This is just one of my model train project documents.

Wayne's Overall Model Railroad Plan

This document describes my overall plan for my model railroad empire.


In my household, model trains are a father/son activity. My son, Kevin, has loved trains since age 1.5 years. In fact, he is the primary reason why I am interested in model trains. As I write this (February 1998) my son is age 7.5 years. He still loves trains, but he is beginning to finally show interest is stuff other than trains. I suspect that his interest in trains will start to wane as he approaches those tumultuous years of being a teenager. What this means to me is that my plan should have some short term goals that are measured in years, not decades.

In the summer of 2000, the NMRA convention will be coming to San Jose, California. Since I live in the San Francisco Bay area, it seems like a reasonable goal to shoot for having enough layout in place to qualify for a layout tour for the San Jose NMRA convention. That puts a time limit of about 2 years on this plan.

Section Layout Issues

For a variety of reasons, I think that designing a layout as sectional layout makes sense for me. Primarily for space reasons, N-scale is the scale I have chosen to model in. There are a number of sectional layout standards in N-Scale -- 1) N-trak, 2) Bend-trak, 3) Free-mo, and possibly 4) N-trak 2000. I will lump N-trak and N-trak 2000 together, since they are very similar. For me, personally, none of these existing modular systems seem to be quite right for me. My biggest problem is that I want to maximize the amount of layout that can be put in the amount of space available. My problems with N-trak and Bend-trak are that they are `island' systems that are primarily meant to sit in the middle of a room away from a wall; while it is possible to put them up against a wall, there are some definite limitations imposed by wall placement. Free-mo can certainly be used in a wall configuration, but it tends to encourage point-to-point systems; whereas, I can see some definite advantages to being able to put a train into a mode where it just runs around in a loop. The net conclusion I have come to is that I will use a sectional layout strategy, but I will not use any of the existing `standards'.

After looking at the various standards, I concluded that what made a lot of sense to me was to model two side-by-side main line tracks. (N-trak has three side-by-side tracks, which is far less prototypical.) I have two strategies that I am exploring:

This concept is basically just Bend-trak where both tracks are on one side of the module rather than being separated by 24 inches. The reflector modules have to be a little bit larger to turn the trains around, but that is tolerable to me. Like Bend-trak, Main-trak allows just one train to be run in loop-to-loop mode.
This concept is basically two Main-trak's on top of one another. The bottom tracks are in a `tunnel' that allows trains to be moved from one end of the layout to the other `invisibly'. For accessibility reasons, the plan is that one side of the tunnel will be open so that the operator can just reach in an fix any derailments, etc. Tunnel-track allows two trains to be run in loop-to-loop mode. There is one huge disadvantage to Tunnel-trak, the reflector modules have to quite large to move the trains from one level to the other. I figure that the minimum vertical rail to rail seperation I get away with is about 50mm (about 2 inches for those who are metric impaired :-); with a 1% grade, that the 50mm height differnce translates into 5000mm (5 meters or approximately 15 feet) of track needed. The advantage to tunnel-trak is that there are lots of tunnels and my son just loves tunnels!
In the end, what I do here will ultimately depend upon how much space I can allocate for the layout.

When it comes to space, currently, the layout is on 4 foot by 6 foot piece of plywood in the living room. Eventually, I would like to move the layout out to our "atrium", an add-on room outside of our living room. Unfortunately, our "atrium" is in pretty sad shape as I write this -- it is termite infested, has a leaky roof, and has a concrete slab floor that is starting to crack down the middle. It is pretty clear that I'll have to hire a contractor to come in and rip the whole thing out and rebuild it. However, once it is rebuilt, there should be about 15 by 25 feet available for the expanded layout.

Building the Layout

The current plan for actually building the layout is to use foam and aluminum for the modules. The foam is to be sculpted using a machine that I have been slowly assembling over the past year that I call a hot-wire mill. As I write this (February 1998), the whole hot-wire mill is coming together.

The hot wire mill consists of three basic pieces:

The Frame
The frame is the device that allows me to move the hot wire (i.e. a soldering iron) in an X-Y-Z cartesian coordinate system. It is built out of closet sliding door rails, aluminum struts and stepper motors. As I write this, I am going through the process of `tuning' the frame -- making sure the rails are really parallel to one another, reducing friction, adding diagonal struts to prevent rectangles from turning into parallelagrams, etc. By the way, this frame is pretty large -- 3 feet (Z) by 4 feet (Y) by 8 feet (Z).
The Stepper Motor Driver
One of my long-term projects has been to build a stepper motor controller. This controller allows me to control up to 4 stepper motors via a parallel port on a PC. This circuitry has been fabricated and debugged.
The Design Software
The design software allows me to lay out sectional track -- currently, Kato Unitrack (tm). In addition, it allows me to add in rolling mountains based on fractals. This software is there and starting to work, but its track layout primitives are, well, primative. Basically, track is layed out by writing a program, compiling it, and executing the program. Eventually, I want to put a better GUI on it, but I have decided to compromise in order to keep to the time line.

I am pinning a lot of hope on the hot-wire mill to quickly manufacture the layouts that I design. If the whole idea does not work, well I can pretty much kiss the idea of an NMRA layout tour in the year 2000 goodbye. If the hot-wire mill does work then, I should have sufficient time to put some level of scenery on the layout and work on the control system.

The Control System

In my spare time I have been slowly designing a model railroad system that I call MRNet.

Copyright (c) 1998 by Wayne Gramlich All rights reserved.