Fiddle Yard Design

This article first appeared in the July/August 1993 issue of AMRA's 'Journal'.
By Stephen J Chapman.

A fiddle yard is a collection of tracks that represent the rest of the railway network which is not part of the area modelled. These tracks are required to allow most model railways to be operated in a realistic manner. Only on a larger layout having several stations and operators can a realistic operating sequence be followed without a need for a fiddle yard.

The fiddle yard (or yards) does not need to have scenery since it does not represent an actual place. Since trains can be rearranged by lifting them off the track and replacing them there is no need for run around loops or any of the other facilities that you require for the breaking up and rebuilding of trains on the rest of the model railway.

On this basis it would seem that there is not very much to a fiddle yard. In fact the arrangement of the track within the fiddle yard can make a big difference to the storage available and in many cases the way in which the yard can be operated.


There are four basic types of fiddle yard. These are single track single ended, double track single ended, single track double ended, and double track double ended. More complicated variations can be built up using the same principles as with these four basic types.

A single track single ended yard is the simplest type that there is and yet we already have many alternative ways of constructing it. Basically with this type of yard we have a single track entering which we need to split into a number of separate roads each capable of holding one or more trains.

figure one traverser

The simplest way of setting up a single track single ended fiddle yard (at least with regards track usage) is using a traverser (figure one). The traverser slides from side to side to allow the appropriate track to be lined up for the arriving or departing train. An optional section of track allows a locomotive to be held beyond the traverser. This method uses the least amount of track and fits the largest number of trains into the shortest length. Disadvantages to the method are the relatively complicated mechanism to operate the traverser and the difficulties of track alignment and powering of the track on the traverser.

sector platefigure two

A slightly easier to build variation is the sector plate (figure two). Here we have a plate pivoted at one end (or perhaps in the centre). Because the sector plate is pivoted we do not have the problem that we had with the traverser of having to move both ends at once in order o keep the traverser parallel. The sector plate requires a little more room than a traverser for the same length train and requires that the end of the plate be curved (the centre of the circle of which this curve is a part is the pivot point). Also the tracks need to run perpendicular to the edge of the plate. If enough room is available and we pivot the sector plate in the centre then it becomes possible to curve the other end of the plate in the same way as the first end thus making the sector plate into a train turntable. The wiring of a train turntable is slightly more complicated than for a sector plate.

figure three ladder of turnouts

The third alternative is to join all of the tracks into one using a simple or compound ladder of turnouts (figure three). This alternative is easier to construct since there are no moving parts other than the turnouts. This alternative takes more space than the previously discussed alternatives due to the space needed for the turnouts.

removeable cassettefigure four

To allow for more trains without actually pulling trains off the track we can make a section of the fiddle yard removable and build a number of cassettes to fit (figure four). If properly built the cassette can be used as a train turntable by lifting it out turning it around and putting it back in.

Each of these alternatives have various advantages and disadvantages some of which have been discussed here. The main purpose of this article is to show some of the alternative fiddle yard designs which are possible.


Now let us consider the double track single ended fiddle yard. We can either run the two tracks right into the yard and supply two crossovers the same as we would at a double track terminus (figure five). This allows for trains to both arrive at and depart from the fiddle yard at the same time provided that tracks in the appropriate part of the yard are used. The major disadvantage of this alternative is the relatively large amount of space that is required to fit in the two crossovers for the small amount of operating flexibility that is gained. A removable cassette system can also be used with this arrangement.

figure five double track

A traverser with two roads entering it (like figure one but with an extra track at the right hand end) is also possible although the electrical wiring to allow each traverser track to feed from the appropriate section is slightly more involved.

double to singlefigure six

A much simpler alternative to the double crossover of figure five is to convert the double track to single within the fiddle yard (figure six). This requires somewhat less space than the other version. Once converted to single track then any of the variations discussed for single track can be used although the previously mentioned double track traverser makes more sense than converting to single track first.


The various traversers, sector plates, turntables, and cassettes mentioned for single ended fiddle yards become much less relevant to double ended yards. In most double ended yards we want at least the option of being able to run a train straight through. This is not so easy to achieve with these variations so for double ended yards we will restrict our discussion to variations using turnouts.

figure seven single straight through

The single track double ended yard does not really have many possible variations. All variations that do not involve terminating tracks are operationally equivalent to the yard shown figure seven.


