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Deseret Power Railway HO Scale Track Plan.

Deseret Power Railway

Constructing a Simple Basement Empire

Track Plan At A Glance

Layout Theme: Industrial Railroad
Layout Type: Basement Empire
Size: 24'x44'
Scale: HO Scale
Era: 2000s
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 30"

Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: November 22, 2016

One unique industrial railroad operation based in the southwestern United States is the Deseret Power Railway.  This electrified railroad - which is completely isolated from the national rail network - acts as a 35 mile long conveyor belt between a coal mine in Colorado and a power plant in Utah.  The railroad operates a single train with a set of three electric E60C's and 44 hopper cars generally two or three round trips a day.

The track arrangement of the railroad is a simple loop to loop configuration with a single track mainline.  There is a maintenance facility located at the coal loader and a siding off the mainline at about the halfway point between the two loops.  Given the remote location of the railroad, there are almost no structures along the mainline - other than those needed for the industrial operations.  The scenery is majestic.

Financial and Schedule Analysis of a Model Railroad

As has been discussed in other articles on this website, all layout designs should be evaluated based on the resources needed to construct the railroad against what the builder has available. For most layouts, these resources include the space, time, money, and skills needed to build the railroad. Since the design of this layout presented here is arguably one of the simplest designs that could fill a basement size space, this trackplan presents a good opportunity explore the baseline costs and timeline needed to construct a layout of this magnitude. All too often, modelers dream of the basement railroad empire and then jump into construction without fully comprehending just how much of a commitment they are making. Ultimately, these projects end in frustration as the layout builder simply runs out of time or money to complete the layout. Even though this cost and time analysis might seem like a bit of overkill for a hobby activity, for such a large project, I think it is important to understand the commitment one is signing up for when starting a model railroad layout.

Financial Analysis

To start with the financial analysis of this layout plan, let's take a look at a rough estimate, based upon the design above, which looks at the material costs associated with constructing the layout. (For the sake of this analysis, I'll assume the labor is free - provided by the layout owner.  A custom layout builder would charge for labor and would require a more in depth analysis.)  At this point, the design has a lot of details not specified yet, but we can still make reasonable assumptions about what might be needed to turn the two dimensional plan into a three dimensional model railroad. If this was a real construction project, another level of design could be completed detailing the designs of layout components like benchwork, trackwork, wiring, etc. which would allow for a more complete and accurate construction estimate.

Below is a breakdown of each of the major construction activities for the layout and the basic assumptions of how the costs were calculated.

Room Preparation

We will assume the basement used as the space to fit the layout is not finished. A small amount of room preparation - including painting the concrete basement walls, painting the concrete floor, installing additional lighting, and painting the ceiling - would go a long way towards creating a nice environment for the railroad.  It is also a lot easier and cheaper to do this work before constructing the layout than after it is already in place. The cost breakdown for the materials needed for room preparation is below.

Table 1 - Room Preparation Quantities and Cost

Part Description Quantity Unit Price Total Price
Concrete Wall Paint 12 $25 $300
Floor Paint 12 $25 $300
Ceiling Paint 12 $20 $240
Light Fixtures 20 $50 $1,000
Room Preparation Cost Total $1,840


It is expected the layout would be built on tried and true L-girder benchwork. This would be constructed using 1x4's, AC plywood, and Masonite for fascia and backdrop material. Foam would be used to create the base for the scenery elements.

Table 2 - Benchwork Material Quantities and Cost

Part Description Quantity Unit Price Total Price
1x4x8" - Pine 180 $7 $1,260
4'x8'x1/2" Plywood 15 $30 $450
4'x8'x1/4" Masonite 8 $15 $120
Drywall Screws 5 $20 $100
2'x8'x2" Foam 50 $20 $1,000
Paint (Latex - Gallon) 6 $20 $120
Carpenters Glue 6 $15 $90
Skirting 18 $50 $900
Benchwork Cost Total $4,040


All of the track would be commercially available flextrack and turnouts. Cork roadbed would be used to support the track.

