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Garrett Kirby is a BNSF crew member who gets some nice shots from the crew’s perspective.
Here’s an example from the cab of a BNSF freight on the Siberia Lead, leaving the Richmond Pacific and passing the 23rd Street Yard on the left. Garrett also has some interesting views of the BNSF Stockton Sub line (Richmond - Stockton Ca.) including tunnels, bridges and indistrial areas not easily viewed by non-railroaders. You can see more of Garrett’s shots of the Richmond Pacific, Oakland and the Stockton Sub at his PBase site here. For fans of the Colorado Joint Line, Garrett has some neat pics of the line south of Denver jointly operated by UP and BNSF found here. At Hercules, the BNSF line exits Franklin canyon and threads its way through the suburbs passing through Pinole, North Richmond and Richmond before terminating at the BNSF Richmond Terminal. The I-80 freeway bridge is very basic and would be easy to model, especially if the deck is just above eye level. More notes…Highway and freeway bridges are almost always concrete, not asphalt as you might expect. From December to March, this area sees some rain and by early February, there is a thin layer of new grass showing through. The effect could be simulated by a thin green textured layer, perhaps ground foam, or short static grass, followed by a layer of taller static grass, grey in color representing the longer dried grass. There is a flange oiler out of sight on the other side of the line on the left side of the photo above. The plans are created using El Dorado software’s 3rd Plan it (3pi) computer aided design (CAD) software for railroads version 8. Of course, there are all of the usual advantages of working in digital such as exporting views, operating the plan in 3D, creating movie clips (this one is a little shaky but it will improve), getting a count of track elements, determining track length and so on. A lot of people talk about the learning curve for CAD software and it’s hard for me to judge how much of a barrier this is. There’s a good article for new users of 3pi in the January issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine which is an online mag for railroaders. The California Northern connects with the UP at Fairfield and at Davis, both between the Bay Area and Sacramento. The Cal Northern connection with the UP features a wye which brackets the Amtrak station on the UP main.
Once on the UP main and clear of the switch, the Cal Northern makes a short eastward backup move along the UP main.
The siding near the east end of the interchange track provides a means of swapping the Cal Northern cars for the UP cars. With the air line charged, the Cal Northern returns to home rails via the east leg of the wye without needing to re-enter UP track.
The wye and a couple of sidings provide a simple arrangement to allow the Cal Northern to easily exchange of cars with the UP. The number one question to be answered when you are considering building a layout is what kind of operation that do you expect from your layout. On the other hand, your operational goals can be more toward the other end of the operations spectrum, where prototype operations are faithfully replicated on trackage that resembles that of your favorite prototype.
Day-dreaming about a future layout has few physical or financial limitations, and it often comes as a bit of a shock to see what actually fits in our available space. Which brings me to the second key question to be answered before firing up the track planning tools - where is my balance point between one big scene for the whole layout and a number of separate geographically distinct locations. For many railroaders though, space is often limited in some way, and we usually want to squeeze in more scenes than we have actual space for. The answers to the above questions provide useful design parameters which guide the design toward something that is likely to be satisfying to build and operate. While building a Tehachapi, Donner or Feather River route has some appeal, there is little in the way of switching on these lines.
The layout captures several distinct scenes - Stege, Safeway siding, 3rd Street Yard, BNSF Siberia Lead. Safeway siding is the BNSF interchange with the RPRC and BNSF trains enter the layout from either end of staging.
Coming back the other way, BNSF trains enter the layout at Stege and proceed to Safeway siding. RPRC locals switch the Richmond industries adjacent to the 23rd Street Yard and travel to the Stege Wye, taking the lower leg to Hensley and North Richmond. The layout could easily keep two to four operators busy as well as one crew member functioning as a dispatcher for the BNSF and roadmaster for the RPRC. We’ll see if the design passes muster with Chuck, which is the important thing at this point. The thing that really convinced Chris in the end was exposure to Atlas’s line of code 55 N Scale flex track and #7 and #10 switches. In September of 2007, Chris and I did another of our road trips, this time from San Francisco to Abo Canyon in New Mexico and back. The fine flowing look of the Atlas #10 is what really tipped the balance in favor of rebuilding. Over the next couple of months, a plan for rebuilding the Arizona mainline came into focus.
