Traveling east from the depot on North E Street in Richmond, you’ll play a game of hide and seek with the railroad. Although the two roughly parallel each other, the street gradually angles away from the tracks forming a long wedge of land in between.

Past the depot, you only catch a glimpse of the action at the cross streets of 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th, due to the large industrial buildings in each block. Pacing a train is difficult, if not impossible thanks to city traffic, four-way stops and traffic lights. In spending more time in this area, I’ve gained an appreciation for the modeling potential it offers. The track arrangement is simple yet switching takes longer than one would think. Visually, there’s the pull of the nineteenth and twentieth century buildings and plenty of clues about what used to be here in the past.

I’ve also gained an appreciation of the hide and seek viewpoint offered from North E Street. By default, most modelers would flip things around, placing the buildings in the rear with track in front, which would be a mistake in my view. Few people would put a five-story city block long warehouse between the aisle and track. How would you spot a car, uncouple, clean track or do a myriad other things we deem as essential? Such questions assume that the building is fixed in place forever but making such features removable is relatively simple, so why do we presume they can’t be? With planning, turnouts and other critical features can be as accessible as anywhere else on a layout.

Whether it’s on a 4 x 8 table or the longest wall in the basement we want the best and most unobstructed view possible. We agree that no one enjoys running blind over a long distance such as you might experience crawling out of a hidden staging yard or climbing some helix from the basement to the attic and I understand the operations driven thinking about reach-in access and the potential for damage to foreground objects. Those are all important; however, as long as such criteria are provided for, what’s the big deal? Why does a train have to be in full view every second?

Being married to such ideas robs us of options that might prove very desirable if we’d open our minds a bit. As I consider how to move forward in terms of a layout, I’m more focused on how I want to interact with it and how those interactions are enhanced or destroyed by the design. With those thoughts in mind, I’m looking at non-traditional ideas and what they offer in terms of a satisfying layout.

There’s more to come on that.



  1. Chris Mears

    “I’m more focused on how I want to interact with it and how those interactions are enhanced or destroyed by the design.” is, simply put, solid gold. I can not agree more.


  2. Tim David

    I feel that view blocks at the front, buildings or vegetation, can not only promote a feeling of what it is often really like when you see a railroad but can actually help with making the modelled scene seem bigger because you cant see it all at the same time. And everyone wants more space!
    I’m a fan of making sure that the general orientation of the tracks is not parallel to the board edges, with the US love of grid road layouts this also helps roads to disappear off scene at an angle, reducing the ability of viewers to see where horizontal becomes vertical. Carefully positioned blocks at the front can can prevent the viewer from getting the viewpoint to to see along these roads.
    The Model Rail Club’s Copenhagen Fields The Model Rail Club’s Copenhagen Fields takes the view block to extremes. When viewing from the front, at a scale eye height, it is almost impossible to actually see the trains!
    With regards to unusual layout styles, one that sprung to mind was Jordan Foster Schiller’s Point which is viewed end on. Not the first layout to do it I remember seeing an N gauge layout using the same concept, but can’t remember its name.

  3. Chris Mears

    Tim’s raised some terrific suggestions.

    Copenhagen Fields uses the scenery to provide real context to the railway. Maintaining and presenting both at the same hierarchal level does such a good job of telling the story of how this railway was. Something we might forget if we stripped away the view blocks and those elements that obstruct a view of the trains. If the story is that of urban railroading than what we create should reflect that in our priorities – not just behind the trains but everywhere.

    The end-on orientation of Schiller’s Point presents the audience with a way of seeing model trains the way we look at real ones. I believe we seldom look at the side of a train car or engine, we tend to approach it from the end. I wonder what it is like to watch a layout like this in operation or to be an operator on it.


  4. mike

    Thanks for the comments guys. I wasn’t aware of the Copenhagen Fields layout. It is interesting how they used the cutting to give a sense of place and context.