Jan 2011

P&EBR Operation: Justification

How can I justify all the time, space, money, and other resources that go into the construction of my model railroad layout?


The Quarry Job delivers a car to Meridian Quarry

Justification is difficult to be objective about, since I have always enjoyed trains and wanted to have a model railroad. On the one hand, I am fortunate in that I know what makes my happy, but on the other hand it is difficult for me to set priorities and find an equitable balance among a wide variety of pursuits. I realized early on that it would be easier to justify a small model railroad than a large one. The question became “how small can it be?” Model railroads can be built in very small spaces, but what would have to be included on my layout in order it to have the minimal features necessary to hold my long-term interest?



I determined that the very least that could be included on a railroad layout that could potentially hold my long-term interest was a hairpin turn.

While making this the definitive minimum seems arbitrary, it implies many things that would have to be true. Primarily, it shows that my main interest in model railroad is operation. Watching a train negotiate a series of reverse curves strikes me as the minimum necessary to give a feeling of distance and going somewhere. Also, the hairpin turn as a design feature requires defining things like minimum radius and aisle width. When accessibility and reliable operation are taken into account, the overall size of the layout is defined. The hairpin turn as a priority also implies that I feel it is more important for the space to comfortably accommodate the layout than for the layout to represent any actual place. For me, the model railroad setting is a veneer that is applied to the layout. The plan comes first, then a setting is determined that compliments it.


Assembling an outbound train in Shops Yard

Much of the proof of a layout’s justification is in the amount of time spent on it. If it is easy to turn off the TV or shut down the computer to spend time on the layout, then it is holding its own among the wide range of activities vying for my time.