Track Plan At A Glance
Layout Theme: Kicking Horse Pass
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Scale: HO Scale
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 32"
Article by: Jim Spavins
Posted: February 16, 2016
Published: December 31, 2012
One of my all time favorite railfan videos was one produced by Highball Productions titled "Winter on Kicking Horse Pass." The photography is excellent and draws the viewer into feeling like they are trackside in what is arguably one of the most scenic rail lines in North America. For many years, I have contemplated building a model of this line. However, I had found the thought a bit daunting.
Traditional model railroad design thinking says I probably should try to build a railroad focused around the railroad operations of CP Rail's Laggan Subdivision - home of Kicking Horse Pass. This requires devoting precious model railroad space to yards or industries. However, neither of those things is interesting when it comes to a day of railfanning on Kicking Horse Pass. If I were to spend a day trackside in the Canadian Rockies, I'd want to be out in the mountains along the line - not sitting by a yard or an industry. To me, the main focus of the railroad should be the scenery and being able to watch trains roll by.
For this reason, the essential features of this railroad should be:
- Spectacular Scenery
- Appropriate Mainline Traffic Rolling Through The Scenery
- Comfortable Vantage Points to Watch Trains
- Hands Off Operations
Unlike some of the other layout designs explored in these Minimalist Model Railroading case studies, for this type of railroad we should try to relentlessly eliminate as much of the "operations" conducted by the railroad and focus instead on building spectacular scenes for the trains to run through. For example, since I wouldn't want to spend time sitting by the yard, I wouldn't use up precious model railroad resources like space, time, and money building a yard. Similarly, I wouldn't want to spend time next to an industrial facility so I would completely eliminate the idea of placing even one industrial siding on the railroad. Since the layout is small enough (and the railroad happens to be single track), I wouldn't even bother with a passing siding anywhere on the visible portion of the railroad.
With this idea in mind, you can see the final result in the track plan for the railroad at the beginning of the article. As an overview, the layout is meant to be viewed from one side only with a huge panoramic of the Canadian Rockies dwarfing the mainline running through the scenery. Scenes would include the famed Morant's Curve (see photos on Railpictures.net) as well as some of the bridges along the line. Behind the railroad is a six track staging yard - where mainline trains are held until ready to run through the scenery. Ideally, trains could be automated and timed so it could loosely follow the sequence of the prototype.
For practical reasons, there is a narrow aisle in the back of the railroad by the staging yard. Since the operations are expected to be automated, the duckunder access to the staging yard should see limited use - just simply to clean the tracks every once and awhile and change trains from time to time. Normally, I don't advocate for these types of features (duckunders, lift outs, etc) - but occasionally these are necessary for maintenance purposes. If the staging yard was used regularly as part of the operations of the railroad - I would take some time to figure out a different footprint which would eliminate any access issues to the layout.
Presenting the Railroad
With a layout like this, it would be important to invest some time figuring out how best to light the railroad. The lighting could help break up the single scene of the railroad and make it feel like several distinctly different locations depending upon where the viewer stood to watch trains roll through the layout. It might be helpful to put a few chairs in at selected points to focus the viewer into small sections of the railroad. Even in this space, it is possible to set up five or six different scenes where you could watch trains
It would also be a must to put a deep, clean, simple fascia along the front edge of the railroad to keep the attention on the trains running by. The backdrop should go to the ceiling to keep the attention on the railroad and away from what might be going on in the staging yard behind the scenes.
Also, sound would play a critical role in capturing the feeling trackside. It might even be worthwhile to add ambienent sounds - like the running water of the river - so there is some noise when the trains aren't passing though.
Operating the Railroad
Thinking about this idea of experiencing the railroad as a railfan, I'd even take this concept a bit further when it comes to how the layout operates - I wouldn't even want to be able to take control and operate the trains as an engineer. Think about most model railroad control systems - either DC or DCC - you are given a cab to control the trains. You are in the engineer's seat. On the DCC systems, the cabs come with dedicated buttons for blowing the horn, ringing the bell, or changing the headlight controls. This is fantastic if you want to experience a layout from the engineer's seat. As a railfan, you simply observe the railroad at work - you aren't participating. This means that the control system should reflect this design choice. If you enjoy solving complex problems, in an ideal situation, all there would be is an on/off switch for the railroad. When you are ready to railfan, turn the layout on, and a parade of trains rolls though the layout at appropriate intervals with sounds and lights without having to touch a thing. To my knowledge, there are no off the shelf components made which will allow you to do this easily.
Resource Use on the Railroad
One key way to determine if the railroad has met the design goals from a minimalist perspective is to see how the construction of the railroad would use the four most valuable resources for model railroaders - time, space, money and skills. For this railroad, the goal is to capture the essence of a great day of railfanning. Here is how these resources would be used to accomplish this goal for the Kicking Horse Pass design:
Time would be spent:
- Building Scenery
- Building locomotives and rolling stock
- Creating a control system
- Railfanning the miniature version of Kicking Horse Pass
The Space would be used for:
- Staging Yards
- Railfan Viewing Locations
Money would be spent on:
- Locomotives and Rolling Stock
- Control System
- Room Environment
The Skills required to build the railroad are:
- Scenery Construction
- Locomotives and Rolling Stock Construction
- Control System Design and Implementation
As can be seen in the lists above, the resource use aligns well with the desired outcome of the railroad. While the track arrangement is simple, the finished railroad will allow the viewer to engage with a great day of railfanning the Canadian Rockies in miniature.