Operational Switching Layouts

Southern Pacific in New Zealand

My friend, Lawrence (Lawrie) Woodley, who lives in New Zealand, models the Southern Pacific. I always delight in receiving his emails (there have been a lot) and enjoying his sense of humor, gentleness and human warmth. Lawrie has built a very fine large double deck layout over many years in one half of his double car his garage. Recently, he announced his intention to simplify his layout by building one based on David Barrows' Domino concept. Both Lawrie and I share a great deal of admiration for what David has accomplished.

So, I took a crack at a design. It is pure freelance of a moderate sized operational switching layout. Lawrie and I are still developing the plan so I will be posting updates to the drawings. I sketched up this plan more as a discussion guide than a finalized design product. Lawrie's space is 12' x 19' 6" in one side of a double car garage. 

 A short line industrial railroad is the concept for this design. A connection to the outside world is made at a larger yard of the SP. A small local yard allows classification of inbound cars destined for some local industries and two nearby industrial areas. Lawrie also had a car ferry from the previous layout so that was incorporated in the design..

Operating Crews:

Lawrie wanted a layout for 8 people to operated. In my head, that translates to two or three for the yard, one or two for the staging and two crews of two people each for the local freights. So, we need two switching areas plus yard plus staging.

Here is the plan to date: (There is an alternate plan at the bottom)

Oman City:

From the aisle to the wall, tracks are engine lead, class #3, class #2, class #1, A/D #2, A/D #1 and the mainline. 
The main yard is pretty well a standard design for a model railroad. Lawrie had two double slip switches so he suggested using them in the yard throat. That increased the length of the yard tracks by several car lengths. Classification tracks were put up front to minimize the amount of reaching by the crew to uncouple cars. In front of the mainline, there are two arrival/departure tracks. Since most train movements occur to the left side of the yard, the yard ladder was arranged so that trains to Redding and Colton can leave (or arrive) from any yard track.

Nearer the back, some industrial sidings were added to keep the yard crews busy. At the back, on the right side, there are three additional staging tracks that penetrate the wall to the house. These end up in a closet. The purpose of these is to hold some passenger trains that Lawrie likes to run periodically.

The yard could well use one additional classification track. The prime purpose would be to hold cars destined for the car ferry.  

Oakland Staging:

There is no run around track to get a train reversed. Instead I added a switcher pocket. Consider a train pulling into an empty track. The loco is uncoupled. The switcher comes out of its pocket, pulls of the caboose and puts it on the ladder. It then pulls the complete train back onto the mainline. This allows the engine to escape and it positions itself on the ladder. The switcher pushes forward to pickup the caboose then shoves the train down the same track it arrived on. It returns home to its pocket. The road engine then couples onto the train ready for another trip.

This means we have full use of all staging tracks. If we had a run around, two tracks would be wasted to allow the loco to escape.

One or two operators could work this yard by re-arranging the cars to ensure a good traffic flow to the switching areas. 

The yard could stage trains or just cars. If cars only, a transfer run originates at Oman and takes out bounds into staging. It brings back in bounds on the return trip. This scheme permits two more cars per track in staging.

But we all have too many locomotives and might just as well use them to stage trains. So, trains depart from staging, run to Oman and return with the out bound's.


I like having two run around tracks at a switching site. It costs little in terms of space and greatly adds to the flexibility of the car maneuvers. It provides one track with the inbound cars and the second to hold the outbounds until all switching jobs are completed.

At the time I drew this up, Lawrie had thought he had a buyer for the old layout. One result is that all structures would go with the layout. Since that did not happen,  he will use the structures on this layout. Consequentially, I expect the industry spurs to be altered to suit whatever industry Lawrie decides to place here. Same comment applies to Colton.

Bottom left features a two track overhead crane. The lead to the cement company is a good place to put any off spot cars.


In order to keep the aisle widths at a maximum, I had to put in a 24" radius curve between Redding and Colton. With 8 or so people operating the railroad, we must leave adequate space for them.

During operations, I would expect that the Colton turn would leaving the yard before the Redding turn and ideally, head back to the yard after the Redding turn returns. Thus, the Colton local would not interfere with the Redding local. Thus, this town site should offer more complex switching maneuvers to take more time.

Again, I expect the industrial spurs to be altered to suit the structures Lawrie wants to put here.

Alternate Plan:

Using 1/2 a double car garage has the advantage that the "other" half of the garage can be used as an aisle. Just park the car in the driveway when operating. With this option, we can put Colton and Redding back to back. This has a number of advantages: (1) the width of each town can be 24" instead of 18" to give more depth for the structures; (2) we can have a nice big aisle of 5 feet; (3) the siding lengths at both Redding and Colton increase by 4 cars. 

If the car ferry was relocated to the lower right corner of Redding, the mainline through Colton can be bridged to Portland for that optional "just for fun" continuous loop.

The only disadvantage is that crews operating to Redding must walk around the aisle. Not a great problem for the increased benefits.

Lawrie preferred to top design. If fact, so has everybody else I showed the plan to. I liked it because of the increased aisle widths.


Lawrie and I both favor using Linn Wescott's L girder framework. It saves the forest of legs that David uses. The big advantage is in installing the modules on top. Rest the modules on the L girders to take the weight then use both hands to align the module with the others. With legs, you need one hand to hold the module and the other to align the track and a third hand to get it perfect.

For the modules, 2" foam insulation supported with a 1" x 2" framework works good. On this layout, all turnouts are manually control so there is no need to provide protection underneath. If there are switch motors, I would build an additional 1" x 2" framework under the top one so that the overall height is about 10". This provides enough clearance plus allows installation of a fascia.

I have not used 2" foam to date. For my current layout, I had enough 1/2" plywood available plus I have yet to locate a local supplier for this thickness of foam. 

Homosote is great for holding spikes but nowadays, holding the track down with adhesive caulk is much better. Plus, it is easy to take up for re-cycling the track if needed. Homosote is heavy, expensive, messy and trying to find good quality of the product these days is a problem. I don't use it any more. Track can be caulked to plywood, cork or foam.


2 Last updated:  09/27/2007