A Layout Design for North Point Street

My last post explored a bit of layout design philosophy and introduced the plan for North Point Street. Let's dive in to the plan as it stands now... (click on the image for a larger version).

This plan pulls together the two ends of North Point Street, cutting out the middle few blocks. The left two modules (from Powell left) contain most of the Simmons Mattress factory. Simmons was a major customer of the railroad and features on the layout. The right two sections host the distinctive Cannery warehouse and curved-diamond track configuration of the prototype found at the other end of North Point. See earlier posts for reference on local geography and buildings.

The design essentially dedicates each 5' 9" long module to one block of North Point. Street intersections act as reference points for operators, and (hopefully) help to hide the joints between modules.

Simmons Mattress modules:
These two sections compress about three blocks of North Point and represent the beginning of the street from its intersection with the Embarcadero and waterfront at the far left. The 3-storey Otis Elevator building helps to hide the transition to the end of the layout, which in its permanent home will be against a wall.

Just like the prototype, the aisle-side of the layout otherwise has few buildings. This is great for  reach-in and viewing (important as the layout will be close to eye level). The lumber ramp should be to the left of Dutch's Lunch building between Stockton and Powell and is the only industry on the layout which is misplaced in this plan. In 1946 both Dutch's and the lumber yard were gone, having been razed to make room for a large rail yard to handle increased wartime traffic. I couldn't resist adding them here though for character, traffic variety, and to help compose the scene for viewers.

The Cannery modules:
The two modules to the right, forming the "L", compress a few blocks at the other end of North Point, where the Belt tracks zig-zag over to Beach Street and pass behind the Cannery to continue  to Ghirardelli off the right edge of the layout. Another opportunity for future expansion.

The houses on the angled street between Beach and North Point are prototypical and help visually pull the viewer away from the expanse of cobblestones at back-right corner and around to the imposing Cannery building.

What I like about this plan: 
Balance: The large, brick structures that bookend the layout; the diamond crossings on each side, the density of track... and yet each area is distinct.

Expandability: With more room and time, this plan affords the opportunity to construct more modules representing the blocks between Powell and the Cannery - maybe the interesting spurs which curved sharply off the back of the layout to serve Musto Keenan & Sons, or off the font edge to serve Pacific Box (which, admittedly by 1946 had also been razed to make room for that yard). Modules could also be added to the ends - the plan would benefit especially from some staging off to the left.

Incremental: The first two modules (Simmons Mattress) could be built and basic operations could start as the other modules are constructed one at a time, slowly expanding the layout and adding variety to the work. I'm not sure this is the approach I will take, but it is an option.

Operations: There are a dozen rail-served customers on the four modules, with even more car spots. Simmons and the Cannery will keep crews busy, with specific spot locations for Simmons and tricky facing-point moves at the Cannery. Other customers will see less-frequent traffic but add variety.

Urban feel: The plan is deliberately linear - horizontally and vertically. This is a reflection of the "urban/ brick canyon" feel I want to convey, where blocks are laid out on grids and the buildings are tall and efficient.

The linear, square-on lines might break a few contemporary layout design principles, but they do so deliberately. Aside from telling the story of a railway running through old city streets, it offers the opportunity to use contrasting shapes and lines to catch and direct the eye such as the peaked roofs of the row of houses, water towers on the warehouses, or the contrasting curving track work as the railroad moves from North Point over to Beach.

What I don't like about this plan:
Busy: The track plan in particular. It doesn't have the long, narrow feel of North Point (or most railways with long tangents of track) and there is a lot of track. This is a deliberate compromise made in compressing the prototype and one I think we as modellers make too often - trading realism for what we think is the "play value" of more track.

Confined: The middle track at the far left, where the "main track" would come off of the Embarcadero, is short - just 3 feet. That means operators will have to be careful about how many cars they can move when using the runaround, having their attention drawn to the oblivion beyond. I don't like breaking the Fourth Wall if I can help it, but by making operators consider this limitation as they play/work that is exactly what happens.

Backdrop transitions: There are four streets that dead-end perpendicular to the backdrop. Those will be difficult transitions to pull off convincingly. Stockton and Powell are aided by elevated walkways between buildings in the Simmons complex at least.

Complex track work: I wanted a challenge, but hand-laying all of those curved diamonds in proto:48 might end up being more than I wanted to tackle. At least it all gets buried in cobblestones and asphalt... and maybe it can help me earn an AP in the end?

Small turnouts and sharp curves: These are not totally out of place in tight urban areas, and the 1946 era means short equipment. But a No. 5 switch is still tight. At least the viewing height of the layout will help disguise these compromises.

So far I'm happy with the design overall. The next step will be to get some feedback (let me know what you think!) and to mock it up to test assumptions.