Monday, December 13, 2010

Layout Progress - December 13, 2010

I didn't get as much done this week due to every member of the family being sick at one point during the week and myself this past weekend. I also still haven't done my Christmas shopping or put up lights. What I did get done is the last peninsula's free standing benchwork up.

I did have to modify some things to make sure I had at least 2" of clearance between the HVAC ducts and the top plate of the supports, mostly around re-nailing some of the frame holding up the duct. I may have to redo parts of this or not have a valence in this section, but we'll see. Obviously, you don't want the wood too close to the ducts and I'm afraid if I enclose the space around the ducts, anyone over about 6' 2" won't be able to go back there. I also got some front bracing up but didn't take a picture. Hopefully I can do some work over the course of the week to make up for what I didn't get done last week to keep with the "schedule" of starting subroadbed construction in January.

Also, anyone want free fire drywall scraps (plus 1 full sheet)? I've got a bunch just sitting in a space that is going to get closed off and I really want to get rid of it since I won't use it anywhere else in my house.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Layout Progress - December 5, 2010

This week was a pretty productive week. It wasn't as productive as I wanted, but I got pretty close to where I thought I would be. Last time I posted, I had a goal of getting the other 2 free standing sections up by this weekend. Well, I got one of two up, but have all the pieces cut for the other one. Earlier this week, I built the support bases for the two sections:

I used the same method I did on the first peninsula I put up, but this time I let the glue take more of a hold before unclamping the flange and web of the L-girders. I then spent the rest of the week building the 15 support posts I would need for the actual benchwork on each of these sections. Tonight, I managed to get one of the sections put together and up. Here's the obligatory photo:

Over the rest of this week, I'll attempt to get the last one up and start on the front bracings as I also cut the joiner pieces for them as well.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Layout Progress - November 29, 2010

Last week I had built the base for what I'm calling the right peninsula. Over the course of the week, I built a jig to help in building the support posts and joists for the free-standing areas. Here's a picture of that jig:

I then tested this out building one support/joist combination:

Once I felt comfortable with this, I built the other 9 needed for the peninsula. I then cut all the wood I would need for each of the remaining peninsulas and supporting 1x2s. I managed to build the rest of the L-girders and 2x2s for the top plates. I then worked on building the spine for the peninsula. Yesterday afternoon, the first section of free standing benchwork was completed.

The legs are 2x4s with an L-girder across there tops and 1x2s for cross braces. The peninsula has 4 of them, each spaced 44" apart. Two more L-girder run across the tops of the legs, pointing inwards. By pointing the L-girders inwards, I get the added stability of the base platform. The actual benchwork to support each level are 2 1x2s laminated as the support post and 3 1x3s attached. Each is glued and screwed to the support post. Running across the bottom is a 1x2 which is attached to each support post and joist. Across the top are 2 1x2s laminated together and screwed into each post and joist as well. The bottom 1x2 is screwed into each leg's L-girder. Hopefully this week I can build the other two free-standing sections and begin putting the 1x3s across the front to tie all these together. Oh, and my plan on the height of everything was to get 2 of those plastic storage tubs under the layout. I completely forgot about a tool cart and cooler on wheels I had. Luckily, the layout is high enough to roll them underneath.

Look for what I hope to be a everything's up and ready for subroadbed post next week.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Staging Decision

So I'm slowly creeping towards completing all base benchwork for the layout itself and need to finalize either my design, or at the very least, how many helices I'll have to build. The big question for me is what to do with staging. I've been looking at ways to have the staging below the 1st level, out in the open but looped, etc. I've probably done more designs on just my staging arrangement than most people do for their entire layout, but I think it's necessary. If towns and such are done wrong or not working, you can usually move things around, particularly on a shelf-style layout like mine. Staging, on the other hand, can be very difficult and expensive to move. I've essentially come to two options. The first is to come down a helix from both the 1st and 2nd levels into staging below the 1st level, approximately 24"-26" off the floor on the bottom shelf brackets. Here is the plan I came up with:

  • Allows for continuous running
  • All track is easily accessible
  • Creates 30 "slots" for staged trains
  • Building of the second helix
  • Potential complicated  track work at top of helix for Roanoke Line
  • Very tight curve back to get continuous running
  • Difficult benchwork on turnback to helix, under the freestanding sections
 And here is the second option:
  • Accessible area for switches
  • Do not have to build a second helix
  • Opens up area under 1st level for shelf storage, possibly opening up the rest of the basement for expansion
  • Could have continuous running if loop built around hot water heater
  • Opens access to all sides of the furnace
  • Allows for other peninsula to gain 2 ft. or fun on each sides, equaling another 4' of run
  • No way for continuous running as designed with out difficult benchwork around water heater
  • Building of swing/removable section (1st level at 40" only) to make access to Gas meter easier
  • Only has 10/11 tracks (keeping a 15" width on shelve) for staging
  • Partially difficult trackage to reach behind the furnace area
As you can see, this utilizes the "dead" area behind the furnace to the water heater. I originally was thinking of not blocking/utilizing this area to get to the gas meter. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that access to the gas meter will be needed for probably on one, maybe 2 times during the course of my layout's life. For that, the curved area of this plan could be built to be removed.

I'm starting to lean towards the second option but if anyone else has any thoughts, I'd be interested in hearing them.

Layout Progress - November 22, 2010

I had a light weekend of work this week, but did manage to build one of the 3 (for now) free standing supports. This one was for the peninsula. It is comprised of 4 legs which are 2 2x4s joined by an L-girder on top of it and 1x2 bracing. Then the legs are joined by L-girders, which are pointed inward to give a more solid foundation to the legs. The end legs are approximately 12" in from the ends of the girders and the middle ones are 44" after them. I also put threaded screws and elevator bolts into the legs to help with leveling and only had to make two adjustments once everything was together.

It's a pretty solid piece right now, not much side to side and only a little flex. The next step is to build the joist framework that will sit on top of the L-girders and legs.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thinking City Locations

 Last night, since I was still a little sleep deprived from Wednesday night, I figured it would be easier for me to do some design thoughts rather than go down into the basement and try and make things square. Essentially, I placed "towns" on the areas I would expect them to be on my plan. Here's the layout as of right now:

Labels in blue are on the lower level, and purple the upper level. The reality is, on this line, generally, there are two primary industries to serve, chemical plants and coal plants. I'll probably add some other smaller industries, like a stamping/small auto parts facility and possibly a paper/wood products company or associated type industries in Summersville or Richwood with maybe warehouses in Charleston. Here's a break down of the general industries/purpose of each "town", starting at the helix on the left, which comes up from staging.

First Level:
  • Nitro - Chemical Plants everywhere (about 4 different ones) on the prototype and some yard facilities, probably do 1 small and 1 medium size plant here.
  • Institute - Chemical Plant - prototype had a Union Carbide plant including delivery of coal for cogeneration from the Hiltop branch which connects in Charleston
  • Charleston - A few small industries on the prototype, will probably put the auto parts plant here and a few other box car facilities as well as an Amtrak station
  • Port Amherst - will be the site, as on the prototype, of a coal to barge transfer if I decide to not just have empty running
  • Belle - DuPont chemical plant, massive and will be the signature large industry on the layout.
  • Charleston TV/Dickinson - Main classification yard with engine service facilities and small intermodal yard, probably one or two tracks no more than 40". The TV yard is not on the prototype, but hey, neither is the line continuing past Cornelia either or NYC buying the Virginian and not the N&W
Into the Helix up to the ...

