A Small Shelf Layout

An urban model railroad needn’t take up a lot of space. I came up with the following design using Unitrack for three 4’ x 1’ sections (12’ overall length) that includes a double-track mainline with one station, a branch line, a small freight yard and a set of staging tracks to feed trains in and out. Not to mention a river bridge and grade crossing. Switches are #6 except for the freight yard and the crossover from one main to the other at the ends of the run-around. I haven’t actually built this, but it was interesting so I thought I’d share it.


Left section, with staging tracks and grade crossing. The bridge serves as a scenic block to hide the entrance to the hidden staging tracks. The branch line at the back is hidden behind a scenic backdrop.


Center section, with the river bridge and run-around track for the freight yard. The branch comes into view here (a building or similar can hide the entrance).


Right section, with the freight yard and station. Another bridge can disguise the end, implying the station tracks continue further (a mirror under the bridge might help with that illusion). The station is one of Kato’s usual 248mm side platforms with roof (Type A, 23-110, is recommended), and one 200mm side platform end (without roof, Type #1, 23-112). The yard could be enlarged, if you don’t want to have the “Inglenook” puzzle as part of it.

The most likely kind of freight car in such a yard as of 1985 or later would be bulk commodities, such as petroleum tanks, or gravel or coal in open hoppers. Another good choice are blue two-axle WaMu boxcars, as these were used up through 2011 for paper. Prior to the closure of Japan’s freight classification yards (in 1985) a richer set of freight car types was in use.

An Inglenook Switching Puzzle Layout

The “Inglenook” is a famous switching puzzle, based on the original Inglenook Sidings layout by Alan Wright (1928 - 2005), where you try to assemble a train of five cars, selected randomly in order out of a set of eight in a yard. The yard has three tracks, with capacity of 5, 3 and 3 cars, and the switching lead has capacity for three cars plus the engine. Here, the puzzle is the set of brown yard tracks, with the assumption that the freight train cannot re-enter the main line until the train has been assembled. This is the original Inglenook design, although there have been many variations on it over the years.

The original Inglenook Sidings layout was built on a 4’ x 1’ board (122 cm x 30.5 cm) in 1979, although Alan had been building similar small switching layouts for more than 25 years. Some link it back to an earlier 1926 layout by A. R. Walkley, although Wright denied knowing about that layout when he created his.

If you’re interested in the Inglenook, you can find more trackplans here (note: the author of that site, Carl Arendt, passed away in 2011, but it has since been taken over by another administrator who maintains the collection of layout designs and periodically publishes updates with additional layouts).

A Prototype, of sorts

What I had in mind when constructing this was largely JR East’s end-of-line Ōgimachi Station, in Kanagawa, on the Tsurumi branch line off the Keihin-Tōhoku main line. This is a small branch line serving an industrial area on an artificial island (landfill surrounded by canals) near Tōkyō Bay, with three-car trains. Adjacent to the station is a small freight yard, used for marshaling petroleum tank cars going to/from nearby oil terminals. The track leading to the station is mostly double-track, but all stations are on one side, and Ōgimachi is at the end of a single-track slightly offset from the yard. Unlike this layout, there’s no branch line, and the bridges are open-topped girder bridges (similar to Kato’s 20-457) rather than a truss, but otherwise the layout is fairly similar to the prototype.

Another reason for liking this as the prototype is that Kato made a model of the current 205-series train (10-920, made c. 2008 and long sold out) that serves it. This was from their Roundhouse division, which produces limited-production specialty models, so it is likely hard to find now. In November 2013, Tomytec released an unpowered 3-car model of the Tsurumi 205-series train (part number 25268), which can be powered with their TM-14 motor kit and TT-03R trailer wheelsets kit. They also sell add-on pantographs to improve the appearance (non-functional; all power collection is via rail).

Ōgimachi Station and yard tracks (2009)
Photographer: Takashi

Parts List

Note: some elements are contained in others (e.g., the 59/60mm straights come with the #4 switches).

