Progress in Scarborough

Thanks to my friend Regan Johnson for sharing a photo of progress on his layout, the CP Rail: Scarborough Industrial Spur. As regular readers know, I drew a plan for Regan, and built the two in-street turnouts that the design requires.

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In the image above, we’re looking from the room entrance along the main track next to the team yard (along the bottom edge of the plan, below). The boxcar is standing on spur 358, while spur 361 to John Inglis is in the upper left.

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Regan reports that all track is now laid up to the location of those two in-street turnouts, so it’s time for me to pay him a visit and help him install them.

Thanks for the update, Regan!

Prototype inspiration: Cobourg ON

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(Welcome to Cobourg – an ideal subject for an achievable layout.)

Sometimes, everything for a layout just comes together in one place. My friend Bernard Hellen reminded me of that recently when he posted on his Quebec Gatineau railway blog about a visit to Cobourg, Ontario. (My friend Chris Abbott and I visited Cobourg a decade ago, which is when I took the photos for this post.)

This small city, about an hour or so along the highway east of Toronto, sees a lot of railway action. That’s because it’s on the Toronto-Montreal corridor for both the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific – in fact, Canada’s two major carriers parallel each other through the city, just a stone’s throw apart.

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(Looking southeast from the VIA/CN station parking lot towards Division Street. That’s the CPR on the overpass.)

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(The parking lot – south – side of the VIA station. The CNR main runs along the north side of the structure. The CPR track is behind me.)

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(An eastbound CP Rail train rolls behind the VIA station…)

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(… and then across Division Street. Ahead of the train can be seen a small yard where the two railways could interchange traffic, although I don’t know how often this was done.)

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(West of the depot, a westbound VIA train accelerates away from its station stop on CNR trackage. Down the road, one can see the gates for the CPR line that parallels the CNR)

The CNR had a small yard across the tracks from the station, some of which was removed a few years ago, when VIA installed an overhead walkway and second platform on the north side of the mainline. When Chris and I visited, the yard was still there – and held a string of covered hoppers:

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(Chris inspects the scene)

These were destined for one or more customers in the adjacent industrial area. Yes, industrial area! In addition to the parallel mainlines, a layout based on Cobourg would also offer plenty of switching opportunities. Let’s get oriented with a satellite view – straight up, and labelled. Click on the images to view larger versions:

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 photo CobourgON-Aerial Labelled_zpsj7qhx2ia.jpg

You’ll note there are a lot of “KS##” labels on the second map. These are track assignments, from a CNR track map from 1984:

 photo CN Zone KS Cobourg 01_zpsvq2qrjah.jpeg
(Area to the west of the station. North is to the right of the image)

 photo CN Zone KS Cobourg 02_zpsbhvydnlg.jpeg
(Station area. North is to the top of the page)

 photo CN Zone KS Cobourg X_zpsdfga3s0p.jpeg
(Customer assignment list)

The “play potential” for this area should be obvious. The industrial park – in the upper right – has several customers and is quite organized, while the jumble of tracks to the left serve a large, multi-building complex that belonged to General Foods/Kraft at the time. Let’s look at some photos of the area, starting with General Foods:

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(Looking east from Ontario Street, towards the runaround at KS76. The track diverging towards us at lower right is KS79)

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(Looking west from Ontario Street, towards the General Foods plant. KS79 branches to the left, while the righthand track is the lead – KS77)

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(Another shot of the General Foods plant, looking west from Ontario Street)

Now, let’s look at the industrial park:

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(Looking north on KS32. In 2006, the switch to KS35 has been lifted but the ties remain)

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(End of track, KS35. The track is gone, but the impressive stop remains)

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(Curves at the top of the park. The closest is KS46, while the track beyond it is KS43)

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(Looking east. KS43 is at left, while to the right are KS46 and, behind it and leading into the building, KS44)

A layout based on Cobourg could be easily built in N or HO. It would fit around the walls of a rectangular room, with the station area along one long wall. Here, one would face south, looking at the station from the CNR side and with the CP Rail running along the back of the scene.

A peninsula into the centre of the room would accommodate the General Foods industrial trackage, while the industrial park in the northeast corner could wrap onto benchwork built away from the long wall opposite the station area. Behind the industrial park (preferably accessed by a separate aisle against the wall, and separated from the park by a backdrop) one would build a double-ended staging yard to feed the two mainlines – one for CNR/VIA trains, the other for CP Rail trains.

 photo Cobourg-Layout-Sketch_zpst7outvd3.jpeg

(Literally, a back of the envelope sketch of a possible layout. Not all track shown. Click on image for larger view)

This would be a great layout for three or four people to operate. Obviously, the focus would be the local job that switches the industrial park, and this would keep a conductor/engineer team occupied for a session. A third – and possibly fourth – person could polish the rails on the CNR and CPR with manifests, locals to switch the interchange and yard… and, of course, VIA passenger trains.