Second Level
  • Alloy: Union Carbide metals plant
  • Deep Water: Bridge for the Roanoke Line (ex. Virginian), which will go through the backdrop and around to a "junction" at the top of the helix down to staging
  • Gauley Bridge/Peters Jct.: Interchange with CSX's line to Clifton Forge and shortlines, primarily the NF&G, to mines. Possible Amtrak Station as well
  • Gilboa - this is a Beth Energy mine for Burns Harbor traffic and is a loop loader so on the layout the main will go hidden under the loop and mine complex
  • Cornelia - not sure I'm going to follow the prototype and have a branch or just put the mine along the main, probably the latter
  • Summersville - first town on the "what-if" line, will probably move it more around the corner and a few lumber related industries
  • Richwood - last line, a few small industries, not sure if putting an Amtrak Station here or Summersville
Staging, under the first level, about 26" off the floor - 10 double ended tracks with 3 "slots" in each, 1 through with return loop for continuous running. That's at least how I'm going to start laying down track on the plan and we'll see what fits, how close things are, etc.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Layout "Re-Focus"

As I mentioned in my layout progress post earlier today, I've been refocusing the theme/prototype of my layout. I've found, as I've visited, read about, and rethought the railroading I like, that I'm drawn towards the mountains of the east. My chosen prototype road has not changed, it's still Conrail, but the "where" to model it in the mountains, while still getting the traffic flows I want, was becoming more difficult. When someone thinks of mountain railroading and Conrail, they most likely think of the former Pennsylvania Middle Division. I did not want to do this area of Conrail as it's been done so much, maybe not Conrail, but in PRR or PC, and I didn't think I could do it justice and still have it operationally interesting. So I began looking at other lines, like the Buffalo Line, as possibilities. While the Buffalo Line would give me that "through the mountains" feel, it doesn't have the type of traffic densities I'd be looking for. So then I began to look around at other lines for "what-if" moments and that led me to the West Virginia Secondary.

The West Virginia Secondary is a former New York Central line, by way of the Kanawha and Michigan, that Conrail took over when it was formed in 1976. The line runs from Columbus to Dickinson, Wv., east of Charleston. East of Dickinson, the line continues to a number of mines, as well as interchanges with the Norfolk Southern near Alloy, Wv., and CSX at Gauley's Bridge. The reality of this line, as run by the prototype, was 1 manifest and a number of coal trains. The single manifest was really large, however, as there were/are lots of chemical and metal plants along the line.

With this knowledge in hand, I began to focus on "what ifs" surrounding this line. I concentrated on scenarios that could extend this line eastward, perhaps to a harbor in the tidewater region of Virginia. The obvious choice would be that the NYC bought the Virginian. To me, that wasn't a strong enough what-if to get the traffic densities I wanted and that purchase alone wouldn't be plausible, although, in reality, the Virginian's northern section was nothing but the NYC. The other "what-if" I found came about somewhat circuitously. For a number of months, I've thought about plausible ways to get Conrail into the Shenandoah Valley. I really like the history and scenery of that area, but getting CR into that area after the PRR sold the Shenandoah Valley Line to N&W would have been very problematic. As I began reading through some of the abandoned railroad history in Virginia, two lines popped out at me. One was an abandoned section of the Chesapeake Western, the other the Washington and Old Dominion. I decided not to pursue anything with the W&OD as the line's goal was to get to Winchester, WV, and other lines built towards WV from Winchester didn't get very far because there wasn't a great valley to use to climb over the mountains.

The CW, under variations of its name, was originally chartered to be a line built into the coal fields of West Virginia to a connection with the C&O at Gordonsville, Va. In looking into its history some more, the CW was a second attempt at another line from central/northern Virginia to West Virginia. The first, the Washington, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, was to be a narrow gauge line that ran from Alexandria through the present and former CW right of way, directly across WV (bypassing Charleston) to Cincinnati. Beyond Cincinnati, it would connect with another narrow gauge line coming from St. Louis and ultimately be a part of a transcontinental narrow gauge line. Eschewing the direct line across Virginia, I began looking at how this line might have been completed to the terminus of CR's WV Secondary. The WV Secondary followed Gauley River valley to its coal mines. The rail goes as far as Cornelia, Wv., just east of Summersville. It borders WV 39 most of the way. So starting near Summersville, I began to map out routes using Google's Terrain view and it "would" have been possible to build, very similar to the route of WV 39, across the mountains using river/creek valleys with some tunnels, out to the area around where the CW ended at the base of the mountains, Stokesville, Va.

In my version of history, the K&M and CW built these lines, each starting from their own end, to meet in the late 1890s, early 1900s. Also, with NYC backing, the CW was built towards Gordonsville and Alexandria, ultimately terminating at the junction with the C&O and close to Potomac Yard. Similarly, the NYC invested in the Virginian as well, and taking them over in the 1940s, forming the Vigninia Central Lines. Subsequent merger with the Pennsylvania Railroad would give me the lines for Conrail to get into this area. As a result, the resulting CR system map would be:
As you can see, I've drawn the line to Washington and added the Virginian's lines. Of note, the CW also bought the B&O's line from Harrisonburg, Va., to Lexington, Va. I've added that into the map as well. More specifically, the portion of the line I'd be looking at is from just west of Charleston, probably starting near Nitro, Wv., through Summersville, Wv. as the map below indicates:
There were enough online industries, like the many chemical plants, small lumber industries, and few metal/manufacturing industries, to make traffic and industrial variety. I've also been thinking of traffic flow, and the types of trains. The breakdown I've gotten to (I will post the "Operations" area later tonight) was 4 manifests in each direction, 3 intermodals in each direction, 4 coal trains in each direction, 2 auto/multi-level in each direction, and 2 Amtrak trains in each direction.

Overall, I'm happy with the approach, my modeled area will be 95% of the existing Conrail WV Secondary area and I'll manage to get the traffic variety I want. The biggest draw back I have right now as far as layout design is the "Roanoke Line" junction to the former Virginian and getting the staging right for that portion of the lines.

Layout Progress - November 15, 2010

So it's been quite awhile since my last update post. This doesn't mean I haven't been working on the layout, just haven't taken the time to document where I'm at with things. Last time, I had built two prototype shelf brackets for the second level. I realized these would take forever to build, so I scrapped that idea. At the same time, I found a listing on Craig's List for some cabinet grade plywood pieces, about 40% of sheet size, for $4-$5 per piece. Needless to saw, I bought a bunch and ripped them into pieces for the benchwork. Here are some photos as I went through the process of ripping the plywood and how it filled up the existing shelves:

After doing this, I then started building the second level benchwork, essentially building a C out of 1x3s mounted to the sides of the stud walls. Here's a really poor picture of the resulting effort along one wall:
Each bracket is glued and screwed to the stud, making the bond surprisingly strong. I had to take the hammer to the other two types of brackets I had put up last month to get them off with just the glue holding them to the studs. I don't have a picture, but I've put these up all around the room, so the second benchwork shelf brackets are up. Yesterday I built 5 more legs for the peninsula, free standing portions of the layout, similar to this leg:
An L-girder is mounted between the two legs with cross braces of 1x2s holding them as close to square as possible. I've also bought a number of bolt inserts and elevator bolts to help in leveling the benchworks and giving me the addition 1" of height I'm expecting.
I then made one of two 155" L-girders using the plywood I had ripped. The L-girder isn't as "stable" as I'd like, but I'm waiting to see how it is on top of the legs before evaluating whether my idea of shorter sections was good or not. Essentially, I ripped 45" lengths of 1x4 and 2" pieces of plywood, for the side and top respectively, and then staggered them to form the L-girder. I did put bracing between the side pieces but it still feels a little wobbly so we'll see. The more important thing is once I build the second one, I need to clear out all the crap I have in the center of the room so I can put the peninsula up and it will really look like I'm making progress. I've got some other news, which I'll put in another post, on the "focus" of the layout, but I need to finalize some details of it as well as update/verify the layout plan to see if what I want to do will actually work.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Houston, we have a problem

