Author Topic: Riverfront Terminal Layout  (Read 957 times)

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Riverfront Terminal Layout
« on: January 13, 2017, 07:20:04 PM »
I’m returning to the model railroading hobby after a significant break. I thought a waterfront terminal would be fun to model. However, I live in the desert, so the few local rivers are nothing more than empty riverbeds with sandy bottoms and I don’t have any rivers within a reasonable driving distance. Even the Colorado River has so little water due to it being pumped elsewhere that often the river doesn’t even run to the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California). It will require a lot of searching for images of rivers on the Internet.

Here is my first attempt at a track plan. The entire layout is 95 inches by 47 inches so it will fit on a single sheet of 4×8 plywood. It is intended to have access from all sides although during operations it can be run from one side. If I put the table on casters it can be pushed against a wall only to come out if there is a derailment.

Design Parameters

* Number 1: Fun operation takes precedence over faithful prototype duplication.
* N scale—I don’t have much space and I already have an investment in N-scale equipment.
* It must fit on a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood or smaller.
* Time period doesn’t matter—I have equipment from the transition period and modern day.
* Location doesn’t matter, but obviously, it has to be somewhere where rivers exist.
* Digital Command Control (DCC) electronics.
* All switches and curves must have a radius of 11” or larger. At slow speeds this should be acceptable.
* Built using Kato Unitrack with as little customization of individual track pieces as possible.
* The uncoupling is performed using momentary electromagnets. The momentary nature should prevent unwanted uncouplings.
* Rolling stock will probably be 50’ box cars. Box cars can carry just about anything to a warehouse.
* Most in-yard switching will be performed by an EMD NW2 (44’ 5”—roughly the same size as the box cars), although other locomotives may enter the facility from the interchange tracks.

Track Plan

I read an article by Byron Henderson titled “The Howard Terminal in N Scale” (see References section below) and took a lot of inspiration from it. My version is schematically the same as his, but due to using Kato Unitrack, my trackage is a lot different in shape and lengths. Byron’s version was modeled after the Howard Terminal, located along Oakland, California’s Inner Harbor. Howard Terminal operated from 1900 until sometime in the late-1970s.

Riverfront Terminal #1. Track plan.

Riverfront Terminal #1. View from the front.

Riverfront Terminal #1. View from the right.

Riverfront Terminal #1. View from the rear.

Riverfront Terminal #1. View from the left.

Labeling the front, back, and sides is pretty arbitrary, but I imagine I would usually operate the layout from the Pier 2 side so the various sides are relative to that side. I may change my mind later.

At the far rear, hidden inside warehouse buildings, are the tracks to the interchanges. In Byron’s version, the outer lead goes to a Southern Pacific (SP) interchange and the inner lead goes to a Western Pacific (WP) interchange. The back of the warehouses will be open so I can reach the inevitable derailment that happens where it’s hardest to get to. The hidden leads should be long enough to hold a locomotive and 10 cars.

The interchange tracks enter the layout onto the yard’s lead track. In the real Howard Terminal, the lead track was a spur. In my version, it’s connected to the Pier 2 tracks to save space and get a longer lead track. At Howard Terminal the lead and pier tracks were at opposite ends of the facility. (We have to be willing to make compromises, right?) The connection appears behind a scenic divider. As a bonus, the connection also allows around-the-loop continuous running.

From the lead the train backs into the classification tracks and drops the cars there. The locomotive can a) return to the interchange by itself (my least favorite option), b) pick up a new string of cars and return to the interchange, or c) make its way to the engine servicing facilities where there is a repair shop, machine shop, and trackside fueling facilities.

A small switcher locomotive resides at the engine house. The switcher makes its way over to the classification yard to start spotting the cars where they belong for loading and unloading. If there are already outbound cars at the spotting locations, they must be moved to the classification yard to make room for the incoming cars to be moved into place.

The warehouses facing the single track in front of the scenery divider—and all the other warehouses—will have doors where the cars need to be spotted in front of a specific door. That should make the switching puzzles a little bit harder.

The prototype moved a lot of scrap metal, so the scrap yard is reproduced here. On the track plan the scrap yard is to the front side of the spurs. When modeling, a fence will probably enclose at least one of the tracks, maybe both at the far end. Gondolas will be loaded with scrap and moved to the pier when it’s time to load ships.

There is a row of warehouses across the yard tracks from the scrap yard. The doors on the warehouses face the single track that leads to Pier 1. On the 1932 map (in Henderson’s article), one of the tracks to Berth 3 (Pier 2 on my layout) runs through a warehouse. If possible, I’d like to model that, although with my layout shape it would be kind of pointless—the current track runs around the end of the warehouses, between them and Pier 1.

On the rear side of the layout the warehouses are just the front, sides and roof. The rear will be open to allow access to the hidden tracks.

On the far left side is Pier 1. There are two tracks—one for each side of the pier—where cars can be spotted in a particular order for loading cargo onto the ships. Some warehouses or other structures might be able to be built on the pier like I’ve seen in photos. There should be about 4.4 inches between the tracks.

All the way to the front is Pier 2. Pier 2 offers lots of switching opportunities for spotting cars at specific doors in the warehouses and at specific locations on the water side for when the ships come in. The water-side track runs the full length of the pier.

Most of the yard will be covered in concrete so trucks picking up and delivering goods can drive in and out over the tracks. An average loading dock for trucks is between 48” and 52” (0.3” and 0.325” in N scale) and I think it’s the same for rail. A truck blocking an occasional rail might add some interest.

Any comments, criticisms, or suggestions are welcome.


Henderson, Byron. “The Howard Terminal in N Scale”. PDF file. Layout Design Journal. Issue 46, Spring 2012.


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Re: Riverfront Terminal Layout
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2017, 07:40:41 PM »
That's one wickedly cool trackplan!

Luv the operating potential the thing has.

Applaud the two tracks to "somewhere else" to represent off-the-layout world. 


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Re: Riverfront Terminal Layout
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2017, 10:49:22 PM »
I dig it! Lots of great operating through what will be a spectacular setting plus an oval for those times you just want to watch a train wind its way through some great urban scenery.

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