Design & Planning

The initial planning for my model railroad began near the end of January, 2010. I spent almost a week deciding on an appropriate location and benchwork size. I was initially going to build the layout in my office, but eventually decided to move it to my half-finished, tiny basement as my office would have been too overcrowded. My basement barely (and I mean barely) had enough room to fit a standard 8’ x 4’ piece of plywood, but none the less, I got it to fit.

The layout that inspired my design
The original layout I found online that I based my layout on.
Once I decided on the location and size of layout I had to work with, I began to plan a track layout. I knew that I wanted something interesting; with lots of exciting track features such as tunnels and bridges, while still keeping it fairly prototypical. I spent several days researching and sketching designs until I eventually came across an online layout of a modified figure eight (pictured left).

I liked the look of this layout because of the amount of track and curves, as well as its potential to add crossings, bridges, and tunnels. I spent the next several days greatly modifying this layout to fit on my 8x4 table. My main goals were to keep a separate outer oval main line with an inner figure eight layout, to add at least one mountain tunnel, to have a bridge/trestle, turntable, and to avoid any curves smaller than an 18” radius.

Initial track plan built with Atlas Right Track software
My original layout design, which changed very little from
this concept drawing to the actual layout I built.
Fortunately I was able to accomplish all of these goals in my final layout plan. I used the Atlas Right Track Software (link available on my home page) to lay all of my track and make sure everything fit together on an 8’ x 4’ table. The use of both Atlas curved track and flex track in my design made everything fit together perfectly (pictured right). I then printed out my track layout on a 11x17 sheet of paper and planned the grades, mountains, tunnels, hills, and different terrain levels and landscaping details with a pencil.

Final plan for 4’ x 8’ benchwork
Benchwork planning sheet. This helped me
determine the cut size for all of my lumber.
At the same time I was designing my track layout, I also started to plan how I was going to build my benchwork. There was no possible way that a full sheet of plywood would fit down the steep, narrow stairs into my basement, so I needed to build a table that could come apart in sections. After several different designs, I opted for a table that came apart in 2 separate sections that bolted together in the center, along with removable legs that could be taken apart in the event that it ever needs to be moved out of my basement.

I had to ensure that all measurements for every component of the benchwork were exact as everything needed to be measured and cut in my backyard, then carried down and assembled in the small space below my house. The table is built entirely of standard 2x4 construction lumber; the table top being ¾” plywood, which resulted in a very strong and rigid structure to build my layout on.

Layout power block divisions
Created with Atlas Right Track software, I then imported this
into Adobe Photoshop and used layers to overlay wiring, power
blocks, scenery, ect.
Another useful tool I utilized to help me plan different aspects of my layout was Adobe Photoshop. As Photoshop allows the use of layers, I was able to import my layout design from Atlas RTS into Photoshop, then used separate layers for various components (electrical, power blocks, etc.). By creating each element on a separate layer and overlaying them over the base track layout, I could then toggle layers on or off, either alone or in any combination, and view them in respect to the track layout.

I have included below several sketches, drawings, and diagrams that I have done since I first started planning my layout, along with a short description of each. Some are quite detailed, others just quick sketches which are barely readable, but none-the-less, all were very important and helpful in the many aspects of my ongoing project.

Elevation and track layout
Track details and sizing

Street signs - printed on 5x7 photo paper

Street signs - printed on 5x7 photo paper

Blinds and floors used in various buildings on my layout - printed on 8x10

Blind assortment on 8” x 10” matt photo paper
Blinds used in various buildings on my layout - printed on 8x10

Interior and sign graphics on 8” x 10” matt photo paper
Window and sign cutouts for my Walthers Merchant's Row I kit - printed on 8x10

Basement plan with 4’ x 8’ layout
The laout of my basement showing my 4x8 layout in relation to everything else.

Planning 4’ x 8’ benchwork
Benchwork planning sheet for lumber measurements

Control panel winch system side diagram
Benchwork side view sketch showing winch system and folding control panel

Benchwork rendering
Digital sketch of complete benchwork layout (without top)


Benchwork rendering with control panel winch stystem

Digital sketch of complete benchwork layout and winch sytem for
folding control panel (without top)

Original sketch of planned background
Planning sketch for backdrop

Sketch of wiring diagram for trackside signals
Relay and switch machine control wiring diagram for trackside lights

Planning sketch depicting wiring for the trackside signals
Wiring diagram for all LED trackside signals with Atas Snap Relays

Trackside signal planning diagram
Trackside signal planning

Layout power block divisions
Power block planning for dual cab control (also has terminal strip map)

Resistor board planning
Resistor PC board original diagram

Original planning sketch of layout wiring
Original wiring plan sketch. This changed a lot in the final plan, but still has a close likeness


Final resistor board layout schematic
Resitor board map (in relation to main control wiring schematic)


Final main control wiring schematic for dual cab control and LED trackside signals.
This is updated to show EXACTLY how I wired my layout and control panel.

Template for single tunnel portal
Scale sketch of single wide portal. I used this to trace directly to styrene to
build the actual portal

Template for dual tunnel portal

Scale sketch of double wide portal. I used this to trace directly to styrene to
build the actual portal

Template for wood trestle deck and supports
Scale sketch of trestle. I drew this to scale on newsprint to ensure curvature was correct and piers
were spaced correctly to allow tracks below to pass underneath. I then built the trestle
directly over top of the sketch.