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I have a 6' length near the stairwell that's 20" wide, plenty of room for me (38" waist).  This plan shows it as being a little over 24" but I just measured it.

PLAN H 2019

It also depends on how high your layout is.  I had a garage layout that had a spot that was only 15" wide, but the height put that 15" just above my waist.  I could turn sideways and get thru but if had been any closer to my chest height it would have been a tight fit.

I run trains by myself, so I made the width on that.  The grandkids are still small and pose no problems.

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  • PLAN H 2019

The most important thing to consider is who will be visiting or operating the layout.   If it is just you, you can base it on that and for many people 20-24 inches is plenty wide enough.     If you are going host group operating sessions, then you probably need aisles at least 30 inches wide and 36 would be better.     And if your operators are all large, then maybe more as mentioned above.     I typically host operating sessions and the aisle on one side of my U-shaped layout is 30 inches and on the other side of the peninsula it 36 inches.    This has proved adequate for my group for over 20 years.      My layout is walkin, so there is layout on both sides of the aisle.

On an island layout, even for a group, perhaps you only need a wide space on one side.     Generally with islands, all the running controls are centrally located on one side vs walk-around with controls all over the place.     And generally visitors congregate on that one side.     So a possibility would be have small aisles for maintenance access along both ends and one side against a wall.    20 inches might be sufficient for this and certainly for many people 24 would be sufficient.    these would be for you to access and maintain things,  not for visitors to walk through.    Then the front visitor space could be 48 or 60 inches wide or what ever you have in the rest of the room.

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