More on Layout Lighting

I’ve been thinking about a number of things related to the layout this month, but mostly about lighting the layout itself. The current layout is lit by a mix of my original track lighting system (using compact fluorescent bulbs) and the newer fluorescent tube valences.

That experience convinced me of the merits of fluorescent tube lighting. It also convinced me of the need to build the lighting valence as part of the benchwork, rather than trying to suspend it from an irregular ceiling. As you can see above, the heating ducts caused some difficulty in attaching the lighting units in this part of the basement.

Going Around the Wall

Benchwork is fundamental to a model railroad. It provides the structure that ties everything together, and over the long term dictates what can and cannot be done. While I created Sumida Crossing, I was intent on recreating the “tabletop” approach I’d used on the Kitchen Table Layout, but as a sectional layout with permanent scenery, something that would hold up well to moves.

That led to a number of decisions on how to build my benchwork. But now that I’m thinking of a different kind of layout, I need to re-think that, examine my past decisions, and decide on a new structure. Read on for the details.

More Hilltop Work

Work has progressed. I finally finished getting the backdrop photo attached to the backdrop, and the latter attached to the layout table. This was not without a lot of awkward contortionism to get the darn thing bolted in place. Perhaps I would have been better off disconnecting the whole return loop end from the rest of the layout, so I could turn it and work somewhere other than in a two-inch slot up against a concrete wall. But while that’s possible by design, it’s REALLY hard in practice, and I decided I didn’t need to do it. And in the end I didn’t, although I’m not sure I actually saved any real time.

The backdrop looks pretty good, even in person. It has just the right level of detail, and the sizes are acceptable (perhaps a bit too large, but I don’t think they’ll be too obtrusive). The faded/hazy color and low-resolution of detail looks just right.

Modeling Subways

I realized that my subway material was scattered over several pages, and I didn’t really have anything that tied them all together. Also, some of the pages were a bit out of date. The main page is the Subway Line page. I’ve updated the outdated material, and here’s a post to describe what I was trying to do, how I went about it, and what I’d do differently next time. I’ll link to other pages in the text below.

A subway isn’t something you find on a lot of model railroads, but then most model railroads are focused on freight operations. Even ordinary railroads back in the steam era had underground stations (New York’s Grand Central Terminal has 44 platforms, all underground). Property costs in modern cities make it even more likely for structures to be built above the tracks, partially or wholly covering the station. Boston’s Back Bay station used to be above ground, largely in a cutting, but today is mostly out of sight below ground except for the entrance building and ventilation stacks.

Despite the high property values in Tōkyō today, most of the stations are surprisingly at or above ground level. In part that’s because the rail lines’ growth came after dense urbanization, so elevated lines were a more practical solution for expanding them. The city does have subways, and most of them use the same gauge track and same voltage power supply as the above-ground commuter lines, so some of these subways provide access to the city center for suburban commuter trains. Several subway lines have underground stations below or near surface line stations, to allow transfers.

I’ve used that as an important aspect of my modeling to capture the “layered” feel of urban railroading. Cities rarely exist on a single level, even ignoring multi-story buildings. There are often below-ground open plazas and hidden shopping arcades, and highways and rail lines exist and cross on multiple levels. Cities aren’t flat, and models of cities shouldn’t be flat either.

Rethinking Storage Tracks and January 2013 Status

While I’m spending a lot of time playing with decoders, that’s not the only thing on my mind. One idea that’s been eating at me for a while now is to redesign the under-table storage tracks. I’d originally planned to locate these under the Urban Station scene, reached by a helix that led down to them from the “unsceniced” end.

On reflection, this was less than ideal. First, any access to the underside of the layout for wiring work would require removing all of the trains from storage. Second, the helix to reach them would be quite long, at five and a half turns, which would be expensive and overly complex. Third, if I needed to work on the trains, I’d be kneeling on the concrete floor and reaching into a narrow space to access the trains on the back track, which pretty much guaranteed I wouldn’t be able to do much. The only thing it had going for it was that I could store a full-length sixteen-car Shinkansen (2.5m or eight and a half feet long) down there.

Hybrid Design and Temporary Scenery

There’s a “right” way to build a model railroad: build some subroadbed structure (often plywood screwed and glued in place, sometimes foam held together with glue), add roadbed (paperboard or cork are typical, a type of foam rubber is also used) held in place with wood glue or similar, attach track (held in place by silicone caulk, or temporary nails), and apply ballast (crushed stone or artificial granular substances) glued in place with diluted white glue. Make sure the track works, protect it with tape, wax paper, and other things, then add scenery of carved foam, plaster cloth or other material, paint it, glue down ground scatter, shrubs and other scenery, and plant buildings in places prepared for them.

This approach produces everything from the basement-filling layouts typical of North America, to the smaller layouts found in Europe, right down to the switching layout-on-a-shelf more typical of the space-constrained builder (common in the U.K., but hardly limited to there), as well as modular layouts that only get set up at club meetings and shows. Smaller layouts often use a box structure for the subroadbed rather than the more material-efficient approaches (like L-girder) used in larger layouts.

It is, effectively, the collective wisdom of decades of western modelers (North American and European in particular), promulgated in books, magazine articles, and today web postings. And it’s not a bad approach; it’s the collective wisdom because it works and has proven itself capable of producing long-lasting and reliable model railroads. Read More...

Almost There - January 2011 Status

January went primarily to the backdrops and the risers/inclines of the Riverside Station scene commuter loop, and now the Riverside Station scene begins to come together. The tables themselves are not yet connected to each other or anything else, as I’m taking the opportunity to work on the wiring with them stood on edge, which is much easier than working on it from below.


Plexiglass and More

The latest addition is the fascia panels, sheets of painted hardboard that hide the edge of the table and foam. I’d previously done these for the River Crossing scene, but only clamped them in place. With the structure of the Urban Station scene largely settled, it was time to do them here too, and to make a permanent attachment. But with one change: instead of using a raised lip on the fascia to keep a runaway train from leaving the table and plummeting to the concrete floor, I wanted something that wouldn’t interfere with the view under the elevated station, at the Subway platforms and other elements (including a bus terminal) planned for underneath it. Sparked by a comment in a recent magazine I decided to use sheet plexiglass. Read More...