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Hi, I'm a new member. Hubby and I are upgrading from the oval under the Christmas tree to a medium-sized basement layout. I designed the layout plan myself using SCARM (see attachments below). I would greatly appreciate your constructive criticism and suggestions.

Hubby wanted two independent but attached loops, with large enough curves to accommodate a big steam engine someday. He also wanted to utilize the entire length of two basement walls. I want to dabble in switching using a variety of rolling stock. We both want substantial room for scenery. I think I've accomplished all that in this design.

We are modeling rural southeastern PA in the (loosely) 1980's. The right half is a small town with a residential subdivision, stores, a church and cemetery, a firehouse, and a town park. There are also three light industries, a farm, and a covered bridge over a creek.

We will be running conventional locomotives only, at least initially. Inner loop is O54 minimum. The rest of the layout is O81 minimum. Track and switches are Atlas, although I am going to redraft this using Ross switches and another version with Gargraves track. Bench height will be about 30 or 32", as hubby and friends want to be able to sit in a regular height chair to watch the trains. There will be a hinged trestle bridge for access to the center aisle. There is an 18" aisle between the right side of the layout and the wall for emergency access to the water panel as well as the layout. There will be three access hatches (shown as black squares in the drawings). There will be liftout shelves in front of the water panel and the breaker box for additional access for repairs.

I am really looking forward to your input! Thanks!



Last edited by chessiechick
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Overall it’s a nice concept with lots of room for scenery. The outside loop with the inside folded dog bone and reverse loops will give operating fun. The thing that concerns me is the junction between the two reverse loops, I would like to see a by-pass so more than one train can run on the inside loop with no fear of collision. I also would like to see the inside loops with broader curves. I took the liberty to put together an alternative plan that fixes my issues. It’s a few inches larger than the current plan; don’t know if that’s a problem.

The new plan is O80 outside loop and O72 inside so you can run big iron. All track is Gargraves/Ross.

A couple of things to think about…

Where is the viewing area? Are there guests? What do you want them to focus on?

You mention you want to do switching but you also are going to run this conventional. You will need to put your sidings and control panel near each other.

How complicated you want your switching sessions to be. Do you need a run- around?

Yard space…never can have enough.

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I see a support pole is in the area of the layout.  It is important to organize a layout such that a visitor's attention is drawn to what you want him to see, and that can be done many ways.

One:  you might re-organize your scenery plan such that the "city" or urban area incorporates taller buildings, then hide the pole by (a) paint the pole black, and (b) building a tall structure AROUND the pole.   An example might be a high-rise apartment building.  The city itself (with buildings, vehicles, and details) will draw the attention away from the pole, and the 7 or 8 story building around the pole will direct the eyes to the tall building around the pole, rather than to the pole itself.

You could also consult with your builder or other expert about moving the pole while still adequately supporting the ceiling.


You are wise to think aboout minimum radius first. It only takes one long-wheelbase locomotive to make one wish for broader curves. Since you have a duck-under and access hatches anyway, check and recheck to see if you can make the "running" portion of your layout follow the outer walls--eliminating return loops entirely. If not, see if one of those return loops can go around the stairway (through a tunnel if necessary). It only takes one pair of return loops to give you an "infinite" main line: putting your main line into ovals in the middle of the room not only eats up a lot of space, it also makes most of your switching inaccessible. The modeler above who recommended taking yet another look at Ross switches is spot on. They are expensive (as all switches are) but they are beautiful and provide the best operation for switching operations. You have staging outside your ovals: it will not be long enough for decent O scale trains, so why not move the loops to the end and give yourself a true yard in the middle, allowing for through trains while otherwise switching. A yard doesn't have to be a giant classification yard: a rural interchange with a freight house, a team track, and maybe an ice house or stock facility can still offer hours of interesting switching--especially if you allow for the through trains to set out and pick up cars.

Sorry to be so "revisionist," but one of the best layout designs I ever saw was an around-the-basement-walls branch line by Jim Six. It was so simple and elegant, yet full of work to do while allowing for continuous running. And it was really adaptable to any scale from N to G. And the relatively narrow benchwork left the entire middle of the room for trainwatching.

