Track Plan At A Glance
Layout Theme: Town
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Scale: HO Scale
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 36" (visible), 30" (not visible)
Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: May 31, 2016
Nestled along the shoreline of southeastern Connecticut is a town called Mystic, CT. Originally settled as a whaling port, the town is now a tourist destination with popular attractions such as Mystic Seaport and the Mystic Aquarium. In the mid-1800s, the railroads came calling and the rail line that is now part of the Northeast Corridor between New York and Boston was constructed.
For me, this is where I had my earliest memories of watching trains. When I was little, my parent's would take me down to the station to watch the evening parade of trains through town. It was amazing to be sitting at the station, listening as an approaching Amtrak train would rumble across the Mystic River swing bridge, seeing the train appear around the corner - blaring its horn for the grade crossing, and then leaving just as quick as it arrived. As a little kid, I found this exciting and fascinating.
A lot of modelers tend to call back to these early memories as inspiration for a model railroad. While I built a model of the Northeast Corridor about a decade ago (see the layout tour on YouTube), I didn't include the town of Mystic. The layout, shown above, is a focused effort including just the main scenes near the train station to rekindle some of these old memories - plus focus on my more recent interests in the hobby.
A northbound Amtrak arrives in Mystic, CT on October 11, 1986. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
Aligning Design and Hobby Interests
After about two decades of model railroading, I have started to figure out what my interests are in the hobby. As I have begun to gear my layout designs to these interests, I am finding my layout projects to be more enjoyable - and, hence, I am finding it easier to complete these projects. For example, my current Tribute to Springfield project has been a lot of fun to build and research. The trackplan of the layout is very simple and there are only seven structures, but the entire layout was really designed around detailing, lighting, and animation. I have found this type of work to be interesting and caused me to stretch my skills beyond my comfort zone.
The layout at the beginning of the article aligns nicely with this interest in detailing and animation. The design would allow for the benchwork and track to be in place fairly quickly so that I could spend most of the time detailing and animating the railroad. The room could be finished to provide a nice gathering spot (hence the couch) with the layout acting as the backdrop for social functions. Unlike many model railroads - the completed layout isn't meant to require hands on operation. In fact, a completely automated layout would be the preferred final outcome.
Adventures in Automation
This layout would have numerous animation and automation opportunities. The most obvious is a train control system that would send various Amtrak trains through the scene in sequence with the prototype timetable. (The staging yard isn't meant to be actively managed - there are only narrow access aisles to it.) In addition, the swing bridge could be coupled into this system to swing open after the trains go through and close just before a train arrives in town. The entire scene is meant to be displayed in a shadow box configuration which would allow for the addition of day to night lighting effects which could also be tied into the control system.
There are also some other simpler animation items which could be included on the layout like working crossing gates next to the station - and if the layout is set in more modern times (post 2000) - the "Warning Train Approaching" audio system at the station could also be installed on the layout.
One item which I have started to see become available commercially are working HO scale automobiles. The way Route 1 is set along the back of the layout would lend itself well to be automated. While not shown in the design above, I'd imagine it wouldn't be too difficult to figure out an arrangement where some return loops for Route 1 are added behind the backdrop to create a loop for these cars to go back and forth. There would also be some intersections along Route 1 which would need a traffic light - adding some more programming fun to the automation system.
Once all of these automation systems were completed, it would be quite the experience to turn on the layout and watch everything come to life. The cars would zip along on Route 1, then the swing bridge would close. In the distance you'd hear the train rumble across the Mystic River and blare its horn as it rushes by the station. Just as quickly as the train arrived, it would be out of sight, on its way north to Boston...bringing back all those great memories.
A southbound Amtrak Northeast Direct in Mystic, CT on a summer evening in 1998. Photo from the Sea Swirl restaurant off Route 1. | Photo by Jim Spavins.
- Amtrak #168, Mystic, CT 1-2-1989 Video on YouTube >
- Amtrak #170 1-2-1989 Video on YouTube >
- Amtrak Mystic, CT 1-2-1989 Video on YouTube >
- Amtrak: Northeast Regional & Acela Express Trains Passing Through Mystic (2015) on YouTube >
- Mystic River Kayaking - Train Swing Bridge Opening on YouTube >
- Mystic, CT Photos on Railpictures.net >
- Mystic, CT Photos on NE Rail Photo Archive >
- Amtrak Mystic, CT Station on Google Maps >
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.