By March 2008, Chris emailed me to say the deed was done - the old Peco track had been lifted, and sub roadbed would be next!
The existing support legs and supporting frame would be kept and Marto set to work creating the new sub roadbed. It turned out I was also able to fit in some layout work on my vacation in Australia in July of 2008.
There is a siding on the inside of the loop which is good for a couple of units and about 10 cars and provides a place for a local to clear the main.
In the desert section, there is a spur for ballast cars modeled after one located at Hackberry Az. Once on the downhill side of the decision to relay the track, Chris progressively embraced additional scenic improvements that would be part of the rebuild project. The original layout had a flat table look to it that he wanted to eliminate, seen in the picture below. The original scenery would better capture the desert look if the central mountain was torn out and replaced with lower scenery and a central backdrop.
Chris installed a new sky blue scenic divider which will have some low scenery against it with some distant desert terrain painted on the backdrop. Note how the tan color of the painted sub roadbed and the blue of the backdrop provide a general sense of how the completed scene will look. The desert scene on the front of the layout now features a more common fill and bridge scene found on the desert main. The tunnel on the desert side will be replaced by a road bridge, perhaps like the one at the east end of Abo Canyon seen below. Here’s a view of the backdrop curving around the end of the desert scene where the tunnel used to be. On the town side, there is now a slight grade on the lead at the front of the layout which was reduced to a single track so as to allow the mainline to be more prominent. The small difference in elevation emphasizes the separation between the main and the industrial lead. Chris eventually bit the bullet and wiped away over three years of work from his layout and took it back to the frame and supporting joists. It’s hard to make the decision to go backwards, but if your layout has an irritating flaw, that will not get any better as the layout progresses, and that flaw is not rectifiable any other way, then do it, rebuild rather than build a disappointing layout.
The common thread here is that rebuilding is the way to go to get to better and better results, especially if your current results are disappointing. It’s a long way from Shep to Arizona, so Chris set about recreating a slice of the desert mainline in his upstairs train space. As you can see in the lead photo to this post, he’d reached the point of operational track, DCC wiring, ballasting and scenery. The layout just wasn’t capturing the feeling of what we had experienced by the BNSF desert mainline. Before deciding, Chris and I had a fair amount of discussion about the first point - would it be noticeable in the end? Over the course of a couple of months, he became convinced that the heart of the problem was the combination of 1) incorrect tie size and spacing of the Peco code 55 track and, 2) the course grey ballast which looked nothing like the Arizona mainline. References like this are particularly inspiring for the modeler of modern equipment where the patina of use is an essential aspect of capturing the essence of present day railroading.

The more I see of Tom’s work, the more Impressed I am with what he is able to do, and so simply too.
This post details the small mezzanine deck on the RBL that represents Union Pacific’s trackage from Oakland to Warm Springs.
On the prototype Union Pacific, there are a couple of lines running south from Oakland to San Jose as a result of the Western Pacific and Southern Pacific mergers with the UP. The Warm Springs Subdivision runs another seventeen miles south from Niles Junction to CP Julian at San Jose, paralleling the Niles Sub and another UP track, the Milpitas Sub which also runs from Niles Junction to Valbrick Junction in south San Jose. Warm Springs is located about seven miles south of Niles Jct on the Warm Springs Subdivision. The RBL design is best understood by considering the trains that will operate on the portion of the RBL layout representing the route to Warm Springs from Oakland. Of the three trains, I have most frequently posted updates on the BNSF Warm Springs Turn, a local that runs from the BNSF Richmond Terminal to Warm Springs under trackage rights on UP track. The BNSF WS Turn reaches the UP track by first taking the BNSF Siberia lead to the junction with the Richmond Pacific (RPRC) at the east end of 23rd Street Yard. The N Scale BNSF WS turn will negotiate its way from Richmond (staging) along the BNSF Siberia Lead (helix and modeled), follow the RBL (modeled) from Marina Junction to the UP Cal-P line at Stege (modeled), then head south along the Cal-P (helix) to Oakland (modeled) and pass through Oakland Junction (modeled, but fictitious) onto the Warm Springs Sub (modeled) to Warm Springs (modeled). These are short commuter passenger trains with a single locomotive and four or five passenger cars. As an aside, there are other passenger trains that run on the UP Cal-P line and on the Niles Subdivision south of Oakland. These passenger trains will get in the way of freights running on UP tracks on the RBL including the BNSF Warm Springs train on the Cal-P portion of the layout between Oakland Junction and Stege. On the RBL layout, the UP Warm Springs Turn will go from Oakland staging on the lower deck to Warm Springs on the Mezzanine deck and return, switching West Oakland on it’s way home.
