One Point Five Meters


One point five meters, or about five feet. That’s how much space I’m giving myself for a short layout designed to display my buildings separate from the main layout. It’s also going to give me a short rail line that I can use with the controller I’m working on for the tram line on the Urban Station scene.

The germ of this idea was a conversation at a local hobby store that holds an annual show in the store to display the model-building skills of its customers. Last month, just before the show, I was asked about some of the pre-built buildings I’ve been detailing for my Village scene. At the time, I didn’t think the couple I’d mostly finished were really in a displayable state, but the idea of perhaps doing some kind of diorama crossed my mind as we discussed how to display something next year.

I also wanted some way to actually see the tram line in operation, as on the layout it’s going to be hidden away behind buildings, providing some background activity without really being visible (something I really need to fix on a future layout). And that led me to think: how small can I make a layout with the tram controller and my buildings?

I started with the idea of doing it in one meter (a yard) or so. But that was too short for the track to look reasonable, so I extended it a couple of times, ending up at 154 cm (60.6 inches, or five feet). I also floated the idea on the JNS Forum, and received a few comments, one of which led me to angle the track as seen above. That’s a bit too long for a bookshelf, which had been my original idea, but it would fit on a wall-mounted shelf or a similarly-long cabinet, without dominating the room.

The drawing above is my current plan, still subject to change. It will be built in three sections for ease of transport (shown by the vertical black lines about 1/3 of the way from each end). At the left end, the ground will drop and the track will run onto a viaduct (I expect I’ll custom-build one from styrene rather than trying to use a segment of a pre-built one).

As you can see here, the design is slightly different from the Urban Scene line. Instead of a long section of double-track with single-track stations at the end I have a long single track with a double-track passing section in the middle. Topologically they’re identical, so the same control software can be used, but this looks more prototypical for a rural line (and there are some urban lines that are single-track also).

The track will be Tomix FineTrack with 280mm (11”) curves at each end, and 140mm (6.5”) slip switches at the passing station. This will work for my light rail vehicles (mostly Modemo trams), and possibly for a one-car EMU/DMU (like my Greenmax JR West Series 125 EMU). I had to order some more FineTrack for this, but that’s arrived and is currently sitting on my workbench as a test-bed for the controller.

While I have a narrow Tomix platform that will fit between the tracks in the middle, I’m debating using a pair of outside platforms instead, which might be more suitable for a suburban area that isn’t as land-poor as an urban line would be (I also need to find ways to take up space, as I don’t have enough buildings to fill the longer layout).

Work on the controller software is also progressing, although slowly. Part of the reason is that I stopped to thing about it for a couple of weeks, ultimately deciding that I didn’t like any of the relay shields available, so I’m going to end up building my own relay circuit for switching track supplies for the two end sections. One thing that caused me to change is that I was out of control pins (unless I wanted to spend twice as much on the Arduino and use a Mega) and having the station in the middle caused me to think about adding some signals.

I still haven’t worked out what I can do there. I think I want four signals, which will need four pins (each controlling two LEDs on a mast in opposite states via a relay), and that may put me back to needing a Mega, as I think I’m down to only having two available.

So that’s where I am at present. Other layout work also proceeds in fits and starts, but it’s been a quiet summer for the railroad, with a lot of nice days to draw me outside. Hopefully the pace will improve with the colder weather, and I’ll have more to write about than I have recently.