Of course, I'm dreaming here about what I would do. But most model railroads I see are overbuilt--especially three-rail ones. They all end up looking the same because they're all a jumble of the same common stuff. Get "Peake" a nice brass Pennsy 2-8-0 for Father's Day and see how that affects your planning . . .

The railroad stakeholders have met and their decisions are noted below.

1. A hearty thank you was given to BillYo414, Edward G, Mike Wyatt, rattler21, and RDM for their time and their excellent suggestions.

2.The Ross crossover switch, while a great improvement, was voted down by the CFO, citing cost overruns.

3. The suggestion to increase the inner loop to O72 was applauded by all for its excellent visuals and operational improvement. Mrs. WideHips pointed out that the center aisle has been narrowed to approximately 10", which is incompatible with her own wider curves.

4. It was suggested to move the layout to the left to accommodate Mrs. WideHips. However, the Railroad Union Boss was unwilling to reduce the size of the crew lounge.

5. Regarding the additional track space needed at the bottom of the layout, the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds stated that this area is the main walkway to the backyard and utility room. He was unwilling to grant an easement for the layout to encroach on this walkway.

6. Regarding the suggestion to make this an around the walls layout, the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds noted that an access path is needed along the left wall to multiple windows. Space is needed along the right wall to allow the baseboard heater to operate effectively and to access the water panel.

7. The Structural Engineer and CFO voted a hard no on relocating the basement support post.

8.  Regarding disguising the post, the Town Planning Commissioner pointed out that this area is zoned Agricultural Preservation land on one side and a park on the other side. A multistory building may not be constructed here. The Historical Preservation Committee refused to paint the pole black, citing the historical precedent of white walls in the entire room. It was decided that additional large trees and rural outbuildings will be added to mitigate the distraction.

9.  The Electrical Engineer noted that the main controls will be in the area by the yard. He will install an additional "duplicate" controller for the inner loop only, located inside the center aisle. This will allow manual switching and manual coupling/uncoupling for the industrial spurs while the lift bridge is down.

10. The Track Designer agreed to rework the plan using Ross switches.

11. Regarding the small yard size, the Yard Manager pointed out that switching operations are not planned to be overly complicated at the present time. Additionally, the CFO has put a strict budget on rolling stock acquisitions, particularly given the Beautification Committee's desire to purchase only authentic scale freight cars. Thus, it will be quite some time before the yard overflows. However, should that happen, the Union Boss is willing to negotiate a reduction in the size of the crew lounge in favor of expanding the yard.

12. Regarding visitors, the Director of Marketing reports that attendance is likely to be quite low. Visitors will enter the room from the base of the stairs at the lower right. They will be directed inside the aisle to admire the town scenery, then encouraged to walk around the outer layout, finally stopping at the crew lounge for refreshments and running trains, if desired.

Respectfully (?) submitted,


Recording Secretary for the As Yet Unnamed Railroad

Last edited by chessiechick

LOL    Very clever posting here folks - sounds like the RR stockholders have a great working relationship with the planning committee. You guys are off to a good start and your design is amazing for a first effort. Something to consider with switches that are easily accessible is using ground throws to operate them. It adds a 'hands on' feel that is nice. Sounds as if you will have good expanses of scenery which is somewhat rare in the 3 rail world.

The best advice as one poster (RDM) pointed out above: "most model railroads I see are overbuilt--especially three-rail ones. They all end up looking the same because they're all a jumble of the same common stuff." So many of our layouts DO end up looking much the same with so many common structures crammed into a limited space. Try to keep with the quality scenery thinking!

Last edited by c.sam

OMG the RR stockholders are a tough group!!! LOL. With the assistance of my design magic 8 ball,  I have a new and improved plan. Gone is the crossover, moved the engine house long entrance to give more room on the right to shift and reshape the inside loop. The outside loop is now on the same footprint of your original design. The relocation of the loops will allow you to rework the aisle to more room. The outside loop is still O80 the inside O72 all Ross/Gargraves.  Just add scenery, sidings and go railroading...