So here is the plan of the Warm Springs Sub located on the mezzanine level of the RBL layout. With reference to the above plan, the Warm Springs Sub runs counterclockwise from Oakland Junction on the root of the peninsula which supports the Cal-P Helix.
The wall on the left end of the room provides the perfect location for a flat of the long NUMI building. The NUMI yard tracks are basically straight with at least a 19” curve at the upper left corner of the room, so there will be little to bother the autoracks as they are being switched and sorted and they should look good on the broad curves too. The Warm Springs Sub continues along the longest wall at the top of the plan to reach a small industrial area at Warm Springs. A few of the Warm Springs industries are located around the Siberia Helix to get the best use out of the space. The Warm Springs Amtrak station will be located in the wider space between tracks just above and to the left of the Warm Springs label on the plan.
The more I explored the design, the longer the modeled portion of the Warm Springs Sub became until it wound its way around the left and top walls of the layout room and stubbed out at Warm Springs which ended up being physically located up against the Siberia Helix.
Having run several layouts with staging adjacent to other operational trackage, I am confident that the mezzanine arrangement will work fine. I plan to build from lowest to highest levels so it will provide operations early in construction before tackling the helices and upper deck. The Warm Springs Sub line can be seen leaving Oakland Junction which is at left of this view. The biggest problem for Bill’s analysis, though, is simply the fact natural gas adds water to the hydrologic system.
Nonetheless, HO scale, as a description of our natural gas opponents, seems very fitting, doesn’t it?  It is, after all, all playtime with them, all the time. Feet would obviously, in this day and age, be a better amount to lower it by than microns; but, microns is better than nothing.
It now (according to this individual who repeated this 6 times) take 80 million gallons of water to frack a well and before horizontal wells came into play NO WELLS IN NY WERE EVER FRACKED.
This is the version my mother use to say to me some 50 years ago as she tucked me into my bed at night.
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I would almost bet money that the cement cars on the rear are headed for the Richmond Pacific which will route them to the Cemex plant on Wright Ave. This could be easily modeled by a small rectangle of tape between the ties representing the mat and airbrushing with grimy black, feathering away from the oiler. After my time was up, I went back to have some pretty decent pizza with my family at Round Table Pizza in the shopping mall behind me. I have used it for several years now and I wouldn’t go back to pen and paper which is what I used for about twenty years before that. At Davis, the Cal Northern links to the UP at the Davis Amtrak Station right near downtown Davis.
Davis is a good example of a shortline connection with a class I that would  be easy to model and provide interesting operation. Folks at this point are often working through possibilities for prototypes, locations and other important design decisions. Operations can be as simple as running trains continuously so as to enjoy the sight of your rolling stock collection moving smoothly around the layout. Notions of modelling substantial parts of our favorite prototype eventually have to yield to reality, and we have to make important choices about which parts of the larger system we’ll recreate in miniature and enjoy as we run our scale trains.
Sometimes, it is really important to have the tracks on our layout be exactly as they are in the prototype, track for track, switch for switch. The goal here is to build a layout that provides a lot of enjoyment - without taking several attempts to get there - that captures the key aspects from our favorite prototype and most importantly, a layout that meets our operational expectations.
Free form -Definitely interchange and switching operations though not sure to what level yet.
Representative - Not especially hung up on particular track configurations, though keep things as representative as possible. This is particularly true on medium and small layouts where the mainline run is inevitably somewhat limited.
I thought it would be interesting to see what would fit in a bedroom-sized space and to see how representative the layout could be.
Each is a reasonable representation of the prototype location and all have been rendered in correct order. On the Richmond end, BNSF trains use the Siberia Lead to travel from Richmond Staging to the connection with the RPRC at the east end of the 23rd Street Yard. All the existing Peco track and course grey Highball ballast needed to be torn up, that much was clear. The combination of glue, cork and ballast proved to be quite challenging to remove from the sub roadbed and, in the end, a lot of the sub roadbed could not be reused. I laid the cork roadbed and track and installed some new ANE switch motors over a four day visit.
