Struggling to plan N scale 8x3 - start with an oval?

Taymar May 10, 2019

  1. Taymar

    Taymar TrainBoard Member

    Hi all,

    I've got an 8x3' space for an N scale layout. I've been having a hard time with track planning for several weeks, and I guess I can boil my question down into this:

    I have one or two trains that are longer, and would like to create the illusion that they're 'passing through' the layout periodically by stopping them out of sight once they've made a pass.

    Is it a safe bet to say in this size space, I'll almost certainly want an oval of mainline around the perimeter of the layout? I'd really like to get something down so I can start running things which I figure out all the switching/operations details in the middle, but I'm using flex track so don't want to waste a bunch if there are other options I haven't considered.

    thanks very much for any advice.
  2. Point353

    Point353 TrainBoard Member

    Download the article on the Red Oak Layout:
    Note how it's designed with a divider down the middle, which hides the view of several siding (or staging) tracks on the rear side of the layout.
    Trains can be held in the staging tracks, brought out in turn to pass through the front side of the layout and then returned to the staging tracks.
    Taymar likes this.
  3. jdetray

    jdetray TrainBoard Member

    I thought of the Red Oak Layout, too. I liked it immediately when Model Railroader published it.

    With that said, there are a few ways to approach your quest for a track plan.

    The classic approach is to make a list of "must have" and "nice to have" features for your layout, commonly called "givens and druthers." The lists might include things like:
    • type of scenery (mountains, desert, urban, midwest agricultural)
    • a coal mine or logging branch
    • a steel mill
    • a passenger terminal
    • at least two (three? five?) industries for switching
    • hidden track (could be done with a tunnel or a view block)
    • continuous running or point-to-point?
    • era (modern day, steam era, transition era, Old West)
    • an engine servicing area
    • a town or towns
    • etc., etc.

    You will probably find that you don't have room for everything, so you'll need to prioritize, which is why dividing your wish list into "givens and druthers" may be helpful. Your decisions about what to include should influence your track plan.

    Another approach is to look at a lot of track plans to see if something strikes your fancy. Google will show you plenty of them. Bear in mind that many HO track plans can be adapted for N-scale. For example, a 8x4-foot or 10x5-foot HO track plan could often be adapted into a dandy 8x3 N-scale layout.

    For general advice on track planning, I like Byron Henderson's LayoutVision site:

    I especially like his observation that the typical rectangular layout may not be the best way to utilize your available space:

    Anyway, these are a few of my thoughts. I'm sure you'll receive lots of other advice, some of which will no doubt be a lot better than mine!

    - Jeff
    Taymar likes this.
  4. RBrodzinsky

    RBrodzinsky Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    EsK and Taymar like this.
  5. Taymar

    Taymar TrainBoard Member

    Thank you all, the Red Oak plan has really helped frame the size I have to work with. 8x3 seemed vast when I was eyeballing a single piece of flex track with a loco on it. Added a couple of industrial buildings and it was amazing how cramped it felt.

    The advice on splitting the list is great - my ideal list includes a coal mine, switching for industries, logging camp, backshop and roundhouse/depot. Doesn't look like I'll be able to fit all that in so will have to prioritize.

    Appreciate the links and resources too - I've been looking at track plans, bought a couple of books, but these are new to me. So will check them out.

    Thanks again, greatly appreciate the wisdom.
  6. french_guy

    french_guy TrainBoard Member

    Not exactly your dimensions, but....
    Kurt Moose, EsK and Taymar like this.
  7. Lawrence

    Lawrence TrainBoard Member

    Do you have a particular area you want to plan your model on? Inspiration can be taken from real life and google maps can be handy for that. I would guess to fit the majority of your list of wants into the layout, you will have to get creative with your joinery and go with a split level layout. Something I would always say when starting out is that less is more. Yes you can fill the space with track but then find it hard to operate and enjoy. Perhaps you could put an upper level across the sides and rear of they layout and have something running on a shuttle system, with a simple double loop on the main board with just a couple of industries for shunting.
    That way you would have one train on a shuttle going back and forth, at least one on one of the loops running round, whilst you kick back with a brew watching the trains and doing a bit of shunting.
    I would also recommend scroll about halfway down and look at the door layouts for inspiration.
    However you go make sure it is something you can realistically achieve and, ultimately, enjoy
    Taymar and JimJ like this.
  8. EsK

    EsK TrainBoard Member

    I just joined and was looking around for track plans when I came across your post.
    Would it be possible for you to post the SCARM or TrackCAD file here? Am new at this and want to start experimenting with a 4 x 8.
  9. bremner

    bremner Staff Member

  10. EsK

    EsK TrainBoard Member

    Hey, thanks. But this is an image file. Do you happen to have the SCRAM or TrackCAD file please? That way I can modify it & see if I can come up with some plan.
    Thanks again!
  11. EsK

    EsK TrainBoard Member

  12. Kenneth L. Anthony

    Kenneth L. Anthony TrainBoard Member

    Here is a design for a 3 x 7 foot N scale layout I ran successfully for 25 years, for whatever ideas you might want to take.
    This shows a number of trains. I could not place all of them on layout at same time, not enough staging.
  13. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

    Kenneth very nice! I'd like to see a few more pictures from different angles if you have them. Great job of making a small space look large. Did you ever to the 'expansion' part?

