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CT River Drawbridge Track Plan

Minimalist Model Railroading Case Study #16

Connecticut River Drawbridge

Capturing the Essence of Where the Railroad Meets the Sea

Track Plan At A Glance

Layout Theme: Single Location
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Size: 29'x44'
Scale: HO Scale
Era: 1990s
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 8
Min. Radius: 48" (Visible), 30" (Staging)

Article by: Jim Spavins
Posted: July 26, 2016
Published: March 7, 2014

An interesting quirk of railroading along the Atlantic shoreline is the drawbridges which dot the confluences of the rivers and the sea. Amtrak's Northeast Corridor between Washington, DC, and Boston, MA, is no exception to this novelty and in Connecticut alone there are a total of seven movable spans along the mainline. One of the longer spans on the route is located over the Connecticut River with a rolling bascule type span bridging the navigable channel and seven approach trusses connecting Old Lyme and Old Saybrook, CT.

A layout featuring the operations of one of these drawbridges would make for an interesting model railroad. For a basement sized layout such as this, the opportunity to replicate the prototype faithfully becomes a real possibility. Before we start planning, let's list what the essential features of this railroad should be:

As can be seen at the beginning of the article, the entire layout consists of a large panorama of the Connecticut River crossing scene with the bridge approximately centered in the layout. Two staging yards feed the mainline traffic. A small siding to a rock plant is located on the west (left) side of the layout. The exits to the staging yards are conveniently hidden by road bridges which cross over the mainline - which matches the prototype. In real life, this scene is about a mile and half long. On the layout it has been reduced by about half which still would provide a dramatic panorama. The drawbridge itself has only been reduced by about 20% from its actual size which allows for a fairly accurate model of the span to be constructed.

Presenting the Railroad

Part of the idea with a railroad of this style is that the room can share the space with some other activity or use. Only a small part of the basement is occupied by the layout and other portions of the space could be used as a family room space or a gathering place for visitors. There could also be a separate work room which could be walled off from the finished layout space. Obviously, the layout would need to be finished off appropriately if it was to share space with another activity. The layout should be dressed up with a fascia treatment and lighting. The staging yards should be visually separated from the rest of the layout with false walls. Access to the staging yards would need to be by duckunders but there is plenty of room once you get inside. As will be discussed in the next section, accommodations can be provided for bridge operator controls as well as a dispatching console to operate the layout prototypically.

Connecticut River Drawbridge

An Amtrak Regional heads east over the Connecticut River Drawbridge during the summer of 2013. | Photo by Jim Spavins.

Operating the Railroad

Traffic along this portion of the corridor is reasonable and four people could easily be kept busy operating the railroad. In total, three railroads operate along this portion of the corridor with Amtrak running long distance passenger trains, Shore Line East hauling commuters, and Providence and Worcester ambling along with its daily freight train. Two engineers would be needed to run trains, another person would take the roll of dispatcher, and the other would take a turn as the bridge tender. Things could be kept interesting by adding some scenarios like work crews out on the main diverting traffic or maintenance troubles on the bridge causing it to become stuck open (which does happen on 90+ year old structures). While this is not the layout for the person who likes switching freight cars, it certainly has the potential to be a very different operating session than your typical model railroad.

Resource Use on the Railroad

On a railroad such as this, benchwork and the initial trackwork would probably be completed fairly quickly. A temporary span could be put in place to allow for trains to be circling the layout in short order. The real time would be spent building a working model of the bridge as well as completing the scenery and detailing on the layout. The determining factor for how long it would take to finish is the choice as to the level of detail for which the builder would like to complete the layout. For example, if the builder decided to model everything as accurately as possible, the time to construct the layout would be a bit more than following the good enough philosophy. This is a decision the builder would have to make as the time and skills needed for the project are evaluated.

The budget for a layout like this could be fairly modest compared to some of the other large basement layouts considered in this track plan archive. It's still a layout that would cost thousands of dollars but could conceptually be completed with quality materials for under $5,000 (in 2016 dollars). Obviously, the final costs will vary depending upon the materials used as well as the type of control system and commercial model railroad components used on the final railroad. This cost doesn't include rolling stock or locomotives but with most of the traffic on the layout reasonably short passenger trains, the budget for equipment could be reasonable. A bare bones schedule would really only need four different types of trains (two Amtrak, one Shore Line East, and one Providence and Worcester freight). Other trains, such as Amtrak ballast trains or other M.O.W. equipment could be added for some more variety as the budget allowed.

Prototype Resources

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'