Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Thinking vertically

...well, maybe just slightly less horizontally!

Seeing 'Hadley Road' at the Warley exhibition reminded me of something that has been simmering away at the back of my mind for some time - the desire to get away from the 'flat baseboard syndrome' and introduce some subtle gradients and differences in elevation into my model. (By the way, I really should come up with a proper name for it, but that's another blog post!)

The Forest of Dean railways were notorious for their gradients. At many locations, due to the hilly terrain and inconvenient location of the collieries and other industrial workings, sidings and branches had to rise steeply or drop sharply away from the running lines, which themselves often had very taxing gradients (1:30 on the Coleford branch for example).

Given that I made the baseboard that I'm using well before coming up with the final track plan - and the track plan itself came well before any finalising of the layout as a whole (yes, completely and utterly the wrong way round to do things!), I've ended up with a track formation that is absolutely flat. Now obviously this could be compensated for to some extent by the surrounding landscape (in the limited space available), but how much better to actually introduce some variation in the track levels and gradients if possible....

Until now I assumed it was water under the bridge. But after seeing Hadley Road I came back and took a fresh look at things, and I think there could be a solution. Not the most conventional solution, by any means, and possibly not the sort of thing anyone would recommend.. but a possible solution nonetheless!

Ideally I'd like the main running line at the back of the layout to have quite a steep rising gradient right to left starting just after the turnout, so that at the leftmost side of the layout it's a scale 5 or 6 feet above the adjacent running line. This would work out to about a 1:30 gradient.

Then I'd like the sidings leading into the screens at the front to drop down slightly from right to left so that where they enter the screens at the left hand side the track level is a scale 3 feet or so lower than the running line that leads around behind the screens to the empty wagon sidings.

There are several issues to be addressed if I go ahead with this:

1) How to cut the sections out?
2) How to reposition them at the new heights/gradients.
3) How to ensure a gradual transition between level and gradients.

It would be ideal if there were some way of easily separating the cork underlay + track formation from the baseboard itself. However, given that it was stuck down with wood glue, I doubt very much this is a feasible option.

I think the only realistic option is to cut them out as entire sections - baseboard + underlay + track - using a jig-saw.

However, there is a potential problem here - the baseboard surface is screwed  to the underframe at various points, not hidden by the cork underlay! Fortunately I have a few photos of the baseboards taken before the undelay was added, so I should be able to guesstimate their position, locate them and unscrew them where surface sections are to be removed - so long as the screws don't lie immediately beneath a rail. A couple of timbers can easily be removed temporarily, but I don't want to start taking up whole sections of track!

Anyway, assuming this doesn't present too much of a problem, repositioning and re-fixing the cut-out sections should be fairly straightforward. I also don't foresee any problems with the overall strength of the baseboard once the pieces are cut out as the underframe will be left intact (I suppose there is a possibility if it proves impossible to access the screws that I could cut through the underframe sections as well, then add in new bracing pieces etc but that all seems like a bit too much effort for what is at the end of the day a fairly minor enhancement to the overall design of the layout!)

Aside from this, the only real question mark hangs over how to make a gradual transition between the level and gradient. (This would be essential on the rear running line, although could  potentially be avoided on the front sidings as they could be set on a continuous, even gradient along the whole length of the layout - or alternatively set on the level but at a slightly lower level than the other tracks.) Given that the baseboards are 8mm MDF unfortunately I don't think they'll bend sufficiently without some extra work. The only thing I can think of is to carefully make a series of lateral cuts through the MDF - without cutting through the underlay or trackwork, along the length of the transition gradient. It would need some sort of jig to hold the sections upside-down without damaging the track and, presumably, use of a cutting disc to avoid cutting through the underlay and track too!

As I said, this is all a bit unconventional, but do-able I think. It might seem like a lot of effort for a potentially minor thing, but on a layout of this size every little detail helps, and I do think that it would be a worthwhile effort.

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