In late 2002 I was asked to help fellow Marklinist Dave Thomson with his M-track Marklin layout. Dave had a small room in his basement, and lots of trains that had never had a "permanent" place to run laps. Being unemployed at the time, I jumped at the chance to spend some time with a fellow Marklin and train enthusiast, and make some money to boot. So off I went to Cincinnatti to see the space Dave had for his trains. The overall room size was about fourteen feet, and my track plan ended up accompanying three levels. I used WinRail for the layout planning, as I have found it to be a simple and effective tool for designing a layout. The easy interface and quick corrective abilities make it easy to learn for novices but with enough tools to make it useful for the pros, too. The lowest level would have a modest staging yard located to levels under the main station. There would be a freight yard, turntable, loco sheds, and some industry on the lower level, and the main station would be on the upper level. Finally, a small secondary line was to wind up a mountainside to meet up with a Bemo point-to-point narrow-gauge line. From bottom to top, this was the track plan:
Here we see the staging yard (grid lines are three feet). Because of some existing benchwork, the staging yard was redesigned to fit along the wall on the right side of that drawing. You'll see that in the pictures below...
Here is the lower level:
Most of the fancy trackwork in the lower part of that drawing will be underneath the upper level. The track plan allows for easy reversing of trains in either direction. Also, it is possible to run a train under the layout continuously, without coming up to the station level. With so many possible routes for a train to take, this layout is fun for the operator as he / she decides where to send the next train, and poses quite a challenge when running several trains at once. The yard at the top is completely visible. With the track plan for the yard designed this way, there are lots of ways for trains to enter and exit. The only drawback: a switcher would need to use the turntable to pull out from the staging yard if it is on the left side of the tracks. Still, this adds to the operational interest of the layout.
Here is the upper level. The track at the top (dogbone) will cross the freight yard on a long bridge, then return on a long elevated section to the station. In fact, the whole dogbone is on an elevated section. The station has ample tracks for passing and waiting, and the loco shed and diesel fueling facility can add another operational element.
You can also see the secondary line making its way up the mountainside. Dave has a beautiful "Triebwagen" which he will run on this line. Actually, I believe this is designed for his wife Joan, who can occasionally be found in the train room with her husband...
Here are a few pictures of the first week I went down. We were able to use some of Dave's existing benchwork, which he had built for an around-the-wall layout which was never completed.
Here is the view looking at the benchwork for the station area (to the right) and the freight yard (straight ahead). Dave has done an excellent job with lighting, having installed a track lighting system that allows him to shine even light throughout the room. Having the lights on a dimmer switch allows for more subtle lighting, too.
Another view of the freight yard area. Dave's benchwork is SOLID.
In November we threw down some track on cardboard to see how long the station tracks could be. As you can see, they are plenty long for a typical (shorter) passenger train.
The headless wonder is me. Here we arranged some track for the staging yard in its new location, against the far wall. The track plan for the staging yard would go through several iterations before we had it "right". The double-decker passenger cars in the foreground were the benchmark. If we could push those cars around the layout, we figured we could run just about anything!
Here you can see the left side of the staging yard almost complete. The Homasote is on the plywood, and the benchwork is completed.
The plywood is being cut for the right side of the yard. Note the look of concern on Dave's face. Luckily he couldn't see the same look of concern on mine!
Here is the completed staging yard. The outer-most track acts as a run-around, and the one next to it will serve as a siding for local trains headed up the mountain and back down. The remaining five tracks will be used for staging, and will operate automatically, or can be switched manually. Before the track was finally screwed down, all of Dave's trains were sent through each siding forwards and backwards, with the engine pushing and pulling. The train on the right side is comprised of plastic and metal passenger cars mixed together. The Swiss loco was able to push this eight-car train at full speed through the yard tracks. Even with such success, the yard is still easily accessible through two access holes.
No matter how much you plan, you can be assured that something will always come up you didn't expect. The notch in the pine board was necessary after Dave and I discovered that the pantographs wouldn't clear them on the way in and out of the staging yard. The choice was clear - cut the wood, or only run trains with the pantograph down. The saw came out immediately. Sure, we could have devised some copper wire or strip to push the pantograph down, but the saw seemed a much easier and more fool-proof solution...