Monday, January 30, 2017

Improving a Track Plan

I believe a good design is one that is simple, easy to understand and free of hindrance. While I want continuous running, I certainly don’t want gimmick such as duck unders and lift out sections. Also, having large aisles is on top of my list. Because, it's much practical when building the layout and doing maintenance. I'd rather sacrifice layout benchwork than aisle space.

For this reason, I bumped the room width to 14’. It makes a huge difference and will be much more interesting in the long run.

It was also a good opportunity to fine tune the concept. No surprise I removed some trackage and took the occasion to slightly relocate Tring on the long wall. Many reasons are behind this but the first one is to clear the staircase well. I have no problem having trains running over the the staircase, but I don’t want any operation to happen there, particularly such an important spot as Tring. Also, the prototype was located on a long straight stretch of track right after a curve, exactly as represented on my most recent track plan. It also allocates more space to correctly model the old Placo veneer factory which is a landmark in the area. While it could be operated, this industry was a dying one at that time and probably saw very little rail traffic. I'll will be a scenic element so I’m not bothered it is over the staircase. Placo can use Tring team track if they want to ship by rail!

Another benefit from this new Tring location is I can decently stage large way freight trains on the wye legs. Two operators could virtually schedule meets if wanted. There is also a better spatial and scenic separation between Tring and St-Sébastien, made even more dramatic by the staircase. Finally, removing curves from Tring yard will make operation far easier. I certainly hate coupling cars on curves and I’m probably not alone. With repeat mistakes of the past when they can easily be avoided.

Also, I decided to place all the industries siding facing the same direction. Not only it makes operation easier (yes, I’m not that much excited running around a train) but improve the feel of a long main line run. The reason is easy to understand. We you leave Tring, you have to travel all over the layout without stopping nowhere. You blow the horn and control your speed, that’s all. But the best as yet to come: you’ll meet the 1.6% ruling grade in this direction which will be more interesting to battle against that way. On the return trip, you take your time and switch the industries one by one as required, taking your time and increasing the perceived distance. With five industries, whom many have multiple spots, I think there would be more than enough action for a single operator. Keep in mind designing a track plan for operation isn't just about meeting the requirements, but also about telling a story.

It is certainly a little bit weird to put so little track in such a comfortable space (14’ x 23’), but I think it’s for the best to be immersed in scenery. You can't reproduce a backwood branchkine with dozen of towns and industries! Such a railway is generally dominated by forests and fields which can’t be traded for a higher track ratio. Keep thing simple and manageable! Also, given my freight cars weight a lot and only stations are on flat lands, there should be enough challenge to make this a decent layout. Also, you can’t model the branchline look by stuffing all kind of stuff.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Layout Ideas - CPR Tring Subdivision

Time to update this blog according to the new direction this project may take. This will be a long term personal project and thus Hedley-Junction always take priority on other modelling endeavours. This time, I'm experimenting with something that always fascinated me but never fully embraced by fear of lack of operation interest (oh, THAT fear!).

For the sake of convenience, I repost here the blog entry on Hedley-Junction that explain the reason behing reviving again that old foolish idea of a CP Rail-based layout. While building layout at home is directly dependant on available space in the future, I will, from time to time, start to refurbish and improve my Canadian Pacific locomotive and rolling stock fleet. I recently dug into my boxes and was astonished by the amount of material I already had. I suspect I have well over 50 cars, if not more, that can be used to build a decent train. Since Hedley-Junction has already all the freight cars required for normal operation and that I still enjoy building HO freight cars, everything new will be CPR and posted here. As a preview, I can already announce I'm actually looking for a way of improving the weird MDC/Roundhouse 50 ft plug door boxcar.

As for the Temiscouata project, it's still alive and will be built as a 1:65 (S scale) modular layout. For the sake of clarity, a new blog dedicated to this stand alone project now exist under the moniker Temiscouata Railway Connors Branch

A New Layout Concept

Last summer, I explored a few layout concepts that could be implemented at home for a future layout. Among many ideas, a few things were found out, including the possibility for continuous run while keeping the idea of a point-to-point operation scheme.

