Layout Progress – Building Hidden Staging

So, how’s everybody doing? – I’m obviously quoting Boomer from the YouTube Channel Boomer Diorama here, because I have been fascinatied watching him build away with much more discipline than I managed during the last handful of weeks.

It’s time to get going, to reach my definite goal of running trains this year, but preferably before summer (because then it’s outdoor time and not much model building). So I hope to get something done soon.

The biggest challenge with this staging area is accessibility. It is located underneath the sloped roof of the attic and will be completely covered (or blocked) by scenery when that is done. Access will be from the back side, where there is barely enough room to handle the cars in case of a derailment. This means, I need to take extra care with the trackwork, which will be at 2 inch centers in this area. A guardwall will be added to the backside to prevent derailed rolling stock from falling to the floor through the access gap.

As the picture above might show, I installed a night vision capable IP camera at the end of the track, which serves two main functions:

1. Visual feedback of track occupancy

2. Visual feedback of any problems like derailments

Obviously, I need to install lighting for the camera to be useful, though I’m quite impressed with the night vision capability. Lighting also requires some care to prevent light bleeding through the scenery. Foam insulation tape at the seams should take care of that.

I plan to install IR track occupancy sensors and IR proximity sensors to allow for automation, when sending trains into staging. Maximum per track staging capacity will be one 6 axle loco plus at least ten 50ft cars.

This is the area I am currently focusing on.

The current layout building focus is centered around the area shown above. The two staging tracks are visible at the very top, the two turnouts (one curved Shinohara turnout and one scratchbuilt No. 6 turnout are visible on the lef side of the image.

This image shows the tight confines of the staging area (the wall is currently slanted but will be upright when installed)

The rest will be all scenery, with two short tunnels, a couple of snowsheds or rocksheds, a couple of river crossings (but no road). For better illustration I set up the scene in Trainz Railroad simulator for reference.

As indicated in the virtual scene, there will be fallen dead trees, rock towers, a small river and lots of trees, perhaps even more than the 120 trees visible in the image (no, I haven’t counted them, I made that number up, but it’s close). I will utilize the tunnel portals I made a while ago and I will build two modern concrete prefab bridges similar to those shown in the current Model Railroader issue (that should be the May 2024 issue at the time of writing).

Fine tuning track elevation

Easements, easements and… Oh, by the way: Easements! I planned the whole layout basically ignoring easements. And I justified that with an old Hollywood production meme: fix it in post. This basically means: build the thing and work out the kinks later, instead of doing it right in the first place.

Now, modelrailway are typically a build and workout kinks endeavour most of the time, but maybe this can be reduced during the next steps of building my pike.

The following photo was taken in mid-process of fixing the elevations for the two staging tracks. AFTER gluing everything in place with industrial grade construction adhesive. Well done, boss! So with a broad spatula, a hobby knife and havy duty cutter knife at hand, I had to rip the track off its bed at the problematic areas. Needless to say, with one area lifted, another area basically calls for a slightly less lift and so on, until a more or less effective (note: not perfect) easement is achieved.

Coupler height mismatch, or kinks in the (rail-) road.

Seasoned model railroaders tend to state: grab your longest piece of rolling stock and make that work. Any shorter car will only do better. And that is true.

Currently my piggyback flatcars are about the longest cars I plan to let loose on that part of the layout and they didn’t behave nicely. Free-rolling a string of cars down the 2 percent grade into staging was no problem at all. What a race track. Lesson learned: install foam bumpers early in this process! One EZ-Mate coupler down.

More on that later. My head started to revolve around starting a YouTube documentation of my progress or even a YouTube channel for folks like me, who plan to build a layout with a least cost approach in mind. I’m not sold on the idea yet and haven’t decided, whether I will continue to „produce“ any videos except for unlisted ones to illustrate specific aspects of my layout progress or failures.

A former CN Blue Devil sublettered for BCN on the outer staging track.

IR Track Sensors

I plan for two track sensors at the entrance and short of the end of track on each staging track. For this purpose I should have drilled holes first and lay track later, but thats where I am now. More on that later.

Wiring Track and Frog

I have feeder wires at each rail joiner and a polarity switching wire at each frog. There will be a common ring line under the layout serving each track section with some „juice“. More on that later.

Servo based Turnout Machines

All staging yard and mainline turnouts will be motorized to allow for DCC control via throttle, command-station, JMRI/PC or push button on the fascia. Also any hard to reach industry turnout or yard turnout will be motorized. I have adapted some freely available 3d printed mounting bracket for my purpose and will show how I mount them in a video. More on that later.

Closing the Gaps

When the staging track performs well and I took care of all the savety measures regading derailments, I will install a 12V warm white LED strip for lighting and close the front of the staging area, which faces the scenery portion of the layout. In order to get that right, I will have to take care to prevent light bleeding from the staging yard illumination LED strip into the scenery.

And, oh boy! What a mess. Another lesson learned. Construction adhesive shrinks significantly when bonding. A piece of the staging yard incline/descent wasn’t properly supported and the glue pulled the track toward the baseboard causing a significant kink in the track. All six axle locos and all cars above 50ft didn’t manage to get past that point without derailing or decoupling. I had to rip off that portion of track to redo the incline/descent properly.

This lead me to question my choice of glue. For two reasons actually. First the shrinking issue and second the rigidity of the bond resulting in a sound coupling with the styrofoam baseboard. I’m now thinking about alternatives like caulk or silicone.

More on that later.

Next Step after Testing and Fine Tuning:

The Scenery Section

The benchwork is very basic at this time, because I want to keep the track mostly level, which means, I have to lower the water level beneath the main foam board. For this to work, I may have to cut into the front facing benchwork and build supporting framing underneath. Maybe a variant of L-girder will Provide the necessary rigidity.

Multiple foamboards glued and stacked to form the mountains, further covered in sculptamold and light rock castings should make for a lightweight and quite rigid layout. Considering this area will also only see light duty (ocasional through trains, but no industries to be switched, or trains sitting in one area for prolonged periods of time), I think I will not run into any stability problems here.

Except for the staging track’s automation, this area will be very simple to wire. I think about placing two pairs of block signals at both ends just for fun.