Saturday, March 12, 2022

Monk Subdivision Staging Yard Conodrum

Monk Subdivision is progressing at a decent pace right now. I’m currently fine tuning the staging yard design and cutting plywood for it. In the recent days, I did a few experiments with tracks that completely changed my approach to what I’m about to do.


The biggest concern about the hidden staging yard is that vertical clearance is minimal. We are talking about 6” at best here which isn’t close to any recommended practice.  The answer is simple, how do you deal with access, derailed equipment and cleaning the tracks? I wish I had more vertical clearance, something close to 10” or 12”, but it isn’t possible. I have no place to spare for a helix and I want to keep my grade under 1.5% at any cost to maintain a good performance for my steam locomotives. With that known, I have to design my way around that hurdle.


The first thing is to make the foreground and background on the upper deck partially movable so I can access the tracks in case of an incident or simply for maintenance. This is even more important where turnouts are located. If possible, I wish to put turnouts where they will be easier to access. On the left, it means I can place a few ones under the hill in the foreground. The hill will be a good excuse to have an access slot in the fascia so we can visually monitor what’s going on in the staging. Other turnouts on the left will be located after the big curve because they will clear the lower cabinets on the wall. I certainly don’t wish to see any complex wiring and controls there. On the right sides, all turnouts are located against the wall and before the curve because this is where access is best at all time.


Another big issue is that my staging yard will need to be built partially on a grade on both sides. It means most of the yard throats will be inclined. I did some tests with Rapido Super Continental coaches (my longest and most capricious cars) and it works fine if the grade is constant and turnouts are far from vertical transitions. We can consider that a done deal.

Revised staging plan

The next issue is derailment. These things are frustrating, but even more when they happen in hidden places. For this reason, a lot of rerailers will be installed on every hidden track to minimize risks. They cost almost nothing and I feel this is a much needed insurance.


Speaking of unreachable areas, I created alcoves in the upper deck to follow the track flowing curvature. This is both for aesthetics and to provide a shelf, but also to make my life easier when handling trains in the yard. I will install a fiddle track that will be built at the bottom of the left alcove. Trains there will be both visible and easy to handle. The spot will be useful to build or break trains there, creating new consists without having to fight under the upper deck elsewhere. I can also serve as a programming track or to stage the local freight train. This is the only train that needs to be frequently changed. This track will be good enough to handle it and I’m planning to install a series of drawers under the layout right there to make staging easier.


Now, the last big issue to take care of... Turnouts are a real paint in the proverbial place. You get short, you lose power, train derails… it’s the main source of problem on a layout. Now, imagine using them under in hidden places! I can already imagine the disaster. My original plan called for the use of old PECO Code 100 Streamline turnouts salvaged from our second club layout. They are almost brand new and in great shape, but I found out they run a little bit rough with modern cars, particularly the Rapido ones that start dancing on the frogs. I also tried with old Blue Box cars and I got the same results. It’s also very noisy. The turnouts are fine, but on a grade, I don’t trust them. I did the experiment again with Peco Code 83 turnouts and the ride was much smoother and quieter. I knew I would have to think twice about using the Code 100 turnouts. Worst, I found out I hadn’t enough of them to build the staging yard, so I had to make a decision.


This decision is simple, I won’t use Peco Code 100 turnouts… and will upgrade my design with Peco Code 83 or Code 70. I prefer more reliable components to be honest. I see the problem at the club layout and don’t want them replicated here. Speaking of turnouts, I’ve come to appreciate Peco’s new unifrog design. I like the idea of being able to upgrade the system later on. The reason is simple, I have many old DC locomotives I want to use and Unifrog give me the chance to make it possible to run both DC and DCC. Also, the Unifrog design comes with continuous solid rail points instead of hinged ones. Much more reliable for electric current and less prone to derailment.


For these reasons, I’ve redesigned the yard to only use Peco #6 Unifrog turnouts. It comes with a price tag, but I know you can’t go cheap with turnouts. Many will comment that at this point, I should invest in Fast Track jigs and build my own turnouts. That would be a great idea, but it comes with a serious caveat; I both suck at mechanical stuff and plainly hate mechanical stuff. I may understand the general principles, but I’m terrible at implementing them. A fifty hours spent at the benchwork to build 25 turnouts  I know will be less than great doesn’t seem appealing to me. Bear in mind I totally respect people building their turnouts. We all know it’s the best way to go, but it’s a red line I’m happy to draw knowing my strengths lies elsewhere.


With that said, I’m happy to report the new staging yard is now fully revised and ready to enter the building stage. It will be quite a challenge since I want to implement servos for turnout control, insulated staging tracks and IR detection for a control board that will let me know what’s happening. In the future, I'd like to program the staging turnouts with an Arduino board to make things more intuitive and simpler. I'm not closing the door to automation either since the layout is rather simple.

Staging capacity

This is the most important criteria at the end of the day... How many trains and cars can be staged at once. Since Monk Subdivision saw a lot of traffic back in the days, I wanted enough tracks to hold them all. While I do intend to model mainly the early 1950s, I'll use the layout to run anything in my collection from the 1960s to the 2010s. For this reason, I'll probably run consists made of 3 to 5 locomotives pulling about 30 cars when I'm in the mood for it. Also, some trains on the subdivision were really long. A good example is the Cabot, a passenger train from the late 1960s which can easily be 16 to 18ft long. It's high on my priority list and I really wanted it to be possible.

Using an employee timetable from the 1950s, I've come to this tentative staging scheme which could hold about 140 freight cars and 22 passenger cars at once:

Staging 1:   242 (230) 38 cars (#700 fast freight)

Staging 2:   188 (176) 31 cars (#700 fast freight)

Staging 3:   206 (194) 34 cars (#400 2-10-2 manifest)

Staging 4:   131 (119) 20 cars (#400 2-10-2 manifest)

Staging 5:   127 (115) 19 cars (Fast passenger)

Staging 6:   120 (108) 20 cars (Fast passenger)

Staging 7:   98   (86)   14 cars (#400 2-8-2 manifest)

Staging 8:   95   (83)   14 cars (#400 2-8-2 manifest)

Staging 9:   72   (60)   10 cars (local passenger)

Staging 10: 72   (60)   10 cars (local passenger)

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