Most theme explored dealt with the idea to model only a few scenes, maybe just one location. Prototypes like Temiscouata Railway's Connors Branch and QRL&PCo Beaupré station were scaled down to HO and S scales.

Among the themes proposed, a rural Québec CPR branchline was among my list. However, I failed each time I tried to make a layout out of it in the past. It's not for a lack of interesting prototypes though. Canadian Pacific had a lot of small subdivisions which would make terrific layouts, both in the steam or diesel eras. In fact, I'm surprised we rarely hear people modelling these little gem.

Just to list a few of them, you have le Petit Train du Nord in the Laurentides area for people loving grades and mountainous layouts. The very short but extremely interesting St. Lin Subdivision near Montréal (if you are well aware of Trevor Marshall's Port Rowan layout, this subdivision is equivalent and somewhat similar to the Bruce Lines). Another great one is the St. Gabriel Subdivision, which still exist nowadays and could make for a very impressive switching layout under the Chemin de fer de Lanaudière tenure. The operate the branchline exclusively with first generation MLW locomotives.

Finally, another interesting area is the Eastern Townships. A lot of CPR branchlines existed there. I've often talked about MEC Hereford Branch and Cookshire, unfortunately none of these ideas coalesced into a decent or interesting project.

I've also explored the old Quebec Central, particularly near Lac-Frontière with my fictious Quebec South Shore Railway located in the nearby town of St. Pamphile. While this layout was bogus, I still think the grain elevator scene and track plan to be one of my best to this date. Unfortunately, this concept was plagued by several issues that doesn't fit well with my personal tastes when running trains. First, I like when there is an originating point to my train. Second, I like to railfan my models in "boring" landscapes that put the trains in a realistic context. Third, while I don't like spaghetti bowls, I appreciate when the tracks can connect and form a continuous run. I already explored that last principle when designing the Beaupré Station track plan. I think it had merits without killing the impression you are going somewhere. And fourth... having the ability to run way freight trains in such a fashion you don't have to find a "reason" or "excuse" for some cars and locomotives.

I must admit I've been looking for such a "CPR-looking" prototype for years and I don't know why I never cared to look at the now defunct Quebec Central Tring Subdivision (also called Megantic Branch) connecting Tring-Jonction to Lac-Mégantic. In fact, I know. I was always lured by branchlines... but didn't care for bridge line.

The Tring Subdivision was about 50 miles long and bridged the QCR Vallée Subdivision connecting Québec City to Sherbrooke and the CPR Shortline to the Maritimes. A lot of Québec City-USA traffic was rerouted by that line built in 1894-1895. Local traffic was scarce and mainly oriented toward agriculture and natural ressources.

According to various maps I studied, most common commodities carried for local customers were cattle, grain, feeds, lumber, oil, granite slabs and gravel. At least, three feedmills existed by the end of the steam era (Tring-Jonction, St. Éphrem and Courcelles). A Co-Op or creamery (or similar rural business) seems to have existed in St. Évariste (now La Guadeloupe). Several freight shed - some still surviving - existed in most towns. A few gravel pits were rail served and a large granite quarry now owned by Polycor. Finally, sawmills and lumber yards were numerous, most towns had at least one and many sidings in the middle of nowhere served to load logs, dimensional lumber and pulpwood.

I also found a description of each stations on the line by Charles Cooper. Here are the characteristics of each ones from Tring-Jonction to Megantic. They are relevant for the steam era thought photographs show substantial structures survived until 1969 and a few until the line demise.

