BC Northern Rail – Building the Pike Vol.2

After watching some notable Videos on YT, I came to the realisation, that I wanted some scenery on my Layout. Thankfully I am still building the benchwork (and I managed to progress three quarters around the room so far), so changes to the trackplan won’t cost me anything.

BNSF Fall River Division Layout Presentation by John Parker

Visit to the BNSF Fall River Division by NSmodeler24

And NSmodeler24‘s Ashville District Layout Update 2024

As well as Red Dirt and Rails‘ Farmrail Layout

The „Bear River“ scenic section

For the scenic part of my layout, I searched for something that would do its location in British Columbia justice. The real location is spectacular enough, as can be seen on the embedded map below when utilizing the streetview feature (you may need to follow over to the mapping site in order to have access to this).

However, I needed reference of railroad tracks and trackside features. The following map shows a stretch of CP Rail tracks parallel to Trans Canada Highway 1, that skirts a small river (Flat Creek), aproximately 24 km south west as the crow flies of the famous Stoney Creek Bridge.
This scene has a narrow valley, some bridges, snow sheds, the forest and a creek, ideal modeling terrain.

So my scenic layout portion is inspired by the location on the map above, which can be seen in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jqlCB4v-D8&t=1304s, (also embedded below), which starts at the appropriate timestamp and shows a train running through the small Flat Creek valley alongside this small river, with snowsheds and bridges. Very nice (even though it’s on a CP Rail route.

Playing around in Trainz, I also realized, that the yard on the previous plan was way too big (as if one could complain about too much yard capacity). I basically need a capacity of just over 40 cars, but not over 80 cars. In favour of more scenry, I am prepared to cut back on yard capacity.

Yard Operations

The required yard capacity is about as much as the 20 cars from the barge, in addition to one 12-18 car train and all the cars at the various industries in Stewart. This amounts to much more than the bare yard capacity, which allows for 27 cars being handled. About 20 cars are taken up by railcars arriving by rail barge, with most destined for local industries.

Operation wise, these cars do not need to be pulled off the barge all at once  and there is a bit of excess capacity on the barge spur which can temporarily hold four cars, which coresponds to one barge track, thus doubling as an auxiliary yard track.

For every two tracks pulled from the barge, the vessel has to be moved, which would take approximately 30 minutes for the tug to navigate the barge to its new position (including mooring procedure). For barge handling, pulling the three center tracks is most important, for that space is needed by the lift trucks and reach stackers for container handling (which could be operated in the future using R/C scale models).

In addition to that, the yard can handle one additional train coming down the main at a time. There are seldomly more than two trains arriving and two more departing per day. The exeption being the Bear River Explorer, a twice-a-week VIA train trom Prince George and the occasional steam train excursions.

Usually Stewart expects two trains a day, with one arriving in the morning, scheduled going out at noon, while the next train would be due in the afternoon, going out in the evening. With staging capacity for 12 car trains, the yard shouldn’t congest too much at a 27 car capacity with another 15 cars capacity on the A/D track, barge lead and runaround tracks combined. The train will Take just over on hour to Meziadin Junction and often proceed to Kitwanga on the banks of the Skeena River, where it interchanges with the Canadian National Railway. This trip takes another two hours. Sometimes more, if there are cars for pickup coming from the Nass River subdivision. Crew changes usually take place at Meziadin Junction.

This concept leaves some leeway for the intermodal handling, as that spur can also hold up to 12 cars with only four being serviced simultaneously.

Phase 1 – No continous loop, smaller staging, but scenery

I drew up a new track plan in XTrkCAD to get a feel for the necessities and with some shuffling of turnouts, I should be able to squeeze the marshaling yard into the main section. The engine service facility might be moved to the west end though. The first attempt looks promising, enough. I extended the benchwork about three inches (or 7.5cm) though.

The following criteria were employed:

  • No turnouts on the swing section (that is negotiable, but for now, that’s a goal).
  • Industrial switching independent of yard operations. Nearly achieved.
  • A runaround track that doesn’t block yard operations. Check.
  • A barge lead that ends near the yard throat to allow for immediate marschalling. Check.
  • For train building the A/D track is used in its entire length such that a runaround is still possible. At up to 11 car trains: check.
  • Aggregate trains out of Stewart Bulk terminals are build on Track 1 adjacent to the two (un-) loading tracks (Track 1 will become the mainline in Phase 2 with the continous running connection)

Local switching might be fouled during the periods when trains arrive or depart (a period, that should be held short). Maximum train lengths then are:

  • 2 modern locos plus 10 cars for the branch line departure
  • 2 modern locos and 12 cars for Phase 1 staging
  • 2 modern locos and 19 cars for Phase 2 staging and contious loop running.
Phase 1 Track Plan – The scenic portion is not connected to the larger projected staging planned for Phase 2.
Inspiration for the scenic porion found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jqlCB4v-D8&t=1304s

The yard will have double ended tracks, with no real siding or A/D track, as the mainline also ends here, it essentially becomes the A/D track within the yard limits (except for times, at which continuous running is planned in phase 2).

