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The impossible dream?

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  • Member since
    August 2019
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The impossible dream?
Posted by DanGray on Saturday, August 24, 2019 12:09 PM


Hi folks,
I’m sitting here with a foot-high stack of lay-out and how-to books and I’m scratching my bald head as I ponder my third foray into model railroading. Perhaps you can offer some suggestions.
I’d like to build an HO road to run both freight (75%) and passenger (25%) on a 4x8 that could be stretched a few inches in either direction. Is there a “stock” design that will accommodate both types of service in 4x8? Or am I searching for the impossible dream here?
(I plan to run DCC. The layout will be up against a wall on wheels. I anticipate modeling the transition era,)
Thanks in advance for your ideas. 


  • Member since
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Posted by cuyama on Monday, August 26, 2019 12:20 PM

Welcome to the forum. Your first several posts are moderated, which means that they may take a while to show up, particularly if posted over the weekend. But stick with it and that passes quickly.

You are wise to think about something larger than the HO 4X8 if you want to build an island-style layout. 5X9 or 5X10 will offer more room for broader curves and more interest in not much more overall room (once one includes the aisles). 

But if you are thinking of full-size passenger cars, note that these require larger radii (24”-28” or more, depending on brand). So these will push the end curves out fairly wide. There are “shorty” passenger cars available which run on smaller radii.

This HO 6X8 donut-style layout allows for broader curves on the outside oval and would benefit from being a foot longer. But it could certainly host passenger and freight trains.

A lot depends on your own preferences for era, locale, real-life railroads (if any), etc. If you post some of those ideas, others may have additional suggestions for you.

Best of luck with your layout.


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Posted by snjroy on Monday, August 26, 2019 12:43 PM

In your pile of books, do you have the Kalmbach plans books? Westcott's classic book has a number of 4X8 plans. And yes, it is possible to have both passenger and freight on most of these plans, especially if you are into the pre-60's era, when the equipment was way shorter. In other words, running heavyweight passenger cars exceeding 80' is not really a good idea on a small pike. It would not look good and operations would be quite limited.


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Posted by York1 on Monday, August 26, 2019 1:34 PM


1.  Welcome to the forums!

2.  My comment is from far left field, so feel free to ignore me!

Are you hooked into HO?  (Lot of equipment, track, etc?)

If not, have you considered N Scale?  On a 4' X 8', you can get a lot of N Scale layout into that size, including longer passenger cars.

I'm 67 and just started my first layout last year.  I, too, have a smaller area for the layout, and I've been able to fit long N Scale trains and long passenger cars with no problems.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do with your new layout!

John  --  Saints Fan  

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Posted by BigDaddy on Monday, August 26, 2019 5:04 PM

30 years ago, I chose Roundhouse Harriman passenger cars, which fit the same era and work for me.   They are still available on Ebay.

Byron is our track planning guru.  His open center design allows you to easily reach all sections to scenic or address derailments.  However at a certain age, crawling under the layout is no longer enjoyable. 


COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Monday, August 26, 2019 5:37 PM

For a 4x8, if you want decent operation ability, Id suggest N scale.  In HO a 4x8 would limit you to sharp curves 18" R inner and 22" R outer.  Scale length passenger cars really need 24" R or greater.  Those same curves in N would be quite generous for longer cars.  

I'm not a track planning software guru or do it for a pay, but have been interested in layout design for about 30 years and have always enjoyed studying track plans.  I do all my layout design old school with scale rule, graph paper, compass, eraser shield etc.

There is a nice N scale book by Atlas called Nine N Scale Railroads you might want to take a look at.  I still have my early edition copy.  There are other track plan books and many premade plans to look at and get an idea for what you might like.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

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  • From: Culpeper, Va
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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Tuesday, August 27, 2019 5:21 AM

Welcome to the forums.

Make sure you use large wheels - I use 4" wheels on my 5'4" x 12' rolling layout and 5" would be better.  The larger wheels roll much easier than the small ones - I tried some 3", they roll but not easily. 

