Jump to content

Nolix around the room layouts

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

Hi all,

I'm at the early planning stages of my layout which I intend to be "the big one" that outlives me.

I was originally considering a Limerick Junction to Limerick Colbert layout but the angles at LJ make something halfway prototypical very difficult in my available space and room shape.

My room is a basement room ca. 30' x 10' rectangular in shape with one ceiling height window at each long end (plan is to effectively forgo natural light and treat the layout like a stage, with appropriate lighting to simulate nightfall etc.) and a single door dead centre along one of the long sides 

I've thought a lot about what I want which is a large degree of computer control of long and busy mainline sections  with "a little bit of shunting" at one or two spots.

I really like the famous Yosemite Valley Railroad layout by Jack Burgess (great YouTube videos) and he recommends picking a prototype location because if it worked for the real railway, it will work for a layout.

I feel the same and want to model a prototypical location in Ireland that fits the above criteria.

After a lot of thought I think a suitable idea would be to model the GSWR/IR route section from just north east of Newbridge, through the Curragh Mainline, Kildare, Cherryville Junction (line to Cork goes off scene just after here, disappearing under the current R445, then N7), Athy (line to Waterford goes off scene just after here), Barrow Bridge, Tegral factory.

How can I possibly fit all this in however? The plan is to build the entire thing as a shelf layout spiralling around the outside of the room (crossing the door on bridges) on a constant shallow grade of about 1.25% (except at locations where wagons need to be shunted. These limited areas should be flat to avoid wagons running away)

I would need to make Kildare flat (for running around) and also the Tegral siding. The Tegral siding itself would be a bit of a compromise over the prototype because I can't fit the headshunt (stub of former Wolfhill Branch) in and I will need to come straight off the Barrow Bridge and curve into the factory, running around inside (looks like there was a headshunt inside the factory that would have actually allowed this). I want to run to a timetable that is close to a real one from the mid 90s, though I will probably pretend that mail trains continued for a couple of years longer. Athy was a fringe cabin to CTC back then so I will have colour light signals on the layout as far as there and then a few operational semaphores around Athy for interest.

What about staging?

Well I see the layout being built so that Athy is in the lowest level, spiralling around with ca. 1 foot of separation between the decks/shelves with Newbridge being the last visible station in the scenic area. Given this, I thought I could "simply" continue the track to a level below this, close to floor level to represent the staging areas (call them Waterford and Cork/Limerick/Galway etc) for the provincial termini stations. Above Newbridge the track should continue on up to a staging area above which would represent "Dublin".

A single line hidden track would need to be included behind the facia of the spiral to allow repositioning of rolling stock that would obviously look wrong if traveling in a given direction (I don't ever want to see laden Gypsum or fertiliser trains on the up line heading towards Dublin, for example). This hidden track would also be where trains heading south or west would disappear onto when going off scene on their way to "Cork" or "Waterford".

Any thoughts? I find very very few examples of such constant grade "nolix" around the room layouts. I'm guessing they are just not suitable for many as they require a decent sized room to enable the required vertical separation between decks to be gained within one lap of the room. I reckon a room much smaller than mine would preclude this design.

I'm considering a raised step permanently built around the room enabling better viewing of the uppermost reaches of the modelled section.

I have ruled out helixes because as I want to model in 21mm (this is a showstopper for me. I will make compromises elsewhere before contemplating not modelling in 21mm) I'm looking at a minimum radius of about 2' 6" and that would be cutting it tight but even at that a helix would be at least 5 or 6 feet across including fascia which would be an absolute monster of a thing, dominating the room and I'd probably need a double track one to prevent trains waiting on the scenic area to enter it. Accessing a derailed train in on the other side of a helix in the corner of a room looks like a real pain as well.

Do you guys see any potential pitfalls I should consider with such an unusual design? It's very much a long term project if it's deemed feasible.

A fair bit of track to make by hand but outside of the staging areas relatively "few" points. All in all I guess about 250' of continuous mainline track.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Would you consider constructing two or three distinct levels rather than a continuous gradient? You could start in one corner with the first level until you get back to that corner, at which stage the track could continue at the same level back through the starting point or take the 'mainline' up a hidden gradient behind the scenery up to the next level to continue the journey. This would also increase the length journey for a train. You could provide hidden staging in this manner also.

You may also consider some peninsula style build-outs of space permits which could provide scenic breaks and allow you to represent more locations. It is a good size layout but 250 feet of track only represents about 3.5 miles. Would one foot between top of decks be enough to do the scenic work that you would like?

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Robert. The first idea I had was similar to what you suggested in fact, distinct decks connected by helix and then I thought about doing it exactly like your suggested way but the concern I had and still have was/is primarily about access in the case of a derailment. If I hide a level connecting track behind the backscenes I will have to make sure the backscenes can be easily removed to rescue a derailment anywhere. I'm not sure how practical that is. I also realised that if I do it this way I would be forced to provide a double track link to trains can go down a level and up a level simultaneously. I can't make trains wait to go off scene to transit between levels. It was at this stage that I came upon the idea of simply making the visible layout do the climbing (I had never knowingly seen an example of a layout like this but after some googling found a couple of examples, but really not many).