The track is yet to be weathered but is already so much better than the Peco flex with grey Highball ballast. First, it didn’t look as good as both of us knew it could, and two, I had supplied the plan of the town trackage for Chris in 2004 and it was, well, a piece of crap. There is also a switching lead for the mill tracks that provides the local with plenty of track behind it while working the mill tracks. The space in front of the backdrop is important in emulating the wide-open feeling of the desert.
Once the limitation is understood, it is still very important to consider the cost, time and effort involved in the rebuild.
Atlas code 55 had been around for a while when Chris was wrestling with the problem it wasn’t till he was able to look closely at the code 55 #10 that he was sold. Why spend all that future time and effort knowing the results will still be disappointing in the end? It may be unthinkable at first, and a harrowing experience, but it is clear that there are some shortfalls that just won’t go away with time, and if you can afford it, rebuilding is the path to railroading satisfaction. If you can accept this process as productive rather than retrograde, the quality of your end product and the satisfaction of your modeling efforts will increase dramatically.
Trains are running, you’ve carefully worked out the bugs, filed the track nice and smooth, wired it, painted it, ballasted it, weathered it, put in scenery BUT, you’re just not happy with the look of your layout!
Marto and I did N Scale modeling together in the early 1990’s before I moved to the States. In order to make sense of what to do about it, Chris felt it was important to understand what wasn’t working on the layout. It didn’t lend itself to switching and bore no resemblance to trackage in towns we had seen.
Rather than modeling a mountain with a rail line around it, Chris wanted a rail line running through desert with mountains in the distance much like the prototype setting.

Chris concluded that the look of the track was a central element of mainline desert railroading and that it had to look right. Click here for a tutorial on N and Z scale models and has many useful tips, suggestions and photographs. What is also really impressive is his willingness to publish work on N Scale and even Z scale cars. From the standpoint of the RBL layout, my interest in the area south of Oakland mainly relates to the operations of the BNSF Warm Springs Turn.
The key industry at Warm Springs is the massive New United Motors plant (NUMI) which produces cars for Toyota and GM. It then journeys across a few miles of RPRC track to join the UP at Stege crossovers near Albany Ca.
Capitols run frequently from San Jose or Oakland to Sacramento, Roseville or Colfax on Donner Pass. For simplicity, these passenger trains may be modeled on the RBL by trains running from Oakland staging to Roseville staging on the modeled portion of the Cal-P line. The BNSF Warm Springs train will also have to stay clear any Capitols south of Oakland as they’ll be running on the N Scale Warm Springs Subdivision too. This UP train is another way to provide traffic to interact with the BNSF Warm Springs Turn while it is on the N Scale UP Warm Springs Subdivision. The UP local not only takes up the main but could really complicate matters for the BNSF crew if it were to be switching Warm Springs when the BNSF train showed up for example. The Oakland staging tracks have been turned off to make the Warm Springs tracks easier to see.
The Warm Springs line then swings around the base of the helix and curves back around to parallel the left hand wall of the layout space. Because it is somewhat isolated on the mezzanine deck, its size does not clash with the appearance of other industries on the layout which all tend to have a smaller footprint.
I’ve been somewhat liberal here in terms of industries so as to provide plenty of interesting operation. In all instances, care has been taken to keep switches and uncoupling locations close to the front of the layout for ease of operation.
An Amtrak train could be parked here adding a pressure to the local crew needing to switch industries against the long wall. Since Oakland was located at the bottom of the Cal-P Helix, Warm Springs had to be somewhere on or around the lower level near Oakland. I have taken care to not locate any of the warm springs subroadbed over staging area switches for ease of maintenance. Yes the combustion will add way more than the above-mentioned number of microns back into the sea level and thereby flood a bunch of coastal anti hotbeds, but SHUT UP ABOUT IT! As the late-comer to the region, the Santa Fe had to forgo the grade-free route along the shores of the Carquinez Straight and San Pablo Bay already occupied by the Central Pacific (Cal-P). The economy has cooled and the BNSF is sending intermodal trains along UP’s Cal-P line under trackage rights dating from the UP-SP merger to reach the BNSF terminal at Oakland. Note that not much grease is on the ballast outside of the rails, mostly it is between the rails and the rails themselves are discolored black, blending to brown with distance from the grease patch.
