Track Plan At A Glance
Layout Theme: Any
Layout Type: Module
Scale: HO Scale
Min. Radius: Any
Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: December 29, 2015
As you might have noticed, for the month of December I have been focusing on designs for portable 4'x8' layouts. All of these plans have generally been following a framework of a four section layout with two end sections sized 2'x4' and two connecting sections sized 1'x4'. This allows for convenient and compact stacking inside a vehicle for transportation purposes or when the layout is to be stored away.
As I alluded to in some of the track plan discussions, this portable 4x8 style of layout could be setup as part of a larger modular layout. While some plans, like last week's Olbeup Test Track and the Industrial Branch published earlier in the month, were explicitly designed to be part of a traditional modular layout, all of the designs presented this month have been designed to be connected together in a Free-Mo style layout composed of these 4x8 style layouts.
The standards for this layout, which I am dubbing "Connected 4x8s", would be fairly simple. Each individual coming to a show would bring one 4x8 layout. It would have at least one - if not two or more possible connections to other layouts. These interchange tracks would have a set height off the floor (for example, 40") and a specific rail height (for example, Code 83). The layouts would then be arranged so they all would be interconnected through these interchange tracks. Unlike a traditional modular layout, there would not be a universal mainline traversing each of the 4x8s - just simply the interchange track between the layouts. Each layout would be electrically isolated - giving the builder freedom to choose their preference of control system (DC vs. DCC) as well as brand (NCE vs. Digitrax). Interchange traffic could be routed across the entire layout and moved at each layout owner's discretion.
This style of "modular" layout is a bit different than what you'd expect to see out of a traditional modular setup but offers some advantages.
First, most modules, for the most part, are only designed to be used when setup with the rest of a modular layout. This does limit their usefulness as they can only be setup a few times a year. It might be possible to use a module as a switching layout but most people don't go this route. In the "Connected 4x8s" style of layout, each module "section" is its own stand alone layout - it can be setup at home or by itself at a train show. This makes the layout more useful in the long run.
Second, each layout owner has substantial control over many design decisions on the layout. In my role as Modular Coordinator for my club, one of the complaints I receive about our modular standards is how certain decisions are taken away from the module builder. For example, all mainline tracks have to be Code 100, turnouts must be No. 6s, and there can be no grades. These requirements were put in place to allow the largest variety of equipment to operate smoothly on the mainline. However, some folks don't like the look of this track and would prefer something smaller - like Code 83 or Code 70. Since the "Connected 4x8s" don't have the same run through requirements, standards for "mainline" tracks don't need to exist. This means that, beyond the interchange track, the builder can use any rail height, have grades, and whatever turnouts they desire.
In addition, as you might have noticed in the plans, the 4'x8' dimensions aren't strict requirements either. It is simply a recommend starting point. Some of the plans above include bump outs - like the 8'x8' Naugatuck Railroad and 4'x10' Housatonic Railroad - but each of those layouts has at least one interchange track which would allow it to be connected to the rest of the layout.
Third, since there are no connected mainlines through the individual layouts, the control of each module can be left to the builder. A few years back when our modular club converted from DC to DCC, many people complained about the increased expense of this change. They are correct and some people haven't been able to run equipment on the new layout since that time. As long as each layout is electrically isolated, each builder can provide their own system. For those who want to spend the money, they can operate on DCC while those who want to stay with DC can do so.
Fourth, the operations of the entire layout can be at the discretion of the layout owner. For example, if a group of layout owners want to setup a system where they interchange traffic all show long, they can drag along car cards and waybills and have a blast routing cars in between their railroads and switching all day long. If there are some people who just want to turn on a train and let it circle their layout all show, they can be setup at the other end of the layout. This allows everyone to still be setup together but gravitate towards their activity of interest.
While this "modular" layout has some disadvantages - no real long trains and no uniform scenery treatment - it does offer a few different solutions to the traditional modular layout design.
For Track Plan Tuesday's, I am digitizing all of my old track planning notebooks and sharing the designs here on the website. To see all the plans, visit the track plan home page at: jimspavins.com/jimstrackplans.