installation to make sure it works. When the tortoise machines were in position I used my Dremel with a #56 drill bit to drill the mounting holes. I could have cut out the template from the instructions but this worked just as well. I tried to install the machines with small flat head screws but I was having a lot of trouble, partly due to my bifocals. When working under the layout it would be better if the bifocals were upside down! Anyway Bill suggested I use a #4 Robertson. I happened to have some and the correct screwdriver (yellow handle). This worked much better than fiddling with the flatheads. Once the installations were completed I clipped off the top of the wires so that they didn't protrude above the railheads. We added q third machine at the entrance to the reverse loop. That installation only took about 10 minutes now that we had the hang of it. Preferably I would install servos and controls from Tam Valley. However, to keep costs down I will use what I saved from the previous layout, at least, for now. Now it's back to the bridges and subroadbed work.

Installing bridges and backdrops

bridgeworkSetting bridge height

As it would be difficult to reach the backdrop behind the proposed bridges at Utopia, I opted to rough in the placement of the bridges and steel towers and paint the plywood beneath them. Sometimes it is better to do a little scenery work before laying track, especially when backdrops are involved. I am reusing some of the backdrops from my previous layout. I used some old brown/greyish paint I had and after painting the plywood sprinkled on some brown and mixed green Woodland Scenics turf. I can add more detail later.

blending backdropBlending in the backdrop

Painting Tip: A couple of tricks I learned while painting our house was to punch some nail holes in the rim of the paint can. This lets the paint drip back into the container. You can also put an elastic band vertically around the can and use it to remove excess paint as you withdraw the paint brush from the can. This helps avoid paint piling up in the rim. I use old paint brushes left over from house painting to paint the plywood base.

model bridge placementTemporary bridge placement

I had built some Micro Engineering steel towers for the old layout and some custom bridge sections using styrene and leftover parts. The new plan needs tracks to get to and from both peninsulas. They are nominally set at 3 and 8 inches above the new town of Utopia. My plan, as conceived, needed the lower track to run in front of the lowest tracks at the 0 level. In practice this wasn't going to work very well. It would make it very difficult to reach the turnouts in front of the backdrop, especially as sidings and industries will be built in front of those mainlines. I decided to run both upper tracks behind the mainlines. I had about 5 inches in which to do it so the clearances are tight but manageable. Both upper tracks will need to cross over above the lower tracks. That means I have some bridge building to do before continuing. The first task was to cut down the towers I had to the height required. After butchering the first one with an X-Acto saw I resorted to my Dremel with a metal disc and ran it at a lower speed to reduce melting the plastic. This worked out far better. The towers, bridge components and track are not secured yet. The photo provides a rough idea of how the area will look when finished. I will complete this work and then build the approach tracks on grades that will reach the ends. This means it will be awhile before I can complete trackwork and run trains, however, I can finish the second reverse loop because it only involves the lowest level on the peninsula. It will largely be hidden after the upper levels are done. This will give me some limited operation so I can play a little to test out the concept before committing to the plan too deeply. Plans on paper, even with a computer, don't always work very well. Better not to rush.

Second lower reverse loop

model train reverse loopLower left reverse loop with work train

By the end of March the track was roughed in for the lower reverse loop on the left peninsula. A work train is parked on the inside loop. I use it to check the trackwork for gauge and bumps. As the double-track section will be hidden I used Code 100 track. The turnouts are also Code 100 with plastic Code 100 to Code 83 rail joiners. These plastic joiners will isolate the reverse loops so they can be wired with a Lenz reverser. These tracks will also have their own circuit breaker. The tracks can be used for empties in/loads out or for storage of trains "beyond the layout".  This will depend on the operations set up. I haven't decided yet. A typical empties in/loads out scenario could be a coal mine and power plant or a mine and smelter.

A few notes: I cut the subroadbed from 3/4 inch plywood and used the Fast Tracks Sweep Sticks as a guide. The curves are 24 and 26 inch radius. I used cork roadbed for this section of the layout. I mounted the cork directly on the plywood subroadbed. I'm not concerned about noise. When half a dozen sound-equipped locomotives are running it's going to be noisy anyway.  I put the cork down with yellow carpenter's glue brushed on with a coffee stir stick. I was taught to lay the outer pieces when laying turnouts and fill in with scraps cut with a sharp blade. Any irregularities can be disguised with ballast. I also drilled the holes under the throw bars for actuating rods. I will probably install servos on these turnouts. I've used up my tortoises. I used prefab track to speed assembly. It is a combination of Code 83 and Code 100. On the curves I soldered lengths of track together before curving them and slightly offset the cut ends. This helps to give a smoother transition between each section. I touch up the tops of the rails with a file to remove any burrs and roll the work train across the joints as a double check. The solder also helps to keep the ends of the rails together, otherwise they can slip apart. Noting worse than completing a curve to find out you have a half inch gap between two rail ends! The solder also helps to carry the current although track should have drop wires for each length of rail, especially track that will be hidden and difficult to reach. In some instances I soldered circuit breaker ties beneath the joints for extra alignment. The center of the ties is spiked down. I needed to pre-drill holes in order to drive the spikes into the plywood. Where necessary I used a nail punch to tap down the spike taking care not to depress the center of the tie which can narrow the gauge. I also keep my NMRA track gauge on hand to check the joints between sections. I won't bother filling in the empty spaces with wooden ties or painting the sides of the rails where tracks won't be visible. I added plastic rail joiners past the frogs on the inside facing rails to avoid short circuits when I put in the wiring.

