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Is there a "secret" to track planning?!

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Is there a "secret" to track planning?!
Posted by NWP SWP on Friday, November 10, 2017 10:58 PM

I have been trying to track plan for my dream layout just for fun and I have not gotten anywhere I have plenty of inspiration (this forum, track plan database, MR archive, and every track plan book put out over the past 5 decades. Is there something I'm missing or not getting? Could some one please help I have so many ideas that I can't get onto paper it's frustrating!

I really could use some experienced model railroader advice.

Modeling the combined lines of the Southern Pacific, Western Pacific, and Northern Pacific after a fictional Depression Era merger forming the SouthWestern Pacific and NorthWestern Pacific Railroads. SP, WP, and NP operations remain independent but also operate alongside NWP and SWP equipment.

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Posted by Sir Madog on Saturday, November 11, 2017 12:51 AM

There is an open "secret" to successful model railroad planning and it is the understanding of the how and why of real railroad operation. The best way to dig into the matter is to read John Armstrong´s famous book "Track Planning For Realistic Operation" - check this.

   Ulrich     

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Posted by NWP SWP on Saturday, November 11, 2017 12:54 AM

Thanks I'll look into that thanks.

Modeling the combined lines of the Southern Pacific, Western Pacific, and Northern Pacific after a fictional Depression Era merger forming the SouthWestern Pacific and NorthWestern Pacific Railroads. SP, WP, and NP operations remain independent but also operate alongside NWP and SWP equipment.

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Posted by hon30critter on Saturday, November 11, 2017 1:49 AM

I might also suggest that you look into one of the CAD track design programs. They definitely won't design the layout for you but they will allow you to keep track of all of your ideas. Also, when it comes time to build, the CAD programs can help a lot in terms of laying out the design.

I am currently working on the design for my club's new permanent layout. I have been using 3rd PlanIt to help with the design. The program has provided countless benefits. For example:

- I was able to design the benchwork framing which is now mostly built. In addition to being able to print easy to follow construction plans, the program allowed me to accurately position the crossmembers so that they won't interfere with Tortoise locations. That may sound minor, that is until you have to install a Tortoise in the middle of a 1x4. I will also add that when I remeasured the actual framework, all the dimensions were within 1/8". That is on a 20' x 25' layout.

- I am now working on the sub roadbed cutting patterns. The program has allowed me to plot the exact location of each segment of track so that we can cut the 'cookie cutter' sections accurately. I have been able to draw out each piece of the larger pieces of plywood so that they fit tightly together, even where there is a joint resting on the edge of a 1x4 where there is only 3/8" to play with for each piece of plywood.

- The program has made it easy to change plans. We realized after the fact that we would need an access hatch in one area of the layout. It was easy to modify the framework so that the hatch would not interfere with any turnouts or structures. In another case, we realized that our track plan had a major design fault in that one of the reverse loops was far too short to work properly. We fixed that in a few minutes. Of course, coming up with a solution with pencil and paper would have been easy too, but by adding the changes to the program all the track and benchwork changes took only a few minutes to make, and I wasn't left sitting in a pile of eraser crumbs.Smile, Wink & Grin

The pencil and paper guys will tell you that a CAD program is a waste of time. I politely disagree. I have been able to produce a set of detailed, accurate drawings of each of the different components of the layout that anybody in the club can follow. Again, that is possible with pencil and paper too, but I believe that my CAD program has been a real blessing.

Dave

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Saturday, November 11, 2017 2:34 AM

Some just have a knack for it.  I scored well as a kid in the spacial and dimensional aptitude tests and enjoy track planning.  I expect layout design sig members are of that ilk.

That said, understanding operations and reviewing lots and lots of track plans is part of developing the ability to visualize and design track plans.  Some who cant do it go to designers in many cases.  Heck, at home some projects I dyi and those I cant I hire someone.  No shame in that.

