Tuesday, 28 March 2006

New track plan

Three or four months have passed now since I first decided I was going to build a model railway. The baseboards have been sitting there for three months, and the track plan has, by and large been fixed for most of that time too.

So you would think I might be getting a little impatient. Well, maybe sometimes! But in fact I'm realising that it's actually quite a good thing to take the time to 'live with' a plan first before launching out into building it. Novelists often map out an entire book, fleshing out people, places and events as fully as possible in their mind before even putting pen to paper - the more thoroughly this has been done the more convincing the finished article. The same goes for films, paintings, music... pretty much anything creative.

So it's little wonder then that when it comes to building a model railway, spending time planning - not just drawing a track plan but thinking through the details that will fit together to make up the final illusion of reality - is so important.

Of course, the track plan is central to the whole process if you're building a model railway - it is after all the main subject of what we're creating. Templot is proving a really invaluable tool in this area (although I still think it could be made a lot simpler to use!). Paper templates or pencil drawings, no matter how carefully laid out, just don't give the same level of accuracy.

Anyway, on to the point of this post. Having lived with my track plan for several months, I finally ran into a problem that I hadn't previously considered which proved unworkable. I had been intending to have a goods shed on the siding closest to the station, with a coal yard on the rear siding. The problem was that there simply wasn't going to be room to fit both of these side by side with the station at the front of the layout.

So I started to play with some different ideas - basically, switching the station itself around so that the main platform along with the station building is facing the front of the layout, then having the goods yard behind the station, and moving the coal yard to a seperate location at the front of the second baseboard. Click on the picture below to open a larger version:

I think this improves on the earlier plan in several ways. Obviously it frees up a good deal more space for the goods shed, and even though the station goods yard is reduced to a single siding, the area available is quite a bit bigger both width and lengthwise, therefore creating more sense of space (rather than risking looking cramped). I think this feeling of space is very important - trying to cram too much into a small space is one of the biggest detractors from realism in many model railways, I think.

Secondly, I think it is probably more realistic that the goods yard is located behind the station rather than in front of it. Road access is more convenient, and from a railway planner's point of view at least, waiting passengers don't really want to be looking out over a grimy goods yard while they wait for their train.

Originally I had quite liked the idea of 'viewing' the trains from behind the platform - in fact this had really been the initial spark of an idea that I'd based the rest of the design around. But the drawback of this configuration, on reflection, was that the station buildings would be facing towards the back of the layout - meaning that some of the more interesting detail of the station itself would be hidden to the viewer. Turning the station around overcomes this problem.

I did consider sticking at just the one goods siding, but decided that this would really place too much of a limitation on the (already limited) operating potential. In fact, having the coal siding in it's new location, seperate from the goods yard will probably increase the operating potential from how it would have been previously. I think it was also not uncommon for coal yards to be seperate or at least slightly removed from the main goods facilities. (The ideal location would be a long siding set back some way behind the goods yard, but obviously this is not an option here.)

I also considered ditching the bay platform and having this as a second goods siding - after all, a small branch line terminus like this may not really require two platforms. On the other hand, I quite like having this extra option.

Anyway, I need to allow a bit of time to get used to the new design and think it through in a bit more detail before committing to it completely.

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