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Posted in Articles by Rob Chant. (Last activity on Friday, December 02, 2022 at 21:12:05 AST.)

ARTICLE: Branch line operations on a 4x8 sheet of plywood in HO Scale

Back in April of 2019, I was asked to design a HO-scale layout on a 4x8 sheet of plywood based on the same operating scheme that I proposed for use with my Central Alberta Railway (CARY) design. For those not familiar with my CARY track plan, it was an N-scale layout I designed back in 2010 using a hollow core door.

How that layout was operated was partly inspired by an article in Model Railroader [June 1988, page 80] by Greg Panas titled "The Northeastern Alberta Rys." In that article, Greg did a good job of explaining how to operate a small continuous run layout more realistically, and to get the most out of an operating session. The layout I designed for the CARY expanded on Greg's idea to achieve even more intense operations in a small space.

In my operating scheme, I included two passing tracks on either side of the layout that represented three towns each, for a total of six stations along the line. Only a certain number of industry tracks were designated for each town, and the train had to make a complete loop around the layout before reaching the next town and its online customers. Once the last station on the line was reached, the train was turned and headed back to the first station on the line.

This HO-scale version represents a marginal CNR branchline during the transition era running north-south between the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific mainlines somewhere in the province of Ontario. Since this was all fictional, I just used the same station names that I used with the Central Alberta Railway design. Each side of the layout represent three separate stations, so there are six stations in the following order (south to north):

1. MANN LAKE (CN interchange point)
6. PARADISE (CP interchange point)

All crews start their day in Mann Lake, and head north (clockwise) towards Paradise. While each station is assumed to have a passing track, only the trackage/industries designated for the station (they are numbered and colour coded on the track plan) can be used when switching the town. Between each stop at a station, the crew must make a complete lap around the layout.

When the northbound train reaches the last stop of Paradise, the crew works the CP interchange and the local industries, then heads back (counter-clockwise) to Mann Lake, completing any work that may have been skipped on the northbound trip. Once the crew reaches the home base of Mann Lake, the CN interchange is switched again, then the train crew ties-up for the night.

Since a train crew would need 1½ laps to get to the next town, it would take nine laps to get from Mann Lake to Paradise, and another nine to get home, which is quite a bit of train running in such a small space. And since the interchange track is feed from both ends of the layout, there will be an endless supply of incoming traffic to shuffle between the interchanges and the online customers.

As you can see, this layout packs a lot of prototypical operation in a space that is only 4'x8', just by using your imagination and "seeing" only what you're suppose to see at each station. I think it is a great way to get the most out of small layouts with continuous run designs.

The track plan:

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Overall views of the layout:

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3D screen captures from the layout:

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TAGS: Theme: Branch Line Railway, Layout Size: Compact Layouts, Design Feature: Continuous Run Option, Canada (Provinces): Ontario, Canadian Railways: Canadian National Ry, Articles: Operating Small Layouts

User Comments:

Posted by Phil Duba on Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 12:48:01 PM.

I really like this design, even a little better than the CAR one since many of the industries are clustered.

Posted by Robert Chant on Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 4:03:02 PM.

Glad you like it Phil. The CARY was set on the prairies, so I tried to keep the feel of the plan as open and uncongested as possible. With this one set in Ontario, I could get away with grouping the industries a lot closer together. Plus, the area for the CARY would come to about 5x13 feet in HO scale, so I had a lot more space with the N-scale layout.

Posted by John Martin on Monday, March 09, 2020 at 9:02:55 AM.

Rob, I have to agree with Phil. I like this version better than the N scale CAR.

Posted by Robert Chant on Tuesday, March 10, 2020 at 5:43:18 AM.

Hey John, yeah ... this design came out quite well for HO-scale on a 4x8.

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