Skip to main content

After several years of following this forum, the conditions finally aligned for me to start to build. I'm heavily indebted to the work of @Ken-Oscale, @Jan @Obsidian among others for the track plans.  Ive attached some photos of the room  as well images of the track plans, benchwork etc.

In general- I'm seeking feedback with the yard design and overall track plan.

The context:

- Basement furnace room: 18 x 18;  the layout is 'a wrap out' format that seeks to permit enough clearance for service access to the hot water heater etc.

-  Max radius - 64" - I tried dozens of arrangements with hopes of getting a 72" radius but couldnt develop a working scheme that didnt sacrifice too much

-  Track is to be Gargraves track with Ross Switches

- General concept - "loosely" modeled off of the stretch between South Bend and Chicago - with the NYC and South Shore RR.  There are two main passenger stations - one a terminal format (on left side of the layout) and the other is the MTH Passenger Station on the upper level, on the right.  Industry options will include a grain elevator and several factories and brewery.

- Most importantly - I'm a father of 3 under the age of 7. I undertook this in part as an opportunity to teach the kids about working with tools, measurements etc - but its also worth noting that its a lot if I can get 4 hours in per weekend.  The kids love trains and so I'm hopeful that I can get this far enough along in time for them to enjoy it.

Ive also included the .scarm file for a better view of those who may have insights on the yard layout etc.

Many thanks again to all who shared so much on this forum over the year. I look forward to any and all input throughout the build - and especially with the final tweaks to the track plans etc.

Thank you


SCARM_14D benchwork103020_snapshot_3103020_snapshot_2103020_snapshot103030_SCARM_14DIMG_0720IMG_0719IMG_0573IMG_0572IMG_0562IMG_0561


Images (10)
  • SCARM_14D benchwork
  • 103020_snapshot_3: Axon-2
  • 103020_snapshot_2: Axon-2
  • 103020_snapshot: Axon-1
  • 103030_SCARM_14D: Trackplan
  • IMG_0720: Room in development
  • IMG_0719: First table up (without corner braces)
  • IMG_0572: Backdrop paint applied
  • IMG_0562: Early room of the furnace room
  • IMG_0561: Early view of the furnace room
Files (1)
Last edited by Great Lakes RR
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

Like the track plan.  Congrats on having a nice space.

To add to what was said above about closing in the ceiling to prevent dust - now is the time to make sure that the ducts are well-sealed.  Verify that all of the wiring and pipes are in good shape - especially water pipes.  Add any junction boxes and/or outlets in the ceiling for future use.  Looking at the 3-D representation, it's difficult to tell if there is sufficient space for servicing / replacing the water heater or furnace - don't just look at the current size of the item - consider how they will be hand-trucked in and out.

And since it's Chicago to South Bend, be sure to include a South Shore line.

Scott, That is a smart looking plan!!  You have thought out access to utilities and to the layout well.  I'm afraid I am not much good on yard design having always be forced to build small layouts.  Someone will come along and see this and give you just what you need.

You have a nice looking space.  Immediately, I noticed the same concerns Rick and Mallard just addressed.  In my 11x11 train room, I put in 2 strips of LED track lighting plus replaced the original light in the center of the room with an LED fixture.  I see I still need a third track light, which in my case won't be hard even though the benchwork is up and track is laid.  Yes there is probably room to service the furnace, but what if you have to replace it?  Will there be enough room to maneuver one out and back in?  Maybe you have a new furnace, like we are still paying for one. 

I'm looking forward to seeing your layout construction progress.  Keep at it a little at a time.  I quit work on one I was building when our girls were that age, and eventually I lost the layout space.  It took me 20+ years to get back what I have now. 


Think about how the kids will access the interior of the layout.  The elevated track in front of the terminal will obstruct their reach.  Consider having it drop down and go under the terminal and then climb up.  The grade will be steeper but modern engines with traction tires can handle them.


Just a couple of comments on the SCARM plan.  There are multiple places where the track does not line up, mostly look due to a mismatch in lengths - so expect to trim some track. One section about at the bottom right has an elevation change when it should be flat - not a big deal because it will be obvious when you lay down the track. I suspect there are also mismatches at curves, but if you have some Gargraves flex track - an easy adjustment. I found it helpful to run the basic train simulator mainly to check for disconnects - kind of fun to watch the layout in operation prior to build.