Tring-Jonction (MP 0.0, acting as a division point for Sherbrooke-Vallée-Jonction traffict):

  • 1 concrete passenger station
  • 2 water tanks
  • 1 coal tower
  • 1 icehouse
  • 1 feedmill
  • 1 three-stall engine house & turntable located inside the wye (demolished in 1940)
  • 1 bunkhouse (demolished in 1940)  

St. Jules (MP 4.4) No description.
  • 1 saw mill
  • 1 gravel pit

St. Victor (MP 11)
  • 1 station (demolished in 1968)
  • 1 saw mill
  St. Éphrem (MP 17)
  • 1 station (demolished in 1968)
  • 1 large feedmill
  • 1 saw mill
 St. Évariste now La Guadeloupe (MP 24)
  • 1 station (demolished in 1968)
  • 1 freight shed
  • 1 saw mill
  • 1 Co-Op or creamery (to be verified)

Courcelles (MP 32)
  • 1 station (demolished in 1968)
  • 1 freight shed
  • 1 enclosed octogonal water tank
  • 1 cattle pen
  • 1 saw mill
  • 1 grist mill
  • 1 feedmill
 St. Sébastien (MP 41)
  • 1 station (demolished in 1968)

St. Samuel (MP 46)
  • 1 station (demolished in 1968)

Ste. Cécile (MP 50)
  • 1 station (demolished in 1968)
  • 1 water tank 

Mégantic (MP60, division point on CPR Shortline to St. John, NB)

According to old timetables, until dielization, the line was served by a mixed train. It was abandonned after 1960. No regular train was scheduled in 1970 and traffic was handled on according to demand. The line was operated at until 1984-1985 and abandonned in 1991. A caboose, a derelict passenger coach and a small steel trestle survive near Courcelles.

Old photographs also show a lot of variety in rolling stock, including several New England roads, which helps to strengthen the fact it's a bridge line. In fact, while I have several CPR cars, good American cars are easier to find than Canadian ones.

Tom Johnson's INRAIL layout

With all that info on hand, I decided to see if something could fit my future space. I used to place the layout on the future garage first floor, but finally decided to move it on the second floor were space is larger and easier to work with (less doors, less windows, less obstacles). It's also better since I prefer to keep the layout in a dedicated room isolated from the more dusty activities performed in the garage.

When thinking how I would handle the project, I decided to follow Tom Johnson's excellent INRAIL layout which I consider a perfect layout for solo operation. His layout was also featured in Model Railroad Hobbyist May 2014 issue. His way of doing modelling isn't very different from mine and I particularly liked when he said to not fear redoing unpleasant scenes and removing unrequired elements to streamline scenes: "By removing some of the clutter it actually makes the layout better." 
 and you gotta love Tom's word of advice about model railroading: "Overall I would say my philosophy is model what you love, and less is more." Isn't it sweet!

It is interesting to note Tom Johnson's INRAIL track plan is the most boring out there. Even MRH didn't care to draw a nice looking version of it. It's a single track mainline crossing fields and serving a bunch of decrepit grain elevators and feedmills in the middle of nowhere. But as mundane this theme can be, it makes for impressive pictures, memorable scenes and a convincing depiction of a rural community. Tom's layout got character which is only achieved by making things as simple as can be. Unfortunately, will his attractive photographs are well known, it sad most people fail to understand they can only exist because their author carefully choosed to stick to was does happen in real lif, i.e., lots of nothing ever happen. Take a look at the ratio of "empty" scenes (or Scenery Zone Only as Lance Mindheim would put it), most people would feel worried to waste so much space.

Modelling the Tring Subdivision

A lot of lessons can be learned from Tom's INRAIL and most, with other principles I advocated over the year here, can be implemented on a Tring Subdivision.

To make the concept work, we need two destinations for the point-to-point operation. In our case, it's Tring-Jonction and Megantic. Since we need continous running, they will be located back to back for ease of connection.

Each end point has a wye on the prototype. This is a practical way to create interchange opportunities as done on INRAIL. This way, no need for staging or worst, hidden staging, which I always think kills the magic behind a model railroad.

Then, we need a "leitmotif" that will enhance the nature of the line. It can be defined by a set of commodities plentiful of the area: grain / lumber / granite. Everything else is cake icing. It thus means we should find these almost everywhere to show us it is the breadwinner for the railway. Tom did it and Mike Confalone too.

Given I would use a peninsula to separate scenes visually and increase the amount of mainline running in wilderness, I consider that only two other locations can be added without killing the branchline theme. Among the various known stations, it seems St. Éphrem is a must because of the large feedmill and lumber yard. Readers well aware of my former Quebec South Shore Railway switching layout will recongnize instantly the track plan and general arrangement.