The double track double ended yard is the most complex of our four basic yard types and therefore has the greatest number of variations which are operationally quite different from one another. The simplest variation is shown in figure eight where two single track yards are placed side by side. Each half of this yard can be worked completely independently of the other half.

figure eight double straight through shortest outside

This arrangement puts the longer tracks in the centre and the shorter tracks towards the outside. This may not always be a convenient arrangement. It may be more convenient to put the shorter tracks in the centre and the longer tracks to the outside. This can be achieved by rearranging the turnouts as shown in figure nine. It is also possible to make all of the tracks have fairly similar lengths by using the turnout arrangement of figure eight at one end of the yard and the turnout arrangement of figure nine at the other.

double straight through longest outsidefigure nine

The main disadvantage of these arrangements is that if we want to swap a train from running in one direction to running in the other then we have to lift the train off of a track in one half of the yard and place it on a track in the other half of the yard.

figure ten double all same length with crossovers

The easiest solution to this is to add a crossover to each end of the fiddle yard (figure ten). This arrangement allows the fiddle yard to be operated as if it were two separate yards at either end of an end to end layout. The half of the fiddle yard that has direct access to both of the tracks at one end of the yard (one directly, one via the crossover) is used as a fiddle yard for trains entering and leaving from that direction. The other half of the yard is used for trains entering or leaving from the other direction. Operation is the same as if you had an end to end layout with a fiddle yard of the type shown in figure six at each end. The difference is that the fiddle yard can also be used to run trains straight through the yard or terminate a train now and take it out in the same direction later. This is very convenient if you are attempting to run realistically with trains running backwards and forwards. Trains of open wagons which normally carry loads in one direction and run empty in the other would be simulated by two identical trains (one loaded, one not) running in opposite directions and not changing their direction, while all other trains are run as if the layout were end to end.

figure eleven centre yard with bypass tracks

Figure eleven shows an alternative track arrangement. This layout can be operated in the same realistic way previously described by using the outside most tracks for the open wagon train. This arrangement has the advantage that all of the tracks other than the outside most can be used from either direction. Depending on the length of the yard and the length of the trains that you are running this could give you a much greater storage capacity by storing two trains on each track. This arrangement can also be used for most other types of operation. The only difficulty with this arrangement is that the short single section at each end of the yard means that a train cannot arrive from one direction at the same time as another train is attempting to depart towards that direction. This problem is partly overcome by the outside most tracks which permit trains to be run straight through bypassing the fiddle yard completely. This also makes this type of yard useful for those people who like to run the same train around the layout a number of times and then store it away in the fiddle yard and bring out another.

centre through tracks others terminatingfigure twelve

If you intend to mostly operate the layout as an end to end layout then the track plan of figure twelve is a cheaper alternative. By doing away with the turnouts that bring the storage tracks back together and form loops we not only save the expense of the turnouts required to join these tracks back together but also save the space that these turnouts take up and hence can store longer trains in the same space. The two through tracks (in the centre this time) allow for open wagon trains to be operated as previously described and also cater for those occasions when you just want to sit something on the track and watch it run.

When you have a lot of space lengthways by not much width then the arrangements of figures eight, nine, and ten are not as useful because they rely on enough width being available to fit in each of the tracks. The arrangement of figure eleven is still useful if a mainly end to end type of operation is to be used. In this case a smaller number of longer loops are used and each loop is used as a terminating track from each direction. The operation then becomes functionally the same as the arrangement in figure twelve. This arrangement can also be used in a long narrow space by shifting the sidings on one side along until they are no longer opposite those on the other side and then curving the through tracks between the two sets of sidings so that everything will fit.

offset yard
figure thirteen

It is possible to arrange a more conventional fiddle yard in a long and thin space (see figure thirteen). The yards for each direction do not necessarily need to be opposite one another but can be staggered so that only the turnouts in the centre overlap. This gives a fiddle yard that is functionally equivalent to that in figure ten. The fact that the yards are staggered as they are does allow for one feature not possible with the other arrangements. By adding in the extra three crossovers (shown dotted) it becomes possible to run one train right through the fiddle yard even when all of the storage tracks are full. These crossovers also allow for the whole yard to be used for trains arriving and departing from a single direction instead of only half the yard. This means that if you are building a layout in stages that the fiddle yard can form the storage for both directions at an early stage of development and can then form the storage at one end of a much larger end to end layout at a later stage without having to alter the track (except perhaps to remove the turnouts at the other end which are no longer necessary).


There are many variations possible when building a fiddle yard. This article has just pointed out a few of the things that should be considered in designing your fiddle yard.

By properly considering ALL of the different ways that you might want to operate your layout, by looking at the space available for the fiddle yard and considering how the tracks will best fit, by considering the lengths of the trains that you want to be able to hold in the fiddle yard, and by considering the advantages and disadvantages of the designs discussed in this article, you may come up with a fiddle yard design that substantially increases the flexibility of operation on your layout. You may be able to hold a much larger number of trains than you had expected to. You may be able to save some money by rearranging things to provide just those facilities that you actually want or by using a homemade traverser or sector plate in place of a large number of turnouts.

The fiddle yard is an important part of a layout. It represents the rest of the railway network that you do not have space to model and gives you somewhere to run trains to and from in a realistic manner. It is not just some odd storage tracks tucked away somewhere to store those trains that you do not have space to store on the visible part of the layout.

A properly designed fiddle yard can enhance the pleasure that you get from operating your layout. A poorly designed one can make trying to operate your layout in a realistic way into a real chore.

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Copyright Stephen Chapman