I am hoping to have nice backscenes that curve up and over the rails to an extent, providing the illusion of "real blue sky". These would really preclude hiding any trackwork behind I think.

The benefit of modelling this area is that it's largely flat terrain. No hills or mountains so I believe fairly ideally suited to a shelf type layout and I believe I can get the sorts of vertical separations that Iain Rice recommends in his book on shelf layouts.

I did consider a peninsula but after careful consideration I have decided against one because I would like to keep the centre of the room clear for a potential (may never happen but whatever) n gauge layout of another prototype. 

I will have to live with a good deal of compression of the Cherryville to Athy section, but Newbridge to Cherryville Junction is a fairly short distance in real life so I will not have to compress distances here too much.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What you said about journey time struck a chord with me Robert. I'm back considering the 2/3 independent and flat levels connected by around the room spiral (nolix) hidden behind the scenery rather than making the visible area itself the spiral.

The huge advantage of the hidden spiral being that I could stack trains in there long enough to make the journey time from Athy on the lowest level to Kildare on the middle or highest level realistic. I could even reduce speed way down to reduce ghost noise emanating from the layout, just like I intend doing in the proper staging areas. The whole mainline will be computer controlled anyway so I will know if a train has become stuck somewhere and Rocrail won't allow any rear endings.

It will be one of these two approaches. A typical helix is out of the question given how much floor area and room volume it would consume.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is a big layout to plan and it may be an idea to test some of these ideas before you commit to one. I do like the illusion of the train going somewhere or having travelled a distance. My layout will be more traditional but I hope to use an automated yard on one side to hold trains and make it appear that trains are passing through the scenic section.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Its an ambitious scheme and could be very interesting from a "main line" operation point of view with relatively intense by Irish standards Intercity passenger and Liner train operations during the 1990s. The scenic aspect could be quite interesting with relatively flat terrain not unlike the American Mid-West with distant hills and mountain ranges & Kildare Church spire on the backscene.

It might be worth while looking up Bill Darnaby's "Maumee Route" and Tony Koster's  "Nickleplate Road" layouts https://mrr.trains.com/how-to/track-planning-operation/2015/01/a-day-on-the-no-20 which were featured in the Model Railroader about 20 years ago.

I have a 2% ruling grade  between stations/yards on the garden railway which can make shunting/switching interesting if I am not careful, but should be less of an issue on a railway with mainly fixed formation trains and very little shunting apart from reversing trains at Kildare and the Tegral operation at Athy.

I think the main challenge will be providing sufficient staging for a normal days operation on the Cork & Waterford Lines, it would be worth while trawling the IRRS Journals as they usually included an in depth review of timetable changes and carriage link workings, the big advantage of modelling the mid-late 90s was that the majority of Intercity passenger services were worked by similar rakes of MK3 coaches hauled by 071 or 201 diesels, with a smaller no of diagrams worked by Supertrain or MK2AB stock.

While the Cork line was laid with CWR on concrete sleepers sections of the Waterford line retained chaired bullhead rail on timber sleepers until the early 2000s and opportunity for handlaid bullhead track with C&L chairs and plastic or ply sleepers or possibly 3D printed sleeper strip for use with Code 75 or 82 Rail

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cheers John,

Yeah it's definitely fairly ambitious especially in 21mm but I'm up for it.

I am now more strongly leaning towards 3 independent shelves all on the flat with the spiral being hidden behind the backscenes.

The plan for staging for the provincial stations is to continue the spiral down a layer and have another complete shelf slightly off the ground full of sidings long enough for a complete train (probably two different lengths of sidings for "short" and "long" trains)

The plan for Dublin staging is the same but up top, continue the spiral out to a top shelf at about my head height and fan out into a shelf full of sidings all around the room.

It will operate end to end like the prototype. Carriages and wagons will typically not be turned. The loco will be released and leave the rake to be picked up by itself or another loco later. The fact some trains would end up being turned due to the stop in Kilkenny will have a blind eye turned to it. Anything that visits Kilkenny in my layout always visits Kilkenny, so would be turned around again before passing back through Athy.

I will provide a short wye in one of the corners of both the provincial (lowest level) storage and Dublin (highest level) to allow single 121s and possibly some day steam engines to be turned at each end of the run.

I will of course "recycle" stock where possible. I can't fit it afford not to. I will use the hidden spiral to reposition rakes mostly back to Dublin as my layout represents stations much closer to Dublin than the provincial termini so I will need to simulate a wave of ex-Dublin trains in the morning/evening rather than an even back and forth.

I will also, as previously mentioned use the hidden spiral to reposition obviously incorrect freight wagons where the load is visible. Gypsum and fertiliser are the only two I can think of off hand but the odd ballast train too probably assuming they depart Lisduff laden and return there empty, but they won't be computer controlled workings anyway. 

The hidden spiral will require pointwork but my plan would be to have all points in the scenic break by the door so they aren't hidden behind the backscenes. The only thing behind the backscenes should be plain straight or fairly generously curved track.

I have been wondering would a check rail be at all sensible in the curves. Any thoughts on that? I want the hidden track, especially the spiral to be very reliable.