I guess it's always better to find things out as you do mock-ups then after actually trying to cut wood or building something. Tonight, I went down to the basement after examining my plan a little more closely to figure some things out regarding the helices, particularly the one that transitions between the 1st and 2nd level near the furnace. The aisle width between the turnback loop on the peninsula and the edge of "curved" fascia of the helix was a minimal 24". I didn't think that would be bad for one person to traverse at a time, especially considering there'd be very little traffic really going down this aisle as it'd probably be the one exception always walk with your train on the layout. However, as I looked at trying to build the base for the helix, I quickly came to realize that this aisle width would be much tighter, possibly 18" or less. To me, that is an unacceptable width for road crews to navigate, even if it is only one at a time. Also, if the assumption is road crews would stand at the top and just wait for their trains to come out of the helix and pick them back up again on the turnback loop, we all know Murphy would deem the other end of this aisle dead man's curve where no-train shall pass without a problem.

The other issue I began to think about was the branch line and its impact on switching and blocking of the aisles. After only participating in two operating sessions, I can already appreciate the time and space required to properly switch a large industry. Each of these mines were to have upwards of 15 cars. Each run would require the drop-off of the empties and the pickup of loads. Now, on the surface that doesn't seem like it should take that long, however, if one has to block cars, as should always be done when picking up cars from an industry, this can get quite complicated and time consuming. So moving the mine run(s) off somewhere else would be beneficial to the operational ease/comfort level of the layout. I am also having this same question on both the auto plant and chemical plant but from feedback I've received on the design of each, I might receive bodily harm if I change their configuration, especially the chemical plant.

As a result, I'm thinking of taking the other side of the basement, i.e., the left side of the layout plans, and doing the following:

  • Creating Branches that run on the "outside" of the peninsula that would serve, on the lower and upper levels respectively:
    • Either the Auto Plant or Intermodal yard (ala Huntsville Intermodal Facility)
    • Mine branch with a single mine
  • Creating looped staging with 18" aisle clearance between the furnace and the edge of benchwork and 18" aisle clearance between the edge of the turnback loop and center wall but also a 45"-48" "space" between the left peninsula and that center wall, perhaps to be used by the dispatcher or a workbench
  • Moving the power plant to the second level to be on the center peninsula as I think it's a very visual industry
  • I only need to build one helix which is a plus from a time and material perspective and it's in a spot that has always been designated for helix assignment
I'm working through these details and really need to get them complete in short order as I've already rip plywood into dimensional widths based on the other design and while they footprints are close, there are some subtle difference between them (like what do I do with the bracket standards now?). Does anyone have any other thoughts?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mid-week Report - October 27, 2010

I get to work from home usually once a week at my current job and this allows me to do some things layout  related during normal times of commuting or lunch finding. Sometimes that's cutting wood, defining the layout plan, or just measuring and visualizing what will go where and how things may flow. The one thing I've been struggling with a little was how I designed the benchwork for the peninsulas, and more specifically, what would hold them up. I had studied the free standing supports on layouts like the CSX Dixie Line and CSX Shenandoah Division. I had looked at other double deck layouts and saw table like structures with essentially stud walls down the middle and large L-girders taking up space under the second deck. I decided I would go somewhere in between. The first thing I needed to do was come up with a scheme for the legs and connecting wood. I decided I would use L-girders on the outside of the legs, with the flanges layout on top of the legs. Instead of using a traditional brace at the top of a pair of legs, I'm also using and L-girder to give more rigidity to the legs and provide a stronger base for the supports for the 2nd level and valence. I did a prototype of the legs to be created on my lunch hour today. Here's how it turned out:
First Leg Assembly
Even though the L-girder at the top is pretty rigid, the leg assembly itself was pretty unstable. Adding one cross brace took care of this problem, but I also figured if one was good, two would be better. Overall I'm pleased with the way it turned out, much more than the brackets I built. It took me about a half-hour to assemble and with 12 more to build, I think I could do it in an hour or so, now that I've built one. The other good thing is that I had previously made 3 L-girder assemblies and can now use them for the tops of the legs without need to build any more. I'm also hoping to pick up some pretty cheap cabinet grade plywood in the next day or two and if I can get them, progress is really going to be made on the benchwork!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Update - Second Level Plan and Plywood Cutting Software

Just wanted to post a quick update on the progress on the layout. I didn't get a chance to actually do anything visible on the layout this weekend, however, that doesn't mean I wasn't doing something. I updated the Layout Plan page with the 2nd Level plan. I've already gotten feedback to straighten out or put a slighter curve on the right side of the plan instead of the wicked S-curves in there. Also, you'll notice that the peninsula on that side of the plan is now a branch line server a few mines. Parts of this plan came directly out of viewing the Indianoplis Division ZTS charts for the West Virginia Secondary Track.I also studied this line to see what other industries were on there and found numerous chemical plants, which is the large complex at the top of the plan with a supporting yard for it and the mine runs just prior to it on the main line.

One reason I concentrated on getting the 2nd level design done was to ensure that as I started benchwork construction for it, I wasn't building something that I would then have serious issues with as I started to plan around. It's a good thing I did this as 2 of the 3 shelves I was assuming were going to be 12" actually end up being 15". Also, I decided to do the ripping of plywood method of creating 1x3s and 1x2s for the benchwork pieces. I found the following program, Cut List, that is going to help me optimize my cuts for  ripping the plywood. It's pretty easy to use and simple output. Best of all, it's free. I've already been able to segment my benchwork needs to see how much I can fit on on-hand/readily available to buy plywood versus how much, in total, I need for the layout. I would recommend this program to anyone who is looking for a quick way to optimize their plywood cutting, without guessing on whether you will be able to get all your cuts or not.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Layout Progress - October 17, 2010

I had a very busy Sunday as I took the table saw and miter saw and went outside to rip some wood for two bracket prototypes, a 1x2 and some 1x3s.

The genesis for the brackets was from the following article I found on building brackets for shelves. Each bracket is made by ripping a 2x4 into 3 pieces. I have a few scraps of wood left over and decided to try to build 2 different brackets, one for the stud walls on the outside of the room, and one that could anchor shelves on either side of the wall in the middle of the room. Here's a picture of the one against the outside wall.
I think this one turned out pretty well. Cutting the angle on the side arms was a little hard because I don't have a long miter push for the table saw and I didn't make a jib like the gentleman in the article did. The good thing the rest of my shelves around the layout are all 12" in depth so I can use the resulting measurements from this one for all the others. One thing I will have to do on the next one is pre-drill all the holes for the screws. I didn't split the wood on this one, but I can see it happening. The next one up was the double sided bracket. Here's a picture of the one I built.
I didn't like the way this turned out. Doing both ends was pretty difficult. I had thought of doing this for the peninsula as well, however, I'm not sure anymore. What makes it a little more difficult here is the fact it's mounted to 2x6s. Since it is mounted to a 2x6, I'm thinking I can make 2 of the brackets I showed in the first picture back to back, possibly with one side at a depth like it's mounting to a normal 2x4 and the other side slightly less. This way, i could use a screw to go throw the stud to the other side of the bracket. I may have to play around with it.

