Solihull Model Railway Circle’s new OO branch line layout
For many years the club had discussed the replacement of our OO gauge branch line layout. With our main OO layout, Cherwell, nearly completed and our O gauge layout well progressed we now had the time and more importantly, since our move in 2005, the space to look at this properly.
The reasons for the club to have the branch line layout are:
- To have a OO layout readily available for all members to run without putting up the main layout.
- To have a compact layout available to take to exhibitions to publicise the club.
- To have a project to use as a demonstration of layout building techniques.
- To have a layout where interested members, who have requested it, could learn a little more about Digital Command and Control (DCC).
There was nothing too badly wrong with Tidbury Green, the previous layout, which a little work couldn’t remedy, but replacement was thought necessary for several reasons:
- The layout was a struggle to set-up and, because it was viewed from the front, but operated from the rear could not be left set-up in the improved, but still limited space of our club room.
- Transporting the layout was difficult as some of the boards were long, wide and bulky.
- The layout was essentially finished and the little maintenance work required would not provide much information for those wishing to build a new layout.
- To convert the layout to be DCC compatible would require excessive work as the controllers are integrated into the layout.
As we had put a lot of work into Tidbury Green and it was in relatively good condition, the decision was made, with some reluctance, to sell the layout as it was and use the money to help us start work on the new project with a clean slate.
The construction of the boards of Tidbury Green was slightly old-fashioned and some of the boards were even re-cycled from a previous layout and may be more than 30 years old. The boards were softwood timber frames with a chipboard deck and hence were totally flat. Even though we had built hills on top of the boards, there was still a lack of contour as nothing fell below the level of the top of the chipboard.
One advantage of starting afresh is that we could build open-frame plywood baseboards with the possibility of far more depth and contour. This option became one of the driving factors of the look of the new layout.
The thought of potential hills and valleys led to the suggestion of a Highland-themed setting, such as the Kyle of Lochalsh. After checking suitable stock would be available to the club, should we exhibit the results, this was generally agreed as a good setting. To the club members, mostly Midlanders, this seems a wild, exotic, radical departure from the norm. Judging from the number of similar layouts we have since noticed, we are not alone in thinking this, but equally, there may be a Highland model railway club yearning to build a layout based on the gently rolling countryside of Warwickshire.
Having agreed a broad concept, we then firmly decided what size the layout would be. As we mainly want the layout to be permanently setup the length is limited by our storeroom size and the width is limited by the space we can use and still store our other layouts.
We set the size as 16 feet long and mainly 2 feet wide - with the option of allowing the board width, where necessary, to be a little wider to suit the track plan. Each board would be 4 feet long to allow for the possibility of transporting them to a show by car. At one end, most of one of the four boards would be a hidden traverser leaving 12 feet of actual layout. We were very keen to have a deep cutting, or gorge with a viaduct to make best use of the open board construction. We then asked for members to suggest track plans based on these parameters.
In this compact space, some compromises would always have to be made if we were still to be left with a layout which would provide attractive and enjoyable running. The track plan is based on a layout similar to, but actually hundreds of miles away from Kyle. We produced a full-size plan on paper, adjusting the positioning of points to ensure they would not fall over joints in the boards and laying out the essential buildings and landmarks.
The layout is fairly conventional for a small branch line, a small station, with sidings leading to a single line. We hope that the difference will be in the scenery and changes in level. Above the station the access road runs down to the station yard. Below the station is a small harbour. Before the hidden traverser, in keeping with the Kyle theme we have decided that we will have a fairly deep gorge with a representation of the Killiecrankie viaduct.
Having selected the layout the question of track standards was raised. This is broadly an issue of how fine, or close to scale the width and depth of each rail is. It should be noted that the track width for OO (nominally 1:76 scale) is incorrect, sharing the same track width as HO (1:87 scale), so any improved standards are still a compromise.
The track you will receive in a railway set, or most easily buy off-the-shelf is termed ‘Code 100’. This has a rail depth that you can be fairly sure will suit most rolling stock manufactured in the last 40 or so years. As we are intending to apply better standards of modelling, the thought was raised that we should use finer ‘Code 75’ track. However, fears were raised that this could conflict with one of the basic aims of the layout - that it would be available for all members to use, regardless of what they brought to run. Fortunately one of our members had built a small test layout using Code 75 track which we could test a range of stock on. The fears that the older stock would not run on Code 75 track proved, on the whole, groundless, certainly at the speeds we are intending to run and the use of Code 75 track was agreed.
This then led to the question of whose Code 75 track to use. The first option was Peco, which would be fairly easily available with factory manufactured, fairly robust pointwork. The problem with Peco track is that the sleeper spacing is really too close for British outline modelling. The other option was SMP track, with more correct sleeper spacing. Points to match would have to be hand-made and more fragile than Peco and would therefore require slow-motion point motors. Although not so obvious when viewed separately, when samples of the two were directly compared the look of SMP track was agreed to be far superior.
Rather than make the points ourselves it was decided that we would stretch the budget and buy these pre-made. A small test piece of SMP track, with a sample of the purchased points was laid to allow us to see how well they matched. Since the SMP sleepers were bare brown plastic and the point’s sleepers were black painted copper-clad strip further doubts arose, but after spraying both items with a coat of Humbrol dirty black run through an airbrush we were happier with our choice.
One issue raised was that both the SMP and the point’s sleepers are fragile and it would be unwise to use track pins through them. We decided that they should be tacked down with small amounts of impact adhesive, being more fully fixed by the glue used when we fix the ballast. Since the points are hand-soldered to copper-clad strip there is no rail chair detail, just a solder blob and to prevent a short circuit the copper-clad has a groove cut in it. We will take a view on how obvious these are once the track is laid.
Rather than construct trestles, or make legs for the boards, we have acquired several sets of heavy duty plastic builder’s saw-horses to support the layout. Apart from saving us the work of constructing supports these have the advantage of being definitely square.
As things stand, in November 2009, the structure of the first two boards of the layout has been completed and now that our annual show has passed, progress on the final two boards will continue.
One of the club members, who has great experience with DCC and electronics confirmed that a layout could be made DCC compatible, to some degree, with plug-in controllers and we will allow for this when wiring the new layout.