This section will be used as a soap box to discuss model railroad design. If you wish to express your views or extend the discussion, please feel free to Email me. Replies will be posted on the Workshop page.
Selective CompressionSelective Compression
Any model railroad, no matter how large, cannot possibly duplicate a prototype mile for mile. Nor should it. There are a variety of reasons why this is so, but probably the most important is that it would be just plain boring. Not every scene along a railroad's right of way is scenically exciting or worth modeling. In order to achieve the best results, it is desirable to include only those scenes that would best describe your modeled prototype. The purpose is to capture the essence of the railroad in order to best represent it in modeled form. The concept used in modeling a railroad is called "selective compression". It is, in its best form, the art of selecting and compressing the most representative scenes from your modeled prototype and making it work next to other selected scene.
Take for example a station platform that in real life measures 100 feet. In HO scale, this translates to 13.8 inches, which at first sounds reasonable, but if you take into consideration the lengths of a typical HO locomotive (9 in.) and 2 passenger cars (12 in.) which measures in at 33 inches, you can quickly see how ridiculous this might look when modeled. Selective compression assumes that there will be compromises, the extent of which will be determined by the amount of floor space you have at your disposal. The general principle that applies dictates that the smaller your layout is, the harder compressing reality is going to be.Typical Types of Compression
When you are working with a small layout, you will have to accept compromises. Most railroads travel from "A" to "B" and if you have, for example, only 7 feet of linear space to work with (and bearing in mind that a HO-scale switcher with 3 cars and a caboose measures about 30 inches) it's going to be a very short trip. There are two solutions to this problem, the British model and the American model.
The British ModelMaking Small Scenes Make Sense
With a small layout, the greatest challenge is to make everything visually work together. How do you blend one scene into another? Here we need to take into consideration how people see imagery. With a small layout, chances are that when someone first perceives it, they will see all of it. The trick is to use visual cues to coax them quickly to focus on what you want them to see.
On a small model railroad layout, depending on what you are trying to represent, it is all right for it to be busy. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is even desirable. Organize your scenes carefully, so that they will blend into each other and yet work separately on their own. Use plenty of detailed vignettes. One of the advantages of a small layout is that you can spend a lot of time and attention on details. Carefully select your colors, make sure everything blends in. Try not to allow anything to stand out like a sore thumb and this should include your railroad equipment.Visual Integration
Ultimately, the key to success lies in one phase: "Visual Integration". All visual elements, and on a small layout that includes everything that can be seen, should keep to a common theme. Repaint even the controllers if you have to. You should have a corporate identity for your railroad and everything else should be based on the same geographic area. Weather everything. If your railroad is based in the western USA for example, stuff should have that "dusty" look.
Approach the design of your railroad like you would a painting. Use "leading lines"; this is something else your rails can be used for other than running trains. Use elements at the periphery to contain the viewer's attention. As your train makes it way around your layout, what it really does is transition from scene to scene. Design for this; include "scenic spots". Make it possible for the viewer to see your layout from different view points. Keep most of your layout at eye-level, this above all else can really help create a sense of reality. Few of us will be looking at trains from above. If you have your railroad at eye level, remember to always include a backdrop, even if you only paint the wall behind your railroad a sky color.
© Sean Lim 2001