Railroad Model Craftsman

Genesis of a Track Plan

Building the Hazard County Short Line

3: Genesis of a Track Plan

By George Riley/photos by the author

At this point we have constructed our 4'x6' table that will be the foundation for the Hazard County Short Line and its connections. In addition I am sure that we have also set up and run our train set that is the core of this project. In this installment our goal is to design and lay out the track plan.

The Atlas Trainman® CSX set that we are using has an oval of code 83 True-Track® included with the other items so it would make sense to use this type of track for our project railroad. We have included not only a list of track materials needed for Atlas code 83 track, but also one for Atlas code 100 Snap-Track®. Other brands of track can easily be substituted with minor adjustment.

Design Basics
When designing any model railroad we need to keep two key rules in mind. The first is the Rule of Economics. Simply put prototype railroads use the minimum amount of physical assets needed to service the system and their customers. This includes not only rolling stock, but also track and structures. We as model railroaders have a tendency to go more for appearance than follow this basic rule. Consequently our railroads tend to be over built and cluttered thereby countering some of the realism that we are trying to achieve.

The second important rule to keep in mind is that railroads are linear. They travel from one point to the next in as close to a straight line as possible. Prototype railroads that are built as a loop are very rare. I can only think of two or three examples of mainlines that are actual loops. Therefore, when we design a track plan we want to try to envision our route as a point to point system. This will also make operating the completed layout both more prototypical as well as more enjoyable.

Genesis of a Track Plan
The Hazard County Short Line track plan drawing generated from Atlas RTS software

Design Tools
The classic method that most planners use is the tried and true pencil, compass and scale rule. This is limited due to track component geometry and our tendency to want to add just a "little more" track to our plan. A better method is to lay out the actual track components in place to see how they fit. This does work well for smaller and simpler designs and is based on the assumption that all of the necessary pieces are in inventory.

Better yet, use your computer as a design tool. We used Atlas' Right Track RTS track design program. This freeware program is easy to learn and use. The program is a powerful tool for designing any layout. By converting a finished design to a bitmap format the plan can easily be shared with those who are not currently using RTS in addition the plan can be printed out for use in the work shop.

Bringing it All Together
By using our computer as a design and drawing tool and following our basic rules from the prototype we have been able to draw out a plan both as it will be laid out on our bench work and in a linear format to plan our operations. To minimize the cost we decided to use only four turnouts (get in the habit of using this word instead of "switches") for the track plan. This allows us to incorporate a small yard off the CSX main line at Hazard and two sidings at the kaolin plant while still allowing us to represent two railroad companies in our limited space.

Genesis of a Track Plan

Visualizing Operations
The route of the Hazard County Short Line (red) originates at the Georgia Kaolin Processing plant (GKP), joins the CSX main (green – joint trackage) at GKP Junction and ends its journey at the Hazard interchange yard. The CSX trackage designated by the blue line and green joint trackage line forms and oval to allow us a continuous run should we desire.

At this point gather up your track and start placing the pieces on the bench work. Before we proceed, you'll want to test the track plan by running a few trains over the rails. Test as often as you like, in fact! You don't need an excuse to enjoy running trains on your layout.

Track Component List:

Atlas Code 83

Atlas Code 100



9" straight
15 pcs.
#4 CustomLine RH turnout
2 pcs.
#4 CustomLine LH turnout
2 pcs.
521 (4 pack)
822 (4 pack)
6" straight
5 pcs.
18" radius curved
5 pcs.
22" radius curved
8 pcs.
15" radius curved
6 pcs.
534 (4 pack)
835 (4 pack)
1/3 18" radius curved
5 pcs.
533 (4 pack)
834 (4 pack)
1/2 18" radius curved
1 pcs.
525 (4 pack)
847 (Snap Track Assortment)
2" straight
4 pcs.
322 (4 pack)
823 (4 pack)
3" straight
2 pcs.
518 (2 pack)
518 (4 pack)
4 pcs.

Other Component List:

Item No.





Caboose Industries

Ground throws
4 pcs.

Genesis of a Track Plan
Demonstrating the portability of our small layout, the Hazard County Shortline gets a little fresh air. With the track down for test-fitting, you can begin to visualize how certain scenes will come together by trying different arrangements of buildings and scenery.


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