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Edward G - Thanks for all your work on this. I loved the new design. Unfortunately, hubby said he preferred less curves and more straight runs, just an aesthetic preference. I preferred the curves, but I decided to let him win this one. Especially since the straight runs made it a lot easier to fit my sidings into the tight areas available.

See below for the final (?) design.

I could use some ideas about the two hatches on the right side. It seems odd to have two so close together. But I need access to the switches at the top of the screen, and I need access to the middle of the right loop. The hatches are designed with just scenery on top, no track, so it will be good in that I can work on the scenery elsewhere and just drop it in. But it seems like a lot of extra work to build two hatches in the bench. However, I don't think I can omit them, and I don't think one huge combined hatch would be structurally sound. Suggestions?



Last edited by chessiechick

Re the access hatches...  Age and physical ability can make it a challenge to get to the openings; even if you're fit now, think about the future.  A further challenge is to stand up while lifting the scenery and then finding a place to rest it while you're inside the hatch. It might be more desirable to build one narrower and longer opening and not put a scenic section in it.  Before you commit to a design, I suggest experimenting with how far you can effectively reach to work on things without knocking them over - that distance is shorter than most people realize.

Mallard4468, good suggestion. We will definitely do a reach test. I like to tease hubby that he has "freakishly long arms" so hopefully we'll be fine.

I did rework the track plan today to straighten out the top part so the rails were more parallel instead of wobbling around in a strangely random looking way. I was also able to extend the aisle a little closer to the wall at the top of the picture and widen the aisle a few inches.


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I've made a few more tweaks in case anyone is still interested. I elevated the bottom portion of the left loop of the dogbone, which required relocating some sidings and switches. I added a hill inside the elevated portion, and some hills along the right side to elevate town's main street a bit. (Hill renderings need some work but hopefully you get the idea.)

I also added a long yard lead across the top at the suggestion of my brilliant friend Eric. If I come into some extra money, I'd like to add a 3 or 4 way switch at the yard entrance to gain more storage. Another option would be to put a curve where the yard is now and run a much longer yard all along the left side where the sofa currently is. Hmm... bigger yard vs. creature comforts?


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Very nice plan!  A couple of thoughts... First, I would leave the track dead level, and just let the scenery change elevation.  Drop the scenery surface and put the track on a fill, or on trestle bents.  The resulting illusion will be much more effective than just putting a hump in your mainline.  You'll avoid operational difficulty in the long run.  Second- I would extend that "triple track trunk" from the right side all the way around the top, such that a train could proceed from the yard to the branch line on the right without getting on the main.

Not only would this allow a local from the yard to access the branch, it will allow you to switch the yard without fouling EITHER main line.  So you could independently operate up to three trains at once.  If you make this change, I also think you should extend your yard tracks around the corner to the sofa.  With a longer effective yard lead, you will still be able to "double" a full-length cut of cars from one yard track to another.  You should also add a pair of switches in the yard or on the yard lead to create an "engine escape."  This will enable the yard switcher to run around and get on the front of its train before it heads out on the mainline.

It seems like you're pretty well-versed with SCARM and the whole planning process.  But if you would like help, post your SCARM file and I can try to work these edits in so you can see what it looks like and test it with the MTS simulator.

Last edited by Ted S


If you and hubby favor operating accessories for action and fun, sidings off the main line(s) are an ideal location for them, preferably with a related industrial building at each site, as;  Log Dump Car at a Log Loader or a Sawmill, a Milk Car & Platform at a farm going to a Diary, a Coal Dump Car at an Electric Power Generating Station, a Flat Car with automobiles on board at a Car Dealership, etc.

Such placements give a "reason" for your railroad to exist -- moving freight from a source to its logical destination; and for passengers traveling from a rural/suburban depot to a city terminal.

Although storage sidings are helpful, many hobbyists soon "run out" of space for storage sidings as they add more and more cars to their collection. Then wall storage shelves emerge -- or under-platform containers.

Carry on ...

Mike Mottler    LCCA 12394

Last edited by Mike H Mottler

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