Often, we see people stating the length of their mainline run. This is habitually considered as an easy way to appreciate the layout ability to offer a good rendition of mainline run. I think this is a little bit simplistic to address this question because there are other factors that affect our visual perception.
Personally, I consider a train is running mainline when travelling space between rail-served locations (be it a station or an industry). This is the real space where a train can do its main job of linking two destinations. An easy way to determine it is to measure the length of unspecialized track work located between switches. I call it Mainline Without Switch (MWS), this is a derivation of Mindheim’s concept of Scenery Only Zone. The difference is that I consider iconic landscape features reset the perceived length because they become “scenic destinations” which contradicts their role as scene dividers and operation buffers.
In our case, a perfect example would be the distance between the right-most turnout in Villeneuve and the first one in D’Estimauville. This gives us a good idea of space separation between focus scenes.
I didn’t go very far in my calculation, but I believe there’s probably some rule of thumb about effective spacing between scenes. We have also to take into account a visual divider (like a tunnel portal or an overpass) reset the length and gives us the effective impression the train is coming from a faraway location.
For open space areas, I feel the length should be about the longest train running on the layout to be effective. However, it is not easy to achieve since it could be quite important in term of space requirement.
When I look at Hedley-Junction, the most irritating area is between Villeneuve and D’Estimauville Avenue (where the staging area switch is located). The MWS length is about than 5 feet. No need to tell you a train reach quickly the Cement plant when leaving staging.
But there’s many ways to fight this visual perception. The first one is to treat the scenery in D’Estimauville as nothing special so turnouts – that habitually give the impression to reach a specific location – are blending into generic mainline scenery. That way, we can achieve to fool our eyes by thinking this is true mainline until it reach the closet hidden staging area. It helps us to lengthen the MWS to about 17 feet which is a very honourable result.
There’s also another way to make this distance to be perceived as longer. It is to implement a space divider between Villeneuve and D’Estimauville Avenue. In our prototype, there’s a long tree tunnel over the track in that area. Modelling that feature is a good way to fool our perception. Every train entering or leaving Villeneuve will have to “disappear” – or at least get blurred – by the vegetation. It won’t be possible to have a direct and clear line of sight of D’Estimauville, which is the goal.
With that in mind, we will be able to visually make room for more generic mainline run, giving us the impression our trains are travelling a long journey without adding extra square feet to the layout.
All my actual scenery work is accomplished toward this goal of making the location looks as generic, natural and realistic as possible. That means to minimize the amount of extraordinary structures that screams “specific and recognizable locations” and maximize generic track scenic treatment so the line is perceive as one long steel ribbon crossing a coherent landscape.
This is probably why I refrained from using large symbolic bridges on the layout. Most of them are diminutive, more akind to culvert than real bridges. That way, they don’t disrupt the scenery but offer just enough topographic variations so we feel the railway was built for real in the landscape. The only large bridge on the layout is located at the end of the line, in Clermont. But that’s okay because is role in the layout is important in marking ostensibly you reached the end of steel, the final destination, the “valley”, the large river that is the main reason it was worth to build a paper mill and a railway up there. That bridge acts just like the arrival line in a marathon. In the same vein, the scenic device that will hide the closet staging area will act as a depart line.
I’m particularly aware this theory will work differently on heavy industrial or urban layouts. But I feel it is an important factor in scene balance. On our layout, industries are built as closely as possible to full size. Donohue is about 10 feet long, Dominion Textile covers about 7 feet and Ciment St-Laurent eats up more than 15 feet. Having a good ratio of generic trackage between locations is the only way to ensure these large buildings won’t dwarf the layout significantly.
This is also the main reason why I’m not eager to fully model Pointe-au-Pic wharf or to add any other industry, even if I want it. I prefer to put my effort on realistic industries than multiply unrelated vignette scenes. This is also easier to handle from a structure building standpoint. It helps me focus my efforts and energy toward a few selected goals.
And don’t be discouraged by that entire ludicrous model railroading blabbering. The next months will be spent building scenery upon these concepts. Images will tell us if it works or not!