I haven't built a layout in a long time and my last one used ancient technology (ie tubular track/switches) and was more limited in scope,small, relatively few switches, etc. I am building a 9x14 U shaped layout using modern track (all Ross/Ross Switches), going to wire it for blocks for now and it has a good number of switches, unlike my old layout, all remote. I am at the track laying point, which is going slow because I am doing it in phases, ordering new track for each phase as I finish the prior one. Just wanted to give my thoughts/impressions coming back into this process in the modern era.
-I went the route of using a program to design it. I tried RR track software and SCARM and found them difficult to use. I ended up using RR modeler plus (ran on my macbook) and found it easier to use. Keep in mind this is a relatively simple layout, not an odd shape, doesn't have grades really or other things I needed to design in. RR track looks powerful (I didn't get that far with SCARM, so it isn't a knock on it at all) , likely for an advanced layout would be a great tool.
-Benchwork I went with plywood top with 4" of foam. Reason being I want to do sub surface features, like a pond, streams the track crosses and an abandoned rail line my layout 'crosses over'. Never used it before, will be interesting to see how this plays out.
-The wiring for this at the moment kind of overwhelms me, with the switches and the block wiring (just in concept, not anywhere near ready to do it yet. Then again, I have fixed wiring harnesses on foreign cars, this is modern and easy in comparison, had an early 70's volvo whose wiring was bizarre.)
-As I noted above I am using Ross track and switches. When the order came in and I opened the box I was blown away with how good it looked to me (again, basing this on having worked with tubular). I have seen other track systems of course at shows and such, but I guess because it is mine makes it more special. I also realized when I picked it up how fragile it is compared to tubular (somehow the old HO track I had with plastic ties never appeared to be fragile back in the day). You have to be a lot more careful with it, which makes sense, tubular is industrial strength... One good thing, I didn't have any track that was defective that I can tell (obviously I haven't powered the dz-1000 switch machines, but that isn't Ross anyway).
Also not the same as buying tubular track. This stuff is hand made and it takes time to get your order processed. Again, this compared to tubular track which of course you can get anywhere, fast. I know that track of other brands often is MIA because of lack of supply coming from China, etc, but again comparing it to tubular.
Fitting it is different, partially because it is a lot more fragile . The pins go in pretty easily other than the insulating pins which are really fragile, broke a number of them off in the track when trying to fit it, then had fun getting the broken off piece out. Then again, that also is me being a little fumble fingered, too. I think I may end up just make sure the middle rail is gapped, maybe put clear silicon in to guarantee it stays open if I run into problems.
There is also tinkering with the track, too, especially with the switch ties. When I did the #6 crossovers I use or with some of the track off the turnout turn leg, I had to adjust the length of the switch tie or track tie (ie sand it back a bit) to fit the track properly.
Looks even better laid, even as it is right now just laying on the foam top.
-Gun Runner John was right, when you start laying you find the limitations of the design programs. It wasn't severe in my case, had to remove a 10" straight track here or cut another track there (when I designed the layout I tried to avoid having to cut track, and only do so on straight pieces, so far that has held up nicely). Some of it of course was me being an idiot, I had several cut pieces connected together then realized I could do it with a longer piece and one cut piece. Basically it requires some amount of fitting on the spot. I also did do some minor redesign work when I found it didn't work as well in reality as it did on the program.
-Cutting track wasn't a big issue for me so far (in part because I don't have a lot). I don't have a Dremel tool (yet), so I used a fine tooth hacksaw with a lot of tpi and a miter box and was able to cut the track easily. The one curve I had to cut was trivial. I think if I have a lot of other track to cut I'll invest in a Dremel, but a hacksaw can work fine.
Overall, I am pleased and it is fun. Not going to stress on it anyway, if I can wait this many years to build a 'real' layout, no reason to, if I get one block wired in a night or one switch machine, all good. Now I just have to hope that the rapidly disappearing DZ1000 machines and DZ1008 relays show up again, they seem as scarce as Polar Bears in Guam at the moment.