Monday, 2 December 2013

Compromising Design

Few classic layout designs can have been both so inspiring and frustrating as Roy Link's "The Art of Compromise" in the October 1978 Railway Modeller.

I know I keep coming back to it on this blog, and I know others do as well.

I think, from a personal perspective, it is time for me to take a critical look back at that original article

The inspiration comes from the possibility that in a 6ft by 1ft space you can build a model that is "a subtle blend of the diorama... and a working layout" that is a "moderate operational unit itself" and that "incorporat(es) details not normally found on the average model railway"

Remember this was back in '78.  Lichen is king.

Roy's coloured illustration  accompanying the article is  itself inspirational, but so is the fact that the design could, in those days, be built using the readily available Prototype Models card kits, incorporated just about all the features of a typical branch line station except an engine shed, and had an interesting track plan that separated the loop from the platform. It is no coincidence that the same issue included an article on South Leigh station, again with a  track plan illustrated by Roy. South Leigh of the few stations designed on those lines. A subtle twist Roy added was the gentle curving of the track with hardly any of it parallel to the front edge of the baseboard.

So far so good.

The frustration sets in when people realise that Roy designed the layout with that tool most of us have some where - the optimistic pencil. You know the one, it allows you to draw that turnout in to fit a ridiculously small space and connect up two pieces of track without the need to check that the tangents align. The same pencil that convinces you that because there is clearance between a lineside feature and the centreline of the the track that you've drawn then there will still be clearance when the track is actually laid.

On top of that there is a presumption on the part of the reader, though never mentioned in the article, that a layout in the RM designed to use kit built buildings is probably one also designed to be built using Peco track.

I think that is probably the first pitfall people come across. I've spent hours in the past trying to come up with a workable plan using code 75 Streamline and this is still the closest I can get.

Actually perhaps it isn't that bad. I think it needs that one curved turnout to maintain the flow of the loop. However it certainly doesn't allow as much room for scenic development as Roy drew on the plan.

Roy also suggested the model would be suitable for operation by the then new Lima 45XX as well as a Metro Tank or a 14XX. That was certainly part of the appeal when I first saw the plan, even if it took me another thirty five years to buy the 45XX.

In reality though the use of anything bigger than a 14XX is a step too far to be practical.

I suspect as well many who have been attracted to this design because it has so many elements of a "proper" branch line terminus have been tempted to push the plan a bit too far  themselves by adding other features like an engine shed or a proper signal box. They then either decide it can't be done, or expand the design to fit in  a larger space.

Reading the article from today's perspective it is also interesting to see that the suggested baseboard construction was extremely traditional, including a Sundeala top.

So if the design is only marginally feasible in OO why am I still pursuing it as an option for an EM gauge layout?

Well first of all the 6ft by 1ft size has a very specific value in that it means it could fit across the length of my desk in the study.  That also means I could work on the layout in decent light. The possibility of using several small lightweight baseboards also means I'm going to be able to turn them around and over to get at things. Apa Valley has already taught me how important and useful that is at this stage of my learning curve.

Modelling the Tanat Valley brings another key advantage. The station buildings on the TVR were all quite compact, and the goods sheds road loading bay is at the end not the side, so you don't need to allow for as much space alongside the goods shed. That alone possibly saves a couple of inches of width.

There is the small issue that this isn't a track plan the TVR would have used, but it does contain elements lifted from individual stations. For instance the combination of the overbridge, platform, signal box and start of the loop is pure Blodwell Junction

As for the use of EM, well, we've already established that this is a track plan that needs hand built track, and I think, using Trax, that it just about works.

The observant will already have spotted that this involves exactly the same amount of track building as Llanrhaiadr Mochnant, whilst probably demanding a higher degree of accuracy. My other concern is that building small areas of scenery is actually more challenging than building relatively large ones. There is still scope to ease some of the curves, though the way Trax draws things on screen paradoxically seems to make things less smooth the further you zoom out. However the final decision to build will depend on a detailed design in Templot.


  1. Hi James

    I've recently returned to the hobby and I've been looking at T A of C and had come to the conclusion that it couldn't be built as illustrated (unless perhaps one used set track turnouts).

    It's interesting to see that you have lengthened the loop, which helps. I actually think that a key flaw in Link's design is the position of the siding which in the original served coal staiths. By running that siding off the loop at the front of the layout and curving the mainline back towards the rear the whole become more doable. By reversing the crossover so the facing point is on the line closest to the front of the baseboard then places the sidings adjacent to each other.

    What you end up with is Martin Brent's EM layout Arcadia (Model Railways March 1981). Arcadia's baseboards were wider (I don't know by how much) but with fiddle yard the two boards came to 89 inches, so just a bit longer than the scenic section of T A of C.

    1. To be honest in EM I think fitting more than two tracks into one foot width isn't going to work . I know some people have advocated variations on a "reversed" version of the plan. I rather favour replacing the coal staiths siding with a headshunt adjacent to the platform.

      I'm struggling with an approach to shunting that exploits the foibles of the atypical layout whilst still keeping it operationally realistic. I've got a post in draft on that topic but it is proving to be a challenge to think through..

  2. Maybe the struggle to get it to work in the space you want to use is a sign that it just isn't really doable? When Iain Rice can plan (and build layouts) that work and fit into spaces between 6' 6" and 8' in total, though wider than a foot and are operationally interesting it suggests that concept itself is probably badly flawed. That all the points fit in an area of 4 square feet on the original, which is micro layout territory, says it all.

  3. Kane, Possibly, but currently the only issue I have is with that one siding and the impact on the width of the layout. That's solved by turning it into a headshunt, and I could then add more of a sweeping curve to the whole track plan. Incidentally the EM version is drawn with A5 turnouts. Some of Iain's designs are themselves quite tightly packed - his Elan/Llanastr Mawr for instance..

  4. Hi James

    It sounds like you have it cracked then and curves in a track plan generally seem to add a more 'natural' form to a layout, as though it has been carved to fit the land. Iain does tend to rely on single slip formations as well. Personally my track making skills aren't quite there yet!



  5. I was also drawn to that plan James but found it unworkable, with a little extra length and width I created a simple layout based on Fairford using B6 points. It is easily done by simply extending the sidings and adding a kick back to a loading dock off the goods shed siding.

  6. Geoff,

    I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming that Roy had the Fairford branch in mind when he designed TaoC. In some ways I'm surprised he didn't steal more from it, which would have made life easier for everyone!