I also ripped some 1x3s which I then attached to the front of the 2x2s I placed on the shelf brackets last weekend. I still have a few left for the other side, but here's a photo of what I've attached.
I also have to add a strip to the front of the 2x2s at the right of the photo for where the locomotive shop juts out some from the rest of the yard area. Once I get all of these in place, then I'll drill holes for wire channels, just have to figure out the appropriate drill bit for that one.

The goals for this week are to purchase and cut the wood needed for the center peninsula. I'm planning to build it by borrowing some ideas on building shelving units out of 2x4s. It should have two shelves, each 18.5' wide, with leg supports on the outside. I plan to have these leg supports every 3 feet with the L-girders I built previously mounted on top as well as a 1x2 running down the middle for the support for the peninsula upper deck bracing. I think once all the primary benchwork is in, I'll start to have a better feel for the space in general.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Layout Plan - 1st Level

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been slowly creating a plan for the first level of the layout. Once I was able to settle on a footprint, finishing the plan from its previous state was pretty straight forward. Here's the plan, clicking it will load in a new window:

My approach to the layout and its design is that I have about 7 areas on the layout where I could place major switching areas. On the lower level, I have used 4 of these areas:
  • Classification Yard
  • Auto Plant/Intermodal yard
  • Power Plant
  • "Lebanon" siding/industries
In addition to the above areas, I've also put in 3 other small industries directly off the main line. Lets look at each area individually.

Classification yard

The classification yard sits in front of the main-line and siding (almost consider it a double main operationally). The yard has 2 A/D tracks with leads on either side so engines can uncouple from their trains and not foul the main. There are 6 classification tracks, one of which would be utilized for a runaround. Additionally, there is a 3 track engine house and a 2 track fueling area next to the engine house. The yard lead is long enough to pull an entire train off the A/D track, however, I don't know that that will ever truly happen operationally. The yard is based off of some of John Armstrong's designs from a Model Railroader Information Station article package on freight yard design as well as based on the yard on Bruce Faulkner's Shenandoah Division and Dave Vollmer's Enola Yard. Just outside the classification yard, along the "top" of the plan is the passenger station. There's a dedicated track and a platform will sit between the passenger track (light green track) and the main line.

Auto Plant/Intermodal Yard
The Auto Plant is to represent an Assembly Plant. It has 4 tracks for deliveries of auto parts in 86' and 60' box cards. It also has 4 tracks for auto carriers, holding 3-4 each. I haven't decided yet on the company, but will need to do that for specific 86' box cars that I will need to purchase. The intermodal yard has 2 tracks, each long enough to hold 5 89' flat cars and the equivalent lengths of spine or well cars. This also marks the end of the double track mainline. The design for this area was based on a few auto plants I found, but was most influenced by Seth Neumann's NUMMI auto plant. I had enough room that I didn't need to do a crossing on the two switches.

Power Plant
The power plant resides on the far left peninsula. As you can see, the plant itself will be a flat with some depth against the backdrop and the coal pile will be between the plant's 3-car yard and the mainline as it enters the turnback. There's also a receiving yard for the unit trains to drop off their loaded cars. I actually operated this portion on XtrkCad while I was designing it. A 20-22 car unit train can be switched using two of the 3 tracks on the receiving yard, but necessitated the extra lead to the left of the plant's yard. Once the cars are dropped, the same crew can assemble the empty return train using the track in the receiving yard closest to the main line. Using a scale speed of 10mph, I was able to do this switching in about 15 minutes, pretty good operation time. I envision having a switcher of some kind, probably a 44 tonner from Bachmann. The plant layout was based on a power plant near Reading, Pa., and the track setup was actually based on a design in Bernie Kempinski's
Mid-Size Track Plans for Realistic Layouts. The plan was for the Shirley Industrial Park's Vulcan materials plant.

"Lebanon Area"
The "Lebanon" area is on the peninsula on the right side of the plan. This area has a passing siding, passenger station and industries at both ends. The industries at the end of the area as you go towards the yard are an Animal Feed facility, based off the Cargill one in Lebanon, and a scrap yard. This arrangement is pretty close to the actual one in Lebanon, as it existed on Conrail in 1996. On the other end, closest to the helix, is a chemical/fertilizer plant, based on Lebanon Chemical.

Elsewhere on the 1st level are a grain elevator and some kind of manufacturing/transfer building on the left peninsula and cement plant just prior to entering the helix for transition to the second level. The cement plant area is actually based on the Pacma plant track arrangment in Palmyra, Pa. Overall, I'm really liking this level's plan. It has a lot of operational potentional, a section of double track mainline and one other passing siding which should make dispatching and train movements more interesting. I did make the helix to the second level double track, so that will be the other passing siding on this level.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Layout Progress - October 15, 2010

It's been a while since I last posted but I've been making steady progress on a layout "footprint" and pieces of a design for that footprint. I've also done some moving around of the shelf standards as I've decided to put staging below the layout, so the brackets and standards will support staging and the 1st Level. I moved the standards down last week and this week I took scrap 2x4s and some 2x6s left over from the wall creations and made 2x2s to attach to the brackets, similar to what Shaun did on a previous layout. I then attached them to the brackets using a 1 5/8" drywall screw on the front hole and a 2 1/2" drywall screw on the back hole. It took me about 15 minutes to cut up the wood and another 15 to screw these on. I'm going to attach a 3/4" strip of 1x3, probably, to the front of these to give them more support and prevent the brackets from swinging a little. I also have to drill a hole through each to run the bus wires. Then I'll attach the front strip and the next step will be to put down the plywood sub-roadbed. Since this whole area is pretty much industrial/former industrial, a sheet of 1/2" or 3/4" plywood will do the trick. Here are some pictures of the work done so far.
Yard area:

City/Passenger Station Area:

Auto Facility/Intermodal Yard ara:

Close-up of the bracket attached.

The brackets are situated so that when 3/4" plywood is attached, the height from the floor will be 40". In addition to this work, I've cut some wood for the first center peninsula. Depending on how it turns out, I may use the same technique for the second one. Here's a quick view of the footprint I'm going to work with now:

As you can see, I've got about 2/3 of the design for the 1st level done. I'm currently flushing out the left-side to include a power plant in the "blob". Since this will be a two-level design, I also went looking for options on how to build the second and 3rd level bracing. My goal is to keep the second level (and peninsula) widths at 12". I'm probably going to build a few test brackets following this design and see how I like them. Again, they use 2x4s for the design and I have plenty of 2x4 and 2x6 scrap still left over that I can use to experiment with. I am slowly running out of wood so I know another trip to Home Depot or Lowes is in store for me, maybe even this weekend. I'm trying to do about 15-30 minutes of work per night to hopefully keep making progress.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Princeton Junction Convention - Day 1

So I got home a little while ago after spending the first day of the MER convention, aptly named Princeton Junction. I was able to visit two layouts prior to check-in at the hotel, met a few people I've heard on the Model Railcast and talked with on forums and then got a chance to operate on John Rahenkamp's Clairmont, Lewiston & Western. Tomorrow is going to be a mix of clinics and layout tours. Also, since I took the day off and before I headed up, I did some design work on the new layout plan. Here's the yard, which I decided to do first then fill in around it. I'm hoping as I view more layouts and meet more people this weekend, I can begin to put the pieces together on the plan and finally start major building. I know I've already learned a few things in the 3 layouts I've visited, so I'm anxious to see more, learn more, and, hopefully, apply it all.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Going the Proto-Freelanced Route

After much consternation, I think I am definitely headed down the proto-freelanced route. I've been watching afar at others' who've taken favorite prototypes and have either created routes in parts of the country their prototype may not have gone (but probably should have) or have just created a layout to fit their wants and desires while running their favorite prototype. When I selected the Harrisburg Line to be my modeling subject, I did it because of the heavy mainline action, the intermodal aspect of the Harrisburg complex, the two major industries (Hershey and Millard quarry) and the local generated out of Lebanon. However, the more I analyzed what operations would be, I quickly realized that 90% of the trains on this route would be nothing more than staging to Harrisburg, crew change/refueling, back to staging. With a double track main, this would make road crews really do nothing on the layout, save for the two or three manifests that actually dropped cars at the three main yards/industries on the route. While there would be block switching in the yard, the "fun" operating on the railroad would almost exclusively belong to the yardmaster at Harrisburg. I also realized I really didn't have the passenger operations I'd like on the layout without bending history and track quite a bit.