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Posted by railandsail on Saturday, November 11, 2017 4:20 AM

Sir Madog

There is an open "secret" to successful model railroad planning and it is the understanding of the how and why of real railroad operation. The best way to dig into the matter is to read John Armstrong´s famous book "Track Planning For Realistic Operation" - check this.

 

I must voice a slight disagreement with this quote,...not the book reference,... but the need for a full understanding of how real railroads operate.
 
In many situations, particularly smaller MODEL railroad layouts, we can NOT hope to duplicate a real railroad's operation. I think its more important to enhance the imagery, whether that involves detailing structures/scenes, of just run/display the fabulously detailed model trains we have these days (and the advancement in molding plastics that have brought ever greater detail to our model trains in the past 10-15 years,...it rivals brass).

First off you have define the amount and shape of your availabble space, that makes a BIG difference. Then search thru all the dwgs, photos, etc for something that might appeal to you,...then try to STUFF that into your space,...ha...ha...ha
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Posted by Sir Madog on Saturday, November 11, 2017 4:30 AM

railandsail

 

 
Sir Madog

There is an open "secret" to successful model railroad planning and it is the understanding of the how and why of real railroad operation. The best way to dig into the matter is to read John Armstrong´s famous book "Track Planning For Realistic Operation" - check this.

 

 

I must voice a slight disagreement with this quote,...not the book reference,... but the need for a full understanding of how real railroads operate.
 
In many situations, particularly smaller MODEL railroad layouts, we can NOT hope to duplicate a real railroad's operation. I think its more important to enhance the imagery, whether that involves detailing structures/scenes, of just run/display the fabulously detained model trains we have these days (and the advancement in molding plastics that have brought ever greater detail to our model trains in the past 10-15 years,...it rivals brass).

First off you have define the amount and shape of your availabble space, that makes a BIG difference. Then search thru all the dwgs, photos, etc for something that might appeal to you,...then try to STUFF that into your space,...ha...ha...ha
 

I agree and I also disagree, Brian!

My own layout is a mere loop of track with a stub-end siding and there is no way one could operate that layout in a prototypical fashion. However, my aim with that layout was not to operate it in that manner, but to provide a stage for my rather detailed trains - a stage, which captures the setting of my selected prototype, The Rhaetian Railway, a electrified narrow gauge line in Switzerland. I know quite a few other model railroaders with the same choice of prototype, which have built exact copies of prototype locations, who operate their layout according to the prototype practice and schedule.

How "successful" a layout design finally is, depends on what rocks your boat!

   Ulrich     

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Posted by mlehman on Saturday, November 11, 2017 5:34 AM

Sir Madog
quoting railandsail SNIP... First off you have define the amount and shape of your availabble space, that makes a BIG difference.

Sir Madog
SNIP...my aim with that layout was not to operate it in that manner, but to provide a stage for my rather detailed trains - a stage, which captures the setting of my selected prototype...

If you're stuck, concentrate on these two things, with prototype being first and most important, because that choice extends beyond track planning to other aspects of the layout you are planning, then shaping that to fit into the space you have available.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Saturday, November 11, 2017 6:32 AM

railandsail

 

 
Sir Madog

There is an open "secret" to successful model railroad planning and it is the understanding of the how and why of real railroad operation. The best way to dig into the matter is to read John Armstrong´s famous book "Track Planning For Realistic Operation" - check this.

 

 

I must voice a slight disagreement with this quote,...not the book reference,... but the need for a full understanding of how real railroads operate.
 
In many situations, particularly smaller MODEL railroad layouts, we can NOT hope to duplicate a real railroad's operation. I think its more important to enhance the imagery, whether that involves detailing structures/scenes, of just run/display the fabulously detained model trains we have these days (and the advancement in molding plastics that have brought ever greater detail to our model trains in the past 10-15 years,...it rivals brass).

First off you have define the amount and shape of your availabble space, that makes a BIG difference. Then search thru all the dwgs, photos, etc for something that might appeal to you,...then try to STUFF that into your space,...ha...ha...ha
 

This highlights a real issue. Why are you in model railroading? 