I would pay attention to the near 4% grade on the rising sections. This will limit the train car length to avoid slipping. Be careful about the transitions between the 4% grade and flat. You have limited space to make smooth transitions. But since you cannot run the larger engines, it may not be a problem. (I found a couple of places where my Premier MTH 4449 rocks a bit (track is not perfectly flat in those areas) and will derail from time to time. The smaller RailKings run with no problem. I cannot help much on the yards and staging - I just know not having enough is not fun, and changing the layout later is even less fun - unless its a destroy and start over fresh.)

Last edited by ScoutingDad

Scott, as a fellow father of 3 children ages 5 and under I appreciate your desire to use your railroad as a teaching tool for your children. My children thus far love trains as well and I am attempting to do the same thing with my layout project.  I am in the same boat with limited time to work on my layout, but I have to always remind myself, it is a hobby and not to stress out if I didn't accomplish as much as I had hoped on any given day.

Looks like you have a great start with the track plans and your room!  I will not attempt to advise on track changes although there are many very knowledgeable people on this forum to help with that as you have already stated.

I also agree with what was stated above about making sure you have enough access in order to replace the utilities when the need arises.  You can never go wrong with more lighting and now would be the time to add that.  It looks like your ceiling is painted white.  I would suggest possibly painting the silver duct work the same color as your ceiling so that it all blends together.  I had silver duct work above my benchwork and before I started laying track I was advised by several people to paint the entire ceiling flat black.  I did and am so glad, it made a huge difference in the room.

I see there is a drain in the middle of the room.  I would make sure there is no opportunity for water to backup on the floor.  Just to be safe, if you are considering storing things under the table, I would keep them up off the floor.

I know it can be frustrating at times getting feedback about the room after you are moving forward with the layout, but in the long run it will hopefully save more frustration in the future.

Looking forward to following your progress on a great looking layout!!  Keep us posted!


Thanks to all for the helpful feedback!  To be sure, I welcome the candor from all. Many thanks. 

A couple quick notes and replies to the comments above:

1.  I had an electrician install a dedicated circuit for the room, with a few dedicated outlets as well as ceiling outlets for additional lights.  Ive purchased some new Led track fixtures to replace the fluorescent lights. 

2.  The door that is blocked by the tracks is a second "second" side door to a kids playroom. I was planning to replace the door as with a 1/2 door with a plexiglass (window) for the kids to view the trains.

3.  Ceiling: Noted regarding the painting of the ductwork and possibly to cover the ceiling (I wont likely include a drop ceiling at this time - but am looking into nailing some of the ceiling tiles to the joists or another creative/similar concept to get a bit of the benefit of an actual ceiling system)

4.  The big issues remain for the access and grade - I'm going to upload some images with dimensions and labels to better illustrate the tightest spots - and grades - for thoughts. 

More soon - again - many many thanks for all of your thoughts.


PS. To be sure there is a South Shore will be a feature. I picked up a 2 unit electric commuter train a few years ago that I cant wait to power up on the layout.


Since you are building right against two walls, I see several areas that are going to be "maintenance" headaches.  The first is your yard and the top half of the sweeping curve around it.  Track cleaning, repair and derailment fixing will require you to crawl on top of the layout, but your terminal structure location will make that difficult.  The second troublesome area is all the track near the tunnel under your second station where the same problems will crop up although with apparently less interference for crawling on top of the layout.

Operation wise, your yard is nowhere as large as it seems because your longest track is cut in half by providing access to your third terminal track.  And, using another terminal track as a switchback to your industrial area both makes the switching harder and lessens the usefulness of the terminal.

Finally, you don't say what era you are modeling, but whether steam or diesel or electric, your plan excludes engine service facilities.  Beside providing more realism, they also provide some switching opportunities both for supplies and parts and for just swapping locos to run on the mainline.

Just my thoughts.


I'm grateful again for all of the helpful feedback from all of you who weighed in on the previous iteration of the plan.  Reflecting on the feedback and in an honest assessment of my (lack) of experience and available timing (with 3 young kids and a hectic job) I looked to ratchet down a bit the complexity of the track plan, as well as to more realistically account for clearances in the space etc.