Thanks, Bernard, for reminding me of this great location!

F Units in Woodstock – in 2016

Last week, Bob Fallowfield, Barry Silverthorn and I visited Woodstock, Ontario to do a bit of rail fanning. We saw many things, including a pair of F units working in revenue service – in 2016, no less:


(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

These covered wagons are designated as “FP9u”. They were originally owned by the CNR, and later VIA Rail. VIA upgraded the locomotives (hence the “u” suffix) with new prime movers and other changes to extend their useful service life. The diesels next went to Rail Link, and are now owned by the Ontario Southland Railway.

The OSR is a model railway enthusiast’s dream: A modern short line offering personalized service with an eclectic collection of locomotives. Any of its operations would make an ideal subject for a layout.

Spend some time on the OSR website and see if you don’t agree…

(NOTE: The three of us were shepherded by an official from the OSR. Don’t trespass while rail fanning!)

CNR – Purina mill in Woodstock

Last week I joined my friends Bob Fallowfield and Barry Silverthorn in Woodstock, Ontario. Bob is modelling Woodstock on his HO scale home layout and was our guide for the day. We saw many things, including a Canadian National Railways local crew switching the Purina feed mill. I only captured a short video of this work (see below). But it was enough to confirm that this would be an ideal subject for an achievable layout:


(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

The mill spans the tracks, and on a layout the overhead conveyor could act as a scene divider into staging. So too could the pedestrian overpass that I stood on to record this video. The mill itself (specifically, to the right in this video) would make an imposing backdrop, if one positioned the viewing aisle to the left of the scene. Tall trees further frame the scene, while there’s plenty of detail to model in the mill and the track.

Sound makes a big impact in my video. The throaty prime mover and the squeal of flanges bring home the mass of railroading. To that end, building this layout in a larger scale (Proto:48, anyone?) would put the viewer right in the scene. One of the O scale “Red Caboose” geeps would provide ample room for DCC, other electronics, and a big speaker – while the new “Full Throttle” decoder files from ESU Loksound would deliver the perfect atmosphere. Check out this Loksound video, shot on Bob’s HO scale layout. In particular, listen to the GP in the video and imagine what that would sound like in an O scale model with a much larger speaker:

Beyond engine sounds, I would add a flange squeal device to the curved route through the turnout. Iowa Scaled Engineering makes a great flange squeal module.

And, I would add environmental sounds – especially birdsong. I’ve done this on my own layout, using Dream Player Pro kits from Pricom Design. It’s incredibly effective.

A layout like this would be a showcase for fine model-building – including a lot of scratch-building. But the prototype shows that inspiration can come in small spaces, even if one wants to work in larger scales.

Titus and Gene on the(ir) future

I recently ran across a couple of interesting blog posts that address the future of the hobby from two perspectives.

The first, by Titus (my apologies – I don’t know your last name) touches on a number of issues about which I’ve been thinking a lot lately. And several of Titus’ thoughts are directly applicable to the Achievable Layouts that I encourage others to embrace.

Have a look at Model Railroading, Media, and Trends and join the conversation on Titus’ blog. I have.

The second post that got me thinking is by my friend Gene Deimling, a well-known Proto:48 modeler who in the process of downsizing his hobby. Have a look at OPINION: Getting Older? – and, again, join the conversation on his blog.

Both of these modelers are expressing thoughts about the future of their hobby. In Titus’ case, it’s about the future for everyone, while in Gene’s case it’s about the future for himself. Despite those differences in approach, I feel that both are defining what for them will be an Achievable Layout (or, possibly, no layout at all).

If you want to do this as well, I think the first step is self-awareness.

Be honest with yourself about how prolific you are in the hobby. At the same time, be honest about the investment required (in terms of in time, money and other resources) in order to build a layout to your standards (whatever they are). Then match your layout ambitions to your resources.

I’ve provided several examples on this blog of what, for me, are Achievable Layouts. I’m confident that I could build any one of these, given the space they require, to the standard that I demand of myself. Your milage may vary – but until you do the calculation, how will you know?

Algonquin Railway plan and tour

My friend Ryan Mendell has shared a layout plan and photos of his excellent (and achievable) Algonquin Railway. You’ll find them on his blog by clicking on the photo, below:

 photo RyanM-LayoutTour-2016_zpsg9ss7hrq.jpg

I’ve written about Ryan’s layout previously on this blog. Follow this link for more.

Thanks for the plan and tour, Ryan – I’m sure many people looking for achievable layout ideas will appreciate the information and inspiration!

Switching Putnam

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(Putnam: A layout-within-a-layout)

On Saturday night, some friends and I ran trains on the excellent CP Rail layout built by Bob Fallowfield. I’ve written previously about the layout on this blog, but I want to focus on one town in particular – Putnam, Ontario.

As part of the session, Ryan Mendell and I worked a turn out of Woodstock to St. Thomas. Putnam was part of our assignment, and Bob warned us it would take about 90 minutes.