If you want an prototype operational layout then Track Planning for Realistic Operation is your must have book.  The first edition includes examples of 4x8 layouts as well as larger layouts.

OTOH if your layout is really just a large diorama then other books would probably be more helpful.

If you're really just into collecting, check out Classic Toy Trains.

If you want a railfan layout, then you're mostly on your own as there is very little material on this.

There are lots more reasons for being in this hobby and even those areas I list above have a lot of variations.  So really you have to first define/understand what your hobby objectives are.

Drawing track plans is a lot of fun - this was my main hobby interest for years when my children were growing up with money and time in tight supply.  But most of them were not applicable to my current interest.

Good luck

Paul

If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
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Posted by gregc on Saturday, November 11, 2017 7:07 AM

ironically, it may be more interesting not to model what a real railroad does

The Art of Model Railroading

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

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Posted by rrebell on Saturday, November 11, 2017 8:39 AM

gregc

ironically, it may be more interesting not to model what a real railroad does

The Art of Model Railroading

 

How true. People always got to Johns book and it is great for learning about real railroading but terrible for model railroading unless you have a very large space or are modeling a very very small section of a real railroad. As a model railroader you need to get the feel of really large area in a very small space. This is harder than it seems. The term art is used because that is what it is, doing something without knowing what will happen for sure, nice thing about model railroading is areas can be reworked. I find, for me anyway that the best idea is to start with something that excites me, for my last layout it was a small switching layout someone had done. My starting area was changed somewhat but you could see the bones of what inspired me. 

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Posted by Sir Madog on Saturday, November 11, 2017 9:06 AM

Gee, looking at the many different directions the answers went, any novice must be utterly lost by now Smile

   Ulrich     

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Saturday, November 11, 2017 10:21 AM

hon30critter

- I am now working on the sub roadbed cutting patterns. The program has allowed me to plot the exact location of each segment of track so that we can cut the 'cookie cutter' sections accurately. I have been able to draw out each piece of the larger pieces of plywood so that they fit tightly together, even where there is a joint resting on the edge of a 1x4 where there is only 3/8" to play with for each piece of plywood. 

Yes, this is very similar to what Michael is doing over on the Georgetown & Allen Mountain Railroad (another thread): using CAD to design the layout to close tolerances and (in his case) using a laser cutter to accurately fabricate the pieces. You get all the convenience and tight fit of the 'snap track' roadbed together with the benefit of smooth flowing curves of the flextrack. It's a clever idea if you have the tools and resources to pull it off.

Robert

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Posted by angelob6660 on Saturday, November 11, 2017 10:33 AM

I draw my track plans on paper. I tried computer programs but they're frustrating. I made different versions and similarities for my future layout. When most of them are done I find flaws and try redoing again. 

In my own way, when designing a track plan there will flaws and successes.

Modeling the G.N.O. Railway, The Diamond Route.

Amtrak America, 1971-Present.

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Posted by gregc on Saturday, November 11, 2017 10:37 AM

ROBERT PETRICK
CAD to design the layout to close tolerances and (in his case) using a laser cutter

it may not be so important to have a precisely laid out track plan as much as not having a design with built in flaws such as too tight curves, too small turnouts, s-curves or a lack of transitions.

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

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Posted by rrinker on Saturday, November 11, 2017 11:21 AM

 OK, I disagree that the prototypical basis in Armstrong's books is only for larger layouts. If you just have a bunch of trains and no idea what aspect(s) of railroading you like, I posit you will NEVER come up with a plan. You need some knowledge and some interestes. Are you modeling a spcific railroad that is your favorite? Or do you want to be more generic, in which case, what sort of things do you like? Log trains? Coal trains? Passenger trains? The only thing the size dictates is how many of these interests you cna actually fit in your space. You're not going to fit modern stack trains AND unit coal trains AND articulated autoracks in a 4x8. Not with any satisfaction anyway.