With the above in mind, I began exploring what I really wanted in a layout and here is essentially my list of wants/desires:
  • Walk-around Layout
  • Division Yard
  • Sincere Layout
  • 1 Major Industry
  • Active Mainline
  • Amtrak/Passenger Operations
  • Industry support for 2 or more locals, one originating in the division yard, another at an industrial center
  • Intermodal area/facility
  • Foreign Roads/Interchange
  • Road Crews need to work while traversing the layout
There were others, but these were the main criteria I had. While the Harrisburg Line and the design I had for it met most of this criteria, I really think it would just have been a double deck roundy-roundy, especially with the lack of action for mainline trains. I think dispatching and the yardmaster would have been the hardest parts of the design, and while they are usually on any layout, I think they would have been unfairly off-balance with the rest of the "jobs" on the layout. I think the final convincing I needed was Byron Henderson's latest article in the September/October Model Railroad Hobbyist about an N-Scale NYC layout that was completely proto-freelanced. With that in mind, I began to break down what really floats my boat when it comes to "railroading".

First, I was raised on Amtrak as my passenger railroad. To not have it on my model railroad other then token appearances would really not do my interest in it justice or utilize the amount of rolling stock I've collected. Second, I like commuter railroading and I don't see a lot of modelers doing it. I think it adds an interest to operations and the Harrisburg line (really, any Conrail line other than the Lehigh line in North Jersey) would not have added that interest without going completely off the reservation with respect to prototype fidelity of the line. Just understanding those two points, I realized that doing a prototype line probably wouldn't work for me. I also realized that unless I'm going to magically create a Conrail line in some portion of the country as well as create the need for that area to have a commuter railroad might be pretty far fetched. So that really only leaves me with going the "proto-freelancing" route. In my mind, my passenger operations would look something like this:
  • Run-down "Union Station" that has seen better days but is seeing a rebirth as is the city it serves
  • 2, maybe 3 commuter trains into the city in the morning, with like number out in the evening (and probably 1 run the reverse way to "stage" a set)
  • 2 more stops all on the lower level (no sense having commuter sets go up the helix)
  • "Union Station" would be part of a larger expansion of a downtown convention center as what happened to so many stations around the country
As for the other aspects of the layout, really, my wants list drives the rest of the layout. The one thing I know I definitely need to do is embrace the single-track main approach. This will make the dispatcher more important then it would have been in the design and make the road crews actually work on the layout if their train only has to drop cars some where (most likely just at the yard, but we'll see). It will also force my design to separate towns by at least 12 feet, since the max train length I'll have is 10.5 feet. I know some people have taken double track mains and reduced them to single-track for operational interest, but, and this is just me, it would bother me knowing that the prototype wasn't like that. Besides, Conrail had a habit of reducing double track mains west of Pittsburgh to single track with CTC (we'll ignore the fact they would abandon some later) and then watch as Norfolk Southern or CSX re-instituted double tracks after the split. While I want an active mainline, it doesn't have to be one where 60+ trains operate over it in a 24 hour schedule. This could be a secondary main line, an alternative to the Pittsburgh and Chicago Lines, perhaps serving the southern most cities within the Conrail system, kept alive only by the online industries and its proximity to the coal regions. It will definitely have a feel of climbing out of a valley into the mountains since that is probably the other aspect of "railroading" I've always liked.

And with all of that, it's on to design time ...

Note: This will still be the site to track progress on the layout. I won't change the URL or anything like that until much, much later and will probably always keep this domain as a "mirror" of whatever may come in the future.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Updates 2

Yes, I have some waffling going on. The HB line plan is monstrous, to say the least, so I've been thinking of somewhat scaling back to either a Shenandoah Valley themed line or a freelanced Conrail line. I even went so far as to do a Decision Matrix on various lines I had thought of and the result? It was a pick-em between all three options, but the freelanced holds a slight lead. The other thing on the HB plan is the two helices. I'm confident of building th
em after finding a few construction methods I liked (trapezoid cuts for roadbed and threaded metal rods), it's just there's two of them, that's a lot of looping trackage plus wiring, etc.

So what are my thoughts now. Well, for one, regardless of whether I do something in the Shenandoah Valley or the freelanced line, the layout would follow a similar theme, with one side of the peninsula not having separate levels, i.e., the mainline loops back along itself, like this:

Even doing this, I still may have to do one helix, depending on whether I can convince the land-grant manager of extending staging into the other side of the basement. If so, no need for a helix, if not, I'll still have to build a helix to get to staging. The side benefit of this kind of plan actually allows for more use of storage on the alcove, possible putting our refrigerator there, something I've been wanting to do. So, I need to come to a conclusion with this shortly, since I'm getting to the point of building the 1st level benchwork and I'm going to need to finalize it in the next few weeks if I want to really get moving on the layout.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Just a quick update. I've got the rest of my standards and brackets in place, although I may be lowering them a few inches. I did a few mock-ups the other day and the second level looks really high. We're not talking a whole lot lower, maybe an inch-and-a-half, but it's 31 standards I have to redo, possibly. I've also got a few L-girders done for the bottom level as well. I still need to construct a few more as well as pick up some stamped metal L-brackets for the staging under the lower level. Finally, I've updated the layout plan with what I believe will be my final edits before subroadbed hits the benchwork.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Layout Progress, July 22, 2010

This is a little late, but wanted to mention the progress I made on the layout structure this past weekend. With assistance from my Dad, we put up all the standards I had on hand along with the shelf brackets for the upper 2 levels. Here are some photo updates:
From Conrail Harrisburg Line

From Conrail Harrisburg Line

From Conrail Harrisburg Line
I ordered some more standards and brackets. The brackets came yesterday and I put them on the empty standards I had. I also started ripping some 1x2s and 1x4s from left-over Maple plywood I have from some other woodworking projects. I'm going to be using this for L-girders that will sit under the support joists for the lower level. Yesterday I also put some of these up on the brackets I had an put up 3 locos and 4 Walthers 5-unit articulated double-stack sets to get an idea on train length. This train came in at 9' 4" and looked plenty long. I have been planning for 10.5' to 11' trains so even if I had to add a 4th locomotive, I'd probably still be under 10' for the longest train. About the only thing this will really affect on my design is my fuel loading tracks and A/D tracks could be somewhat shorter, but that's something I'll do through building the yard. The other thing it will do is I'd probably have to compress the LDEs so that a train "dwarfs" them. On this line in the prototype, the closeness of some of the scenes I'm doing may result in the engine entering one area while the end is in another. To do this on the layout would require either longer trains or putting the industries/LDEs closer together, something I'll play around with during sub-roadbed laying. This weekend, if I have time, I'm going to try to put the L-girders together and rip the 1x3s for the joists and maybe get them up, but we'll see.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Design Progress - July 15, 2010