John I am familiar with both those layouts and they are really great. Also really like Jack Burgess' YV Railroad which is also multi deck, end to end.

When it comes to the actual track in place at the time I'm going to allow myself some leeway and pretend that a lot of the modernisation works hadn't yet happened. There will be a lot of FB rail on wooden sleepers (directly soldered) in my world and I will probably reduce CTC's influence so everything south of Cherryville is semaphores.


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

16 hours ago, murphaph said:

I'm a real fan of layouts that model a real section of a prototype railway. I love watching layout tour videos where the guy explains what used to happen where on the prototype.

Maybe it's a lack of imagination however!

I would agree. While for most, myself included, available space precludes an accurate portrayal of an actual location, when it is possible the exact working practices can be reproduced, with shunting, engine changes, and so on.

Some years ago, for nothing more than curiosity, I examined the working timetable of the West Cork system immediately prior to anything non-steam ever having gone near the area, and 1960, its last summer. I "followed" the activities of each departure to establish how many locos were needed, how many crews, where locos swopped or were alternated with another for servicing, and so on. Such a thing makes a fascinating study, and really opens ones eyes to how the railway actually worked. Needless to say, it was inevitably very, very different to today. If that system were functioning today, it is likely that one 2-car railcar would do two return trips to Bantry, and another would do two connections to Skibbereen. And that would be it.

Kilkenny likewise. Now, a few ICRs potter in and out and nothing else happens. In the period you are modelling, there will be a wealth of operations, with their own rosters and even possible operational peculiarities, as often happened as a "legacy" of the earliest days when more than one company might have used the station.

As late as the 1990s there was still a surprising amount of freight and interesting workings at numerous places. All the more fodder for an interesting model.

I should add that for the majority (?) of us with less room than would be needed for an accurate prototypical location, study of a real scenario such as that outlined above will inform a ralistic way to operate even a smaller, fictitious location.

The fictitious nature of a location can be more than compensated for by high quality scenery, models of high quality with the correct locos and carriages / wagons matching for the era or company, and realistic operational practices BASED on those observed in a real place.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I absolutely love looking through my working timetable trying to "play detective" and imagine what went where by piecing the bits together.

Trying to run my railway close to a real working timetable is the end goal. I will build in a bit of "plausible fantasy" to increase rolling stock possibilities (for example in my time period the Cahir viaduct has already collapsed and beet traffic is to be routed via Kildare to Mallow)

I will run a fast clock so I can have a train more or less always visible on the layout.


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, murphaph said:


I will run a fast clock so I can have a train more or less always visible on the layout.


Now that's something I haven't heard of in years. Senior did that with the vast "0" gauge tinplate layout he had in the 1920s. The clock was doctored by HIS father (of Inchicore), and it survived until his old house was cleared before he went into his final nursing home a few years ago.

Unfortunately it had been in an old loft and was destroyed by rust and general battering about to an extent that would have rendered it well beyond restoration. I think the house clearers would have put it in a skip...........

I tried to fix it when I was in my teens - no joy, although in my teenage years everything was black and white, the TV was clockwork, the Kenwood food mixer was steam-operated, and the motorway was cobbled.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not sure about the fast clock idea, though guess it adds an extra level of reality. However, a well known cause of late trains is other trains running late - just like the phrase 'knock on effect' in road traffic reports.

 For me, a sequence is the better option. You take the working timetable (real or imagined) and just run the trains in order. If shunting takes a bit longer, so be it, but you give yourself time to complete each move. Derailments, loco failures and late running can still be accommodated, while lighting controls can simulated the time of day too.

 However, am guessing with a computer controlled clock, you can always press the 'pause' button - something that would be handy in real life occasionally too!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the meets (US railroad speak, crossing trains here maybe?) are a particularly interesting part of the railway.

Trains definitely had to wait to cross each other at Athy and following on from the decision to go back to the hidden spiral as suggested by Robert, it opened up the possibility of modelling a slightly different area.

I am now honing in on the idea of:

Top shelf around the room:

Curragh Mainline to immediately south of Kildare station. Offers possibility of stopping NIR specials to the Curragh, running on to Kildare to run around.

middle shelf around the room:

Monasterevin to Portarlington. Monasterevin has really nice model railway friendly scenery. Raised on an embankment, the track crosses water three times in a mile. Portarlington offers more crossing trains as the single line to Galway and the west diverges. Also offers realistic parking of ballast trains!

Bottom shelf:

Kilberry siding to Athy (Tegral). Adjacent to Kilberry is the BnM works. Possible narrow gauge modelling opportunity. BnM railway came very close to mainline here. Nice industrial scene directly adjacent to railway in any case. Athy station offers passing trains and Tegral siding offers bridge over Barrow and nice industrial canal quayside, perfect for a shelf layout.

These are the more interesting areas to model and because a long hidden spiral connects them, a realistic delay can be introduced between each scenic area so a realistic timetable (natural or in a fast clock) can be executed. 

I don't think I'll ever be really taxed by the shunting movements. It's just Tegral and Kildare. Tegral could easily be automated but I want to retain some shunting.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

Terms of Use