 Once you have some idea of what you would like to have (Armstrong again, with his lists of "Givens and Druthers"), then you can start finding approriate track arrangements and fit them in.

 You don;t need CAD - Armstrong again, with his "squares" method means you can doodle anywhere, so long as you don't put more in a 'square' than can actually fit, the layout will fit in the space available. Doesn;t really matter that the curve inside a square isn;t precicion drawn with templates or a computer, or that the turnout doesn;t have the frog drawn at a precise angle, so long as you don't put more in a square than actually fits, it will be workable. Consider you will go through dozens of options before settling on something, at least. The final product - then you cna sit down and draw it in full detail with drafting tools or use CAD.

 The exception for this one is if you have CAD experience, like I do. It wasn;t difficult for me to learn a model railroad CAD program because of previous experience - and from other experience I am fairly good at visualizing 3D plans from a flat drawing. Otherwise, CAD has a pretty steep learning curve and if you resort to it with no prior experience, you may become frustrated with the tool and never draw a layout.

 One VERY useful trick when hand drawing is to used tracing paper. This works like the computer's ability to save multiple versions. Draw your space on regular paper, accurately measuring the room and all obstacles. Ink over the pencil lines even, once you are sure it is accurate. Now, you can either run off copies of this, or you can do each track design by laying a piece of tracing paper over the room outline and drawing on the tracing paper. Don't like that one? Get a new piece of tracing paper and start again. 

 My last layout, with somewhat limited space but a desire to still be prototypical, steered me towards modeling a smaller branch. Enough of it still exists that I was able to find points to model based on various online map tools and 'flying' over the area to be modeled. My track arrangements were fairly accurate in most places, allowing for the fact that I had to bend 90 degrees to go around room corners where the real reailroad continued in a straight line. 

                                --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by selector on Saturday, November 11, 2017 11:33 AM

I can see the merits in both views expressed earlier by Sir Madog and railand sail (Ulrich and Brian respectively).  I think they're both right, but it doesn't help our OP in getting something that sparks the rest of the idea-to-benchwork process that is eluding him.

I think it's important for people designing a track plan to know what they want out of it, firstly, but out of the Gestalt version when it's all completed as an all-important second.  The whole is, or should be, greater than the sum of all of its parts.  IOW, somewhere, there's an emotional goad and a type of scratching or result that is fully satisfactory.

Track plans start with a concept...an image, an idea.  Would it involved barges unloading ore, or taking it on?  Why?  No barges and water on your layout?  Why not?  Did you like the bridge scene in that posted image on buddy's layout?  Why did you like it?  Would you duplicate it, or is it just offering you an idea of your own?  Why is a bridge important on your layout?  Where will you put it?  Will it be over a gorge or over a roadway?  How will you get to the elevation you need for a bridge?  What will be your starting elevation?  

You need to approach the track plan as an iterative process, but it needs several basics in knowledge first.  That's why reading and asking questions is important...so that it works reasonably well and doesn't end up a disappointing catastrophe.  An expensive one.

Some approach track planning as a way to get the most trackage into a defined space as possible so that they have variety and lots of places to go.  That's a mistake.  Trains don't run like that anywhere, not even in large industrial complexes or yards.  Track is costly, first to construct and then to maintain.  So place as little as you can get away with.

Hey, wait a minute!  It's the yards!  I LOVE them.  That's what I want!  Okay, fine, then look at yard designs and why they're contructed the way they are.  Build that, and enjoy it.  You won't need all that mountain scenery and all those bridges.  You won't need to fashion grades and their vertical end-curves.

Do you want a loop so that you can enjoy trains running uncontrolled for many long minutes?  Well, as a start, you need some kind of loop.  Can you stand a folded loop, as I have used twice?  Single track, or doubled.  How will you nest the curves if it's to be doubled?

