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Help with a layout for an 7x7 alcove

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  • Member since
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Help with a layout for an 7x7 alcove
Posted by mjc on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 12:03 AM

I’ve seen a number of other threads asking for layout advice, and the responses are really thoughtful. So I’d like to try as well.

The goal:
The kids and I like trains, and we like building things. We want to put down track, run trains, and sometimes add a building. Railfanning. Sometimes, we’ll play railroad and drop off a freight car at a building and then go pick it up later. No car cards or anything serious, at least not yet.

The layout is going in a 7’ x 7.5’ alcove off a multipurpose room. The house is small; there is nowhere else. One of the 7.5’ sides is open to the rest of the room. On the other 7.5’ side (the far wall), there is a vent register near the floor on the right side. Also on the right side, on the 7’ side wall, there is a sliding closet door that starts 2’ from the far wall.


 room-plan on Flickr

Photo of room:

 room-with-layout on Flickr

- Continuous operation (I said earlier, we like running trains)
- Somewhat low height, both for the kids and because the ceiling tapers down

- Double track main (two kids, two trains, no fighting… well, less fighting)
- Municipal airport (see below)
- A couple of industries (leaning toward oil dealer and machine shop or electrons mfr.)
- HO scale (everything I have now is HO scale, plus getting sound equipped models is easier and the kids can actually get stuff on the rails)
- The track I have is code 100 Atlas sectional track; I’m open to replacing it but would need a good reason to spend the money
- Location is the western states, UP/SP
- 18” radius or larger curves are fine
- Era is flexible, but I tend to like the merger era in the late 80s, early 90s; all our stuff right now fits that era
- Interchange track
- A tunnel, or a bridge, or both

Don’t need:
- Classification yard
- Long trains
- Water
- Lift-up or sliding track sections; eventually we’ll break something like that
- Great distances between stuff on the layout

The airport:
My thought with the airport is to model the ramp area with some small planes and an airport cafe. I’d have the runway run off the side of the layout. I would run the trains under the runway. (I understand that a real railroad would not do this, since it would be cheaper to just build the tracks next to the airport. I don’t have room for that. Plus this way I get a tunnel and tunnels are cool.) I have seen examples of railroads that operate near small airports such as Hesperia, CA or Santa Teresa, NM.

On curves:
I know that 18” limits me to four-axle diesels mostly, and 55’ and smaller cars, but that’s okay with me. I actually have some passenger cars that run fine right now. Yes, they look like toys. My kids don’t care. If it ever gets to the point where that matters, they’ll leave the layout. (The cars, not the kids.)

The plan would be to build this in a few months. In the near future, we’ll have to disassemble the temporary setup we have now. (It’s basically the Atlas Trunk Line HO-10006 adjusted to fit in 4x6.) A few months after, we’ll be able to put the trains back.

I could go with a 4.5’ x 7’ layout (maybe even out to 7.5’ or 8’). I’d have access on three sides, and I can build something like the Trunk Line again but a bit bigger. Advantages: easier and quicker to build and get to running trains, easier to move to one side if we need space for folks to stay with us, probably less expensive, fits a double track main. Closer example in 4x6:

 trunk-line-4x6 on Flickr

We wanted to see whether it would be better to build an L shaped layout. This is where I would need some help understanding what would be reasonable in the space. I assume it would be a folded dog bone sort of thing (example provided). I’ve not been able to figure out how to main a double main work in the space. Advantages: feels like it would be more fun to use. Example that needs a bunch of work:

 l-layout-7x7 on Flickr

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Posted by BigDaddy on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 3:46 AM

If you click on the arrow on the lower right of your flickr page and copy the BB code directly in your post (just Control C and Control V; no need to mess with the photo icon above) we can see your photos directly

That makes it more convenient for us to join in on the discussion.



COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 4:35 AM

If that alcove is enclosed at three sides (it wouldn´t be an alcove if not) you will have a series reach problem, unless your layout is no deeper than 24".

If that´s the only place available for a layout, here is what I would do. Adapt a 4 by 8 track plan to fit onto a 4 by 7 table. Put that table on casters, so you can pull it out for either working on the layout, or even operating it.

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Posted by richhotrain on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 6:22 AM

Regarding the double main line, it may be possible to convert the single main line to a double main line, although the space is tight. In HO scale, the track separation only need be 2" on center. You could add a pair of crossovers on a straight section of track to move the trains from the outer main line to the inner main line and then back again.


Alton Junction

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Posted by rrinker on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 7:16 AM

Can you remove the closet doors and go into the closet? Note that you can put shelves under the layout and get back storage space. If you can use that little bit of extra space, you probbaly have room to have the two turnback blobs that would let the main line be double tracked by building a dogboone shape layout. Otherwise, even with 22" radius curves, there is no room for the two loops at the ends.

 Only other option would be to make it donut shaped, but if you make it low enough for young kids, you're going to have a heck of a duckunder to get to the inside. Which leaves basically an island, which would have limited access if fixed in place, on wheels you could go up to 5 feet wide instead of the typical 4, but the length is limited to less than 8 feet which limits possibilities.