model railroad track workThe three levels on the right hand peninsula

The lower level has track installed. Most of the loop will be hidden. I have temporarily positioned two FineScale scenes that were salvaged from the previous incarnation of the UNRR. There's some repair work to be done, especially on Jacob's Fuel. It's the first Finescale kit I ever built way back when. The Rollin Sawyer chemical plant had to be installed because I built it on 2-inch styrofoam and it would be difficult to fit it in later. I'm trying a few different methods to use up the wood I had from the old layout. In some places I'm laying cork directly on the plywood base. In others I have used homasote because it holds spikes well when handlaying track. I'm using a combination of Code 100 on hidden sections and Code 83 where track will be visible. Flat areas are designated for yards and towns. I will decide on the track layout after I've tried out some building placements. 

model train sub roadbedLeft peninsula sub roadbed

The left peninsula will have the mines. A two-sided backdrop will divide the scenes. I have managed to avoid incorporating a helix while keeping the grades to a manageable percentage for short trains of 10-12 freight cars. Might need some doubleheaders!

model railroad constructionRight side loops and townsite

I will skip using homasote for the townsite. This area is "a work in progress", ie, I don't know what I will do here until I try some building arrangements. I have decided to forego a turntable. It takes up too much real estate. The townsite is reached off one leg of the reverse loop before the gaps. I'll install tortoise machines for both the reverse loop and the entrance to the town. It gets noisy when the sound-equipped locos are running so I don't think mounting cork or foam trackbed on the plywood will make much difference in the overall sound level. Before proceeding I need to add cardboard fences along the edges of the hidden subroadbed to keep rolling stock from hitting the floor if derailed.

model train protective barrierProtective cardboard barrier

Why? Often there is no scenery around hidden tracks so there is no protection should a train derail. To avoid your expensive and favourite engines and rolling stock taking a nose dive to the cement floor it is wise to install some sort of guard rail. I use leftover corrugated boxes. I cut 2-inch wide strips and attach them to the edge of the plywood using a craft-size mini hot glue gun, the kind you can buy at stores such as Michael's.

You can use posterboard, masonite or whatever you have lying around. I keep the subroadbed an inch or so wider than the roadbed and test the installation with a long freight or passenger car to make sure there's enough clearance, especially on curves. I don't bother installing a protective barrier where I know scenery will extend to the edge of the tracks. It's better to do this job before there's too much work done above the hidden tracks.

I still need to install turnout controls, and prepare the wiring for power distribution and signalling before doing much work on the upper tracks. The bridges also have to be constructed. The first one, a curved steel trestle bridge, is now in place although not completely detailed. 

Mocking up the 2nd unrr bridge

model railroad bridge mockupBridge mockup

The lower bridge is also curved and must connect to a turnout on the left peninsula. The placement isn't working out as it was planned so I had to make some compromises. This often happens when transferring plans to the real world benchwork. In the photo you can see a cardboard cutout resting on scraps of plywood and styrofoam.  It was necessary to cut a new piece of plywood and homasote to reach the future bridge abutment.  My method here was to construct three 30-foot Micro Engineering tower spans and rest them underneath a 26-inch curved bridge track built in a Fast Track jig. The soldered ties are in place but the wooden ties have not been added. The three bridge segments will need to be supported and the track will be glued on top with Walthers Goo. The track has to be level so I rest a level on the bridge track and use scraps of plywood, homasote, cork subroadbed and cardboard to figure out what will be required to bridge the gap. The subroadbed  on the peninsula has also been adjusted to match the bridge trackwork. Sometimes when you don't know where the end of the bridge will be located it is easier to finish the subroadbed  after the bridge is built.  Part of the difficulty here was the need to maintain clearance for some industry tracks that will have to pass under this bridge. The clearance is only 3 inches from the bottom of the bridge to the plywood underneath. That's why I had to use the shallower 30-foot spans instead of the deeper 50-foot ones. The latter would also have caused the track to hang too far over the edges. Thiswill make for some tricky trackwork when I install the industry tracks.

I need to finish the bridgework before installing the remainder of the unrr mainline. Only then will I begin building the siding tracks and placing the industries.

I intend to run trains for awhile before ballasting the track or doing any significant scenery work other than putting in the bridge abutments and adjacent scenery. Industries need to be placed and sidings installed to service them. Lots to do. 

Meanwhile, have a look at what our  Nottawasaga Club layout is up to. The building renovations are almost completely finished and the layout design has been completed.

It's now late July, 2015. 

End of Part 1

To learn more about building benchwork see my page called benchwork ideas.

Go from "unrr" to my track overview.

A review of track tools.

See also track laying.

Go from "unrr" to handlaid track.

Return from "unrr" to my Home Page.

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