That is why Armstrong's book is important as a starting point in my view.  While adhering to any principle is limiting by definition, it doesn't mean it's wrong to take that principled approach.  If nothing else, Armstong reminds us why the real things exist in the first place.  They provide jobs for many and riches for a few people.  They move materials.  They do that as economically as they possibly can.  They use gradual inclines so that they don't have to purchase/lease hundreds of locomotives, or purchase more expensive and more powerful ones, and not have to crew them (people being the chief expense over time).

Think about the harsh realities of railroading and the rest will/should follow.  There's nothing wrong with a loop and for the reasons we all enjoy them.  But loops get old after 10 minutes here and there.  Try to help your trains earn their keep.  Have a couple of industries if you can.

This is much too long, so I'll stop now.

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Saturday, November 11, 2017 11:51 AM

I agree with several of the posters regarding CAD . . . CAD is a tool, only a tool, not that much different than a piece of pencil and a piece of paper. Design takes place in your head, details are worked out in your head; sketches help, and CAD can be a great sketcher, but the pieces and parts float around in the airy regions of gray matter and are picked up, turned around, inserted and re-inserted here and there until the design starts to jell. Then, psycho-cybernetic tools simply spit them out.

Talking about tools . . . the most valuable tool is a well-maintained Mark II calibrated eyeball. A slight mis-quote of my mentor many years ago.

Robert

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Posted by BroadwayLion on Saturday, November 11, 2017 12:03 PM

PLAN of LION.

 

1) Start with empty table.

2) place a peice of track on the table.

3) Add more track and see where it goes.

End of problem...

 

Exhibit 1)

Exhibit 2A:

Exhibit 2B:

Exhibit 2C:

Exhibit 3:

ROAR

The Route of the Broadway Lion The Largest Subway Layout in North Dakota.

Here there be cats.                                LIONS with CAMERAS

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Posted by NWP SWP on Saturday, November 11, 2017 12:48 PM

Sir Madog

Gee, looking at the many different directions the answers went, any novice must be utterly lost by now Smile

 

I am!Laugh

What are some basic steps to start track planning?

Modeling the combined lines of the Southern Pacific, Western Pacific, and Northern Pacific after a fictional Depression Era merger forming the SouthWestern Pacific and NorthWestern Pacific Railroads. SP, WP, and NP operations remain independent but also operate alongside NWP and SWP equipment.

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Posted by dehusman on Saturday, November 11, 2017 1:04 PM

The secret to designing a layout is to have a solid understanding of what you want, then to have a realistic understanding of what fits.  If you want everything you will end up going in so many directions that you can never decide.

If you can't decide then pick something SIMPLE, build it and refine your goals.

Dave H. Painted side goes up.

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Posted by railandsail on Saturday, November 11, 2017 1:16 PM

NWP SWP

What are some basic steps to start track planning?


Define your room size.

Look thru google images for 'trackplans' that you might like.

Its a start

Prior to my computer days, I saved lots of old Model Railroader magazines I would pick at train shows, open houses (particularly around holidays), etc. There is a wealth of info in those old (and new) issues.

Nowadays there is a lot on the computer,...images galore. Somewhere in that 'pile' of images is something that will likely have some appeal to you. Its a good beginning.

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Posted by railandsail on Saturday, November 11, 2017 1:24 PM

dehusman

The secret to designing a layout is to have a solid understanding of what you want,

If one is just starting out they likely don't have a 'solid understanding of what they want'.

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Posted by railandsail on Saturday, November 11, 2017 1:29 PM

Look thru some youtube presentations of small layouts, and perhaps build one of those first.

I like this presentation on a more involved old Atlas plan, the Central Midland.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPqo58D9RYw

....many more videos out there...

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Saturday, November 11, 2017 1:36 PM

Okay . . . getting started.

What size space is available? If the answer is basketball court or airplane hanger, this is gonna be easy.

Otherwise . . . dimensions  (accurate), doors, windows, HVAC, laundry equipment, ceiling, etc. Physical limitations in your person? Height, weight, width, reach, bending, stooping, crawling, seeing?