Really? That’s hard to believe, given how simple the town’s track arrangement is. Here’s a schematic, drawn from memory, of what’s there on Bob’s layout:

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(Click on the image to view a larger version)

What the schematic does not show, however, is how much time is required to block and move cars per prototype practice. Putnam offered several challenges. First, that long track for the mill complex has three distinct spots, so it’s not what Bob refers to as a “blow and go” industry: You can’t just shove a cut of cars in and be done with it.

In our train, we had cars for certain spots, and other cars to be held at Putnam until the mill needed them.

When we arrived at Putnam, we also had a number of cars sitting on the run-around. Some of these needed to be spotted, while others were to be held.

Furthermore, we had lifts to make – but while we would lift these on the outbound trip, since Putnam’s spurs are trailing points when headed to St. Thomas, we would leave the lifts at the east end of the run-around (at right in the photo below) to collect on the return trip to Woodstock.

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(Cars to spot, cars to lift – and cars to leave alone)

Further complicating matters – but in a realistic fashion – is the other customer in Putnam: A propane dealer.

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(The west end of Putnam. The spur at right leads to the propane dealer)

Propane cars are dangerous – whether empty or full – and needed to be handled in specific spots in the train. Rules include not spotting the cars next to either locomotives or the van (whenever possible), and not marshalling next to open-topped loads that might puncture the tank car should a derailment occur.

Ryan and I spent at least 90 minutes switching Putnam – and it never felt like “playing trains”. The work was realistic, and therefore real to us. It was satisfying to accomplish this safety, and efficiently.

As we worked Putnam, it occurred to me that this simple place – just four turnouts – could be the basis for an entire layout. A train staged on a single track at right on my diagram (above) would enter the scene from Woodstock. The crew would spend 60-90 minutes sorting out the mill and switching the propane dealer, then prep its outbound cars to be collected on the return trip.

The train could then head west (left) to St. Thomas – in reality, another single track staging area. There, it would be switched with the 0-5-0. Cars for St. Thomas would be removed, while cars returning to Woodstock would be re-ordered behind the locomotive.

The train could then reappear in Putnam from the west (left) and do its eastbound lift – just to complete the sequence. As Ryan and I found on our return trip, we had to do some re-ordering of our lift in order to protect an empty propane tank car from some open loads we’d collected in St. Thomas.

Such a single-industry layout would be particularly impressive in a larger scale, like O, where one could experience the presence of a cut of grain hoppers rolling into place next to a truly massive structure. Bob’s HO scale rendition of the elevator was already imposing, as the photos show.

Thanks for the ops session, Bob! I had a great time, and it gave me an interesting insight into the potential of single-industry layouts. With all cars looking essentially the same on the outside, it just hadn’t occurred to me how much switching could be involved at such a mill. But of course, it’s what’s inside the cars that counts…

In-street turnouts for Regan

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(I recently designed a layout for a friend based on CP Rail’s industrial trackage in Scarborough, Ontario. Click on the image to read more about this design)

Nothing says big city industrial railroading like trackage in the street. So recently, when I designed an achievable layout for my friend Regan Johnson based on CP Rail’s industrial trackage in Scarborough, Ontario, I added a bit of street running, including a pair of in-street turnouts.

The prototype did not have any street running, as far as I can tell – but it could have. More importantly, the stretch of in-street trackage will be a highlight on the layout – visually and operationally – so it was an idea too good to pass up.

That said, it also meant Regan would need in-street turnouts. And since I’d never built any, I thought I’d like to give it a go. So I did:

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(The finished turnouts, ready for Regan’s layout)

The turnouts are both Number 6, in Code 70. They have a single point, and I used Code 70 to create full-length guard rails throughout the turnouts. These guards will allow us to pave the street without getting plaster (or spackling, or whatever we use) into the flange ways.

I started with a Fast Tracks turnout building fixture and other tools, and built as much of a normal turnout as I could using this gear. This amounted to both stock rails, the closure rails, the frog, and one point:

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(Out of the Fast Tracks fixture, and ready for customization)

From there, it was simply a matter of cutting lengths of rail to use as guards and fitting them in place by measuring off the running rails. An NMRA track gauge worked fine for spacing the guards while soldering them in place.

The throw bars required special attention. I soldered the single point to the throw bar, then used spare PC ties to trap the throw bar under the opposite rail so that it could not waggle back and forth. Finally, I built up some dams out of styrene to keep the paving out of the throw bar – and used a length of photo etched Farr grille for an EMD F-unit to represent an in-street grate over the throw bar. This is removable so Regan can install and service the turnout, as needed.

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(Closeup of the throw bar area. The single point is the middle rail on the left side)

This was a fun project that required a lot of problem solving on my part, and each turnout required three to four hours of pleasant time at the workbench. Anybody who can build a standard turnout using Fast Tracks tools can do one of these as well. They’ll help set the scene on Regan’s layout, so I’m glad I included them in the design.