The Yamakaigan Layout


By Bob Wright

In 2006 we shifted to the Far North (New Zealand) and by pure chance, the house we purchased had a large free-standing double garage and we only had one car! Rather than buy another car it seemed more logical to utilise the space to construct an N-gauge model railway—and so the planning began.

In Christchurch, I had previously built and pulled down a Japanese themed layout. It had been constructed using flexitrack and Tomix set track and although ballasted I was able to lift the set-track but the flex could not be saved. Also in my packing boxes were my trains and buildings. I wished to stay with a Japanese theme as I had travelled to Japan previously and was impressed with their railways. By coincidence my wife was Japanese!

I considered many designs and finally decided on partitions to create a room 5 x 5 metres (approximately 16 x 16 feet) with space for a spiral by extending one corner into the gap next to a roller door. As I built the room, I continued working on a track plan. I settled on a ‘G’’ shape layout—around the room on 3 sides and on the 4th a peninsular.


The actual track plan took a while to sort out and to lay, as it was largely in my head and on paper sketches. Making the gradients work was a headache and I used many tunnels to stop it from looking ‘track-heavy’ (it was only recently that I drew up a proper plan to record what I had built). I wanted all the bells and whistles—a high speed Shinkansen; double track main line, double track suburban line; coastal line; mountain line; mountain freight line and a tram or 3. Good thing it was a long-term project!


The bench work was fairly standard and I was able to use some angular shelving iron to support an upper deck and the spiral / helix. I still had space outside of the trainroom to build a box to contain a staging yard into which all of the lines fed. It had enough length to house trains up to 4 meters long. The garage was not insulated and on hot days heat from the roof radiated down causing tracks to buckle. I was able to overcome this by having an airgap and then a second top to the storage box on which I could store cartons and things to further absorb the heat. But the train room was still too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer and as air conditioning was not practical nor affordable, it became a room that I only used during some summer days.


My Tomix turnouts and track were reused, and supplemented with flex track, and once ballasted it merged together okay. My Tomix, Kato and Microace trains were not suitable for DCC so it was to be an analog layout. I used both RCI and CTI stationery decoders and modules controlled by Traincontroller. After some changes, I settled with the Tokaido and Shinkansen lines being run with RCI and the others with CTI.


The layout was named Yamakaigan - being a ‘company’ controlling the 3rd sector Yamanashi and Kaigan lines. The port town of Kaiganji is set during the sunset days of the steam era and contains my main freight yard including a hump yard. Although it has a hidden return loop, it is a terminus station. Short wheelbase trains can climb an electrified line to the mountain town of Yamanashi. The main industry here being a sawmill which has an American look to it as it was rebuilt with US aid after the war. An industrial branch line travels across a preserved wooden trestle while another line descends to connect with the Suburban line.


In addition, a coastal non-electrified line, climbs gradually from the port, around the room, to reach Ashigawa—a more modern city. From here it travels to the Owari staging yard and trains can later do a return trip or work at the smaller freight yard at Ashigawa. An add-on provides steam facilities. These lines are ideal for operational use.


On the other hand, the Tokaido line provides automated running where various trains leave the staging yard and do a loop around the peninsular. They pass through the 4 platform Ashigawa Station which has 2.6 metre platforms for 15 car trains. Stations on the layout have speakers so arrival / departure jingles can be played.


A suburban line also starts at Ashigawa and is a ‘there and back’ line with 2 stops before running to a hidden station. I originally used my older Series 113 units but found they were not good at cold starting so later changed to Hankyu units. The Shinkansen line is basically two tracks which have hidden curves and hidden sloped ends. So, they start downslope and quickly gain speed to then cross the main straight before disappearing as they go uphill braking to a stop. Three tramlines were more recent additions. I now installed a diversion linking the Coastal and Mountain line thus bypassing the port’s Kaiganji terminus. So, when feeling lazy I can have loop trains around most of the layout.

I enjoyed using the Traincontroller software to develop countless schedules and options. I suspect that in this age of DCC I must be one of their very few analog users. I designed my Traincontroller switchboards to be complex so I can spread them across 5 monitors which at times even confuses me! On the whole, the trains and electronics have proved to be very reliable.


My main interest lies with building rather than operation of the layout, so it does not get much use nowadays. It is largely completed except for the application of fine detain throughout and buildings at one station area. It was really too ambitious for me as to get it running involves much dreaded track cleaning. Because of this, each summer I tended to just run one part of the layout. But I have now retired, and this spring hope to get everything up and running again. There will no doubt be dry joints to fix and other trouble shooting but that is just part of the hobby.


More on the layout can be seen here and the same channel has a full length cab ride:


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