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South Station HO Scale Track Plan

Minimalist Model Railroading Case Study #12

South Station - Boston

Capturing the Essence of a Busy Passenger Terminal

Track Plan At A Glance

Layout Theme: Passenger Station
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Size: 12'x18'
Scale: HO Scale
Era: 1990s
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 30"

Article by: Jim Spavins
Posted: June 14, 2016
Published: December 31, 2012

Passenger terminals offer a wealth of operating potential packed into a small space. South Station located in Boston, MA offers one such example of a compact modern day passenger terminal with two railroads serving the station - Amtrak and Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA).

In all, seven different rail lines terminate at this station with over 32,000 passengers riding these rail lines every day. Talk about busy! This doesn't even include the connections to the Boston T system (subway) which sits below the station.

In order to model all of this activity, the essential features of this railroad should be:

As shown on the plan at the beginning of the chapter, the model of South Station is set on a peninsula in the middle of the room. The mainlines split at a wye at the end of the station with one heading directly into staging (representing the old Boston & Albany line - or Worcester Line in MBTA parlance) and the other line swings around the room to the engine facility at the start of the Northeast Corridor. The other five lines which also serve the station tie into these two lines at points further south and west, respectively, of the station but their traffic can be still be included from the provided staging yards.

The design of the railroad is similar to the prototype layout to the existing South Station track arrangements. However, there are a few differences which were omitted to save space. For example, it is assumed that trains can be turned on the wye on the layout. The real railroad uses a balloon track at the engine facility but due to the space limitations, using the wye is a reasonable alternative. Also on the prototype, adjacent to the MBTA and Amtrak yards are the shops for Red Line T trains. These have also been omitted for space purposes but if you had some more room, these could add another layer of operational interest as these subway trains are on a separate line from the MBTA and Amtrak trains.

Operating the Railroad

With the size of the staging yard, a full schedule of Amtrak and MBTA trains could be operated serving trains arriving from New York on the Northeast Corridor as well as trains from the west on the old Boston & Albany line. The station and terminal would be busy with trains needing to be turned and serviced before heading back out to their next destination. In all, several engineers would be needed along with a dispatcher, station master, and potentially an engine hostler for the servicing facility. Scenario cards for late arriving trains or maintenance issues could add some variety to the session.

Amtrak at South Station

A northbound Amtrak Northeast Direct arrives in South Station in the summer of 1998. | Photo by Jim Spavins.

Resource Use on the Railroad

The items which would take the most time on this railroad would be constructing the equipment roster, installing the track and signals, as well as operating the railroad. There are a handful of large structures to construct, but for the most part, the focus of the layout is tight to the right of way and trackage. This will keep the total construction time down and more time will be left to operate this busy terminal.

In the same vein, the space is used for the platforms of South Station, the coach yard and engine servicing facility, as well as the staging yard. Since the operations are meant to focus on the station itself, a mainline run has been eliminated in favor of using the space for the station and serving functions of the railroad. If the design of the railroad was meant to focus more on the operations of a typical train's journey, the space would be used completely differently. For example, that layout would look to incorporate as many stations as possible on the line instead of just one station. In that case, the longest mainline would be the preferred design which might mean a double decked layout on narrow shelves. The layout would be a bit like the Springfield Metro plan presented last week which has several station stops. To use the reverse comparison, the Springfield Metro would also have a similar type of maintenance facilities and operations at its main terminal but that was ignored in the plan last week since that wasn't what the intent of the design was meant to capture.

As for the budget on the railroad, this is the type of layout that probably won't bring a huge amount of business to the scenery manufacturers but will bring a smile to the face of those who produce MBTA and Amtrak equipment. In addition, the layout will require a lot of trackwork along with a signal system to match.

Hopefully this is starting to sound obvious, but the skills which are required for this type of layout are consistent with the theme of the railroad as well as how you would need to spend your time and money and use your space for the railroad. In this case, there would be a lot of passenger equipment needed so you would need to enjoy building, detailing, and weathering passenger coaches as well as locomotives. In addition, there is a lot of track to spike down and plenty of signals and switch machines to wire to make the layout operational.

Minimalist Model Railroading Case Studies

Capturing the Essence of Railroading

Introduction - Minimalist Model Railroading

Case Study #1 - Claremont Concord Railroad
Scale: O Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #2 - CP Rail's Kicking Horse Pass
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #3 - Trolley Museum
Scale: O Scale        Size: 2'x6'

Case Study #4 - N&W 611 Excursion
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #5 - CS Industries
Scale: O Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #6 - Sono Tower
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #7 - Boston and Albany Railroad
Scale: N Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #8 - Central Yard Engine Terminal
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #9 - Iron Horse Railroad Museum
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #10 - MM&R Timber Co.
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #11 - Springfield Metro
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #12 - South Station, Boston, MA
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #13 - Canaan, CT
Scale: N Scale        Size: 10'x11'

Case Study #14 - Chas Chemicals
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #15 - Westerly, RI
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #16 - Connecticut River Drawbridge
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #17 - Valley City Viaduct
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 12'x18'

Case Study #18 - Wood River Railroad
Scale: O Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #19 - Portable Shortline
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #20 - Charter St. Steam Plant
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 8"x15'

Case Study #21 - Eastern Scenic Railroad
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #22 - West Springfield Yard
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 29'x44'

Case Study #23 - Good Ol' 4x6
Scale: HO Scale        Size: 4'x6'