Development of the BSMRR layout plan began in January, 2011. The highest priority in coming up with a plan was to make sure that the layout was built with operations in mind.
For a model railroad to be “operational”, it needs to be designed so that trains can be run as close as possible to the way the real railroads run theirs. In its simplest form this means that a train is built at Point A with a specific set of freight cars added to a locomotive and continues to Point E. These starting points are usually railroad yards but can be any location that the railroad services. Along the route the train may stop at Points B, C and D (industries and businesses) and set out and/or pick up cars based on the needs of these customers. The real railroads number or name their trains and run them on specific schedules along specific routes. These trains may have only a few cars or over a hundred cars and they may stop many times along a route or just stop at the end of the route. The types of cars moved are dependent on what their customers need to ship.
This same type of “operation” can be duplicated on a model railroad. Ideally, a layout needs places for trains to be built, places for the trains to go and do work and places for the trains to end. There also needs to be specific routes for the trains to follow so that all this work can be done in the most efficient manner. There should also be enough room, or aisle space, for operators to move around the layout with their trains. More on this later.
On order to operate the layout like a real railroad it needed to be built so that those things mentioned above are incorporated into the track plan. I drew the initial track plan by hand, but got a great deal of assistance from my good friend John Stewart who took my ideas and transferred them to a computerized drawing using some railroad design software called 3rd PlanIt. This was particular useful in making sure that everything fit within the minimum curve radius and track grades I had decided on and in checking the geometry with respect to all the turnouts I was going to need. As a result, I ended up with a walk around shelf layout in a room that measures roughly 15' x 30'. There is a 24' peninsula that runs down the center of the room. No track working area on the layout is over 2' wide. A copy of the track plan can be found on the Track Plan page.
Early construction pictures
Although the layout is based on the prototype, I would not consider it to be a pure condensed version of the real BSRR. The layout incorporates Birmingham Southern's main yard on Fairfield, AL, along with the engine service facilities. There is also a smaller version of the railroad's 34th Street Yard near Ensley. The industries and companies on the model represent real places in and around Birmingham, but their location on the layout does not necessarily follow the prototype. Most of the companies on the model were serviced by rail at some point in time, although not all were BSRR customers. A few never had rail service.... in my world they do.
Because I chose to include as many of the real places as possible in a limited space, this turned out to be a large industrial switching layout, which is fine with me. The are a couple of "long" runs - one to Birmingport and the other to the Miller Power Plant via the Concord Coal Processing Plant.
The layout has a primary upper level and a smaller lower level accessed by two helixes. I would not consider this a double decker layout since the lower level does not cover the entire room. The lower level consists mainly of track that represents offsite locations served by BSRR and is the main starting point for all Class I traffic.
Separation between levels
The real BSRR interchanges with three Class I railroads, NorfolkSouthern, CSX and BNSF. To represent this on my layout I have included two locations that interchange with Norfolk Southern. I chose NS because that was the motive power I had left from a previous layout. In the real world, the Class I tracks parallel the BSRR track at several locations. On the layout, the Class 1's have trackage rights on part of the BS mainline to reach the two interchanges. There is also a BNSF train that serves the Concord Coal Processing Plant on the upper level, as well as a power plant on the lower level under the peninsula. In the real world this train would come from the Powder River Coal Basin in Wyoming and go directly to the power plant ( Miller Steam Plant owned by Alabama Power Co.).
While I've included the main elements needed in the track plan to operate the railroad - yards, industries, routes for trains to follow - there is one design element that is not as functional as it could be, and that is aisle space. This is not unusual. Model railroaders want as much track as we can get into a given space and tend to minimize the room for operators to move around. My layout is no different, but we manage to get around without too much congestion as long as there aren't too many people running trains at one time.
If you would like to read a very thorough article about building the railroad written by John Stewart for the NMRA - OPSIG Group, click here. Some things have changed since this unpublished article was written, but it will give you some good information about the layout.
On to Construction....