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I have a layout design I will be starting to build soon, it utilizes a maximum grade of 3%. I am hoping this isn't too steep and cause motor burnout on my Lionel Post War, LC+, and future Legacy engines. The layout is a 'U' shape, with 036 radius and turnouts, and fills a 9.5'x12' area. One area has a 3% grade up which crosses over a 3% grade down.

Your thoughts? and advice.

Thank you in advace for your response. - Tony

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The lower %, the better.  I kept my grades to 2.5% and I have no issues even with long consists.

3% isn't too much of an issue for most reasonably sized consists.  Very important is the easement going into the grade and coming out of the grade.  That will have a major effect on the reliability of running.  I used about three feet at the start of the grade and at the top of the grade to taper back to level track.

3% is informally considered to be the maximum desirable grade, though as mentioned the post war trestles were more.  The grade percentage figure in SCARM, the layout design CAD tool, changes colors at various percentages of grade (Green, yellow, red).  At 3% and over it turns red.  At higher grades engines work harder and sometimes slip or one has to run shorter consists.  Well lubed wheels on cars can help.

Our clubs new layout has a 3.125% max grade. We haven’t had much of a problem yet. My new VL Challenger though won’t pull 9 21” passenger cars up the grade it just stalls and slips. No problem with the older challenger or big boys.

here’s the older challenger with a 36 car train

https://youtube.com/shorts/SeRXuVCX8RU?feature=share



heres more on the layout

People keep quoting grade values for real trains.  Real trains do not have traction tires.  Eric Siegel (ericstrains) has a 6% grade between his two levels and has no problems.  Also, the shorter the grade the steeper the grade can be.  It's only the portion of the consist on the grade that one needs to take in account.

Jan

Real railroads tried to avoid grades like the plague, and where they had steep grades they used helpers. At AGHR, we designed the mainline grade at 1.4% and the upper branch line to 2%. It allows for running long trains without straining the locomotives, especially with NMRA-weighted rolling stock.

On this design I'm refining for my garage, the grade on the mainline is 1.6%. The branch into town is 2.2%

30.0x10.0_Two-Lap_with_Switching_02--Full 45-inch_radius

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  • 30.0x10.0_Two-Lap_with_Switching_02--Full 45-inch_radius
Last edited by AGHRMatt
@Jan posted:

People keep quoting grade values for real trains.  Real trains do not have traction tires.  Eric Siegel (ericstrains) has a 6% grade between his two levels and has no problems.  Also, the shorter the grade the steeper the grade can be.  It's only the portion of the consist on the grade that one needs to take in account.

Apparently you didn't read the post right before yours.

@zhubl posted:

Our clubs new layout has a 3.125% max grade. We haven’t had much of a problem yet. My new VL Challenger though won’t pull 9 21” passenger cars up the grade it just stalls and slips.

I'm sure some people live with 6% grades, but I can assure you it limits your flexibility.  I have a 2.4 and 2.5 grade, depending on the inside or outside track on the grade.  Indeed, most stuff transitions the grade quite effortless.  However, there are a couple of locomotives that struggle with a full consist of heavy cars on my grades.  I know the Series II set Polar Express with the larger motor is working to pull seven passenger cars up the grade an the Hogwart's locomotive with eight cars as well. My Lionel Legacy SW7 is working with more than a few cars on that grade as well.

To suggest that I wouldn't have more issues with 6% grades is ridiculous!  It's only common sense to minimize the grades wherever possible.  You have also totally left out the folks without traction tires on their locomotives...

@ogaugenut posted:

3% is informally considered to be the maximum desirable grade, though as mentioned the post war trestles were more.  The grade percentage figure in SCARM, the layout design CAD tool, changes colors at various percentages of grade (Green, yellow, red).  At 3% and over it turns red.  At higher grades engines work harder and sometimes slip or one has to run shorter consists.  Well lubed wheels on cars can help.

Agreed on minimizing grades.  As a point of clarification, in SCARM using O scale FasTrack (maybe, maybe not other track types too) the grade color changes in version 1.9.0 are:

Green 0 - 2.5%
Yellow 2.5 - 4%
Red > 4%

Grades add interest to the operating of our railroads.

Every Model Railroader I know has built a long consist only to attempt to add 1 more car.

The longest successfully operated train on my tracks was 54 cars…and that is on the the main line oval—and it has a slight grade transition…

I know that if I took the time to set out the rolling stock in a weight based order, I could get 75 cars…but nothing I have would pull them up my steeper grades.

The focus on grade percentage is a nice  to know aspect…

The OP has a 9.5’ x 12’ area..to attain 6” of clearance off a reasonable grade climb, that’s 100” or more of linear trackage…and chances are almost 100% that there will be a 36” curve in the riser…

That will limit train length-but will add operating interest; splitting the consist or adding a helper engine.

