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Marias Pass HO Scale Track Plan.

Marias Pass

Continental Divide on a HO Scale Portable Layout

Track Plan At A Glance

Layout Theme: BNSF Marias Pass
Layout Type: Portable
Size: 9'x16' (Ten - 2.5'x4' Sections)
Scale: HO Scale
Era: 2000s-Present
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius (Mainline): 30"

Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: August 23, 2016

Traversing over the Continental Divide through Glacier National Park in Montana, Marias Pass is home to spectacular mountain railroading.  A few weeks back, I received a message from one of the folks following the Jim's Track Plans Facebook page with a request to create a 9'x16' HO scale portable layout based upon this scenic transcontinental former Great Northern mainline.  The layout needed to be designed on equal size sections and feature scenes from the BNSF line today.

After doing a little research on the line, this route through northern Montana features mostly mainline traffic through spectacular scenery.  After thinking about the design a bit, one of the design alternatives which would help capture the flavor of Marias Pass would be to create a scenic loop which connected to a staging yard that could feed the various BNSF freights - and maybe a version of the Amtrak Empire Builder - over the railroad.  Using this as a footprint, a set of ten - 2.5'x4' modules were arranged in a loop configuration and after some sketching, the design shown at the beginning of the article was created.

Scenes on the Railroad

The trackplan features an inner loop - hidden by a backdrop - containing a set of staging tracks - and an outer scenic loop featuring a number of scenes from the line.  The visible portion of the railroad would feature the spectacular mountain scenery on this line.  If you take a look at some of the links in the Prototype Resources section below, you'll notice very quickly there is not much in the way of structures other than the railroad features - just a lot of natural features - like rivers, streams, forests, and rock outcroppings.  These features are the highlights of the layout but the railroad also has a few distinctive features along this route.  On one side of the layout, the passing siding which is located at the Continental Divide at the peak of Marias Pass was included.  There is a nice set of cantilever signal bridges protecting the passing siding at this location which would also help set the scene.  On the other side of the layout, one of the massive trestles - in this case Midvale Trestle - was placed near a red barn typically framed in photos of trains crossing the span.

Operating the Railroad

These two main scenes are visually split by tunnels on each of the smaller sides of the layout.  The one tunnel on the right side of the plan hides the turnouts (and crossing) into the staging yard.  A small set of doors should be built into the side of the layout at this location to provide access for any derailments or maintenance activities.  The mainline at this location can be set to allow trains to simply circle around the layout or the mainline traffic can be diverted through the staging yard.  A simple operating scheme could be constructed dispatching trains around the layout - with meets set at the Marias Pass passing siding.

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.