Designing "Detling"

This article first appeared in the September/October 2002 issue of AMRA's 'Journal'.
By Stephen J Chapman.

Detling is a village just outside the town of Maidstone in Kent, England that doesn't have a railway station of its own. As my N gauge model railway is of a freelance town based somewhere near that area, I chose Delting as the name to use for the layout. This gives me a location name in the right area without anyone being able to say that the real station doesn't look like mine.

When we moved into our current house the only location that was available to me to put my model railway was an 11 foot by five foot brick shed in the back garden. The shed already had power and a light so that wasn't going to be a problem. There was also a window at one end of the shed that would allow light in during the day. The problem was that my current 10 foot six inch by three foot layout (I still tend to work with imperial measurements when designing layouts) wouldn't fit in the shed due to the fact that the door was inward opening in the middle of one side.

I decided to take the opportunity to design a new layout to fit the available space. The prior layout used a half inch pinewood base which made for rather heavy baseboards, I decided to rebuild with a nine mm ply base this time to cut down on the weight.

My model railway is based in the south east of England some time between 1975 and 1985 and the layout is meant to represent a town somewhere in that area. The objective of the layout is to provide somewhere where I can run reasonable length trains in a reasonably realistic setting.

The typical passenger train of the time was twelve coaches made up of three electric multiple units although there were also some loco hauled trains. I had built one multiple unit set using Farish coaches and Taylor conversion kits but that had been stolen along with most of my other rolling stock a year or so earlier. My intention was to start with loco hauled passenger and introduce EMUs if and when I got around to it.

Twelve coaches take up a significant length even in N scale so I decided that I would settle for trains eight coaches long. As I would be starting with loco hauled trains this would make my typical passenger train just over four foot long (being a loco and eight coaches). I decided that I would also run freight trains of similar length so this would dictate the required length of the storage loops.

My previous layout had consisted of the goods yard at one end of the station with just the end of the platforms showing under a road bridge that acted as a scenic break. The intention had been to extend on that end at a later time. Due to the narrow space available in the middle of the shed due to the inward opening door I would need to go wider at each end to fit the curves in to give myself a continuous run. It therefore seemed more appropriate to plan to extend in the middle right from the start. I decided to build two boards five foot six long by twenty inches widening to two foot six at the ends for the curves and to plan for a future extension in the middle consisting of a five foot six by twenty inch board.

General layout of Model Railway Shed

As you can see from the diagram of the shed, this arrangement of two boards just fits down one side of the shed and leaves room for a tall cupboard in one corner to store my modelling magazines and space on the other side of the door to store the extra board vertically against the wall. Admittedly, there was no way that the shed would ever be able to be enlarged to fit the extra board in the layout but should I ever exhibit the layout the extra board would make the layout more interesting. There is also the likelihood that the layout will eventually be moved to another location and there may hopefully be room for the extra board to be permanently installed there.

I like to view layouts that are somewhere close to eye level, I think this makes them look more realistic especially in the smaller scales. I therefore put the layout on four foot six inch long legs meaning that the track height is about four foot nine inches off the floor. This has the added advantage of gaining me sufficient space under the layout to use for more storage. As I intended to have raised scenery at either end so as to conceal the curves in tunnels, this would partially block one corner of the shed window but I didn't consider this to be a problem.

The next thing to do would be to design a layout that would fit onto the two boards that I could fit into the shed and to also design an extension to that layout that would make use of the proposed extra board.

basic layout design

The basic idea that I came up with was to section off about five inches along the back of the layout for a four track fiddle yard and to bring the track from either end around through tunnels to the front of the board where they could curve back far enough to be able to join them across the front. There wouldn't be enough room for station platforms on either of the two main boards so the platforms would need to go on the proposed extra board and the station approaches on either end would form the main layout in the shed.

extended layout design

The previous layout had raised scenery along the back of the scenic part of the layout making the town scene that I wanted to portray with the layout. It was a relatively simple matter to cut this raised scenery off of the old boards and transplant it onto the new making minor adjustments to allow for the different length of the boards. This would mean that a significant fraction of the scenery could be installed very early in the construction process.

