(Click on the plan above for larger image).
The internet and hobby press are full of resources on layout design and track plans, but I want to make the distinction here again for readers as the two are, and should be, treated as separate.
A track plan - the arrangement of rails which will carry your models - is just one component of a robust layout design. It feeds from the design and the thought that goes in to developing that design.
Yet more often than not it is track planning that we like to tackle first, probably because it lets us begin to imagine operating our trains.
Layout design, on the other hand, is less definitive. Good layout design requires us to consider and incorporate individually complex elements and blend them in to something which will give us satisfaction. It requires us to think about what we really want to get out of a layout project; to be realistic about our time, resources, skills and what challenges we want; it means making sacrifices and compromises. Most of all, layout design requires systems thinking: for a good design, you must be aware of and consider all of the factors at play and use your creativity to integrate them. It is vague, only limited by imagination, and for that reason ethereal. No wonder then that track planning can be more instantly gratifying.
In undertaking the process, a good layout design should lead you to a good track plan - maybe even a great one. Not being considerate in layout design however can ruin your layout, even if you come up with a good track plan.
For example, that track plan for your main yard might handle the planned traffic levels perfectly, but it will be frustrating to operate if reach-in is poor, or the aisles are so narrow crews can't work in them, or the track level is too high, for instance.
Without going on too long about it here, if you really want to contemplate design more I urge you to check out (and join!) the Layout Design SIG (Special Interest Group). Even if you aren't facing the task of design right now, the SIG offers us a continual font of new ideas, techniques, and lessons learned on what makes good design.
In addition to the LDSIG, I would encourage you to check out Lance Mindheim and Byron Henderson, who both have wonderfully insightful things to say on the subject and who are two of the most innovative, professional (yes, you can get paid to do it) layout designers around right now.
The Design for North Point Street
With all that said, I have spent the better part of the last twelve months on iterations of the design for North Point Street, and the last few months specifically refining the track plan.
My primary goals for this layout:
1. Challenge my hobby skills (e.g.: new scale, fine scale, hand-laid track, detailed urban scenery).
2. Create an interesting to operate and achievable (to finish) layout - more on Achievable Layouts from the great Trevor Marshall.
3. Replicate the feel of the State Belt RR of California in the post-WWII era ("feel" is perhaps subjective, but important).
The first of these goals is relatively straightforward and accomplished with the selection of scale and prototype.
The other two depend upon a successful layout design and are not necessarily inclusive of each other.
Other design considerations which I wanted to address include:
- aesthetics which complement the modern, minimalist decor of the spare room/office hosting the layout
- portability so the layout can be taken to shows to demonstrate proto:48 and prototype operations
- accessibility and ergonomics for the most frequent crew: a 70 year old and his 7 year old grandson (and consideration of what accessibility will mean for both over the next decade or so).
With that, here's the
Next post I will dive in to the elements in a bit of detail.