Building a Switching layout, Part I

A foam project layout.

I've started buying track for the Christmas layout, and at the same time I'm going to build myself a much larger switching layout here in my computer room. So far I've developed a track plan, which is on V1.6 now.

Basic Operation Set-up Styles

Point to point, loop, ect.

There's a few layout set-up's that relate to how you operate it.  Here are the basics:

Point to Point
Point to point layouts are usually set up to model a section, or division of a prototype.  They are sometimes referred to as staging to staging layouts, though not always will they have staging.  Point to point operations usually concern running one train from one end to the opposite.

Starting New

Lessons learned from dismantling an old layout.

Hi gang,
Just a couple of lessons learned when dismantling my old layout that was on a Plywood base. Don't use airplane glue to secure the cork roadbed to the Plywood, it's a big time job to remove. Next Don't over spike [Ed: use to many] the rails. I'm in the process now and it's time consuming. Once all cleaned up, I'll start the new layout that I designed using AutoCad, (computer aided drafting) which included the layout, schematics, wiring diagrams, control panel details, ect.
Hope this helps someone out there.

Have a good one,

©2008/2020, "Ernie PRR",

I have not done much for a wile so last weekend a decided to make a programming track for my loksound programmer.I did not what just a bit of track on a bit of wood as some times it takes a wile to program some locos and i wanted something that looks the part and is a little different to every one else  .So this is what i came up with. every thing is hand made apart from the power poles and the cattle grid was a kit and i got the signals from auscision models. When finished i took some photos with some of my locos .took 2 1/2 days all up to make

Basic Construction of an All Foam Module

Describing how I assembled my all foam modules. Since I opted to make these modules at light as possible, I've eliminated wood from the framing of the modules, and opted for 100% foam.

To begin building a foam module, I first measured out the size of the module. Most of the modules range from 1' x 3.5' to 18" x 4', with a few oddball modules that are not square.

The "base" is made up of 1" thick extruded foam. This is the foam, most model railroaders will refer to as "blue board" or "pink board" depending on the brand (Dow & Owens Corning, respectively), or in some cases the Dow product will be referred to as "Dow board". This foam is the chosen material because it cuts much easier, and if you were to use it for scenery (as I will later), it can be carved much easier.

It's important to note, that depending on which area you live in, acquiring this foam may be tough. I live in San Diego, and I can only find it in one Lowe's, in 1" x 2' x 8' sheets. Expanded foam is more readily available, and will work just fine however is tougher to cut, messier, and does not work well for carving smooth rolling scenery. That same Lowe's carried 1/4" up to 2" thick, by 4' x 8' sheets of expanded foam, under the brand "Insulfoam". Home Depot carries the same brands, and also had a 1 1/2" x 2' x 4' sheet of the Insulfoam expanded foam. Insulfoam comes with a plastic protective layer, it is recommended that you remove this layer, AFTER cutting. Removing the plastic allows foam on foam gluing.

Track Joining and Placement

Basics of joining sections of track, and placing them, roadbed.

Rail Joiners, Soldering; nailing, gluing; plastic, wood, cork & foam. Whats the point of each.

When placing your track, you've got TONS of options.  From ways to connect sections of track, to ways to secure them, to the roadbed.

  • Rail joiners & soldering each serve the same purpose.  Rail joiners are the easiest way to accomplish connecting track sections.  However, there's a minor downside, contact is not always perfect.  If the joiners are loose, they can loose contact, thus creating a dead spot in your track.  Also, when gluing ballast down, if glue enters the joiner, it'll do the same.
  • Soldering can keep this from happening.  Soldering takes a bit of learning, I'd suggest practicing on some scrap track sections first.  The major problems her are the hot soldering iron, and the possibility to melt the plastic ties.  Heat sinks and help this.

Often, I'll combine both.  Using Micro Engineering rail joiners on Micro Engineering rail is suitable, but I'll solder most joints after to decrease movement, and increase electrical conductivity.

Layout Planning Lesson

Learning from a mistake in my layout planning.

A short lesson in testing your track plan in real life before committing to laying track permanently. I managed to short myself on round around space, and how I could have avoided it.

Recently I came to a revelation when running some test ops on a small portion of my layout. I had planned the main portion of the layout to include a passing siding, but since the layout ends yet the railroad “continues on” past the edge, I needed to use some of the space for a run around tail track.

I planned my layout using XTrkCad, and included what I believed to be a long enough tail track beyond the switch from the passing siding. Years later (two or so) I finally laid the track, but I was so elated that I failed to test fit everything. I now know that the tail track fits about 90 scale feet of equipment.

Layout plan from XTrkCad showing the erroneous area. The track shown in the middle with the two diverging routes is
the main, with the lower of the two being the passing siding, and the upper being an abandoned spur now used to store
MOW equipment. The track crossing the main is a spur to a scrap yard. It loops to avoid a large hill.

Using Risers on Your Layout

You can follow these directions when using foam, or opt for the Woodland Scenics pre-cut risers.

After the framing is complete, we can add risers.  To make sure I positioned the risers correctly, I needed to trace the track plan from the 1:1 print out, onto the foam boards.  I found that using carbon paper does not work well at all, and you'll end up going back over it with a sharpie, or a pen.  You can use a pin wheel, which should work much better then trace the holes the pinwheel made in the surface of the foam.  This step is very rough, but recommended if you're using a 1:1 track plan, because it'll allow you to get the risers were they need to be.

Why risers?
I use a riser for one big reason, it allows dug in scenery to be built easier.  Rivers, culverts, etc are easier to add.

When using the track plan, I suggest taping sheets together, in module sizes (I.E. each module's plan taped together into one large sheet), so what when you go back later to use the plan again when adding the roadbed & track, it stays the same.

No Room Under the Layout for a Switch Machine

Locating switch machines and solenoids where space below the railroad is a problem.

If you're like me space is a limiting factor in positioning switch machines or solenoids under the layout.

A simple trick is to put them on top of the layout but hide them inside a lineside structure, that way, if you get a problem you just lift the structure and you can get at it without any fuss. To make the connection from my solenoids to the turnout tie bar I use 1mm MIG welding wire bent to suit the location, it works fine for me and costs very little. [Ed Note: The author used MIG welding wire, which is suitable but may be cost prohibitive.  Search local hobby shops, or online, for "Piano wire," which is a suitable replacement and may be more cost effective if you don't have MIG welding wire readily accessible.]

© 2006/2020, Steve B,

Building The Benchwork