Layout design for realistic operation
by Harry and the late Ivor C. Marshall.
© Harry Marshall 2006
The right of Harry Marshall to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted
I suppose most of us are led into building our layouts from memories of the real thing, sights, sounds or even smells recollected from childhood or later. Some of my earliest remembered railway experiences centre around evacuation to Glasgow during the war, and the seemingly interminable hours of the journey to Scotland over the Shap and Beattock banks, crawling along behind grossly overloaded Stanier locomotives. Later, I was lucky enough to be allowed (unofficially) to be in some quite special railway places at what turned out to be pivotal moments in their history. One of them was the embankment above the north yard at Evercreech Junction, one summer in the early fifties.
Whatever the original stimulus, many of us set out to model a real place or places, gathering our information about the station layouts, the position of the structures, probably some information about the freight and other services, and so on. Then at some stage the realisation dawns that we cannot actually reproduce all that we would wish, for reasons of size, cost, or whatever. So compromises have to be made; sidings get shortened, as do platforms, and trains shrink to suit. Sometimes quite large amounts of the original track layout have to be dispensed with. Somewhere during this process, unless we are careful, a change is made which fatally damages the station design. That is to say, that it ceases to represent the intended place, because it can no longer be operated in a way that depicts the services accurately.
Some of us, for whatever reason, decide to create a fictitious railway, and have to make, consciously or otherwise, decisions about how our stations are to be operated. Too often, the operating problems only emerge when the model is well beyond the track design stage, and revisions have to occur which inevitably leave a trail of damage behind them.
What I would like to offer is an approach to layout design, which should help to avoid the disappointment of an unsatisfactory original or adapted arrangement, and provide considerable enjoyment along the way. Much of it is based on reality and reflects the processes that influence the original and changed track designs of the network that we see today. It consists, in essence, of matching the railway technology of the period modelled to the service the passengers and other customers would require.
If that sentence leaves you a bit cold, consider an example: open wagons almost since the beginning of railways have come in two forms, side door and bottom door (hopper type). Side doors imply unloading on to either the ground or a raised platform of some kind beside the line. Hopper doors require the railway to be raised for the load to fall through the track, i.e. straight into the hold of a ship, or into another vehicle, or some large bunker.
The further implication is one of scale, in that side doors normally, but not always, indicate smaller deliveries. Consider now the progression of development of coal wagons, and the way their use and type of market has changed, from under-10 ton side door vehicles that went to any local yard for laborious hand-bagging, through to air braked fixed sets of 70-tonners in M.G.R. workings to power stations.
One could apply the same thinking to say, milk traffic, or perishable commodities.
Much such traffic only became possible to market on a significant scale once the specialist railway vehicles and load/unloading facilities existed to handle them.
Those of us who are attempting to recreate a real place and time need to consider before any re-drawing of track diagrams occurs what sort of traffic passed into, out of, or through the location represented, and therefore, what essential facilities would be required to deal with them. This applies to passenger traffic also, but far more so at terminals than with through stations. Having assessed the traffic types, examine how they were carried and loaded; bear in mind that methods changed over time. The research into this sort of area for a model can prove fascinating, because all sorts of aspects of local life surrounding the station and its activities come to light, and the uses to which the various facilities were put (official and otherwise!) can be both revealing and entertaining.
Alongside this study of traffic types, the methods used to efficiently manage full and empty vehicles need study and this is, perhaps, more immediately relevant to track layout design. Some people may remember (as an example of this sort of research) the series of articles on the Bodmin layout of a few years ago, where the shunting sequence for the trains of clay hoods had been examined with some care. Of more general use to steam era modellers, remember that, where possible, vacuum fitted vehicles travelled coupled together and to the locomotive, particularly in hilly areas, and the shunting facilities should enable this to be done. There are all sorts of other restrictions and special arrangements peculiar to individual traffic and localities, and a study of the Appendix to the Rulebook (usually printed in the front of the Working Timetable) for the line(s) that interest you can be very revealing. These are not too difficult to locate on second-hand bookstalls at exhibitions, for much of the network; the rarer ones are usually to be found in the care of local preservation groups, or they will know a man who does…
All this may seem rather remote from the pencil, paper (and rubber!) drawing you are itching to get on with for that new layout, but by investigating aspects such as these, you end up with a far deeper understanding of the working of not only the railway you are modelling, but the people and their activities that it existed to serve. Those of us who chose to create a ‘might have been’ layout cannot escape the sort of considerations discussed above; you just have to imagine it all out from scratch. It is quite likely that a study of an area into which a fictional line would have run will throw up the reasons why your brainchild was never built or contemplated. If so, what do you do about it, since there will always be someone who will ask why you have modelled it, and you need a well-prepared answer to be convincing. Modest variations on local history, such as discoveries of interesting minerals, local processing of an existing product usually shipped out raw, e.g. cheese instead of simply milk can justify very satisfying imaginary railway ventures.
The bottom line, however, is always that the facilities you as the managing board of the railway company need to provide to handle the potential traffic available must allow you to deal with that traffic efficiently and cheaply within the technological and legislative restrictions of the period you model. That said, the limits are set only by the imagination of the builder, and enormous enjoyment can be derived from mentally coping with the needs of some inconvenient seasonal traffic or other, with specials for race days up the line, for holidays, (marvelous excuse for big engine on small line – but can you realistically service it?) and so on…
Perhaps this is the moment to look at some of the ways in which a railway operator would seek to provide services for the various traffics to be carried. There are several aspects to keep in mind with this: the period considered, the methods of traction, the geography involved, the nature of the traffic(s) as to transfer methods, seasonality, scale of operation, and the complexity of passenger requirements to name several items from a longer list, some of which are not effectively modellable.
In part 2, I review each of the above topics briefly, and go on to the ‘internal’ aspects of the development of railway operation, concerning the approaches to train handling, the provision and servicing of motive power, and the track arrangements that have proved most efficient, as railway operation has evolved.