Robert

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Posted by railandsail on Saturday, November 11, 2017 1:37 PM

NWP SWP

I have been trying to track plan for my dream layout just for fun and I have not gotten anywhere I have plenty of inspiration (this forum, track plan database, MR archive, and every track plan book put out over the past 5 decades. Is there something I'm missing or not getting? Could some one please help I have so many ideas that I can't get onto paper it's frustrating!

I really could use some experienced model railroader advice.

 

 
Oops, looks like you have already been searching thru LOTS of those images....
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Posted by cuyama on Saturday, November 11, 2017 1:43 PM

NWP SWP
What are some basic steps to start track planning?

There are no secrets, but in my humble opinion, there aren’t many shortcuts, either. (At least, if you want to optimize the layout for your interests and space). Some others on this forum will likely take issue with this level of thought and preparation, but it works for me.

Step 1: Learn best practices. Armstrong's Track Planning for Realistic Operation is the place to start, but there are other sources. Armstrong is fundamental, however. This step takes time.

Step 2: Define your own interests, preferences, and resources (space, time, money). Armstrong’s givens-and-‘druthers process is one good approach. I use this layout design questionnaire with my clients. Most don’t fill it out completely, but it helps them focus their ideas and desires. Also during this step, identify your real or imagined prototype railroad(s), locales, and era to use as inspiration.

Step 3: With that basic understanding of layout design principles and your preferences, look at published quality layouts to understand why the designer did what they did and reflect on how that lines up with your own ideas. While it’s (really) long, here’s my process for analyzing track plans. Model Railroad Planning magazine is one publication that often includes the background thinking on a design. The Layout Design SIG's Layout Design Journal is a deep dive into these topics.

Step 4: Revisit Step 2 with what you have learned so far. The goal is to develop a Conceptual Plan for your layout – an unbounded description (words, sketches, photos, etc.) of the layout you’d like to see, trains you’d like to run, etc., etc.

Edit -- Step 4a: Prioritize the elements, locales, types of trains, etc. that are most important to you from your Conceptual Plan 

Step 5: With all of this in mind, start sketching (now it’s to-scale and in the defined space). Don’t waste time on detailed yard ladders and the like at this point, but incorporate the major elements of your design. I call this the Structural Phase and the goal is a footprint in the space. Repeat as necessary, referring to and revising earlier steps as required.

Step 6: Once satisfied with the footprint, proceed to the Detail Phase and fill-in all the elements.

These steps have worked well for me in designing 100+ layouts for myself and others. Steps 1 and 3 have proven to be the most important, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

Good luck with your layout.

Byron

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Posted by Lone Wolf and Santa Fe on Saturday, November 11, 2017 2:23 PM

The secret is the same for playing a musical instrument, playing a sport, driving a car…. The secret is practice and experience. Go buy a package of pads of paper. Start drawing. Then draw it again and again and again. Every time look for ways to make improvements. The more you practice the better you will get. Just draw it out freehand with a pen or pencil. It doesn’t have to be perfect until about the thousandth try.

Modeling a fictional version of California set in the 1990s Lone Wolf and Santa Fe Railroad
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Posted by NWP SWP on Saturday, November 11, 2017 2:29 PM

I picked up Armstrong's "Track Planning for Realistic Operation"

Looks like it's going to be a big help.

Modeling the combined lines of the Southern Pacific, Western Pacific, and Northern Pacific after a fictional Depression Era merger forming the SouthWestern Pacific and NorthWestern Pacific Railroads. SP, WP, and NP operations remain independent but also operate alongside NWP and SWP equipment.

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Saturday, November 11, 2017 4:03 PM

What Cuyuma mentioned is partly conveyed through John Armstrongs "givens and druthers" list.  

I highly recommend John Armstrongs Track Planning for Realistic Operation.  I bought my copy in the 1980's and wore it out - still have it.  Definitely a must read for track planners.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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