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2015 Jan 18th

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Like my first electric train set, the TNSF is N scale (1:160). In my apartment I have no room for anything larger.


I want a model railroad layout to run two trains at the same time without them ever crashing into one another. With that in mind I created two independent loop tracks. Where they parallel one another I have a double-crossover, so I can combine the loops and one train can follow the mainline around the entire layout. I also have a rail yard, industrial sidings and passenger stations so trains can do more than drive around in circles.


Because my space is limited, and this is the first layout I've built, I did not want to get too complicated with multiple decks, helixes and staging areas, so I made everything fit on a bench in the corner of my (former) dining room.

For the benchwork I built frames with 1x4 lumber, attached 2x2 legs and braced them with 1x2 lumber. The table top is half-inch plywood which has 1x4 pieces attached to the bottom; these 1x4s are bolted to the frame, which keeps the table top firmly in place. Glued to the table top is 1-inch foam insulation upon which to start building. I didn't use pink insulation because I find blue a more restful colour to look at until the time it is painted.

While the benchwork is measured in imperial, everything above the sub-roadbed is designed and built in metric. One reason for this is that the math is a lot easier.

In my limited living space I moved my dining room table to the living room (it actually looks better there) and I have the whole dining room available. (No, I'm not married... why do you ask?)

The table top is L-shaped: 240 centimetres by 271 centimetres, and 80 centimetres wide.


The layout is built with portability in mind and it does not touch the wall. I'm renting my apartment and I know it will have to be moved at some point. Once the table top is unbolted from the frame it separates into three pieces. The benchwork is held together with bolts and wing nuts and can be disassembled into pieces less than one and a half metres long.

Layout Measurements

The minimum radius is 30 centimetres (except for one tight turn inside a tunnel), the minimum track spacing is 3 centimetres and the minimum vertical clearance is 5 centimetres rail to rail. The grade varies and I've kept it as small as possible; a maximum of 2 per cent is desired though I have been unable to avoid upward of 2.3 per cent in a couple of places.


The track is code 80 nickel-silver rails with black ties. All track, except for the turnouts and the double crossover, is Atlas flextrack.

I'm using Peco electrofrog turnouts (medium radius and curved) controlled manually—all can be easily reached. I chose not to use insulfrog turnouts simply because of realism.

The double-crossover is the only track that is switched electronically—it is insulfrog but it will be hidden from view behind some trees. I was originally going to put it in a tunnel but I needed to access it. Hiding the double-crossover makes it less noticeable when a train switches from one loop to the other.


The roadbed is split cork, and it is about 30 millimetres wide and three millimetres thick.


I use HO scale cork roadbed for the streets because it is the correct width and thickness. When glued onto the foam, its height equals that of N scale roadbed with track, so the road surface meets the top of the rails at level crossings.

DC vs. DCC

Originally I originally planned to have block switching. This would have given me the ability to operate two trains on the mainline loops and a third switcher engine in the marshalling yard. Eventually I adopted the idea of Digital Command Control and everything improved: I eliminated a lot of switches and excess wiring, the big transformer was replaced with a simpler control, the trains had better control... needless to say, deciding to go DCC was easy.

Types of Trains

I am using all diesel engines on my layout. As much as I love the look of a steam locomotive, the small turning radii on the mainlines means they would not look that realistic going around curves. The same applies to long passenger cars, so I have found some shorter cars instead.

The TNSF accommodates both freight and passenger trains. This decision was made early on because I had models of a passenger stations and an industrial warehouse building I wanted to use.

Trains would always travel eastbound because I had no plans to include any turnaround tracks. The industrial sidings all face the same way so a diesel engine can back in to pick up and drop off cars. Passenger trains would also travel eastbound and they would approach the stations from the same direction. At some point in the design process I determined that freight trains would be eastbound and passenger trains would be westbound. I thought it would be more exciting to watch a freight train meet a passenger train nose-to-nose while one rested on a siding, in a passenger station or in the marshalling yard.

I envision having four locomotives running on my layout, but not all at the same time. There will be two freight engines, one passenger locomotive and a yard switcher.

Road Names

The TNSF runs mostly the Canadian Pacific Railway road name. It operates a small marshalling yard to store the freight cars and locomotives, and to provide maintenance to the equipment. They offer freight services with boxcars, refrigerator cars, flatcars, gondola cars, hopper cars and tank cars, and they also maintain a passenger station. But like real Canadian railroads, the freight cars running on it are not exclusively under one name and I do have some rolling stock with other road names, such as Canadian National.


My old electric train had Rapido couplers but on this layout my engines and rolling stock are all equipped with magnetic knuckle couplers. I'd prefer to uncouple the cars with magnetic decoupling devices but have I've decided to do this task manually.


The geographical location of the TNSF is fictitious. Many railroad layouts are modelled after actual towns or regions but, lilke many railroad modelers, I wanted to name the geographical locations after the people who helped make my layout a reality. The terrain contains mountains, a reservoire and two rivers. There are two tunnels, eleven bridges (two of which are for automobiles) and nearly four scale kilometres of mainline track.


I'm modelling my train layout for the 1970s and early 1980s. In this era the trains were mostly diesel-powered, the freight cars were shorter (not as long), the freight cars were shorter (not as tall) and every freight train had a caboose.

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