The plan has a yard lead separate from that, to have the yard operational and capable of building another train, albeit at reduced capacity, even if a train blocks the main/arrival/departure track. The bulk terminal storage track 1 could then be used as temporary yard track.

The yard will be operated with a flexible approach. As all outgoing trains will be marshalled for Meziadin Jct., the yard crew only has to sort cars going up the Northern Division or down the Skeena Subdivision. The latter possibly with blocks for the nass River Sub. Furthermore cars need to be blocked for the barge (which is a 20 car train), the Stewart Bulk Terminal’s Track 1 and 2 will be used for this purpose. Track 3 there is the load/unload track and likely in operation most of the time.

My plan is to rarely exceed 80 percent of the maximum number of cars each train could handle, given the staging capacity available. Barge operations and overland train handling, or rather its balancing, is an important task for the yard manager.

I will have to sacrifice some operational aspects with this plan, but I‘m going to have some wilderness on my layout. That’s a good reason, for I plan to use that portion of the layout for railfanning, photo or film and of course for the pure enjoyment of building wilderness scenery.

The scenic section – Bear River Valley

I though about the different aspects, I wanted to include in the scenic section. The image above shows a Virtual Layout variant I created in Trainz Railroad Sim. Basically the scen will be an isolated portion of the layout, primarily serving as a „railfaning“ section. The Road overpass is probably the only element, that I am not sure about. The railway runs through a narrow gorge, paralleling Bear River, but would actually run side by side with Highway 37A, which would take up way too much space in this layout area. So I reasoned, that there might be portions, where the track run at some distance to the road, which would allow me to depict the railway all by itself.

I have abandonned the idea of a combined Road-Rail Tunnel and should probably get rid of the road altogether. I would be much better depicting some wildlife or probably people fishing salmon or thomething along these lines. I will make my mind up withing a couple of days, as I am currently building the little hidden staging yard behind the section. Meanwhile I ramble on.

This section will feature superelevated curves, easements and trackside scenery like ties, signals, utility poles and whatnot. Also there will be a small portion with the road and train sharing a tunnel including a traffic announcement board showing whether the road is closed due to a train using the tunnel. I will strain my modeler’s license here, as there is no road-rail tunnel in Canada, that I know of. Only the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (Whittier Tunnel in Whittier, AK) comes to my mind and will be used as a reference and stand in here.

BCN2024 V8.04 (Scenic section with shallower curves)

The section is located under a sloped wall (or ceiling, however you’d like to put it), which means, that the available space above the tracks diminishes with the depth of the layout. There is enough clearance for two staging tracks, but barely. I will need to provide access to these tracks from behind the layout, as there isn’t any clearance at the front for a lift out montain or similar. Furthermore, I will have enough difficulties to portray a steep walled gorge – or small deep valley – with the little clearance I have available. But I will try.

I haven’t had the time yet to adopt the new yard concept into my virtual Trainz Railroad Sim laout, but I tested a few thing using XtrkCad software, as that will be the master trackplan. The oprerational aspect were satisfying, thoug an ops session with more than two crew will congest the yard significantly. I will have to ponder about that some more.

By the way, the reason for sticking with XtrkCad as my main track planing software, is for the simple reason, that there is a tool to transfer this trackplan into JMRI automatically. How cool is that?

Phase 2 – Continous loop and large semi-hidden staging yard

The following track plan shows how the scenic portion of the layout and the bulk terminal track one will connect to the staging area, forming a full around the wall design. Even though operations will continue to be point to point, this Phase 2 design allows for easier staging and continous running or some „rail-fanning“.

Phase 2 Layout track plan – continous loop and large double ended staging yard
The branch line at the top left of the plan is not an „officcial“ part of this phase, it’s merely a module build for testing purposes

This track plan features a double ended four track staging area for trains consisting of 2 modern locos with up to 18 FCE cars each (the measurment is referring to „50ft car-equivalents“, which I call affectionately FCE in reference to container capacity being counted in TEU or twenty foot equivalent units).

Due to the usage of the room as a passage way to the part of the attic used to dry the laundry, the off-session capacity is reduced by three FCE to allow for raising the swing bridge across the right hand side doorway.

General Notes

I’m starting with track laying in the hidden staging at the top of the plan. I will use Code 100 track for this part and Code 83 track for the scenic section.

A curved Shinohara Turnout sits at the entrance of the hidden section.

An IP camera makes up the dead end portion of the track, where I also plan to install IR proximity sensors to automatically stop incoming trains at a safe distance befor hitting the Bumper or Camera or Wall.

Track feeders are planned at every 1.5 meter, another pair of simple IR track sensors will detect a train going into its track.