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Module 5

Choosing A Theme

Refining the Concept for the Layout

Choosing Your Theme or Design Concept  


The point has now been reached where we can move on to actually planning and constructing the line. But before we (or rather you) do so you must decide what type of railway you want to create? What would you like your railway to do?


How important to you is historical accuracy? Do you intend to buy ready-made equipment or construct your own? Do you wish to follow prototype practice or just "run trains". Will you maintain your locomotives and stock in pristine condition out of the box or carefully "weather" their appearance for a more realistic look?

Regarding the latter I must admit that I cannot even contemplate spraying paint and dust to realistically "weather" a brand new model in which I might have invested £500 or more in order to achieve this degree of prototypical accuracy and possibly reduce its value in the event of later sale but each to his own.


You may have already given some consideration to these important question and the possibilities are as endless as your imagination but it is really important to get a clear picture in your head of the end result before charging forward.


What is it about railways that appeals to you the most? Is it the old wood-burning steam locomotives thundering across the plains in the days of the Old Wild West? Or perhaps preserved narrow gauge steam engines on rural lines in the UK and Europe? Your preference might well be a mainline steam-hauled express locomotive with an impressive rake of passenger cars or the sheer power of modern diesels? Could it be long consists* of ore cars pulled by powerful locomotives? Or possibly rack locos in the Swiss Alps or the intrepid Glacier Express that you yearn to replicate? A logging camp in the redwoods or a dockland diorama or possibly even a working coal or tin mine? You may even have in mind a complete fantasy line to give full rein to your creative powers.

* In railway parlance (or more commonly railroad jargon) a consist is a line-up or sequence of railroad carriages or wagons (often of the same type) in a frequently coupled or semi-coupled state, with or without a locomotive, that form an integral unit.


For instance, a passenger train consist might include a rake of two passenger cars, an observation car, a combine car and a baggage car whereas a freight train consist is more likely to compromise a powerful diesel locomotive hauling 40 ore wagons.























There really is no limit to your imagination and even if you just enjoy the pleasure of "running trains" you would probably gain added enjoyment from adopting a theme of some sort even if it is a freelance railroad set in some mythical a far-off land allowing you to run any assortment of trains that you have a mind to.


The concept you eventually choose will influence the way you ultimately approach both the planning and construction of the layout and the emphasis on model accuracy when adding locomotives, rolling stock; structures and even plants to you line.


Here are some thoughts and ideas gleaned from far and wide to give you initial food for thought but they are by no means exhaustive and it is always possible to 'mix and match':

If you prefer to model a more eclectic layout rather than one that is specific to a particular time period or geographical area you might be interested in watching this video introducing the "TooMuchFun Railroad" (TMFRR) created by Vic & Sue Thies in Orange County, California. There are other videos in the series (courtesy of YouTube) and a website. I will append details at the end of this Manual.

Choosing the actual type of railway (railroad) you want to build is one of the key decisions in the planning process. If you get it wrong and have to change track (no pun intended) later on you may well have wasted a lot of money and effort.


Do you like the idea of running lots of mainline trains to a complex operating schedule or would you prefer the simplicity of an end-to-end narrow-gauge steam logging camp? Are train operations more important to you than scenery and structures? Do you want a completely automated line following a rigid timetable or a more flexible one which leaves you in charge free to run that freight or passenger service just when you feel like it? Do you just like the idea of running trains past a fixed viewing point?

Yes - I have also seen the Piko video on Youtube showing you how to build a layout in a day !


If you are really strapped for cash and short on time by all means go for it but if you want an interesting layout to capture your imagination, look like a realistic railway and a hobby that will afford endless enjoyment you should  view the construction as an everlasting project spanning many years, if not a lifetime.

Operating Mode   


It has been said that, for the most part, garden railroads are run by one of three distinct kinds of operators: engineer, despatcher (dispatcher) or observer.


  • The Engineer


The engineer is someone who actively runs the train by following it around the layout with a handy remote-control or alternatively from a convenient fixed location where they are able to observe the full length of the line. The speed of the locomotive is the engineer's primary concern but he or she may also operate the points, signals and uncoupling devices along the route of the track - thus being both mobile and interactive.


  • The Despatcher


By contrast the despatcher (dispatcher in the States) sits at a central control panel from which the trains and associated ancillary devices are operated remotely by means of buttons, switches and controllers usually with some sort of block system to isolate separate sections of the track (now superseded in many cases by sophisticated DCC systems). The role is essential a stationary, sedentary one from where the train operations can be both viewed and controlled from a single vantage point.


  • The Observer


The observer is a person who just likes watching the trains go by from a position (or positions) somewhere adjacent to or possibly above the track. This is often achieved by having independent continuous loops, each with a single train running on its own under some form of automatic control which needs little or no manual intervention. Some form of Digital Command Control (DCC) is especially suited to this type of operation where enjoyment is simply derived from "watching the trains go by"


The design and implementation of your railroad will very much depend on the type of operation you envisage for your own line and what you see as your main role in proceedings. No one can make this decision for you but be sure to do as much research as you possibly can before making your decision.

Railway Tracks
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