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Pennsylvania & Western Railroad
Layout Design

(This page last modified on 07/14/02.)

The Pennsylvania & Western is a fictional subdivision of the PRR. It is envisioned as an alternate east-west route between Altoona and Pittsburgh (much like the line through Hollidaysburg and around Muleshoe Curve), with a connection to the B&O and Western Maryland railroads in Cumberland, MD. The principal yard is located in Annville, PA. Annville is not a major division point, but many trains stop there and there are minor locomotive service facilities as well. This and the other towns on the layout are fictional and not meant to prototypically represent any particular Pennsylvania location. For example, there is a real Annville, PA but it was never served by PRR. Lebanon on the PRR was an interchange point with the Reading RR, and it is also on the P&W. In reality, however, Lebanon, PA is quite a bit east of P&W country.

The modeled portion of the line serves five modeled towns, including a small freight/passenger yard and engine terminal at Annville. Trains originate in East (9 tracks), West (8 tracks), and South (3 tracks) staging yards. The large East and West yards are stacked one above the other in a separate room, while the small South yard is beneath the scenery. East staging represents Harrisburg, Enola Yard and the Petersburg Branch. West staging represents Pittsburgh, Conway Yard and the coal marshalling yard at Shire Oaks. South yard represents Cumberland, Maryland and the connections with the B&O and Western Maryland railroads.

The layout is O-Gauge 3-rail (or hi-rail), that is, we run 3-rail trains (like the old Lionel, but much more realistic) through scale scenery with close-to-scale track. [On soapbox] I've had scale layouts in N Gauge, and the giant scenery/trains ratio and ability to run long trains is really great, but the size of O scale equipment and the smiles on childrens' (and adults) faces when they have the '3-rail experience' (smoke, sound, and some operating accessories) is unmatched in the world of true-scale model railroading. [Off soapbox] The motive power on the layout consists mainly of Weaver, Williams, and 3rd Rail PRR brass steam engines (B6sb, C1, G5, H10s, I1s, J1a, K4s, L1s, M1a, N1s, T1), some Williams Diesels (Baldwin sharks, Alco FAs, E-7's), K-Line E-8's, MTH F-3's and a set of MTH Baldwin Centipedes.

The layout is designed point-to-point, 3 times around a 28x52 foot room for a mainline length of about 550'. (An O scale mile is 110'.) There is local switching at all towns, with ground throws on turnouts in easy reach and switch machines on the rest. All locomotives have been converted to TrainMaster Command Control (TMCC). Local controls for switch machines and magnetic uncouplers are located along the layout fascia near the area they control. The goal of layout design is to construct a 3-rail layout that is capable of supporting the kind of prototypically-based walkaround operation usually seen only on scale model railroads. Aisle width is generous. Most aisles are 4' or wider, with no area under 3'. I've visited too many layouts during an open house or operating session with 30" (or even 24") aisles where there is a "Chinese fire drill" kind of people-shuffling that needs to happen in order for someone to exit an aisle. Not on my railroad!

I experimented with layout height and came to the conclusion that the main freight/passenger yard at Annville should be at about 52" off the floor. Town elevations range from 40" at East Valley/West Valley to 58" at Summit. The highest point on the main line is at 61.5" on the curved steel trestle just east of Summit. The order of towns on the main line is
East Staging -- East Valley -- West Valley -- Annville -- Lebanon -- Summit -- West Staging

The distances between these areas along the mainline are 95' from East Staging to East valley, 16' from East Valley to West Valley (these towns are actually connected but on opposite sides of a peninsula), 101' to Annville (Annville is the main town on the layout and is 38' long), 27' from Annville to Lebanon, 138' from Lebanon to Summit, and 101' from Summit to West Staging. As you can see, I managed to get a reasonable run between town areas. The yard at Annville is designed as a motive power change point with both steam and Diesel service facilities, but only as a minor classification point with 2 freight arrival/departure tracks and 4 classification tracks. Add to these a passenger station track, an engine thoroughfare track to and from the engine terminals, and the mainline. Annville is a "minor" yard yet still is 9 tracks wide. Also within yard limits are two commuter train storage tracks, a small REA (Railway Express Agency) facility, 3 engine pocket tracks to facilitate quick swapping of motive power on through trains, a Diesel service facility with fuel, sand, and light repair shops, and a steam service facility with coaling tower, water tank, ash pit and hoist, sand, a 30" (120 scale feet) turntable, and a 10-stall roundhouse.