So the plan should include a spur to park the helper engine near the grade.



This is an older video, during the beginning of construction…but after the date my wonderful wife discussed the possibility of moving-20 cars plus 1 5 car unit-technically 25 cars😁

Behind a Switcher, that struggled a little

the grade starts at about 18.5” from the ceiling..

and climbs to 6” from the ceiling

So 1’ in just under 20’

12”/240”=5% grade

With two opposing O-72 curves.

https://youtu.be/Z78SeBYwSK4



Here’s a look at the whole road

https://youtu.be/h96jQEJ__oo



Good luck

@Jan posted:

John,

The problem is not with the grade but the running gear of the VL Challenger.    There have been numerous threads on the Forum of members reworking the mechanism for better operations.

Jan

If you could link any helpful info on the 2018 run of the VL Challenger that would be appreciated. I was thinking traction tires were the culprit but I’d be interested to know what others have done



maybe it’s because they left the two engines in sync 😜

The conventional wisdom, which I subscribe to, is go with the minimum grade possible in your situation.

I actually was looking to go for 2% or less, but given the space constraints, the grade easements at the start and end, I ended up with 2.4% and 2.5%.  Still very manageable, but smaller locomotives with a larger consist sometimes can have minor issues.  I know the little Legacy S7 has a problem with a bunch of Menard's boxcars.  They're not the lightest rolling cars, and the friction and the grade were a challenge for the little S7.  Including the easements, my grades are over 22 feet long, that's all the space I had to make them work, so they ended up being a bit more than the 2% goal.

GRJ

.I quote”  Including the easements, my grades are over 22 feet long, that's all the space I had “

Darn man 22 feet.  Good for you. Seems a lot.
There can be no argument  less grade is better. Also more prototypical to real railroads.

What  I’ve run successfully on that grade +5 are dual can motors Lionel GP20s Alcos with dual pulmores and dual cans, most Lionel switchers, not my CNW SW1 single motor. Atlas GP 38 works vey well. The  best runner for that incline is Lionels semi scale GG1. It’s a brick and it darn near redlines the transformer with 8 Williams passenger cars. Passenger car an Led project maybe.

If I had planned better I’d wager I’d be at half my grade. But its manageable, barley.If my 6 year old Granddaughter can drive that decline not all is not lost. Course she’s brilliant😀

ps Woodland Scenics makes risers in grades 2-4  percent, not saying thats a recommendation but it’s do able

Last edited by train steve

The conventional wisdom, which I subscribe to, is go with the minimum grade possible in your situation.



Tman129: A lot has been written on this topic but the above post succinctly answers your question.  Many of the other posts do not contain any information which would be a help to you as they overlook the simple fact which you stated:  The layout is a 'U' shape, with 036 radius and turnouts, and fills a 9.5'x12' area.

Available space is the only driver that matters when considering grades.  At  3% you need ~16' to get up and 16' to get back down.  At 2.5% each length increases to ~21' (42' overall).   You have the space to fit them but only you can determine if the look and operational capability are what you are looking for (and your opinion is the only one which matters).

-Greg

Last edited by Greg Houser

Just based on my own experience in the past (my current layout doesn't have grades, decided since getting back into the hobby didn't want to futz around with them, when I do the inevitable rebuild I'll add grade interest). I originally wanted multiple levels (still do!) but I wanted to connect them, and to do so given the relatively small size of my my layout would have made the grades too large (I don't have room for a helix). To me grades are kind of like the diameter of curves you use, larger diameter curves are like keeping grades smaller, they will allow you a lot more flexibility. Smaller diameter curves limits the type of equipment you can run, for example, while heavier grades will limit train size and what engines can handle it. On a small layout grades may be less of a problem IMO, since on a smaller layout you tend to have smaller consists anyway, to avoid the 'nose chasing the tail' scenario

One of the reasons Lionel created magnetraction as far as I know was to increase pulling power, especially on grades. Like on real railroads, maximum grade is a function of what is being pulled and what is pulling it. Can you get away with 6% grades on a layout? Sure, if you aren't running long consists and your motive power has the traction and power to do it, why not? The old graduated trestle sets weren't that far off from 6%.

On mainline railroads they kept grades as low as possible for that reason, lower grades meant longer consists and also not needing to use helper engines (which became less of a problem when they went to diesels and MU's became possible).  Not to mention fuel usage, running on more level terrain=less fuel usage, less wear and tear on the brakes on downgrades, etc. Narrow gauge lines ran some pretty heavy grades I recall, but they also tended to run smaller consists, too.

Last edited by bigkid
@Jan posted:

People keep quoting grade values for real trains.  Real trains do not have traction tires.  Eric Siegel (ericstrains) has a 6% grade between his two levels and has no problems.  Also, the shorter the grade the steeper the grade can be.  It's only the portion of the consist on the grade that one needs to take in account.

