The DataBeaver's Domain

Model railway - Layout

Much of my fun in the model railway hobby comes from building layouts and finding routes for the trains to run on them. When I get bored with a layout or want to have more space and longer routes, I take it apart and build a new one. Märklin's C-track with its sturdy base and robust connections is ideal for this kind of frequent rebuilding.

The design of each layout reflects my interests at the time, as well as the growing capabilities of the control software. The first few were basically just interconnected loops, sometimes with a siding or two added as an afterthought. Lately stations and a proper railyard have made an appearance as well.

Home layout mk. 0 (2006)

The first layout I had at home. It wasn't really even designed, as the software was not ready yet. It had a bridge, but the ramps were so steep that locomotives had a hard time getting enough traction to climb it and often had to be helped by hand.


Home layout mk. 1 (2006)

The first layout designed with my software. It was built on two tables in different rooms, with a wall in between.

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Home layout mk. 2 (2007)

This was exceptionally a smaller layout than the previous one. I got a roommate who claimed one of my railway tables, so I redesigned the layout to fit on the remaining table. First experiments with track circuits were carried out on this layout. Unfortunately no photos of this layout seem to have survived.

Home layout mk. 3 (2009)

After moving to a new apartment, I had both tables available for the railway again. This time they were arranged in a fat "L" shape. The layout was fairly boring, consisting of a double-track loop with a short triple-track section. This was the first layout with full traffic control coverage.

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Home layout mk. 3.1 (2009)

An expansion to the previous layout, adding a bridge and some crossovers. It was planned right from the beginning, but construction was delayed due to lack of funding.

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ModelExpo 2010

Having visited ModelExpo a few times and seen the other hobbyists' layouts there, I got into my head the idea that I wanted to exhibit my layout as well. By this point I was a regular customer of Mallikauppa, and they were quite happy to have some fresh blood at their stand.

I wanted a more complex layout to present here, so I designed a new one, taking into account the size of the tables available at the fair centre. It had a five-track railyard and a two-track station, which I unfortunately didn't get to use much due to some inadequacies in the layout, deficiences in the software and the short length of the fair that prevented me from fixing these.

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Pienoisrautatiepäivät 2010 (Model railway fair 2010)

At ModelExpo I was asked to come to the other big model railway even of the year as well, and of course I accepted. The available table sizes were different from ModelExpo, so a new layout was needed. Having learned from my mistakes at ModelExpo and improved the control software considerably, this layout was designed to allow a variety of operations and includes a terminus station attached to a long single-track line, for the first time in the history of my model railways.

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Christmas exhibition 2010

I was unexpectedly invited to the model railway christmas exhibition, an event I didn't even know about, because the originally planned main attraction could not come. Fine with me, I'm always happy to show my system to others. Since there was a lot of space to fill, the layout is somewhat different from my usual ones. Instead of the usual jumble of interconnected lines, it is just a single loop with two stations and a yard. In some ways this is more realistic, as real-world railways tend to be fairly linear, with the occasional junction here and there.

A floorplan wasn't available, so I had to design the layout based on some vague dimensions. I ended up having to improvise a bit due to mismatches between plans and reality. Fortunately the layout didn't have much interconnections. I also had some buildings on loan from the Alpine Railway to liven up the place a bit.

I did some early tests with signals here. The proof of concept was successful, but the relevant code was a total hack. As it turned out, I wouldn't get to writing proper code for over two years.


Home layout mk. 4 (2011)

Designing the ModelExpo layout made me realize how lacking my then-current home layout was in terms of variety and realism. I designed a new one, but there was no way I could fit enough trackage in 4 m². New tables were required, and building those would be a significant effort. I procrastinated long enough that once I did get the tables built, there was no longer much point in building the layout before the model railway fair. Ultimately this may have been a good thing, as I had begun to feel that the plan had become too much of a spaghetti.

The layout follows the "two stations and a yard" trend that can be seen in the last few layouts. I've used some tricks with turnout and curves to reduce track spacing at stations from the standard 77.5 mm (which is quite large). It has a large elevated section with a complete oval and a station on it, and two ramps connecting it to the lower level.

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Tapiolan Talvirieha 2011 (Tapiola winter fair 2011)

Shortly after the Christmas exhibition, I was invited to an event being held in Tapiola in February. It's a multi-activity event aimed at children, with the model railway section playing a rather small part, but it was still another chance at publicity. My newest home layout was still unfinished at the time, and I didn't feel like designing yet another one so soon, so I decided to complete it for the event.

Model Expo 2011

For Model Expo 2011, I decided to try something a bit different. Inspired by the Christmas exhibition last year, I wanted to have something with a real sense of distance. I was again a guest on Mallikauppa's stand, with its 18x3m railway exhibition section. My layout consisted of a largish balloon loop at either end of the long table, with a stretch of almost 15m in between. Most of this was single-track, with a passing loop in the middle. The end areas had two stations each.

Running a layout this large was not without its problems. I initially had only one power supply point at one end of the layout, and the turnouts at the other end frequently failed to switch on the first day. On the following days, this was remedied by getting a length of cable and putting in another power supply point at the far end, and a third one in the middle for good measure.

Tapiolan Talvirieha 2012 (Tapiola winter fair 2012)

I was asked to be present at Tapiolan Talvirieha again. Transporting my heavy plywood tables last year was an experience I didn't wish to repeat, so I went for something simpler this time. I got a pair of 300x60cm folding tables from a hardware store and laid them side by side. The layout was very simple, consisting of two loops joined at one of the long edges. There was a variety of sidings to park trains on, and while there were no balloon loops to turn trains around, I had different trains face in different directions to create diversity and interesting traffic.

Model Expo 2012

Model Expo got new accommodations this year, with more space than before. Consequently my share was also larger. Unfortunately I was somewhat lacking in both inspiration and tracks, and the resulting layout was fairly simple. Aside from its three stations, it was entirely single-track and had no provisions for turning a train around. Not my finest work.

Tapiolan Talvirieha 2013 (Tapiola winter fair 2013)

Tapiolan Talvirieha came again and I was offered a fairly big spot. The last few exhibition layout had had quite simple topology, and I missed especially reversing loops. This layout was based on a very large oval, with two long reversing loops in the middle. A bridge was also featured. Stations were relatively small, to increase the feel of distance between them. In retrospect they turned out to be too small, as I couldn't park more than four trains on them without blocking others.

I was finally starting to regain my inspiration with the railway after nearly two years, and wrote some new code to handle the signals properly (well, it did have bugs, but at least it was properly integrated).

Model Expo 2013

This year I was at Model Expo on my own. My spot was rather small, so I decided to try something different again. Instead of multiple stations I only had a single large-ish yard and some different loops to run trains through. This turned out to work well. With five trains, the programmed schedule had a cycle time of about 8 minutes. Only one train was running around the loops at any given time, mostly because the scripting system is horribly complex and brittle. Improvements are being developed, but it'll take a while before they're ready.

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Model Expo 2014

The layout from previous year worked well, so I used the same basic idea this year. I had more room so my layout was also bigger, with a yard big enough to hold trains of five or six long wagons. It also had a bridge and reversal loops in both directions.

I had just developed a new timetable system, which was in use here for the first time. It turned out to have some problems that prevented complex traffic once again, but the much better user interface allowed me to create a 24-minute schedule.

This was also the first time I was using my own MFX-capable control device. It worked surprisingly well, and I felt there was less hardware problems than before. Turnout mechanisms got broken a few times, as is usual, but thanks to the safety features of the new control device, they were detected and no collisions resulted.

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