Staging has become such a given of layout design that often times the volume of staging track exceeds the amount of visible track on a layout. With a cameo design like Mill Road, where operations focus only on a handful of car movements, I don’t need a ton of staging track.
My original intent was that the scene was somewhere in the middle of an assumed railroad, so I planned staging tracks on both ends. I’ve changed that concept and Mill Road now represents the end of working track for the Indiana & Whitewater. With that change, the staging is confined to just one end and consists of two short sections of track that represents the industry spots and the rest of the line. As with the layout itself, I focused on the minimum amount of staging track to begin with. The modular design makes it easy to extend one or both tracks if needed.
What Do We Need From Staging?
I’ve discovered that it’s important for a train to leave the scene on a small layout even if it only goes a few feet. It’s the transition from on-stage to off that gives a sense of going somewhere, not the actual distance traveled. I’ve also questioned the assumption that the starting point of an operating session has to be the arrival of the train. With modern industrial railroads, it’s perfectly acceptable to stage a locomotive almost anywhere until the work resumes.
The Trick Happens In Plain Sight
My second need is for a place to spot cars at an unspecified industry. I don’t have room to model the actual buildings so I simply extended the siding into the staging area. Doing this means a cut of cars often bridges the zone between on-stage and off. This isn’t a problem in my mind because these cars simply fade away visually into the unlit staging area. I didn’t attempt to hide the entrance point other than reducing the intensity of the scenery colors before transitioning to the all black staging module. The absence of light and gradual color change eases the eye from one zone to the other.
It’s A Matter Of Opinion
Not everyone agrees with this idea though. A photo I posted on Facebook generated push back from people who insist that a physical barrier of some kind is needed to disguise the entrance/exit. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but in my view a physical view block tends to draw more attention. Our eyes are drawn to brightness, a strong color or contrast. You don’t want the eye looking at this spot and by reducing the saturation of the scenery colors and their texture, the transition from full scenery to a bare staging area is simpler. In my opinion this treatment is less jarring than the typical hole in the sky surrounded by trees or buildings.
In the photo above I brought the color of the staging module onto the finished scenery of the layout but left a hard edge where they meet. This is effective but I wondered if more could be done to ease the transition between the two areas.
Below, I added some patches of dirt and clumps of grasses to the staging module but painted them the same dark color. The purpose is to bring the color and texture of one area into the other and blend the two, rather than have a sharp cutoff between them..
In the photo above the room lights are off and the only light is from the cameo. You see how this light falls off across the next module. I will carry the finished scenery across this module as it represents the switch lead for the siding and the end of track for the railroad. However, I will keep the dark background and gradually decrease the level of scenery detail to nothing at the other end to move the eye back toward the central scene. I plan to play with the amount of light on this module until I’m happy with how it looks. It’s important to treat the lighting as a whole because even a minor change in one place impacts the rest of the layout.
Staging like layout design itself, should be customized to your needs. My initial design had eight-foot long staging tracks on each end. As the scene developed I realized that was more than I needed. I saw that a long string of cars would overpower the layout and look odd. I beleive the amount of rolling stock needs to be in proportion to the visible scene and this will influence the amount of staging track needed. I’m always wondering about the design and tactics used on Mill Road and asking if they the best ones or just a stopgap way to move on from a problem? In the end, my answer to the question of how much staging I need is simply enough to do what I want to do with the layout.
In closing, these ideas are just that: a handful of ideas to play with. My experience with them is positve and I feel they fit the layout without overpowering it. I offer them as fuel for thought for your own needs.