Jan

6%?  Yikes! 

I originally planned for 0% grades throughout the layout, but I will have to do something in the Steubenville, OH area just to portray the natural landscape (terrain runs downhill from the backdrop to the river).  I am looking at 2" in 72" or 2.77% maximum, which makes me nervous.  I am not sure what a long mineral train pulled by a 3rd Rail Decapod will do in this situation.  If I can make the actual change about 1.5" and exaggerate the perception that would be even better (2.08%).

George

@Greg Houser posted:

Nice 54 car consist with the caboose!!  That engine runs like a champ!

I was impressed that the C&O Mallet was effortlessly pulling this consist around, it's a pulling fool!  Most of my big articulated steam can probably pull more than I can put on the layout.   I know we tested the VL-BB drawbar pull at the club a few years back, and it was the champ at 7 pounds!

@G3750 posted:

6%?  Yikes! 

I originally planned for 0% grades throughout the layout, but I will have to do something in the Steubenville, OH area just to portray the natural landscape (terrain runs downhill from the backdrop to the river).  I am looking at 2" in 72" or 2.77% maximum, which makes me nervous.  I am not sure what a long mineral train pulled by a 3rd Rail Decapod will do in this situation.  If I can make the actual change about 1.5" and exaggerate the perception that would be even better (2.08%).

George

I suspect that a single set of drivers could be an issue with really long consists.  I know stuff like the Legacy GP9 and the like struggled with that 54 car tank train I posted above.  When I pulled out one of the articulated steamers, no sweat at all, it had no issues pulling it around.  What do you consider a "long" mineral train?

@Burl posted:

I've got a 1.7% grade on old O tubular O72 curves (whole grade is in the curves), and it can be problematic for smaller steam engines with traction tires.  Diesels with two powered trucks, large steamers, and good old fashioned "magna-traction" all work fine.

Yep, the smaller (and lighter) steamers with a single set of drivers are probably the most problematic.  Also, small diesel switchers will probably have some issues with longer consists.  I'm guessing the 3rd Rail Decapod isn't as heavy as some diecast models, but I don't have one to weigh right now.

Last edited by gunrunnerjohn

Thank you all for the information, some really good stuff.

See the attached screen shot with skeletal framing for the mountain. After the 'Y' on the top half, the right branch has a down grade, the left branch has an up grade. So what ever grade I end up with, it would be like having double the %, 3% = 6% and 2.5% =5%. Trying to capitalize on my space restrictions. With my space limitations, don't know about 'Scale' consists. I'm thinking this will be mostly for smaller Legacy units, semi-scale, 'standard' scale with some LC+ 2.0.

I'll take the advise of as little as necessary grade. Thinking the upper reversing loop will have a winter scene, think"Glacier Line".

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Over - Under in Mountain with the over having a reverse loop

I suspect that a single set of drivers could be an issue with really long consists.  I know stuff like the Legacy GP9 and the like struggled with that 54 car tank train I posted above.  When I pulled out one of the articulated steamers, no sweat at all, it had no issues pulling it around.  What do you consider a "long" mineral train?

I have not yet decided exactly what constitutes a "long" mineral train.  Possibilities are:

  • 28 ore jennies (these are all relatively light-weight cars); I've run 12 behind a single Decapod on a long straight flat section of track.  I'm guessing I would have to double head them to pull all 28.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the Lionel M1 Mountain pull them all, though.
  • 16 H21a hoppers (6 are the K-Line die-cast heavies);  this is probably another job for doubled headed Decapods

George

@1drummer posted:

Technically, that train did not pull the whole weight of the 54 cars up the grade…

I believe it could

But for the sake of factual representation…

No, but since the actual grade is 20 feet and about six more for the easement, about half the cars were on the grade or easement at one time, they're short 8,000 gallon tank cars.

@G3750 posted:

I have not yet decided exactly what constitutes a "long" mineral train.  Possibilities are:

  • 28 ore jennies (these are all relatively light-weight cars); I've run 12 behind a single Decapod on a long straight flat section of track.  I'm guessing I would have to double head them to pull all 28.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the Lionel M1 Mountain pull them all, though.
  • 16 H21a hoppers (6 are the K-Line die-cast heavies);  this is probably another job for doubled headed Decapods

George

I'll be interested to see how well a decapod performs on your 2% grade.  I haven't tried a decapod on the grades here yet, my decapod hasn't enjoyed the conversion to command yet.  Of course, I'll have one when the Strasburg #90 hits the streets.  I know the Legacy H10 can't pull all those tank cars up the 2.5% grade, so I'm guessing the decapod might have an issue as well.

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