Sumida Crossing - A Slice of Tokyo
by Ken Shores

Modemo Setagaya Line tram beneath the elevated station (click on image to enlarge)

When I became interested in modeling passenger trains, two of the things that attracted me to Japan were the diversity of train designs and how busy the railroads were in major cities, particularly in Tokyo. After an initial table-top layout using the then-new banked concrete-tie double-track Unitrak, I wanted to create a more permanent layout that would let me recreate some of that complexity in a contemporary urban setting. The result was Sumida Crossing, a 16' x 4' "center of the room" layout in my small basement.

The layout has a center divider down the middle, giving me two 4' x 4' ends and two 2' x 8' side scenes. One end has no scenery, and serves as a hidden link between the two sides. The two side scenes each contain one passenger station, and the end scene provides track between the two stations so that even my longest train, a sixteen-car Shinkansen (bullet train) will have left one station before entering the next. The end scene also provides for a sweeping curve with four tracks overlooking a residential area I call the village, one of my favorite parts of the layout.

Kato EH200 Locomotive pulling a container freight across one of the many bridges on the layout (click on image to enlarge)

Three sets of double-track run through these three scenes, as well as a small tram line entirely within the scene with the raised overhead station. Two of these sets of tracks represent a commuter line and a line paralleling it that only stops at one of the two stations, which can be used for either express trains or Shinkansen as desired. A third set of double-track represents an underground subway line, and is mostly hidden from view, appearing only in side views beneath the raised station and a window into a subway station, as well as briefly where it crosses a small river.

Sumida Crossing is built as a set of 2' x 4' sections using a box of 3" pine sides topped with 1/2" plywood. Wiring under each box is connected to the next using wires between terminal blocks, and the boxes are bolted together. All of the boxes rest loosely atop a set of simple frameworks made of pine. Although Sumida Crossing isn't intended to be portable, this approach allows it to be relocated if I move, or separated if I need to replace the water heater on the far side.

Layout Plan (click on image to enlarge)

A view across the large river showing the temporary foamcore bridge and expressway (click on image to enlarge)

Each box was painted to seal it, and then the top was painted to depict water where that was needed. A 3/4" layer of insulation foam was glued to that to form a scenery base wherever there was land, and an additional 2" layer of foam was used where scenery needed to be higher. After the foam was shaped and glued in place, it was painted green or gray to represent grass or roadways, as appropriate.

With this I have very basic scenery before doing any further detailing. This has allowed me to work on the track without having to look constantly at plywood and pink foam. I will eventually go back and upgrade the scenery, adding scatter for grass, as well as shrubs and trees, and other details such as roads, sidewalks, telephone poles, etc. But I will likely spend time working on my buildings first, getting them painted, detailed and lit. Scenery beyond the basics isn't a priority for me.

A Kato E231 Joban line EMU rounds the curve above the village (click on image to enlarge)

The track is mostly Unitrack, laid on foam roadbed painted gray. This will allow me to someday replace the Unitrack with conventional ballasted flex track if I want, but for now I have the benefit of being able to remove and replace the track during construction, as well as having deferred all the work of laying and ballasting flex track. The foam roadbed is painted with artist's acrylic, which dries flexible and mildly tacky, so it both holds the Unitrack in place and helps to absorb sound from it, but still allows the Unitrack to be removed.

The tram line uses Tomix Finetrack, partly as an experiment to see how I like it, and partly to take advantage of the slip switches it provides for a back-and forth tram (the track is double track with a single-track station at each end; a tram can leave one, run down the left track, enter the other station, pause, and then depart on the other track, with no throwing of switches required, just a simple back-and-forth DC power controller.

Micro Ace East-i E inspection train and Greenmax Tokyu Metro 10000 subway train seen through the window into the Riverside subway station (click on image to enlarge)

The main tracks are all wired for DCC, however each track of the outer double-track loop can be individually switched to DC operation, allowing me to test new trains and operate ones not yet converted for DCC with a pair of DC power packs. The subway and commuter loops are DCC-only.

Operation is essentially "running in circles", except that trains on the commuter line can run in and out of the subway, doubling my number of stations and replicating an aspect of some Tokyo lines. I'll leave one or two express trains looping on the express line to add activity, then operate two trains on the commuter and/or subway lines myself using wireless DCC throttles. As the commuter line is still under construction, I haven't actually been able to do this yet. Someday I plan to add more computer control to the lines I'm not directly controlling myself, as well as computer-controlled lineside signals, and the electrical blocks have all been planned to support the needed occupancy detectors.

There are many things left to do on the layout, but my approach has allowed me to get the whole to a nearly fully operational state in just over a year of construction. Now I can spend a number of years going back and refining it, while having the full enjoyment of running trains through scenery that gives the impression of twenty-first century Tokyo.

For more on Ken's layout please visit his website:


Published on the Japan Rail Modelers of Washington DC website by Permission of the author. Text and photos Copyright © 2010 Ken Shores. All Rights Reserved. Licensed for use under Creative Commons cc-by-nc 3.0




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