Local freights originate at Annville, including some that operate as turns (Annville to destination and return), such as to East Valley or Summit. Since I plan to run steam engines on some of these locals and most 3-rail steam does not have an operable front coupler, both Summit and East/West Valley were designed with reversing loops. There is a way to turn the engine at each of these towns so that (1) even a steam local can switch both trailing and facing point sidings and (2) the engine can always be oriented properly when running on the main, instead of running tender first. Actually, tender first is impossible without an operable front coupler on the engine! The Franklin local must switch using only a runaround track, so this local will always rate a Diesel or a steam engine with an added front coupler.

Since the track plan is 3 times around the room (generally only 1 level visible within any scene with the others hidden to the rear or underneath), I have included crossover turnouts which permit the track to be isolated into 3 independent loops for open house running, or temporary running while construction was underway. The exception to the 1 level in a scene concept is in the area under our breakfast nook, where I've included a depiction of the 4-track Horseshoe Curve on the PRR (one level is double-track here). This area was designed as the scenic centerpiece of the layout, and I wanted to have the maximum traffic passing through it.

The track plan was drawn using paper, pencil, and compass (not any of the CAD systems). I took some pictures of the track plan and they are now available to be viewed. The overall view gives you a general idea of the track plan. The mainline is a heavier line than the secondary trackage. Elevated bridges or trestles are shown as red areas of track. I've also included several closer views of portions of the railroad so it's easier to see. Some aisle widths are shown, and the elevation of the track areas are indicated in the square boxes. Entrances and exits to hidden track are shown with matching capital letter codes.

To follow the route of a Westbound train, we would leave East staging and enter a tunnel marked A to go under Annville here. The train exits the tunnel at A here, curves to the left, across the diamonds, through a short tunnel and into East Valley, through B tunnel into West Valley and into C tunnel to begin the climb to Horseshoe Curve. C tunnel exits below Lebanon, then the train continues up the hill and around the inside of the Curve. Soon the train arrives in Annville. The tracks in Annville yard are, bottom to top, passenger station, main, a/d 1, a/d 2, class 1, class 2, class 3, RIP, engine thoroughfare. Diesel service is at the transfer table end, with steam service at the other end. The icing and caboose tracks are shown. Leaving Annville, the train enters D tunnel (note the long switch lead extending almost to the tunnel) to Lebanon. Exiting Lebanon, the train takes track 3 around the Curve, goes behind the city buildings at Annville, across a steel and a wooden trestle to Summit. From Summit, a short run behind the Lebanon buildings, around the Curve on track 4 and into the West Staging yard. The layout photos section will give you more perspective on the railroad.

In case you are a member of the Layout Design SIG, I have computed the layout statistics for the Pennsylvania & Western according to the methods in Joe Fugate's article in the Fall, 1998 edition of Layout Design Journal. All lengths in the following table are in O scale cars (12"). Since I actually model in O-gauge Hi-Rail, in which the cars are a little smaller than full O scale (a 40' boxcar is 10.5"), the figures are probably a little conservative, which is good. Room Area (sq ft) 1525
Layout Area (sq ft) 800 (52%)
Track Complexity 100
Total Track Length 1650
Mainline Track 554
Passing Track 197
Storage Track 134
Staging Track 437
Service Track 86
Connecting Track 242
Passing Sidings 9
Long/avg/short 82/13/9
Staging tracks 20
Long/avg/short 25/17/3
Avg Train Length 13

Maximum cars on the layout 535
# cars moved in a session 525 = 40 trains of 13 cars
Opposing traffic limit 22 cars max.

I do not intend to move anywhere near the number of trains or cars that the calculations showed. Forty trains seems a bit much for one session on this layout!