Ive attached: a jpeg and live scarm file for latest iteration (Scarm-21G)  as well as a jpeg of earlier version that did not have the return loop.

(For those interested - in my current live file Ive a 3D version of the MTH passenger station as an object if you'd like to reuse)

Geography:  Northcentral indiana (Elkhart to Chicago);  NYC RR w/ some license to include Pere Marquette and NPR

Industries:  Brewery & Grain Elevator; small tool and die/manufacturing; 

Passenger stations: MTH Passenger Station + either a smaller station. I had been really trying to include a vestige of a terminal / more substantial urban station (even if an extended platform with a shadowbox of a larger station). For now, i've not been able to incorporate but would welcome any thoughts as to whether it would be worthwhile to (if it were to switch the elevated yard) to replace it with a passenger terminal.

Any an all other critiques / suggestions are welcome.  More soon.   With Gratitude, Scott


Images (2)
  • SCARM_21-progress: Previous working version
  • SCARM_21G: Current version with reverse loop and elevated yard
Files (1)
Live Scarm file of current versron

Thank you Mark for your kind words and assessment.  Ive since updated the plan with what I * believe * will be my final plan (that is, until I inevitably need to make some adjustments when working with the actual track). 

I've abandoned the return loop, but reintroduced the allusion of a large City terminal at the end of the elevated line.

I'm still researching the difference (and pros/cons) of pursuing a straightforward plywood top, with structural foam to provide for elevational changes; or, to pursue the 'cookie cutter' method.  The former appears to be the preference of the pro's, but also looks more complicated to execute.

I was hoping to plot directly from SCARM to print at full scale (via Kinkos plotter,,etc) such that i could just past and trace/cut into the plywood. It now appears that I'd need to print 148! pages in 11x 17. So I'm re-evaluating the best approach.   Is there a strong point of view of plywood + foam vs the 'cookie cutter' method?

Thank you,



Images (4)
  • 1-30-21_3D_vN
  • 1-30-21_3D_vSE
  • 1-30-21_3D_vW
  • 1-30-21 SCARM_21H

Scott, several forum members recommend picking up a copy of Linn Westcott's "book" on building model rr benchwork. I got mine used recently through the bay.  I have a plywood top and more underlying bed over that. I am constantly cutting holes in the base layer in order to access or add wiring for switches, signals and track. I wish I would have had his book before I got too far along with my layout.  Westcott suggests the cookie cutter combines the best features of the flat top and open grid approaches, although on large layouts all three can be used. I found my elevation changes were much smoother when I used a jig saw to slice the plywood forming the rising track support. Because of the way plywood bends (or does not bend) the initial slope will be more gradual than the final targeted slope solving approach problems on longer locomotives. Good luck on the build.

Scott, I recommend the cookie cutter style that Jeff just mentioned in Lynn Westcott's book.  I bought the book with a cover price of $2.50 (a tidy sum for a teenager back in the late '60s) and I still have it.  I have used it on more than one layout with success.  This go round, I opted for a modular, partial tabletop, partial open approach.  The idea was that I could take it apart and put it back together once for one move if that comes to pass.  It has been much more awkward for me to get the transition from level to grade to higher level correct.  The cookie cutter method makes those transitions just flow by the slight bending of the plywood as long as you place the joints between plywood sections either on the level or mid grade and scab them together well.  By the time I got to adding grades, I was really committed and did a lot of shaving off material and in fact made a semi cookie cutter on two transitions.  I should have started building a grade as soon as I had a little benchwork built.  I may have opted to tear it all out and start over cookie cutter, taking the Sawzall to it if we move. 

Thank you Mark and 'Scouting Dad'.  To be sure, I've a copy of Wescott's book that I ought to laminate before it disintegrates (as its been a constant companion in the workshop throughout the process.).  I appreciate the further nods to the 'cookie-cutter' benchwork approach and will be pursuing that direction.