  14. EsK

    EsK TrainBoard Member

    Small, but so beautiful & serene! Thanks for sharing.
  15. Kenneth L. Anthony

    Kenneth L. Anthony TrainBoard Member

    Sumner asked for more pictures of my N 3x7 East Texas layout, gives me an excuse to butt into this thread further.
    Logging reload on spur that could have been used for future extension. Log company's "tram" runs came onto Santa Fe tracks at Johnston interchange, ran a "few hundred feet" by trackage rights to reload spur. This mimicked operation of Kirby Lumber Co. trams over Santa Fe trackage rights to their reload spurs. I ran logging train between this spur and the (never completed) lumber mill on the "back" side of layout. IF I even used this spur to connect an extension, I planned to use the right-end curve of the oval running track as the reload spur.

    Creotex wood preservation plant. Based on actual plant, Conroe Creosoting I was preciously allowed to visit and photograph. Now gone and an EPA major cleanup site. "Green" (untreated) logs, poles and posts in, creosote and heavy-oil tanks in, treated ties, poles and posts out. Johnston High School in background across the road.

    Wayne County Courthouse square with courthouse, jail building, U S post office across street, Eastwood movie theater cattycorner. Brick paved streets around square. Many Texas counties named for Texas history heroes. Fictitious Wayne County named for fictitious Texas hero, John Wayne. Johnston depot at lower right edge of photo.

    Johnston depot, scratchbuild based on a prototype variation on Santa Fe standard plan. When I dismantled this layout, the small station didn't f9it the medium-big city scene of new layout. But I discovered a similar depot from a small town on ATSF was moved to Tulsa for use as a yard office, so that is how I am using this on new layout.

    Lumberjack Cookhouse from the track (back) side, with jog in screening fence, so train crews can take lunch at the "cookhouse". A theme restaurant to promote the logging town image to tourists, and to celebrate the Johnston High School home team, the Lumberjacks. Front part of restaurant in log cabin style (I bought a log cabin toy for 10cents at a garage sale and changed windows & height to make it N scale.) Layout had about a dozen signs advertising "Smokehouse": "1/2 mile ahead"; "turn right", "slow down"; - and "Go Back! You missed it!" Leg of Johnston town water tower at left edge. Convertible w four ladies stopping at gas station across street, off right upper corner.\

    Dixie Darlin' peanut butter plant with Dixie Darlin's girl on rooftop sign, based on a 3-year-old I had a crush on. Built from Magnuson N Mercury Show Factory I believe. Foreground Dixie Darlin' shipping building. Raw peanuts, refined sugar, jars, packing boxes INbound loads. Packaged peanut butter out. This size plant could produce 1 40-ton load of peanut butter a week, according to a 1950s textbook on the peanut industry.

    J.J. Stone gravel pit loader. Kitbashed in N from a 1/700 scale Japanese harbor crane kit. "J J Stone" was the on-air rock-and-roll=radio disc-jockey pseudonym of an N scale modeler friend.
    Hope you enjoyed this layout mtour of a bygone layout, with ideas of a world that be created in 3x7 feet.
  16. EsK

    EsK TrainBoard Member

    Wonderful layout with a keen eye on so many small details! Stunning photography!
  17. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member

    Not nearly as involved as Kenneth's, my HCD is mountains. Each scene is distinct and divided from the layout using tunnels and scenery blocks. Not to hijack the thread, but this is an alternative way to have divided scenes in which the train is view-able only in one scene at a time.

    Here's the track plan:


    Crescent Siding is here, and is viewable only at one side at a time due to the hill.


    Ignore the poor photography and lighting, but this shows the mountain side with two tunnels. Each tunnel doubles as two, per the trackplan above. Tunnel 26 here is also Tunnel 18 on the Crescent side.


    Tunnel 25 here is also Tunnel 19 on the crescent side.


    Tunnel 19:


    Tunnel 18:


    The overall layout view:


    The scenery depth allows for dramatic shots like this at Tunnel 26:


    Now back to your regularly-scheduled programming.... :p
  18. BNSF FAN

    BNSF FAN TrainBoard Supporter

    Always loved this layout Hemi!
    HemiAdda2d likes this.
  19. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    Everyone has a plan that suits their interests.

    Back in 1974 Model railroader magazine did a short perhaps 2 part article featuring this layout for HO scale. I've always wanted to build it in N scale.

    If you run trains you have an oval.

    If you want to do some kind of car card operation you can run from the yard counter clockwise to a town inside the the oval. Switch some cars along the way. Turn your train. Maybe a loco just sits in that end switching area to help do this. And then run back.

    The idea being you deposit cars on your way out on trailing spurs, then turn your train and now what were facing spurs are trailing spurs and you switch those.

    It's easily expanded in any way you want when transposed to a size of 3x8 feet which allows for some really big radius curves in N scale.


    There is a Book called something like: N Scale Model Railroading that features a similar plan with less switches.

    It can be a source for inspiration as well.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2019 at 1:10 AM

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