New JRM Sectional (v2.0) Layout

JRM Sectional Layout at the B&O Railroad Museum Show

After 5 years of assembling our club layout on the fly at shows and events, we finally tired of the setup time required, keeping track of over 1000 pieces, and transporting about 40 boxes of stuff to each show. It was great to show how you can use Kato Unitrack to build a large layout in a short time, but it was time for a change. The club membership had many discussions about what should come next, and settled on a set of goals, wants, and don't wants. It boiled down to the following:

  • Setup (and teardown) by 2 members in 1 hour possible
  • Transportable in 2 hatchbacks or in backseats/trunks of sedans if necessary
  • More detailed scenery
  • An interesting track plan that is not all straight track
  • Smaller number of parts to store, transport, and keep track of
  • Simpler set up procedure so less member 'knowledge' needed for setup
  • 2 shinkansen viaduct lines and 2 local/express lines
  • Easy for members to take small sections of the layout home to work on them.

While modular formats like N-trak and T-trak allow creation of a layout that requires little coordination, it is difficult to get a track plan that breaks away from mainly straight track. In the end, we planned a sectional layout using standard-sized base sections in an oval, but with a unique (non-modular) track plan.

While modular formats like N-trak and T-trak allow creation of a layout that requires little coordination, they end up having a track plan that ends up with mainly straight track.The end result was the planning of a Sectional layout that would have a unique track plan that roamed around Oval layout shape, but the track would break along convenient, standardized base modules. This was a compromise between the old complex track plan and a very plain modular design. A module base size of approx 1m long (990mm - 4 x 248 track sections) by 20" deep. This is a size that, with some sort of enclosing box for transport, would fit into the back seat or trunk of a standard sedan if necessary (2'x4' ntrak modules are notoriously a bit too large for this!)

Layout Design
We decided to make the new layout about the same size and with a similar set of scenes as the old layout. There are also a few places where additional modules may be added to the layout in the future to create a larger layout.

The starting point for the plan was the double-track viaduct shinkansen line. We decided it was important to keep the 9’ shinkansen station (long enough to hold a prototype-length bullet train), avoid a simple oval shape, and eliminate the S-curve that was a source of problems on the old layout. We also wanted to make sure there was at least a little bit of tangent track coming into the switches for the station.

For the ground lines, we had to compromise. We liked the complexity of the various loops on the old layout, but the oval layout shape didn’t allow for that. Instead, the ground track lines move from front to back and disappear behind and under scenery so that trains aren’t always visible and there’s at least a little mystery about where one will appear next.

Less overall area for track and the need for track to cross section boundaries at 90° limited the number and placement of sidings. For now, the ground level has less capacity than the old layout did for parking a variety of trains, but eventually we plan to add a large ground-level yard alongside the shinkansen yard.

(click on image to enlarge the plan view)

Bottom side of a straight module and top of a corner module. More images of the module construction can be found here.
Girder support system. More images of the module construction can be found here.

Section Bases and Support Structure
The basic section base is 20” front-to-back, and 990mm long. The length allows four long straight sections of Kato Unitrack to fit with a tiny bit of overhang at the ends, allowing the sections to click together with slight gaps, similar to T-Trak. This length and width also fit neatly in the back seat of most cars, with a little leeway for enclosing the section in a transport box. The corner modules use the same width front-to-back, but are longer and have six sides.

Each section has a very light but rigid frame of 1” x 3/4” clear pine stock. The long (front and back) frame members have a rabbet joint cut in them for the 3/16” plywood top to lock into. The frame ends and two cross pieces support the top from underneath. The ends of the modules have two 1/4” holes with small dowels inserted to help align the modules.

To support the modules, we designed a girder system of 0.75” x 1.5” stock. The girders consist of two outside pieces of the stock material and cross pieces to hold them apart. The overall width of the girder structure is 4” narrower than the modules to inset them under the modules. For ease of transportation, the girders are in sections that bolt together. Long girders fold for transport. The girder system is designed to be placed on top of any available support system, such as sawhorses or tables. Then the layout sections can be bolted to the girder assemblies.

Once the section bases were built, we joined them together on the girder system and began laying out the track. Once the track was laid out and tested, we attached it to the section bases with small #00 screws. Using screws gives a very firm attachment to the bases, but allows for easy removal for repair or adjustments. Even the viaduct tracks are attached to the section bases so that there is no track to set up when assembling the sections together.

Different members have volunteered to work on the scenery for different sections. The sectional format makes it easy for members to take a section (or sections) home and work on the scenery at their leisure.

So far, the layout has:

  • New container yard scene
    Shinkansen & Local Station and Urban Scene (3 straight modules)
    our 9' shinkansen station (full 16 car train length) and a 6' local station along with surrounding downtown/station front area

  • Mountain Scene (2 corner modules)
    a 2' high mountain that takes up most of the one end of the layout and has a small shrine, farm house, terraced rice paddies, and eventually a radio antenna on the top. Some of the more vertical surfaces will have landslide prevention structures on them as well as a construction scene for one of these structures.

  • Container Yard and Small Town Scene (3 straight modules)
    The container yard has two main tracks surrounding a large container platform. One track is long enough to hold a full 16 car M250 container train.

  • Agricultural and Suburban Scene (2 corner modules)
    This end has a suburban scene as well as tea fields.
Module transprot boxes (click photo to enlarge)  

We will build a system of boxes that will nest to transport the modules. Each module will have its own 3/16” plywood box that will have an open top and sides high enough to protect the scenery elements of the module. These boxes can then be stacked as high as desired, a lid put on the top, and straps looped around the stack to hold it all together. This allows us to transport the modules to shows in 2 or 3 stacks depending on the vehicles we have available. Then in non-show times individual members can take the boxes with the modules they are working on home with them.

JRM Sectional Layout at the B&O Railroad Museum Festival of Trains

Our First Show
The new layout made its debut at the B & O Railroad Museum Festival of Trains on January 9th and 10th, 2010. It took three of us a couple of hours to set up the new sectional layout. This was a significant improvement over the 3-4 hours it took to set up the old layout. Setup will only get faster, as this setup took extra time for our learning curve, resolving a few one-time issues, and setting up the viaduct track (which hadn’t been fastened down yet).

The Future
We’re continuing to refine the layout to make setup simpler and faster. As much as time and funds allow, we’re getting more and more scenery items attached to the sections so they don’t have to be added during layout setup.

Another area for future expansion is the addition of more scenery areas, both in the middle of the layout and along the outside edges. Our members have a variety of ideas for scenes they’d like to model, and interchangeable scenic areas that can be attached to the layout will allow us to show them off. Some additional scene ideas, such as a tram line along the front of the layout, allow for even more railroading on the layout.

Of course, as mentioned above, we also have connection points where we can add more sections to the layout. Our first order of business is to add a yard for the ground level, but after that, we can add sections to lengthen the layout, bend it into an L-shape, or hang a “peninsula” off the side.

With “JRM Layout 2.0”, we have more options than ever before!


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