Table 3 - Trackwork Quantities and Cost

Part Description Quantity Unit Price Total Price
Cork Roadbed 300' $1 $300
Flextrack 100 $4 $400
Turnouts 7 $30 $210
Turnout Motor 7 $20 $140
Rail Joiners 6 $5 $30
Trackwork Cost Total $1,080


The layout would be controlled by a DCC system with walkaround throttles through the rails. Even though the prototype has an overhead catenary system, this system would just be decorative on the layout which makes wiring the layout a little easier (the costs for the catenary system is under the Details section). Each of the turnouts would be powered by switch machines with controls located along the fascia at the location of the turnouts. Since the layout operations are well suited for automation, an automation system would be an ideal system to build for the layout, but this has not been included in the cost breakdown below.

Table 4 - Electronics Material Quantities and Cost

Part Description Quantity Unit Price Total Price
DCC Control System 1 $550 $550
DCC Throttles 3 $160 $480
UTP Throttle Plugs 10 $25 $250
DPDT Switches 8 $5 $40
LEDs 50 $0.20 $10
Reverser Units 2 $50 $100
Circuit Breaker 3 $30 $90
14 Gauge Wire 500' $50 $50
22 Gauge Wire 500' $35 $35
CATV Cable 250' $50 $50
Electronics Cost Total $1,655


Since the railroad is located in the middle of the desert, there are only a handful of structures on the railroad - most of which are at the two terminal points on the railroad. At one end is the power plant and unloading facility. On the other end is the loader and the railroad's maintenance base. A small number of bridges are scattered along the mainline. For the cost estimate, it is assumed the structures will be kitbashed and the costs for adding detailing, lighting, and painting the structures are included.

Table 5 - Structures Quantities and Cost

Part Description Quantity Unit Price Total Price
Power Plant 1 $250 $250
Unloader 1 $150 $150
Loader 1 $100 $100
Enginehouse 1 $80 $80
Road Bridge 1 $50 $50
Railroad Bridge 2 $50 $100
Culverts 5 $10 $50
Structures Cost Total $780


One of the appeals of the prototype is the majestic desert scenery. As a lifelong modeler of eastern roads, not having the daunting task of filling a basement with a forest is also very appealing! This also helps to reduce the overall cost of scenery as much of the materials that are needed to build these scenes are cheap. Various types of plaster and dirt along with a variety of paint colors would go a long way to completing the scenery. A few shrubs and grasses would need to be scattered though the scene and, of course, ballast would be needed along the right of way.

Table 6 - Scenery Material Quantities and Cost

Part Description Quantity Unit Price Total Price
Sculptamold 20 $8 $160
Joint Compound 10 $15 $150
Paints (Latex - Gallons) 3 $20 $60
Paints (Craft Paints) 50 $1 $50
Dirt/Ground Covers 20 $10 $200
Static Grass 20 $10 $200
Ballast 10 $10 $100
Shrubs/Bushes 20 $15 $300
Coal 5 $10 $50
Scenery Cost Total $1,270


A major detail along the right of way is the catenary system.  As designed, it is not intended to be functional - just simply decorative.  With 3D printing now accessible to the average modeler, creating the parts for the 140-150 or so catenary poles should be fairly straight forward. In addition, a small handful of figures, vehicles, and other assorted lineside details will be needed around the layout.

Table 7 - Details Material Quantities and Opinion of Cost

Part Description Quantity Unit Price Total Price
Catenary 145 $10 $1,450
Vehicles 30 $20 $600
Figures 50 $2 $100
Lineside Details 30 $10 $300
Details Cost Total $2,450


For the layout, a small fleet of equipment would be needed. The prototype railroad tends to run a set of three of E60C's with a string of hopper cars on each train. With a single train circling the railroad at any given time, only three locomotives would be needed. However, just like the real railroad, a  spare can be rotated in and out. These four locomotives would be joined by 44 hopper cars and a small handful of maintenance of way equipment to fill out the roster. Most of this equipment will need to be created by kitbashing commercially available models. This adds to the cost of each of these items as more detail parts, decals, and paint need to be purchased along with the base model. These costs have been reflected in the table below.