The next location is harder to decide. St. Évariste (La Guadeloupe) and Courcelles are ex aequo. Both have a sawmill and a feedmill/Co-Op, they also had freigh sheds (La Guadeloupe still surviving to this day) and Courcelles had a cattle pen. At this point, I'll have to do more researches to see which town is more interesting to model. Also, they both shared a somewhat similar track plan.

Mégantic won't be modelled. The railway facilities there were quite important and hard to model. Also, they play absolutely no role in this particular "game". Tring-Jonction was the division point and much smaller and easier to model. The station was also preserved and is iconic of Quebec Central architectural standards. For this reason, I would only model partially Mégantic wye for interchange and keep the area forested like the real thing. Since Tring-Jonction will be the largest facility on the layout, it would look silly to have another large location just beside. Better tone down things a little bit.

Since we have kept Mégantic at bay, it leaves space in that area to spice things up with a very locale and peculiar customer: the granite slab manufacturer. St. Sébastien granite is well-known in Canada and USA for it's nice light gray regular color. It was used extensively when building Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica between 1923 and 1976. It is also well-known it travelled by rail to reach larger markets. It is also interesting to note this large customer is locate absolutely in the middle of nowhere and nested in a heavily forested valley, which is perfect to keep things simple.

Finally, the last iconic element that could be added would be a very small steel trestle that once existed in St. Victor. I call it a trestle, but in fact it was a three-part deck bridge supported by a few bents. I'm not sure it could be implemented correctly, but it could help to give a sense of place.

I didn't decide on a particular era, but I had in mind the diesel era. While attractive, adding a roundhouse at Tring-Jonction could be problematic from a scenic standpoint. While the combined icehouse/water tank was great looking, I must know when it was demolished and it was located in front of the station and would block the access to several turnouts which isn't interesting.

In Courcelles, I used the steam era track arrangement. Courcelles could be simplified though the possibility to schedule meets there is a nice touch. Certainly, things would have to be tested on the benchwork to make sure it is practical, particularly the passing track which seems quite short (and was in real life).

Operation potential

While simplistic, I think this layout have a operating interest and diversity. The yard in Tring-Jonction is a nice place to set out motive power, build small consists, interchange cars and serve a few customers. It makes for a natural spot to start and end a session. The various customers along the line are coherent and strengthen the idea you are service rural communities. While similars customers exists, many are somewhat different in size and location. While St. Éphrem elevator is larger and works as the regional provider of feeds, fertilizers, heating oil and building supplies, the one in Tring-Jonction is simply a feedmill and the Co-Op in Courcelles only handle very limited traffic. The same applies to the sawmill. Courcelles does have a side track sway mill while St. Éphrem only offer a team track where trucks bring finished lumber for exportation. Granite Polycor acts as the oddball industry with its own set of particular needs.

Operations can be cut into three types: way freights, local switcher and interchange run from both points. Trains are generally short, about 4-5 cars with a caboose, never more than 8 cars.

Scenery and era

At this point, I didn't gave much thought about it. I certainly would love to do a CP Rail post-1968 Multimark era layout. Since I like the mix of old and new rolling stock typical of that specific period, I feel it should be in the early 1970s when the line still saw a "decent" level of minimal service.

As for the season, I have no idea. Maybe summer or fall, or should I say, a season with foliage to help conceal the fact the layout will often be less than 1 feet large. It's also something I never did and I like when Multimark rolling stock is in stark contrast with its environment. While "New England in fall" is a beaten to death theme, it's still the best period to model freight from feedmills. I see two options: early Autumn with mostly olive green and yellowish leaves or late falls when everything turns brownish orange and yellow. I would certainly stay away from the vivid colors when forest seems to be in flames.

The layout would also have two distinct districts recalling the nature of the landscape on the line. The first part from Tring-Jonction to Courcelles will be agricultural lands and gently sloped while the section between Courcelles and Mégantic should be more heavily forested and sports a few rock cuts, marshes and more conifers.