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2019 November 16th

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The TNSF is loosely based on the E&N Railway on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It is the result of a lifetime interest in trains. The place names on the layout are ficticious.


The era for my layout is the 1970s and 1980s when locomotives were diesel-powered. Back then a Budd car followed the entire line from Victoria to Courtenay and back every day. Freight trains were not very long and they made the trip up and down the Island once or twice a week. And every freight train had a caboose.


I wanted a model railroad that would allow two trains to run at the same time without crashing into one another, so with that in mind I created two independent loop tracks. I have a double-crossover between them so they can be combined and one train can follow the mainline around the entire layout.

There are also two spurs off the mainline with passenger stations, forming a point-to-point Budd car service. The dayliner would need to travel the entire length of both loops to make its run.

The layout is not designed for operations, but one is not limited to just watching trains go around in circles. One function of the layout is to deliver empty rail cars to the classification yard from the industrial sidings.


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

Where to Built It

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. I made everything fit on a bench in the corner of my (former) dining room. 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?

Layout Measurements

The minimum radius is 30 centimetres and the minimum track spacing is 3 centimetres.


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 with 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. 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 a metre and a half long.


The track is code 80 nickel-silver rails with black ties. Except for the turnouts and the double crossover, all track 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 partially hidden from view behind some trees. This makes it less noticeable when a train switches from one loop to the other.


The track sits on N scale split cork roadbed, 30 millimetres wide and three millimetres thick. HO scale roadbed is the correct width and thickness for streets; its height equals that of N scale roadbed with track and 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 classification 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

Freight trains travel clockwise around the layout and the industrial sidings all have trailing switches. The dayliner travels in both directions between its end points. I envision having four locomotives running on my layout: two freight engines, a Budd car and a yard switcher.

Road Names

The TNSF runs mostly the Canadian Pacific Railway road name. It operates a small classification 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.


Warren is a model train enthusiast whom I met through work, and in March 2011 we went to the model train show in Nanaimo. Two days before the show I made a conceptual drawing of what would become the TNSF. Warren also helped me with the benchwork.

I've known Paul since 1990. He loaned me the drawing tools that helped to draft out a detailed plan of the layout. Paul picked up building material for the table top, cut it to size and delivered it.

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