Oh and don't use wheels with the locking mechanism - unless you have quite a slope the locking isn't needed and tends to lock up at the wrong time.

If you can increase the size beyond 8 ft don't put the legs at the end.  Assuming you are using 1x4 lumber, I have found that longer than 8' spans tend to sag over time.  On my table the legs are 32" from each end which is a little less than 7' apart.  Use diagonal bracing to support the ends.

Realistically, your best bet is a double track oval with 22" out radius and an inner track radius of 19 1/2".  If doing sectional track you can space out 18" with their short pieces of straight at the mid point of the 180 degree end curve or just accept 4" centers (this reduces what you can do in the interior). 

Since you're planning on having it rolled up against a wall, put all your turnouts in the front for easy operation in the against the wall operation.

Increase the basic table as much as possible to broaden the curves and provide a longer straight away.  If you don't put track in the center 2 feet you can go up to about 6' wide.

Good luck


If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
  • Member since
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Posted by DanGray on Tuesday, August 27, 2019 3:16 PM

Hi folks,

My thanks to all for the thoughful responses. I appreciate your generosity of time and ideas.
It’s becoming apparent that I might have to renegotiate the railroad right-of-way with my real estate agent and banker. I’m told a new living room set might help seal the deal. :)
Byron: I will model the 1950s simply because I’d like to run diesel and steam. From what I’m reading in the forums, the 60-foot passengers cars  of that era can handle 22R at the cost of realism. Yes?
This will be a “fantasy” railroad set somewhere in Michigan, where I live. (I’m trying to resist the urge to call is the Grand Funk RR.) So industries could include salt / copper mine, automotive, and agricultural. Fairly typical stuff.
I really like the doughnut layout you suggested. I’ve been focused on an island or a shelf layout, which is severely complicated by a water heater, sump pump etc.  I also really like the 5x9 out-and-back. Did you envision different elevations on either of there?
Simon: Yes, I have Westcott’s book and I’ll take another look at it. And thanks for the tip shorter equipment. 
John & RioGrande: Some of the 4x8 N-scale layout are simply majestic. But as I mentioned, this is my third time around and I have a lot of HO equipment, some recently purchased for a “test” layout and other pieces from 25 years back. 
Henry: I’m of a certain age, too, and feel your pain in ducking under a layout. I checked e-Bay last night for the Harriman cars and found quite a few.
Paul: Great tips on benchwork and wheels. I had not considered sagging. 
Thanks again, everyone. I expect I’ll be back with more quetions. I just went thru MR’s video blog of building The Virginian. What a great little pike, especially with the extensions. I might have to reconsider things here. :)


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Posted by jjdamnit on Tuesday, August 27, 2019 3:30 PM

Hello All,

If you could expand to a ping-pong table size (5'x9') this would expand your HO scale possibilities.

DanGray both freight (75%) and passenger (25%) on a 4x8...

What kind of industries are you thinking about serving with the freight line(s)?

A single industry focus; logging, coal, grain, cement, etc. or many smaller industries?

On a smaller pike in HO you might be limited to 4-axle diesels or steamers no larger than 0-6-0's. Also, rolling stock could be limited to no more than 50-feet. 

What kind of passenger service are you considering?

Narrowing down your goals might help you out of the "Analysis paralysis". 

Keep the questions coming.

Hope this helps.


"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by UNCLEBUTCH on Tuesday, August 27, 2019 5:55 PM

 Just an idea;  You said something about a shelf layout,but are concerned about water heater ect.

 If you ran the shelf up to the whatever, you could use a pieace of 1X6 as a liftout to get past the whatever.

 I did it once to get around the furnance, simply lift it out when needed.

  • Member since
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Posted by davidmurray on Tuesday, August 27, 2019 6:13 PM

If planning on getting close to water heater, circuit breaker panel, etc  please check local building codes.  When a water heater dies they need a certain amout of room for changing it.  Electric panels are covered by code.  Furnace needs room to repair/replace.



David Murray from Oshawa, Ontario Canada

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