I still have a few boxes of bits and pieces from the TrixExpress H0 layout I had when I was younger. The old layout wasn’t very big, and a good deal of the track and buildings were damaged in dismantling the layout or during the subsequent years of storage, so there wasn’t enough there to form the basis of a new project. 

Since Trix Express equipment is — to say the least — difficult to find these days, and since I don’t really feel committed to large wheel flanges and the third-rail any more, any new project would be free to strike out in a new direction. I have pursued a lot of railway interests of different sorts over the years: some directions it might have been interesting to go in included:

  • Swiss metre gauge: H0m models and matching track are easier to find than they used to be, and I have worked a lot on modelling the RhB in particular for Rail3d. Of course, this would require a layout with plenty of scenery!
  • Trams: Always fun, and I do have a few tram models built from kits over the years. Last time I attempted to build a tram layout I gave up in frustration at the difficulties of building track (not to mention being distracted by having a PhD thesis to write…). 
  • A nostalgic British-style layout of the gwr branchline type. There’s a lot to be said for this sort of thing, where you keep the technical part as simple as possible and focus on recreating an accurate scale model of a little bit of rural England in the 1920s. 

In deciding what sort of project stood a reasonable chance of reaching a “usable” stage, I had to bear in mind that my skills incline more towards electronics and computing than advanced carpentry.


The Project

After some thought, and a lot of sketches on backs of envelopes and trial layouts designed in XtrkCAD and Rail3d, I decided that I would go for a relatively simple layout, in structural terms, with the focus on operations and signals. In the first instance, all the track would be on the level. To be able to operate decent-length trains in the available space and avoid the use of ridiculously short radius curves, I decided to go for N gauge. And of course control would be digital — that came in about the time my last project was dismantled, and I’ve always wanted to try it.


Layout diagram (schematic)

N gauge does have its limitations, of course: there is much less choice of rolling stock and scenic models available than in H0; it’s more difficult to build or modify models yourself; there isn’t space inside the average N gauge loco or railcar for most of the electronic bells and whistles that are on offer nowadays; dust and dirty track are more likely to be a problem. 

It looked as though I ought to be able to find enough N gauge models to provide for interesting and varied operation on a moderately-sized layout, provided I picked the right period and place. Fortunately, this was easy: West Germany around the end of the 1960s (Epoche III/IV). This is a period I remember well from childhood holidays spent in the Ruhrgebiet, with a good mixture of steam and diesel or electric traction still around. It’s also a period that is reasonably-well supported by the big German manufacturers (Fleischmann, Minitrix, Arnold, etc.).