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I'm looking for help with my new harbor layout

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  • Member since
    March 2015
  • 7 posts
I'm looking for help with my new harbor layout
Posted by florida modeler on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 11:48 AM



I am new and came here looking for help/advice. I am planning a new HO scale modern port layout that is an L-shaped allong-the-wall 10'x9'. The main port is 10'x2' with the 7' left over as staging. The trains will leave the staging allong a left hand curve into the port.


The industries I would like to have on the port are a scrap metal exporter (2 or 3 gondolas), a chemical distributor (4 tank cars on 2 tracks), and finally a team track/general freight area between ships and rail (however many cars/tracks will fit). Maybe if space permits a few background industries. The longest cars I plan to run are 62 foot bulkhead flats. I have 3 ships I kitbashed from the ScaleScenes modern cargo ship kit, a small chemical tanker, a bulk carrier for the scrap yard, and a larger bulk carrier for the team track. All are kitbashed to different lengths and all will be removable so as to simulate them arriving and leaving.


I have a lot of Atlas code 83 Customline switches and flex track so I'll stick with that for budget reasons. If possible I'd like a minimum radius of 24" and #6 switches, but if space won't allow, 22" radius and #4 switches are acceptable.


My issue is the track plan. I am looking for a realistic track plan so operations will be more realistic. Kind of a less is more approach while still representing a big busy port and keeping me busy for a while. Do any of you know of any track plans that I could adapt to a port scene? Or are any of you willing to draw out a simple track plan to point me in the right direction? I have tried a few with no success. All the ones I have tried are either unrealistically complex switching puzzles or are not designed to handle modern equipment (runarounds won't even fit 3 cars). My issue is that I don't know where or how to place my industries so they will look and operate realistically.


Thank you in advance for all your help!

  • Member since
    June 2020
  • 801 posts
Posted by Lastspikemike on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 3:16 PM

This is a little off the wall but on a visit to New Zealand a few years ago I looked down on the port at Napier from a viewpoint (bluff hill lookout) giving an aerial perspective:

heres the official website:

This is a very small but high capacity port. NZ uses 3' gauge so allow for that. This port has small container ship capability, some container storage and sorting, road and rail connection all in a very small footprint.

Using google earth satellite, or even google maps, and then map display could help you design a usable port or part thereof in a very small space. Which I just did and yes, it may help you quite a bit. Everything a real port has and needs in a very compressed space. The connecting rail is almost invisible as laid right into the roadways but if you follow it around to the NE you'll see it connects to sn equally compact freight yard with a bit of a tank farm. 

Just an idea.

Alyth Yard


  • Member since
    January 2017
  • From: Southern Florida Gulf Coast
  • 9,618 posts
Posted by SeeYou190 on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 4:37 PM

Welcome from another modeler in Florida!

Big Smile

Your first few posts will be delayed by the moderators, but that will end soon enough. Please stick around and join in our conversations.

We have some masterful track planning people in here, but I am not one of them. I would imagine that functional and fun track plans for L shaped layouts are pretty common.

I suppose you could use any published L shaped layout plan and just change the theme to a waterfront.


Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

  • Member since
    September 2004
  • From: Dearborn Station
  • 19,546 posts
Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 5:35 PM

Check out the harbor layout on this site. It is the 4th track plan down the page.

More detail at this link.


Alton Junction

  • Member since
    March 2011
  • 789 posts
Posted by NVSRR on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 11:09 PM

i recommend taking a look at the ports of camden NJ.  Philadelphia pa. And ny.  and the Associated railroads.    Study them and that should help you plan out a harbor layout.  Loads of ideas for tight spaces and yards.



A pessimist sees a dark tunnel

An optimist sees the light at the end of the tunnel

A realist sees a frieght train

An engineer sees three idiots standing on the tracks stairing blankly in space

  • Member since
    March 2015
  • 7 posts
Posted by florida modeler on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 9:24 AM

Thank you all for responding so quickly! I definitely appreciate the suggestions you have given me. They have already given me some ideas.


I really like the look of the Port of Napier. It actually made me remember a port I wanted to model but gave up on because it doesn't have any rail service I could use as reference. It's Aberdeen Harbor in Scotland, I watched a show about it. It's nice to now have a similarly sized and style port with rail service to gather ideas from. Thank you!


The Ingramport track plan is really cool. I like how they fit so many industries in a small space without it becoming too crowded. Definitely gives me ideas on the direction I should head with my track plan to get the feel I am after.


Thank you all!

  • Member since
    October 2007
  • From: Fullerton, California
  • 1,045 posts
Posted by hornblower on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 2:59 PM

One very compact prototype deep water commercial harbor, and in fact one entire prototype short line railroad, just itching to be modeled is the Port of Hueneme and the Ventura County Railroad in California.  Although a portion of the original line on the south side of the harbor is all but abandoned today, the original line used to form a squared off loop around much of Port Hueneme and Oxnard, California.  The harbor is located at the southwest corner of this loop while a connection with the Union Pacific (formerly Southern Pacific) coast line is located at the northeast corner of the loop.  A U.S. Navy Construction Battalion base is located immediately north of the harbor offering loads more switching opportunities.  The UP coast line could act as staging, too.  The original track plan as well as the development of the area can be seen on

A harbor layout based on this prototype also offers significantly different operation possibilities based on the era modeled.  Today, the harbor is a major offload point for imported automobiles. Transport ships unload the vehicles at the harbor docks and the vehicles are then moved by the VCR to either storage/staging areas located along the east side of the loop and/or on to the UP interchange.  A WWII era layout would showcase both military shipping in the harbor with extensive wartime switching operations on the SeaBee base.  

If you don't have room for the whole loop, a linear or "L" shaped layout could model the north half of the harbor (where all the railroad action is anyway) and the SeaBee base (compressed as needed).  The line heading north (then east) from the Navy base could double as both the main line and staging.

Take a look at this little harbor and railroad on Google Maps and  It is sure to give you more track planning ideas.


  • Member since
    March 2015
  • 7 posts
Posted by florida modeler on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 11:10 PM

Thank you. That is a very neat port with TONS of modeling potential.

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