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track plans & layouts: multiple scales

Over the course of the last 20+ years I have designed a large number of layouts for people all over the world, from small shelf layouts to basement empires. I will be publishing a lot of those plans and stories here as time and opportunity permits. However,  I'm starting off with a few of my more basic plans which I converted to Michigan themes.

Detroit Belt Line (N)  A 4'x4' plan that packs in a ton of operation and interest. Double-track main line, passenger operations, freight yard, engine terminal, passing sidings, run-around track, and extensive industrial switching, along with a featured highway overpass, major river and multiple bridges. Can be back-dated to run early steam or 4-axle diesels. MC/NYC/PC/Conrail/NW/NS/CO/CSX/GTW units would all look right at home in this gritty Midwestern manufacturing town setting, no matter which era you select. 

Detroit Belt Line Track Plan

The Midland Route (N)  An L-shaped 3'x5' plan designed for a corner space. That's a Dow chemical plant in the front left upper level, with a small neighboring community in the front right lower level. Simple, but fun.

Dow Midland Track Plan

The Soo Junction (N)  A 2'x4' plan designed for possible expansion with an interchange track extending off to the lower right corner. This is a generic loop with switching options. Again, pretty simple, yet placement of buildings and scenery gives this small layout some modest flavor.

Soo Line Junction Track Plan

The Kalamazoo Central (N)  A sit-in 4'x8.5' plan designed for Class 1 main line operations with a large yard and engine terminal featured up-front, and numerous industrial switching opportunities integrated throughout the design. Originally designed as a Norfolk Southern layout for a military client, I changed the name and locale to suit a Michigan theme. All track components are standard Atlas pieces, and all building footprints match Walthers dimensions. Large industry in front left is the Walthers Paper Mill. NYC, PC, or GTW 4-axle diesels in a 1950s-60s-70s era would look best on this layout.

Kalamazoo Central Track Plan
Petoskey Shore Line Track Plan

Petoskey Shore Line (N). A 8'x10' plan that packs in a ton of scenic interest. This is basically a double-track main line designed primarily for passenger operations. My client had a collection of Kato passenger consists and wanted a layout that his grandchildren could walk around and view from multiple angles, with tunnels and bridges to disguise where and when trains would next appear. Again, these are standard track components and there are only six turnouts on the entire layout: two crossovers and one extended siding that stretches into a small town at the top left side.


This design provides interesting vistas from every angle, with tracks routed in such a way that from almost any viewing point you will see multiple track elevations and a combination of what appears to be single-track railroad running parallel to double-track railroad. Look carefully and you'll see that this is really an illusion, as tunnels and bridges hide entrances and exits to hidden track that changes elevation and profile.

Construction and access are very easy, and this would be a great layout to feature C&O equipment serving the northern regions of Michigan, just as the prototype once hauled daily trains up through Traverse City and Charlevoix on its route to Petoskey 

York Junction (HO). A 10'x7.5' plan that was designed for the late steam era of the 1940s and early 1950s, set in rural Pennsylvania. This was one of my first hand-drawn track plans for HO Scale, with 18" minimum radius curves and a small steam servicing facility. There are two main lines with an interchange siding track at the top. Each route has modest freight shippers, and each route has its own passenger station. There is also a small yard tucked behind the engine facility.

Designed to fit into the corner of a room, there is a sit-in operator's niche that should enable a reasonable reach to the back of the layout during construction and operations. The design also allows the operator to swivel around and view just the yard/engine terminal on the right side, or to focus on the town/switching areas on the left side. With some creative planning, you could easily run multiple trains and keep multiple operators challenged for hours.

Moving the locale to Michigan, I would re-name the layout the "Battle Creek Connecting Railroad" and feature GTW and NYC interchanges.  

York Junction Track Plan
Baraga Northern Track Plan

Baraga Northern (HO)

This is an 11'x5' plan designed as an island layout with the far right side butting up against a wall, and future expansion incorporated in three quadrants. The design features a waterfront/dock scene right up front with a small rail-served town and good switching opportunities. This is a basic oval main with a long branch line up to a mining facility. Tracks at the lower left side and lower right side offer a tie-in to future expansion; and the track that extends over a bridge and into a tunnel at the mid-center of the plan is also designed to allow for tying into a future expansion.


As-is, the plan offers great operations and scenery, typical to what can be found with port and mining facilities in the Upper Peninsula. This design could also very easily be scaled down to a great 3'x7' N Scale layout. Suitable for Soo Line or Copper Range or even C&NW equipment from the steam-diesel transition era.  

Indiana Northwestern (O)

This is an 24'x4' plan designed with a sit-in operating notch, specifically incorporating a large number of Lionel operating accessories. There's a basic twisted oval main line with an elevated section to create vertical interest and bridging opportunities, along with a short branch spur line that features heavy industry, switching, and tracks to the edge of the table to allow for possible future expansion. Although designed for a client in northwest Indiana, this layout easily translates into any era, locale, or road name. I'd re-name this one as the "St. Joe Southern" and base it in southwest Michigan.  

Indiana Northwestern Track Plan

Cape Cod Northern (O)

This is a massive 28'x30' space-filler designed specifically to fit into a large basement, working in and around structural supports, a stairwell, furnace and utility rooms. There are two large yards and an engine facility, with two separate main lines to allow for continuous running and also lineside switching. We took advantage of the stairwell walls to create industrial peninsulas featuring massive industries.

This was my first professional custom design, and one of my favorite experiences. The client lives in Cape Cod and has done a fantastic job building the layout. I visited in the early 2000s and got to run trains with him - and that's where I really got the bug for DCC and sound. Those hefty O Scale diesels sound great rumbling through his basement! This large  layout would support any choice of northern Class 1 operator: CSX, NS, CN or CP, but the client also had a passion for B&M history and paint schemes, so we created a Cape Cod Northern unit:

Cpae Cod Northern Locomotive
Cape Cod Northern Track Plan

Colorado Eastern (G)

This is an outdoor garden layout I designed and built back in 2002, after a trip to Colorado and a ride on the Durango & Silverton. Basically my wife wanted a flower garden, and I said only if it has a train in it... and I was excavating sod and building retaining walls within a week. The plan features an elevated structure that is open in front to allow for a large trestle and drainage. I took step-by-step pictures and those are featured on a separate page that you can view here: Colorado Eastern. Photo at bottom right was taken in Durango, just outside the Iron Horse Inn - one of my best shots ever! 

Colorado Eatern Track Plan (G)
Durnago & Silverton
AA Pennant
C&O logo
CRSH logo
Mackinac Mac
DTI logo
Haywire Logo
LSI logo
N&W logo
PC logo
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