Design & Planning

I started planning my model railroad layout near the end of January 2010. I was initially going to build it in my office but opted for my basement. Though my office would have been a more comfortable working space, it was tight for space. Furthermore, my two cats accessed their food and litter boxes through this room, and I didn’t want them on my layout. The space in my basement could just barely fit a 4’ x 8’ standard sheet of plywood so this was the layout size I decided on. 

A modified figure eight track layout that provided inspiration for a new figure eight track layout design
The original modified figure eight layout that my track layout is based off of.
Now that I had determined the size and location of my layout, I began to plan the track configuration. I knew that I wanted a layout with lots of visual interest including tunnels, bridges, turnouts and as much track as possible while leaving room for buildings and scenery. After a few days of searching online, I came across a modified figure-eight track layout that seemed to accomplish everything I wanted.

A final modified figure eight track plan built with Atlas track software that fits on a 4’ by 8’ table"
My final track layout design.
Using Atlas Right Track software, I spent the next several days adapting this track plan to fit onto a 4’ x 8’ space. My final layout stayed quite true to the original; a figure-eight track line surrounded by a separate oval line. Both lines joined briefly at a small staging area at the front of the layout where trains could cross over from one line to the other. 

An original track plan and layout sketch that shows track elevations, terrain, and scenery locations
A sketch of the original scenery plan for my layout. The coloured dots on the track indicate elevation levels. 
One of the biggest benefits of using track software was that I could ensure my track curves were at least an 18-degree radius or larger. After printing out my track plan, I started drawing out the rest of my layout. This included track and terrain elevations, grades, tunnels, bridges, roads, buildings and scenery. 

A diagram showing railroad track elevations on a 4 x 8 table
An elevation plan of my final track layout. 
As I was working on my track layout, I also started planning how I was going to build my benchworks. The stairs leading down into my tiny basement were extremely steep and narrow, so fitting a full 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood down them was out of the question. I decided on a table that would come apart into two 4’ x 4’ sections that bolted together, along with removable legs. This would allow me to more easily get the benchwork in and out of my basement. 

A detailed sketch diagram for a 4 x 8 benchwork table including measurements
A diagram with measurements for my 4x8 benchwork table.
After coming up with a detailed benchwork plan, complete with measurements and diagrams, I began cutting the lumber and building the two 4’ x 4’ tables. The frame and legs were built from standard 2x4 lumber while ¾” plywood was used for the table’s surface. Once the two tables were built, I bolted them together to form the final 4’ x 8’ benchwork. 

A digital 3D rendering of a 4 x 8 benchwork table
A rendering of the final 4x8 benchwork support structure design. The extra vertical supports on the left half are for the control panel.
I learned early on that pre-planning for any size project is always an important first step. Not only does it result in a better finished project, it eliminates a lot of potential frustration and saves you time, materials, and money. The images below are examples of the many sketches and diagrams I did while planning and building my model railroad layout.
A sketched diagram showing a winch system that raises and lowers a control panel
Drawing showing the planned winch system for my folding control panel. 
A digital 3D rendering of a 4 x 8 benchwork table with control panel and winch system
Rendering of the final 4x8 benchwork support structure design with the addition of my folding control panel and winch system.

An original planning sketch with measurements for a 4’ x 8’ benchwork table
Original planning sketch with measurements for my 4x8 benchwork table.
Original sketch of a planned painted mountain backdrop scene
Planning sketch for my painted backdrop.
Original sketch of wiring diagram for trackside signals
An original sketch of an Atlas Relay and Switch Machine wiring diagram for trackside signal lights.
Planning sketch depicting wiring for LED trackside signals
An original wiring diagram sketch for all my LED trackside signals with Atlas Snap Relays.
Sketch showing LED trackside signal locations and wiring
An original sketch showing LED trackside signal locations and wiring using an Atlas Snap Relay.
Diagram showing track electrical power block and x-section locations
A diagram showing track electrical power blocks and x-section planning. 
Original sketch showing components for a custom PC board
Planning diagram for my control panel resistor PC board.
Resistor PC board diagram showing components and references to LED trackside signals
Resistor PC board diagram showing components and references to trackside signal numbers.

Original wiring diagram sketch for control panel and layout wiring
The original wiring diagram for my layout. This changed a bit as I built my layout but still has a very close likeness to the final wiring diagram.
Final master wiring diagram for a DC model railroad layout and control panel
My final master wiring diagram for my layout. This includes all wiring on my layout including the control panel and layout components. 
A scale sketch template of a single-wide tunnel portal
A scale sketch of a single-wide tunnel portal.
A scale sketch template of a double-wide tunnel portal
A scale sketch of a double-wide tunnel portal.
Paper sketch template on newsprint for a wood trestle deck and supports
A scale sketch of my trestle. I drew this to scale on newsprint then built the trestle directly over top of the sketch.
Basement floorplan showing a 4’ x 8’ model railroad layout
Floor plan of my basement showing layout location.

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