Just a quick update on the design efforts I had ongoing. I've finished the design of the Harrisburg terminal area. The key to my design was an article I read in MRP 2005 about eliminating S-curves and some of the examples it had. Incorporating some of the ideas in that article, plus some of the discussions on the forums led me to the following design:
From Conrail Harrisburg Line
The yard consists of the following elements:
  • 2 A/D tracks
  • 3 Double-ended class tracks
  • 3 Stub-ended class tracks
  • 1 Intermodal track - closest one to the aisle
  • 2 Locomotive service tracks
  • 1 Locomotive ready track
  • 4 "mainline" service/fuel tracks
  • 1 Amtrak runaround track
Let me talk a little bit about the mainline service/fuel tracks. Apparently, the fuel rack on the main idea is one many railroads perform, especially in the Midwest/West. It's somewhat uncommon back East. Harrisburg's fuel pad is aligned between its two main lines at approximately the half-way point of the terminal. This lets trains enter and exit the yard area without worrying about being blocked access by trains refueling on the main. Unfortunately, all of my early designs allowed access to the yard from the east if an eastbound train was refueling, but not for a westbound if a westbound was refueling. Fearing a bottle neck or putting crossovers in the middle of the helix, I decided to adopt a practice used on many western roads, a fuel pad at both ends of the yard. As a result, there are 4 tracks that will have fuel pads on either end allowing however many trains to refuel as possible and in either direction as access can be gained from each direction. I also put the Amtrak runaround in to allow for the trains going to/from the Amtrak station to bypass the fuel pads and not be hindered by freights being "refueled". I think this design is much, much better. I also made CP Capitol double track much as Norfolk Southern did after taking it over from Conrail.

Now, the other item I've been contemplating, researching and generally discussion in various areas is benchwork. Below is my benchwork mock-up.
From Conrail Harrisburg Line
This is based on various designs I've seen of others layouts, the materials I have available and cost. I have 30 studs available around the perimeter of the wall and by using the brackets and standards for the top 2 levels, I won't have to purchase a lot more and lighting on the perimeter will be easy to install. The bottom level will be built like I've seen a number of shelf layouts with the girders directly fastened to the open studs. A gusset or brace will be installed were needed. Finally, the center peninsula will be built like the this and this. I've even gone so far as to figure out how I will build my helix using straight line cuts with angled ends, like a trapezoid. This layout used it and both the LDSIG and Layout Construction Yahoo groups have information on it. The goals for this weekend are to get the second and third level standards and brackets up and maybe the benchwork and sub-roadbed down for the 2nd and 3rd levels, respectively.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Layout Progress - July 11, 2010

Yesterday I attached some shelf standards and brackets and used scraps of 3/4 Maple plywood and Maple I had left over from a few furniture projects. I played around with heights and such. Here's pic of the setup.

From Conrail Harrisburg Line

The heights came out to be:
  • 1st Level - 40"
  • 2nd Level - 56"
  • 3rd Level - 70"
I felt 40" was a good height for the yard to be operated at. The 2nd level was the more difficult one to adjust as it is at a height that I can reach my arm to without going above the horizontal. I also went through as many of my Dad's Model Railroad Planning and Great Model Railroads he had to look at "shelf layouts". I also was looking to see if he had Lin Westscott's How to Build Model Railroad Benchwork. Unfortunately, he had the 1979 version, and what I had seen referenced on many forums wasn't in it, so I'm guessing it was in the 2nd edition released in 1996. Anyways, I saw some things in there plus had a few forum and IM discussions and this is the along the walls profile I am going to attempt to have for the layout.

From Conrail Harrisburg Line

As you can see, I plan to use 2x2s on top of the shelf brackets. This will let me drill holes to run wires. Also, the brackets I have for most of the shelves are 12.5" for the 15" wide shelves. This will give me 2.5" to put the lighting for the 1st and 2nd level on the 2nd and 3rd level's support structure, respectively. For the peninsula, I'm thinking of using the method described here by Bruce Faulkner on his CSX Shenandoah Subdivision and further described here on Jamie's CSX Dixie Line. Now, all I need to do is buy some more brackets and standards and start ripping the left over 2x4s into 2x2s to get started.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Design Dilemma: Placing the yard and station

Now that I've got the base of the layout area done, it's on to finalizing a plan I can build the benchwork around. In a previous post, I had shown the LDE for the Hershey plant. I've since finished up the design for the Reese's and Hershey West plants as well, although I may change the Reeese's from a trailing point to facing point, unlike the prototype. I have also done the Harrisburg yard and station area.
One of the signature elements of the Harrisburg yard itself is the fuel pad as can be seen in these pictures. There is also a fuel pad between the two mainline tracks so even trains that don't stop at Harrisburg can refuel and change crews (which is a nice touch to model for operations). Below is my plan for the first level so far:

From Conrail Harrisburg Line

What I'm struggling with a little bit is what to do with the end of the peninsula and the Amtrak station area. I've thought about swinging around the station so it's on the peninsula, thereby extending the yard area and having a little more freedom with the locomotive terminal and TrailVan area. If I did this, however, it would meant the 1st level is nothing more than the Hershey complex (which is really 3 different industries) and the Harrisburg complex. I'm open to any thoughts or suggestions.

Layout Progress - July 5, 2010

As I had hoped, I got the third wall done this morning, complete with blocking and anchored to the floor. Here are two pics of the "completed" layout room:

From Conrail Harrisburg Line

The picture above is the wall I put up this morning. Its length is about 10' 9 1/2". The picture below shows all the stud walls I plan to build for the layout room.

From Conrail Harrisburg Line

The total room size, when looking at just the walls comes out to 17' by 10' 9 1/2". There's an extra foot to a foot-and-a-half off the ends of the wall as well as the alcove at the bottom of the stairs that is about 7' by 40", but does contain the water meter so it's use is limited.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Layout Progress - July 4, 2010

So last night and today I finished putting together the "long wall" and mounted it this morning. It was a bear to lift and then shim, but I managed to do it. Here is a pic of the wall in place:

From Conrail Harrisburg Line

The wall itself is 17' 2" and I have it about 1" to 1 1/2" from the cinder block wall due to the drain around the exterior of my basement. I'm hoping, with the day off tomorrow, that I can get the 3rd and final wall up. After that, it's on to a few design dilemmas I have regarding Harrisburg's design.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hershey Layout Design Element

As the layout area takes shape, I've gone back and started doing some alterations to the plan. I've decided to start on the edges, Hershey and Harrisburg, and work towards the center. The first thing I did in redoing the plan was to start with the Hershey Main Plant/Silos area. This area also includes the north yard, where set outs and pickups were made by one of the ALHB trains. The yard was the area for sorting cars for their destinations, either the silos, the main plant (extraction), Reese's plant or Hershey West. Today, the Silos are no longer used and the main plant is losing its manufacturing function in the next year as more work is moved to either Hershey West or other plants (some overseas). During Conrail's day, this area had 3 other buildings as well to server, which I've decided to not model. There were two more warehouses near the yard as well as an additional facility between the main plant and the Reese's plant. For my purposes, Hershey will be the main plant, the silos, and the yard. The Reese's plant and Hershey West will be the Swatara/Brownstone area. Here is a map of Hershey, Pa, marked with what the LDE will represent.

