Planning a Model Train Layout (Part Three)

In the last part of this article I wrote about the importance of creating a plan for your railroad before you begin its actual construction.  I also, talked about selecting a space which is suitable for your model train layout, and after doing so, taking exact measurements that should be set to paper in scale form.

After completing these tasks, there are a few more preliminary steps which are useful and will make building your layout much less complicated or challenging, and they are as follows:

1.  When you draw the plans for your layout, this process can be accomplished much more easily if you also make templates for the curves which your railroad will most surely have.  This can be done by using a compass which is the perfect tool for drawing curves.  You’ll be able to simply set your compass to the correct radius and then transfer the markings to your plan.

2.  Another idea that you can use, is to take advantage of a compasses ability to draw curves accurately, and make cardboard or styrene templates for the various curves which you are planning for your layout.  Typically, I make my templates from styrene and then and after cutting them from a sheet of gray styrene I end up with a perfect guide for the curves that I’ve planned for my railroad.

3.  Planning curves on a model train layout can be a little more involved than meets the eye, and many new hobbyist are often not quite as aware of this issue as they should be.  Additionally, model train track is sold in a variety of radius sizes just to complicate matters even more. 

4.  Before continuing, it might be a good idea to review the definitions of the terms radius and arc before we begin a discussion of the challenges which railroaders face when setting up curves on their layouts:

A radius in geometry is the distance from the center of a circle to any point on the circle.  Smaller circles have shorter radii (the plural of radius is radii).

The term arc refers to the segment of a circle, and is expressed in degrees.  An entire circle has an arc of 360 degrees. So half a circle is a 180 degree turn.  This is the arc necessary to turn a train around.   Depending on scale and manufacturer, track pieces may be found in 15, 22.5, 30, and 45 degree arcs.

5.  It’s easily understandable that if you have runs of track that are placed in a continuous line this can be somewhat monotonous, and the solution to this is to incorporate curves into these lengths of track.  With that said, however, the purposes of adding radius to your layout is also about providing a way to turn your trains around.  The basic school of thought about curves is that the bigger they are the better.  This is certainly one way to avoid constant derailments of your trains.  However, creating curves which have a large radius may not be possible if you have a small layout.  If you’ve used a small board for your layout you may have to build a railroad that only allows for switching, and one that doesn’t not provide 180 degree turns for your trains. 

If this is the case you may discover that this approach to track placement for your layout is just fine and you may fall into the group of people who actually enjoy this.  There is still another approach for a continuously looping track layout and that is to use the small radius for your curves.  If you choose to try this, be careful! 

6.  The primary goal is also to avoid unwanted and frustrating derailments.  This is one more reason for why it is important to plan your model train layout before you begin to build it.  If you decide to go with the latter for a continuous loop layout, keep in mind that the larger the train scale you choose, the larger the radius will have to be to accommodate this size train.  I’ve included a chart which is below.  The chart show you the minimum curve size for the various scales:

7.  When planning space to turn your trains around, you need to remember that the radius given by the manufacturers is measured from the center of the track, not the outside edge. So you need to add the overall width of a track piece to the diameter in order to properly calculate the space needed to turn a train around.

8.  Finally, factor in the size of the locomotives you purchase when planning curves.  For example, the wheelbase of your locomotive will have to be considered when planning curves.  The larger the locomotive and its wheelbase, the larger the radius for the curve or curves will have to be.  You may want to consider buying shorter locomotives to make things less challenging. 

As was the case with the other parts to this article, there is quite a bit more information which has to be covered to adequately discuss the process of planning a model train layout.  In the next part will take a look at drawing accurate turnouts and drawing easements for you your layout plans, and a few other things as well.

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