Layout Project, v3

After long time spent thinking about my project, searching on the Internet, reading a lot of material and listening to my favorite model railroad podcasts I finally put down a -hopefully- decent project design for my first layout.

The Objective
As I wrote in an earlier post -sorry it's in Italian- I decided to build a proto-freelance industrial switching layout based on prototype railroads located in the Oakland area of the San Francisco Bay, California during late '70s early '80s.

Acknowledgments, References and Sources of Information
Before diving into the project I must thank everybody that helped me -directly or indirectly- to write down this project. To this end, I think, listing all the references and sources of information could be a way to show my thankfulness.

First of all, I want to thank B. Henderson for being very inspirational. This project wouldn't be at this stage without all the info and guidance he provided me through his articles, projects, interviews and blog posts. Most of my ideas come from Byron's works and website, in particular the layout he designed and published as Brooklyn Basin District of his larger Oakland Harbor Belt project. Other sources of information and inspiration were some references Byron listed for his work, for example Bart Thurber's Alice Street Layout.

Also, the following references have been very helpful in letting me understand better what I wanted to achieve:
  • Lance Minheim's projects and in particular his East Rail layout
  • Bernard Kempinski's "Norfolk Southern's Shirley Industrial Park" published in his book "Mid-Size Track Plans for Realistic Layouts"
  • various articles published on Kalmbach's Model Railroad Planning issues of 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009
  • several photos and documents about the Brooklyn Basin area found on the Internet
  • subscribers of the Ita-Usa-MR-Group forum, in particular Enzo e Leo
  • Google Maps, Bing Maps and -obviously- Wikipedia.
Last but not least, I found both the Model Railroad Podcast Show and the Scott Mason's Show very helpful and a lot of fun to listen to. If you're not already listening to those podcast I strongly suggest you to do it.

Brief History of Railroads in that Area
The former San Francisco and Alameda Railoard Co. and slightly later the South Pacific Coast Railroad were the first railroads operating in Oakland beginning in the mid 1860s. In 1868 the Central Pacific Railroad (later become Southern Pacific) acquired the South Pacific Coast and expanded its tracks in Oakland.
On the other side of the Brooklyn Basin Western Pacific and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe jointly acquired the existing lines in Alameda from the City Council in 1925 and founded the Alamed Belt Line. This railroad existed until 2001 when it ceased operations.
ATSF also had Alice St. Terminal in Oakland. It was connected to the rest of railroad only by car ferry since on the land it was isolated  by the surrounding SP lines.
In 1943 ATSF and Western Pacific jointly acquired the Key System's freight railroad Oakland Terminal Railroad crating the Oakland Terminal Railway (OTR). OTR is still in operation -yet very limited in size- serving the Oakland Army Base located south of the east end of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Passenger service was mainly handled by the Key System first and then by the successor company AC Transit

Prototype Location
I decided -at least for now- to focus my attention to freight service only. I imagine -not having more in-depth information- the area I want to model was owned and served by SP in competition with ATSF/WP who owned tracks nearby (?). As far as I know the area was very crowded of industries of many different types. For example Del Monte Cannery was present in the Brooklyn Basin of Alameda and was served by rail until recently.
In this context my project represents a small part of SP industrial lines and spurs that branch off the mainline towards Fruivale Ave. and serves a number of industries in the area surrounding Glascock St.; 29th and 23rd St. up to 9th St. dock Terminal as well as going on the famous Fuitvale Ave. Bridge.

Givens and Druthers
This is my -still to be completed- list of my "Givens and Druthers" I made up to help me guide through the design process.

  • Track layout must fit the available benchwork as is designed and built
  • Minimum curve radius: 20" mainline; 17.5" sidings and spurs; 16.25" hidden track
  • Minimum turnout size; #8 mainline; #6 sidings and spurs
  • (Hidden) Staging yard
  • Operation-oriented layout design
  • NMRA DCC control system
  • Continuous running
  • Track should not pass through a scene more than once
  • Interchange with another railroad or connection to a major line
  • Average train length of 15 cars, caboose excluded

Layout Shape and Dimensions
In previous posts I've already described the basic shape of the benchwork I built for the layout. The layout is in a one-car garage about 15' 6" long and 8' 6" wide. Ceiling height is at 8' 3" only.
On one of the shorter walls there's the garage entrance for the car while on the opposing side there's a door to the condo's main staircase.
Given the tight dimensions and since I wanted to continue to use the garage to park my car I had to figure out a way to "move the benchwork away" when I want to get in with my car.
The final idea was to build a benchwork along the walls that can be "lifted" toward the ceiling so as to leave enough space for the car and to get in and out from the garage.
When in "use" the layout would be lowered from the ceiling to stand on supporting legs.

It resulted in a U-shaped single-deck layout split in three sections; two on the longer walls and one on the back wall of the garage, across the entrance door. Each section can be lifted separately and is guided by means of aluminum rails fixed to the walls and rolling trucks fixed to the benchwork sections (Those parts were made to support sliding doors and I decided to use them to guide the sections instead).

The ceiling height and the need to lift the layout limited the total vertical available space. So, the thickness of the deck has to be kept to the bare minimum, hopefully not more than 2". Deck width ranges from 15" 3/4 up to 20" 1/2.

Industries on the Layout

In the modeled area I decided to put a representation of some of the industries that were really present while other are totally or partially fictional.
The flour mill close to 23th St. and the Terminal on 9th Ave. were -most likely- real industries. Other ones were either gone by the era I'm modeling or not yet present in that period but could have reasonably been there since the industrial aspect of that area.

Beginning from the top-right of the track plan, just out of the staging area, there's going to be Fruivale Ave. As Byron described there were track on both sides of the street. So I decided to follow the prototype and even though the track on the right hand side of the street comes directly out of staging I can spot few cars at the at Owen Illinois Glass Auto Parts. Tracks appear from below the Nimitz Hw. that works as a scene divider. The track on the other side of Fruitvale Ave. splits in a spur and a siding to serve a couple of industrial buildings along Glascock St.: Fairn & Swanson Transports and Joansing Iron Works. Here I made a change with respect to the previous version adding a turnout at JIW to connect the track in front of F&S Transports. This way I have a kind of hidden run-around here.
Then, the main track crosses Glascock St. and serves Dreisback Cold Storage by mean of a siding. Another change here. I moved Cemex Aggregates from the bottom-left corner to the upper-left. In addition to being the order of industries closer to the prototype I gained more space for the flour mill and made a better use of the upper-left corner. Here I put a simple siding to serve Cemex Aggregates that forks from the DCS siding.
The main track continues crossing  23rd St. and 29th St. and split again in a siding to serve the -supposedly- big ConAgra Flour Mill. Here is the largest change I made with this new plan. I completely redesigned the mill building and all the track arrangement. I moved the mill close to the backdrop and put track more towards the front to ease operations. Basically, the Con Agra mill is now where Cemex Aggregates was and is served by three stub-ended tracks. Here there's also a new small building, sort of a warehouse with another three spurs departing from a siding along the main track. I'm not yet totally sure this is going to be the final track arrangement, however I thought it would be helpful to have some 'free' tracks to help operations. This small depot is accessed through a dirt road coming out from the back and crossing the mainline right above the turnout that serves the mill.

Lastly, a two-track spur departs from the mainline to serve Pacific Rim Transport and Storage located on the Port of Oakland 9th Ave. Terminal Dock. Then, mainline goes out to the other end of staging yard.
Check topic "design" to read the complete design history.