A compass is easy to use, but that doesn’t mean the track plan will be good as a result. After dinner, as we headed back to the car, an Amtrak horn caught my attention and a Capitol was soon throttling up and heading for the Bay Area.
There are many possible permutations for such a plan, and the balance between shortline and mainline could be skewed in either direction, though I think the best plans would provide for live operations on both the UP and the Cal Northern to each make set outs and to collect cars at the interchange. Prototype choice  is important, but I think there are three additional important questions that really need to be worked through before design should be started - type of operations, degree of compression and degree of accuracy. It can also be as simple as switching any car on any spur to wherever you like on the layout. Once the layout is built, it is the wrong end of the design curve to discover that the layout fails to operate as you would like. Continuous running possibility would be good, especially for displaying the layout for visitors or when time is limited. It is also only a short drive away for Chuck, which is great for getting pictures and observing operations. Would it be possible to capture the flavor of the prototype as well as including key operational aspects of this shortline? The staging at the rear of the layout represents BNSF Oakland on one end and BNSF Richmond on the other end. There are variation on this including run-through stack trains, run-through bare-table trains and the Warm Springs local. North Richmond has a slightly more complicated track arrangement that has only a small siding to facilitate runaround moves. The switches have the characteristic stepped tie pattern found on American switches, the low profile code 55 rail looks great, and the longer switches really have the mainline look about them. It would be replaced with Atlas code 55 and the course grey ballast would be replaced by Arizona Rock and Mineral N Scale (fine) pink AT&SF ballast. While the mountain had been nicely carved, it’s bulk interfered with the sense of openness. The layout is clearly a source of pride and enjoyment going forward and the improved look is constant motivation to keep working on the layout. Daryl Kruse recently decided to tear down and rebuild his complete N scale Rochelle Sub layout after eighteen years in construction and operation.
No amount of brilliance in the rolling stock, scenery or buildings would overcome poor looking track. I want a modeled destination for this local so the N scale version of this train will operate much the same as a real train - heading to the destination, perhaps with some switching to do along the way and at the end destination, then returning to the home terminal. At the thirty mile mark is Niles Junction which is also situated at the west end of Niles Canyon.
UP has an autorack yard here and NUMI has two locations for loading and unloading autoracks.
From there, the BNSF Warm Springs Turn travels south to Oakland under trackage rights on the UP’s Cal-P line.
The tracks in NUMI’s yard are the longest stub-ended tracks on the RBL layout at 144 inches. Instead, the Santa Fe took the next best route and built across the hills on the East Bay through Franklin Canyon to reach Richmond. It’s right next to the track, and there’s no better way to make a train come than to be out of position! As the Capitol was heading out, the Cal Northern showed up in Davis, blowing for many of the grade crossings on it’s line into town. Space limitations inevitably put pressure on fidelity of track configurations, causing us to go with something that is representative rather than an accurate depiction of the track layout, We can start with the actual layout then delete tracks, use lower number switches, shorten things, shuffle a few elements, flip to mirror images or, in the extreme, just use the prototype location name with no visual correlation between the modeled track and the prototype. UP operations are not represented on the layout other than the simple UP interchange siding near Stege Wye included for the benefit of operations. BNSF trains then proceed to Stege taking the upper leg to reach BNSF Oakland (Staging) via the UP (not modeled). A number of UP lines converge at this point from the north, south and east and there are several interesting wyes and crossings within the junction. At Oakland, it continues south on UP’s Niles Subdivision and uses the UP Warm Springs Subdivision to reach Warm Springs. I don’t expect any of these model industrial spots to recieve large numbers of cars or to be switched every session. My solution was to locate the Warm Springs Subdivision above the staging deck which also made it possible to run a train from Oakland staging, to the Warm Springs Subdivision - cool!!
It returns to its home terminal by retracing its steps after completing switching duties at Warm Springs.
The actual BNSF Warm Springs Turn can have as few as a couple of autoracks to over thirty in its consist. Between the BNSF and the UP locals there’ll be plenty of activity which can be controlled through managing waybills. More typically it has ten to twenty autoracks trailing so the capacity of the yard relative to the demands of the local will work out well for the N Scale version.

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