Two quick follow-up questions:

-  Ive noticed that when referring to 'cookie cutter' benchwork there are at least 2 different forms:   One of them entails making cuts in the plywood to naturally aline for the inclines/declines etc - but more or less maintains a plywood base  across the table (even if the pieces may be tiered in elevation); the other (sometimes called 'spline') appears to be where truly just the portion under the tracks is supported by the plywood, with the remainder of the landscape filled in with some form of plaster or foam.  Would the first approach (the true 'cookie cutter') method negate the benefits of access etc to the track that seem to be available in the second? 

- Separately, and a more simple question: At an earlier stage, I picked up several 4x8 sheets of 5/8ths plywood for the table top with an interest to let it cure in the basement before cutting to install.  I'm now wondering if 5/8s would be too thick for the cookie-cutter approach.   Can anyone confirm either way?

Sharing a recent pic of benchword in development. Essentially its composed of 6 tables with open grid benchwork, secured via bolts.   I'll be working to address issues with the ceiling /lighting before adding the tabletop /track.   I'm also debating the merits (and potential) of introducing a small window in the door which otherwise has been fixed closed. (in the photo - back wall, toward the right) but that may a future project (to be approached from the other room). 

Thanks again,



Images (1)
  • IMG_1133

I agree with Mark,  trying to get any kind of "gentle" grade when the grade change plywood is butted into the flat section is a nightmare. Not sure about the 5/8th ply, it is going to be stiffer than the 1/2 or the thinner stuff they sell as 1/2. I could get quite a slope out of the thin stuff - but didn't really need that much flexibility. Just cut a section and see what constraints you will be working with. It will take a little more cutting time.

Kind of obvious, but here are two images of split plywood. One where I have not filled in the seam and the other where I am partly done. Having done both methods, I will never, ever, do another butt joint where I am starting to change grades. I have messed up enough plywood cutting in the wrong spot or wishing I had laid out the track differently. Once cut you are pretty much committed, unless you are willing to replace and re-cut.  As Mark kind of said in another post - I cut that piece 5 times and its still too short! or too narrow! or the wrong curve shape!  Been there done that too many times. ; )



Images (2)
  • IMG_20210201_141128893
  • IMG_20210201_141207156

Scott, the table in the photographs look great!

On the first question, I have done both.  In the first case, my first layout was a derivation of the old Westcott book, HO Railroad that Grows.  I started with the layout on the full 4x8 sheet of plywood with no openings in the plywood except holes for wires.  As time passed on, I made cuts for elevation changes.  On later layouts, I just cut pieces of plywood for underneath the track or a flat town area leaving the rest open.  It did make things easier for wiring, etc.

On the second question, I know early on, I used 1/2-inch plywood.  I don't remember if I used 1/2 or 5/8-inch plywood, so I can't say one way or another about 5/8.

Wow, I didn't even see the door at first.  Great job concealing it with the paint.  I do not have a door in the entrance to my train room, and I even have a window from the laundry room to the train room, since the train room is an addition my in-laws put on as a necessary part of putting in a sun room above the basement which is what they really wanted.  They didn't even have access to the room from the inside, reusing a sliding glass door on the side wall.  I hired someone to cut in a doorway through block and brick, which had to be narrow because of other obstructions.  The opening for the window is nice, but it then breaks up the effect of a scenic backdrop.

Last edited by Mark Boyce

"Cookie cutter" is a variation of tabletop construction that allows for slicing your plywood piece to raise or lower your track from the tabletop plywood.  The biggest problem with the cookie cutter method is that you now have to support a different level of tabletop which may either partially or completely block (by supports) the train activity on your primary level.  View blocking isn't a big issue with your plan, just something to think about.

Many modelers use a combination of L-girder and joist construction paired with tabletop construction used where it suits modeling purposes the most.  Generally speaking, the whole layout is built using L-girders and joists, but in locations such as yards, engine terminals and large industries, a tabletop will connect to the joists.

"Spline" construction is primarily used as a track support by those who want to build their own curves without trying to cut them out of plywood supports.  Typically, small strips of luan or masonite are glued together and then bent horizontally to support the track through a curve.  I'm not sure how well spline works for vertical curves (inclines).


Add Reply

The Track Planning and Layout Design Forum is sponsored by

OGR Publishing, Inc., 1310 Eastside Centre Ct, Suite 6, Mountain Home, AR 72653
Link copied to your clipboard.