Once allowing for the fiddle yard and the raised town scene there would not be much space left for the track work on the front of the layout so I decided to keep it simple. There is another village near Maidstone that does have its own railway station called Bearsted. This station has a very simple track plan consisting of a trailing crossover at one end of the platforms and a single siding. There was sufficient space available on one of the boards to easily fit this track plan into the available space once the raised scenery was in place.

The station on the layout is supposed to be part of a busy town and not just a small village so I decided to add more track work on the other board. The space between the tunnel mouth and the centre of the layout was not quite long enough for a loop to hold my typical train but the smaller loop could still be useful as I would be running a few trains that were shorter that most. This gave me the track plan for the front of the layout with platforms filling the available space on the extra board.

track plan - front of layout

There would still be some space behind the tracks as they curved forward on the second board so I decided to add a couple of abandoned tracks and a goods shed to give the impression that the track plan had been recently rationalised as happened on the prototype only a few years prior to the era I model.

Next to design the fiddle yard. I had allowed sufficient space for four tracks across the back of the layout. The available length with just the two boards would be just enough to put loops long enough to hold my typical train. This would allow me to have four storage loops in the fiddle yard and the layout could perhaps hold up to five trains. I really wanted to have a greater capacity than that. The extra board would provide greater length but no greater width, was there any way of using the extra length to provide greater storage capacity. I decided that with the extra board in place I could stagger two three track fiddle yards on the back, one for each direction, using the fourth track to take the trains from the other fiddle yard past. This would give me a capacity of seven trains with the extended layout, still not as much as I would like but the best that could be achieved in the space. All that remained was to design a fiddle yard that would work both as a four track yard with the basic layout and as a staggered six track yard with the extended layout. I was able to come up with a design that would work for both by providing two tracks that would be wired to allow trains to be run into them from either direction. This had the added advantage of allowing train directions to be reversed without needing to take the entire train off of the track. With the shorter version of the layout the pointwork in the centre would not be there and all four tracks would run straight through. Unfortunately, even the enlarged capacity is less than I would have liked but is as much as can be fitted into the space. Adding capacity for even more trains will have to wait until I have more space. In the meantime the fiddle yard arrangement has sufficient capacity to allow operation of the layout while replacing one train with another on another track. I may have to consider building storage trays that can be attached to the back of the layout to hold the rest of my stock if I ever exhibit the layout.

track plan - extended fiddle yard

When designing layouts, I try to keep in mind the possibility that it may be exhibited. With the height of the layout and with the fiddle yard behind, this layout would need to be operated from the back if I ever exhibit it. The inconvenience of having to stand on a chair to reach over to the fiddle yard to reorganise the trains is manageable at home where it wouldn't need to happen very often (after all I can always replace rolling stock with the train stopped on the front of the layout when I'm running it for my own enjoyment) but would be impossible in exhibition conditions. Unfortunately, the space in the shed makes a rear operating position at home impossible, the only practical operating panel location is near the centre at the front. The solution to this was to design a control panel that would be just as usable in both front and rear mounted locations. To do this I built a free standing frame to hold the main controls and put the track plan with appropriately located switches on a separate board that is attached between the top of the main panel and the baseboard edge. The track plans for the front and rear of the layout are drawn separately just as they appear in the diagrams accompanying this text. What I have done though is that the switches are not all up for off and down for on, instead they are toward the centre of the panel for on and toward the upper or lower edge for off. This means that this part of the control panel will be able to be placed the other way up on the back of the layout without any significant change in the way that it operates. The wiring from the layout to the plug that connects to the control panel is also arranged so that it can as easily reach either side of the board.

Having more than one possible position for the control panel ruled out any mechanical method of operating the points so electric point motors have been installed under each turnout when the track was first laid. Also to ensure that the idea of the extension board would work properly, all three boards were built and the track laid on all three before wiring of the two main boards commenced.

As you can see from the above, I put quite a lot of thought into what I wanted when designing my layout to fit the available space as all of the above was planned out before construction of the baseboards started. I guess the experience of the prior eight layouts that I have built (or at least started to build) helped me to know what I wanted. Overall the design of my layout gives me a very simple track plan with not a great variety of operating potential but that wasn't what I was looking for. What I wanted was a flexible design that allowed me to create the effect of a railway line running along the outskirts of a town where a variety of different trains can be run through. I believe that I have achieved as close to what I wanted as could be done given the available space with the design also allowing for more to be easily achieved should more space become available.

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Copyright Stephen Chapman