Element Qty Description
20-000 24 Standard Straight L=248mm
20-047 4 Bumper (Wood) L=62mm
20-203 3 Electric #6 Turnout right, R=718mm, 15°, L=186mm
20-041 3 1/4 Straight Feeder Track, L=62mm
20-150 3 Curve R=718mm, 15° (for #6 turnouts)
20-220 2 Electric #4 Turnout left 15°, R=481mm, L=127mm
20-221-C15 3 Curve R=481mm 15° from right turnout 20-221 (roadbed adapted)
20-220-S60R 1 Straight L=60mm from left turnout 20-220 (roadbed adapted)
20-221 4 Electric #4 Turnout right 15°, R=481mm, L=127mm
20-221-S59L 1 Straight L=59mm from right turnout 20-221 (roadbed adapted)
20-020 10 Half Straight L=124mm
20-040 3 1/4 Straight L=62mm
20-046 6 Bumper (Concrete) L=62mm
20-202 1 Electric #6 Turnout left, R=718mm, 15°, L=186mm
20-010 4 3/4 Straight L=186mm
20-023 1 Double Track Plate Road Crossing, L=124mm
20-435 1 Green Truss Bridge with Double Straight Track, L=248mm
20-605 5 Signal Track, L=124mm (not for DCC)
20-221-S60L 3 Straight L=60mm from right turnout 20-221 (roadbed adapted)


Availability of Japanese train models is erratic. Production runs tend to be small, and sell out quickly, and often aren’t re-made for years. Some stores do a better job than others of showing what they really have, as opposed to taking your order only to tell you they can’t get it. See the list in the JNS Forum List of Japanese Model Train Retailers for a list of vendors (mostly in Japan, but who will ship internationally; postage won’t be cheap) and information about doing business with them. If you see something you really want, get it quickly.

As noted above, Kato made a model of the 205-1100 used on the Tsurumi line. Otherwise, any set that features a modern train of at least two or three cars would work, and while electric multiple-unit (EMU) trains are typical of urban lines, a diesel-powered multiple-unit train (DMU) wouldn’t be completely unrealistic.

For EMUs, the 205 series is a good choice, as these are slightly older (c. 1985) trains still in service, that have often been downgraded to smaller lines as newer stock took their place. Be careful to get a powered set, as some of the smaller sets are unpowered expansions. Both Kato and Micro Ace make these, although finding a small set can be difficult. However, Kato has a couple of Senseki line 205 trains in four-car sets planned for the summer of 2010 (10-294, 10-922). Given the price, I think both are powered, but Kato’s description (Japanese) is a bit cryptic when machine translated.

In terms of freight engines, the DE10 diesel-hydraulic locomotive is ubiquitous as a road-switcher, and could be found pulling a train on a main line. Both Kato (7011-1 and 7011-2) and Tomix (2222 and 2223) make models of it, although the Kato ones can be out of stock at times. Electric freight locomotives, such as the EF210 would also be appropriate. Kato (3034-3) and Tomix (2146) make models of this one, although the Tomix appears to be out of production at present. Note that most freight trains in Japan are operated by JR Freight, which has trackage rights on the lines of the various JR passenger companies (like JR East, which owns much of the track around and north of Tōkyō). There is some freight handled by non-JR companies, but this is relatively rare.

Modern Japanese freight is almost entirely either containerized (in newer brown or sometimes blue containers, or decorated containers owned by third parties, rather than the green ones of the 1960s) or in tank cars, although there is still some use of other types. This particular line also serves a coal dock, and hopper cars containing coal operate a unit trains of ten or twenty cars. As container yards tend to be large facilities, a dockside car yard for bulk commodities (like that of the Tsurumi line) is probably a more prototypical choice. Kato and Tomix both make models of these. Googling for “JRF TAKI” will turn up some photos of tank cars. Micro Ace makes a model of the HoKi 10000 hopper cars used for coal here (A2089, 8 cars) which can still be found as of January 2013. Kawai also made one, but of more limited availability (and they just went through a change of ownership, so the future of their models is uncertain).