Whether you want to build a 4 square-foot diorama for a coffee table, a 40 square-foot layout in the corner of a room, a 400 square-foot layout in a garage, or a 4000 square-foot empire to fill an entire basement, the first essential is a good plan.
Many a layout is spoiled by a poor design. Every year, dozens of club and private layouts appear in the various model railroad magazines. Some are designed better than others. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read something along the lines of “now that the layout is nearly finished, the goal is to hold regular operating sessions”, when one look at the accompanying track plan indicates that the layout is so poorly designed as to make any semblance of realistic operation an impossibility. Some very well known and otherwise great looking layouts also fit into this category.
Why are so many layouts built with poor track plans?
There are several reasons. Firstly, layout design is a skill that does not develop overnight – and we all start out as beginners. Even some experienced builders are so keen to start construction that they neglect to spend adequate time in the design phase. Others may take a liking to one of thousands of published track plans without knowing if it is a good plan or not – or in the process of modifying it to fit their own space, unwittingly remove a vital component or add extra sections that make no sense. Everybody’s goals and desires are different, so the perfect plan for one person is not necessarily any good for another with an identical space. Furthermore, people’s goals sometimes change over time – and a model railroad can take a long time to create.
Even if realistic operation is not considered a primary goal for a layout builder, it is wise to ensure that any layout is designed in such a way that realistic operation is possible. As stated earlier – goals may change. If a layout is not designed for realistic operation, it is likely that much of it will have to be torn out and begun anew when the operations bug eventually bites.
What if a layout builder doesn’t know enough about operations to plan for it? We were all in that situation once. Two solutions come to mind. One is to educate oneself; the other is to hire a professional layout designer. Two great sources of information are the “operations special interest group” and “layout design special interest group” (OPSIG and LDSIG) organized by the NMRA. Start by reading everything on their respective web-sites and then go from there. If you still need some help, you are in the right place.
My layout planning skills have been honed over a period of decades, drawing hundreds of plans for both British and American styled layouts in a variety of scales. This background means thousands of hours of experience to call upon when designing a layout.
My current layout projects are all drawn using a program called 3rd-plan-it. This is a powerful CAD engine that results in an accurate drawing and ensures that the final result will fit the space perfectly. Other advantages of using this software include its ability to plot accurate easements for all curves, calculating grades and elevations, and if desired creating a full-sized track plan to use as a template for accurately positioning track on your benchwork.
Every layout design project I do is planned for both realistic operation and a great appearance while keeping any other desires of the client in mind. This entails among other things, making provision for adequate staging, properly designed yards and switching towns, interesting sight lines, and an appropriate balance of track, structures and scenery.
Even if a full professional design is not within your budget, I can still look over and suggest improvements to a plan you have drawn (or one drawn by another designer). In my experience, your friends won’t criticize your layout plans. More than likely, they will just tell you they look great and encourage you to start building. They probably mean well and simply don’t want to hurt your self-esteem – but this is one situation where tact is not in your best interest. You need someone to pick holes and tell you what’s wrong with it. Above all, you need someone with the knowledge and experience to be able to identify potential problems. A few hours consulting fee will most likely be insignificant compared with the cost of building the layout, and will give you peace of mind that the design you have in front of you will meet your expectations.
Whether you are in the market for a full custom layout design, or just want a second opinion on a plan you already have, contact us today.
If you commission me to build a layout that I designed for you, I will discount your layout build by the full amount I charged you to design it, making the design work effectively free.