View Hershey, Pa. in a larger map

As I stated above, my representation of Hershey concentrated on the yard, the silos, and main plant. I also added the run-around opposite the yard as this was used to double-end the switchers since there are a lot of trailing point switches in this complex as well as the other plants. Also, during Conrail's days, this area was referred to as CP Derry for the crossovers between the mainlines as well as the siding switches. Below is the plan to represent this area of Conrail's Harrisburg Line.
From Conrail Harrisburg Line

I tried to put the main on a slight angle to the aisle to result in some curvature to give the feel of the S-curve through the Hershey complex, as can be seen here and here. For reference, each dot in the plan is 2" and each grid line is 1'. This is probably the first plan of Hershey that I'm actually please with. The yard is large enough to accommodate the cars to be left for the plants, the narrowing of the aisle allows for the silos to not push the main plant complex too far back into the backdrop and the use of #5s and some 12-13" radius for the plant tracks themselves allows this to fit on 15-18" wide shelf.

Next up is the Harrisburg yard and station area.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Layout Progress - June 27, 2010

Just a quick update on my progress. I don't have pics, sorry. I finished the rest of the wall in the center of the basement, around the posts. I then measured and cut all the studs I will need for the long wall, the one that runs along the right side of the layout plan. This will be a fun one to put up as it has about a 3/4" drop going from the top of the plan through the bottom. I know I will probably have to make spacers of some kind to solidify the top plate to the floor joists above. The plan is over the next week to slowly build the wall itself so I can put it up this coming weekend.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

To Enclose or Not to Enclose

So now that I've made a little progress on the layout area, I'm now beginning to visualize the layout in the space. One thing I keep going back and forth on is whether I really want to enclose the layout area or not. There are many thoughts on this and I put together a list of pros and cons for both a closed room and an "open" room, meaning whether I create a room separate from the rest of the basement by building out the 4 walls or a leave the room open on the 4th side by the stairs. Here's the list:

Closed Room
  • Keep out the cats that frequent the basement
  • Allows for a better design for Lebanon
  • Easier to design the staging on the 3rd Level
  • Duckunder to Enter
  • Helix from Level 1 to Level 3 is outside the layout room
  • Short center peninsula
  • Must put paneling/sheetrock around the room to truly enclose it
Open Room
  • Longer Center Peninsula, approximately 60"
  • No need to drywall room
  • Can see both Helices from the layout area
  • Can use more area for the yard, lead and/or locomotive servicing area
  • Doesn't keep the cats out of the layout area
  • Staging is harder to design, unless it goes "above" the head
  • Larger Helix for access into staging (4 tracks versus 2)
I've done designs before with the "monster helix" but I always went too far into the area by the water meter. I was never thrilled with the idea of the duck under to enter the layout room and not having it would, I think, make the layout more enjoyable. I believe I really need to limit where the end of the yard is so as not to interfere with the water meter area, which will already be tight with the helix. Also, going open would allow me to get the benchwork a little quicker and not create a room that really wouldn't be useful if we ever had to sell the house. If I were to finish the basement, I'd be doing it completely differently anyways. I'd be interested in hearing what others thoughts were on this.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Layout Progress - May 31, 2010

Today I finished up two wall sections of the wall that runs under neath of the main beam in my basement. In total, there will be 4 wall sections along this wall.

From Conrail Harrisburg Line
It's not much progress, but it's progress none the less.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Where did I go?

So it's been a while since I last posted here. The last time I put anything down on the site, I had bought all the wood I would need to build out the wall frames for the layout area. Well, since then I've had a number of things derail me. One, as many in the Mid-Atlantic know, it got warm real quick, which meant every single piece of vegetation in my yard decided to spring up. Then I did my taxes which resulted in owing a decent chunk of change which while not directly affecting anything moving forward on the wall construction did temper my enthusiasm. The final (things always happen in threes, right?) hit was a call during the heavy rains few weeks ago from ADT that I the water detector in the basement was going off. Thank goodness it was at 4 Am because there was about an inch of water in my basement from the sump pump deciding it wanted to take a break. Unfortunately since I hadn't started the construction, those piles of wood that I took pictures of (plus another round of purchases) were sitting in that water. After cleaning up the rest of the basement that morning and early afternoon, I was able to put the wood up on edge on saw horses, crank up fans and run the dehumidifier. All but one piece of wood has been saved, and the one that is somewhat bowed is for the baseplate, so I'm not sure it still can't be used for that purpose. Things will still be hectic for a few more weeks getting into May, but I really hope to get walls up (perhaps Memorial Day weekend?) before the summer.

While all this was going on, to relax my mind, I started playing around with the design and scope of the layout a little bit. One thing that came out of the the water in the basement was that while cleaning, I had all the stuff in the basement essentially on the side that will house the layout. We have a refrigerator in the basement but it is located over in the other half of the basement about as far away from the stairs as one can get. I've decided it should be at the bottom of the stairs next to the water meter. The implication of this is that that area is no longer available for a helix and that the layout would need to allow for the refrigerator to be opened. This led me to start designing something similar to Jamie's CSX Dixe Line plan, with a helix at the end of a peninsula and a duckunder/lift-out to enter. I even had a first level design down, but I didn't like the way the Harrisburg terminal fit. As I did more playing with the design, I realized something I probably should have realized before: Harrisburg's terminal is going to hard to model and even doing it using compression and modeler's license will take up 1/3 of whatever level it is on, not to mention the live interchange I feel is needed with the Lurgan branch for proper operations. As a result, I started to look at what would be a good piece of the line and began to narrow down on Hershey through Lebanon/Avon as the prime piece to model. I also went back looking through the special issues of MR including MR Planning 2010, paying special attention to Bruce Faulkner's CSX Shenandoah Division layout (I've also been an avid reader of his websites before this article). I've always thought about a Shenandoah Division Conrail layout as the few times I've gone to the valley, I've been mesmerized by the scenery, the history, and the vast potential of railroading that never happened. And I scratched that itch for a while, but ultimately came back to the Harrisburg Line. A piece of Bruce's layout article that appealed to me is the slotted staging with return loops.

The one item that the Harrisburg Line had is lots and lots of trains and the best way to represent this was, outside of the Harrisburg terminal, my biggest design issue. I essentially decided to follow this practice for my staging. I also decided that I should build Hershey through Lebanon/Avon on a level, place it high enough that if I wanted to build a second level for Harrisburg I could but it wouldn't be something I needed to worry about in the near term. So where I'm going with the design is using "outside-the-room" staging that's looped, a duckunder entrance into the layout itself, and modeling the line from Hershey through Lebanon with the understanding that expansion could be possible by adding a helix where the lines enter the staging room (to go East or West). I've got a few questions out to guys in the CRHS on some of the industrial operations in this area that will help in the design (probably should have done this a long time ago) so once I get them back, I hope to have something to show that's reduced in complexity but still has lots of operational potential.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Prototype Overview

Conrail's, now Norfolk Southern's, Harrisburg Line was former Reading Company (Philadelphia & Reading) trackage that began in Philadelphia and continued, via Reading, to Harrisburg. The portion I'm modeling is the former Lebanon Valley Branch of the Reading. The line was completed in 1858, linking Harrisburg with Reading and Philadelphia, and was part of the famed Alphabet Route in its later years under Reading ownership. Under Conrail, the line was not as important a line as it was during the Reading days. Conrail used primarily the former Pennsylvania main lines to move freight from Harrisburg east. Rutherford yard, the Reading's main westward yard, was a shell of its former self, serving as storage for retired, waiting to be scraped locomotives, as most classification work had been shifted to Enola. In fact, it isn't uncommon to find pictures of GG1s stored there, near the massive coaling tower, online or in collections. Once Amtrak took over the Harrisburg to Philadelphia line, Conrail was forced out of using it for freight and began to route all traffic for Philadelphia and, as the result of other abandonments across its system, Allentwon and northern New Jersey.