Table 8 - Equipment Quantities and Costs

Equipment Description Quantity Unit Price Total Price
E60C (Modified Bachmann E60CP) 4 $250 $1,000
Aluminum Coal Cars (Walthers) 44 $20 $880
M.O.W. Equipment (Various Manufacturers) 5 $100 $500
Equipment Costs Total $2,380


Since the design is still a bit rough, there are still some unknowns which may come up during the construction of the layout. It's not uncommon to include a contingency amount - a little buffer - to account for those unknowns. In the estimate, a 15% contingency amount was included since the design is still early stage and much of the final details aren't yet known.

Financial Summary

Pulling everything together, the bottom line number would be about $17,820.

Table 9 - Layout Cost Summary

Part Description Total Price
1. - Room Preparation $1,840
2. - Benchwork $4,040
3. - Trackwork $1,080
4. - Electronics $1,655
5. - Structures $780
6. - Scenery $1,270
7. - Details $2,450
8. - Equipment $2,380
9. - Contingency (15%) $2,325
Layout Cost Total $17,820

Time Summary

Now that we have a good handle on how much a railroad of this size and scope would cost, the next step would be to look at how long it might take to build the layout. Obviously, the amount of time it takes to build a layout is going to be dependent upon the amount of hobby time available as well as the level of experience of the builder. A more experienced model railroader most likely will take a little less time than a newcomer to the hobby simply because the more experienced model railroader isn't also trying to learn the process of constructing a layout while building the layout. For this case study the assumption is the builder of this layout isn't building their first layout and has about 8-10 hours a week to work on the layout. Over the course of a year - this is about 400-500 hours of labor time. Below is a Gantt chart showing the breakdown for each of the major construction components on the layout.

Layout Construction Gantt Chart

A Gantt Chart showing the construction schedule for the Deseret Power Railway HO scale layout.. | Chart by Jim Spavins.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who has built a layout, the most time consuming items tend to be building structures and equipment. In general, benchwork and room preparation should proceed fairly rapidly. Overall, this layout - as simple as it is - would still take about 5 years to complete! Again, this could take more or less time depending upon the builder. As discussed in the Layout Building-Maintenance Paradox article, over time, some layout maintenance activities will start to creep into the building time which might stretch out the construction time beyond the five years estimated.

Salvage Value

Since this case study is about trying to understand the financial implications of a large basement layout, one of the big financial risks of building a basement empire is relocation. It is obvious that some money and time would be lost having to take down a layout and rebuild it in another space. This might also cause some folks to stall their dream of building a home layout.

Obviously, there are some items which simply cannot be salvaged. For example, the time and money spent on room preparation can't be moved. If done well, these room preparation items might add a little value to the house, so some of that expense might be recaptured when the home is sold.  Practically speaking, this is a sunk cost.

However, there are a number of items which can be saved. Equipment and structures can easily be salvaged - which saves both time and money when rebuilding the layout in a new location. Many of the electronic components - like the DCC system and wire - can be salvaged and reused on a future layout. Track is also fairly easy to salvage as are many of the details. Even some of the materials used in building the benchwork can be salvaged.  For evaluation purposes in the table below, we will assume some loss in all categories due to items breaking during a move.

Table 10 - Salvage Value of Layout

Part Description Original Investment % Salvaged Salvaged Value
1. - Room Preparation $1,840 0% $0
2. - Benchwork $4,040 50% $2,020
3. - Trackwork $1,080 70% $756
4. - Electronics $1,655 70% $1,159
5. - Structures $780 90% $702
6. - Scenery $1,270 10% $127
7. - Details $2,450 80% $1,960
8. - Equipment $2,380 90% $2,142
Total Salvage Value $8,866

Even in a worst case scenario where a completed layout needs to be taken down and rebuilt, the cost to replicate in a new space would be substantially less than the initial construction. A lot of time would also be recovered as the structures, details, and equipment wouldn't need to be rebuilt. It might still take a couple of years to get back to the same level of completeness, the financial loss wouldn't be overwhelming.

Prototype Resources

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.