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Posted by DSchmitt on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 7:18 AM

I'm confused text says 7x7, plan shows 8.5x9

 Coyle1 by Donald Schmitt, on Flickr

Photo shows 4z6 layout.

 Coyle2 by Donald Schmitt, on Flickr

If plan correct,4x8.5 layout will fit with 2' on left side - 3' right side or 2.5' both sides.  Access on two sides and one end.

If you don't mind building along wall in front of the closit and having duck under or lift gate on open side, could build 8.5x9 "around the walls - donut" layout.  If access to closit is needed could build 8.5x6to7 donut layout.  In either case sides 1-1.5' wide would probably provide adequate space for track and scenery.



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I don't have a leg to stand on.

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Posted by mjc on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 11:58 AM

Thank you all for the replies so far. I was able to get the photos to show in line, so thank you. It probably isn't clear, but the dimensions on the page are 85" x 90", not 8.5' by 9.0'. So it is about 7' x 7.5'.

It is an alcove, though, so I can probably go an extra 0.5' to 1' into the rest of the room, so I might be able to get an island layout 8' x 5' in there, though 7.5' x 4.5' might be more comfortable. I like the casters idea.

On the donut... I did consider it, and even though about making the duckunder a "climb-over" where a grade bring the tracks closer to the floor and I put a stepladder over them for folks to get to the middle. Honestly, I'd rather do the island layout than try to make that work long-term.

On the go-into-the-closet plan... were you thinking about removing the wall between the two, or just the closet doors?

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Posted by GraniteRailroader on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 5:48 PM

If you're serious about making it into a model space, I'd look at converting the closet to a single traditional door, and framing in the half of the opening closest to the corner of the room. This would give you an extra 3-4 feet on that side.

Framing the opening would be relatively simple, and you likely could remove and reuse the existing trim for the opening after trimming the top to the new width.



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Posted by ACY Tom on Friday, October 13, 2017 9:24 PM

Let's talk about the footprint: For that space, I would suggest a central operating space with the trains running aound the operators. Access to the operating space is duckunder (easy for the kids) or by a liftout or swinging gate (easier for the adults). Put a 90" x 24" table across the back, then add two 61" x 24" wings at the side. This gives you a C shaped space. Then bridge the gap with a narrow 12" x 42" "bridge" across the entrance.  This will give you an operating space approximately 49" x 42". No problem if you choose to fudge these dimensions by an inch or two here and there. Depth of 2' allows access to everything from the central operating space. One 4x8 sheet of plywood, homasote, and/or foam board will provide most of what you need for the top surface. 

This arrangement also allows broader curves than any other option. I would recommend 24" radius or more. The actual track arrangement is up to you. You said you want a double track mainline so two trains can operate at once. There's plenty of space for that. Make sure you have two crossovers, one in each direction. Passing tracks, industrial tracks, and yards are up to you. 

Other options will involve tight curves and other probable sources of future frustration. 


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Posted by mjc on Monday, October 16, 2017 12:54 AM

ACY Tom and Granite Railroader... thank you for the ideas. I am starting to warm to the thought of an around-the-walls-with-duckunder layout. I set up xtrkcad to try it out, and the problem is the closet. If I want 18" of access to the closet the way it is now, I end up with an operating space about 48" x 24". That feels like it would be small for me and the two kids. I only get the larger 48" x 42" space if I do close off the closet (as Granite Railroader suggests). The trouble there is there isn't a great deal of political will to do that.

If I drop the width of the side wings to 18" instead of 24", that opens up the middle operating area to 48" x 36". For those that know these things, is that a trade-off I'd come to regret? (I plotted this out as well, using 22" curves for the inner loop and 24" for the outer, and it seemed to work.)

I think that even if the closet remains as is, the table at the back can still run the full 90".

One last note: Access to the attic is in that closet.

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Posted by mjc on Thursday, November 09, 2017 12:44 AM

I finally had a few minutes to create a plan. Please ignore the tunnel and apparent elevation change. I was trying to see what I could do with a 3% grade, but I think I'll skip the elevation stuff for a while.

This first one has 24" outer loop curves and 22" inner loop curves: 22-24-loop

This version has 22" curves for the outer and 18" for the inner:


A 4.5 x 7 island has 31.5 sq. ft. and each mainline is about 17 feet long.
The donut plans have 33 sq. ft. and each mainline is about 21 feet long.

The plan with the 18" curves would save a bit of money, since I have a number of 18" curve track segments and 9 Atlas "Snap Switches." I do plan to get #4 turnouts for the crossovers, but would it be reasonable to use the 18" curve plan with the Snap Switches for the spurs?

Right now, I am using the Snap Switches to form crossovers, by connecting the diverging track of one to the non-diverging track of the other (if that makes sense). Basically, the crossover is at the end of a curve. This way, I avoid the dreaded S turn that derails trains. When using #4 turnouts, do I still need to do this?

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