For Conrail, the line morphed into the Harrisburg Line, with connections to the Pittsburgh Line in the Harrisburg area (they technically run parallel through the Harrisburg terminal, although track charts seem to vary on this over time as well as where one line ends and the other begins), the Lurgan branch with its subsequent connections with Norfolk Souther (former N&W) and CSX (former W&M/Chessie System), the Reading Line to Allentown, and connections with CSX (former B&O/Chessie System), the Trenton Line and the industrial complexes of Philadelphia. From Reading through Harrisburg, the line was primarily a through line, but did have customers served by locals originating in Harrisburg, Lebanon, or Reading. Bethlehem Steel had a major plant in Lebanon that was shut down in the late 80s/early 90s. Also along this portion of the line is the Hershey Chocolate complex which includes its main plant, the Reese's plant, and a new plant called Hershey West that opened in the early '90s. Another customer that really exploded in its need for rail service was the quarry just outside of Annville. This quarry was owned by Wimpy Minerals and then by Pennsy Supply. During the time I'm modeling, up to 8 trains a day performed dropp-offs or pickups at the quarry. There are other, smaller industries on the line during the Conrail area, each fluctuating in rail needs. I'll get into specifics as we go through each of the areas modeled.

Under Norfolk Southern's control, the line has seen a resurgence. Conrail had a single-track connection from the form Reading property to the Pennsylvania lines at CP Capitol that has now been double tracked. While Conrail made Rutherford a barren wasteland, NS first leased the land to put in a RoadRailer terminal and then once controlling the line, created a large intermodal facility there as well. Other large industries/distribution centers have arisen in Annville and Myerstown which have added to the freight traffic. Also, Lebanon is currently undergoing a transformation as two bridges are being built over the line so that vehicular traffic can get to one side of the other of the town. As a result, many of the buildings that have provided backdrops for rail photographers are being torn down to make way for the new road alignments.

As for operations on the line itself, most schedules/books/articles indicate Conrail had anywhere between 45-60 named trains plus additional extras (ore/coal) and up to double-digit NS/CSX coal trains via the Lurgan Branch. Just about all trains switched crews at the Harrisburg terminal, with this yard becoming a regional intermodal facility over time and switching point within Conrail's TV operations. This terminal had very little in the way of switching manifests as most of that was done either at Enola or at larger yards in Allentown and Pittsburgh (Conway). I believe the statistics I had were that 25 "manifest" blocks were moved with about "75" blocks of TV movements in the terminal itself. Also, this line had two dispatchers, Harrisburg Line and Harrisburg Terminal. The line of demarcation, as far as I can tell, was at CP Tara, located between Rutherford and Hummlestown.

View Conrail Harrisburg Line in a larger map

Monday, February 15, 2010

Layout Progress - February 15, 2010

The first pieces for the layout room were purchased today, 2/15/2010, at the Lowes of Delran, NJ. I purchased enough material to get through building the stud wall against the exterior walls of the layout room and the partition wall from the exterior wall to the center beam of the basement. I also got 6mil plastic to put a vapor barrier in between the stud walls and the exterior wall. Here's a few pics of what I got:

Wood purchased for the walls of the basement.

Wood and the other items I got for the basement.

I'm probably going to go to the Home Depot of Delran, NJ, during this week to get what I need for the center wall and maybe the peninsula, although, my plans for that are still a little up in the air as I'm thinking of putting in a small subfloor first. I hope to put these walls together and secure them this weekend.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Steps Towards a "Moving Forward" Plan

For the last 2 weeks I have contemplated where I wanted to go with the planning and designing of the layout. I thought about doing a self-contained room, similar to the CSX Dixie Line design, with a lift-out and duck-under to gain access. I felt a dedicated room would give me the separation from the rest of the basement I was looking for as well as real set of boundaries that would prevent me from expanding into other parts of the basement. The layout would be separate from the rest of the basement, including any woodworking I might be doing. The one thing that has prevented me from using this kind of a design was that I couldn't get a good spot for the entrance to the room relative to the stairs. I found that two of my 3 major design elements have to be in a particular location to really work. The first is CP Capitol needs to be on a left-curving portion (as you leave Harrisburg yard) to give the true feel of the prototype. The other is that Hershey's main plant is on a curve where the plant is on the outside and the silos are on the inside. Most of my plans had this reversed and I always felt that the main plant wasn't represented accurately as a result.

So with these two ideas in place, I began to reexamine how to lay out the plan. I quickly realized that the only option that could really work and give me the LDEs in the right configuration was a U shaped layout with the center peninsula or the aforementioned E. CP Capitol would have to be at the end of one aisle while Hershey is at the other. Now, I have repeatedly mentioned my goal that the modeled portion of this line would be from Harrisburg to just east of Lebanon. I don't have the same constraints on the areas to model east of Hershey, as from that point until Reading, the line is pretty much straight, save for a few S-curves further east of Lebanon. It's easier to massage LDEs from a straight prototype to curved than it is to go the other way.

The last item to figure out was how to get access to the gas meter and still have enough room for the yard. I determined that the helix to staging on the one side of the layout would be in the small alcove at the bottom of the stairs, but not directly in front of the stairs. I also determined I would avoid the turnback into the helix at all cost, thus leaving room at the bottom of the stairs to ease moving things to and from the basement. The other helix that goes exclusively between the 1st and 2nd levels would reside "outside" of the layout room, however, I plan to construct it with the sides facing the rest of the basement completely covered from the floor to the top so that it is really an extension of the room, like a closet.

Determining where the helices, particularly the one to staging, were located gave me the design constraints on the size of Harrisburg yard. I already had an idea of the style yard I was going for based on some of the other plans I had done. Essentially I had the double track main, 4 A/D tracks with one being a runaround, 3 through class tracks, 3 stub-ended class tracks and two tracks for the TV terminal. The only issued remained was average train length to determine the size of the A/D tracks. By the time I figured out I needed at least 30 inches of space from the wall of the basement to the wall of the layout room for access to the gas meter, this left me with enough space for 10.5' to 11' trains. I then drew some car prototypes in XtrkCad, based on actual drawings from some freight car manufacturers, for items like well and spine cars. Knowing I would have a mix of articulated and stand-alone, I went with single cars for each and their drawing measurements. By the time I laid out a 20-25 car train, I was well under 10'. I also determined a train with 3 locomotives and 15 89' TOFC/COFC cars would easily fit under the yard design I had established.

So all of this work resulted in a plan that has a 28" aisle-way from the furnace area to the gas meter, which expands out to 32" at a point that is 48" from the corner of the basement where the gas meter is located. This ended up giving me a slight nook that I could use to ease the curves from the Harrisburg station through CP Capitol. The end result was a plan that gave me the yard, CP Capitol and Hershey in the places they should be and in the size they should be. All that was left was to fill in the blanks between CP Capitol and Hershey. I threw some things together, but quite frankly, I may redo after seeing the profile of the upper level. If I can narrow the non-yard shelves from the 15" I have alloted to close to 12", I will end up having aisles that are between 33" to 36" in width. Anyways, here is the working plan for level 1.
Note that the Lurgan Branch, Royalton Branch, and Amtrak go into staging. I may run them into their own couple lap helix to gain separation below the Hershey or center peninsula shelves for staging. I figure once I've gotten the staging and level 2 done, I'll post a single page that has everything on it, including layout parameters. I also plan to do cleaning this weekend while I'm snowed in by the next great snow storm of this winter and hope to maybe buy the framing materials next week so I can use President's day weekend to begin the framing/insulation of the basement.


Welcome to the my Conrail Model Railroad site. I will document the research, design, construction and operations of my N-scale model railroad based on Conrail's Ft. Wayne Line in Ohio.

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