Module Design: Managing Expectations & Compromises

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing with potential module plans in a track planning application called XTraCAD and starting the process of converting real world locations on Annacis Island to N scale modules.

I’ve quickly realised that even in N scale, compromise will be necessary…

In a previous post I discussed the rules that I’ll be applying when designing my modules but here’s a recap of the most important constraints:

  • Maximum module length is 105cm but large scenes can span multiple modules if necessary.
  • Maximum module width at endplate is 40cm.
  • Minimum radius of non-mainline tracks is 48cm.
  • Minimum radius of mainline tracks is 120cm.
  • Track must be located in the centre of the module on the edge of a module or collection of modules.
  • Minimum of Peco Code 55 large radius (European prototypes) or Atlas Code 55 #10 (North American prototypes) switches on mainline tracks.
  • Minimum of Peco Code 55 medium radius (European prototypes) or Atlas Code 55 #7 (North American prototypes) switches on non-mainline/industrial tracks.

Here are some simple modules designed using these rules:

Standard 105cm x 40cm Module with Spur
Standard 105cm x 40cm Module with Spur Near Module Edge

Compromise 1

You’ve probably noticed both of these modules are designed with #7 switches and that’s really compromise number 1. Although it’d be more prototypical to use #10 switches on modules with parallel spurs it’s not really practical with the amount of space I have available; the spurs would be much too short.

Strangely, it doesn’t make that much difference if the spur runs perpendicular to the mainline. Take a look at these modules:

Module with Perpendicular Spur and #7 Switch
(Overall Size: 105cm x 130cm)
Module with Perpendicular Spur and #10 Switch
(Overall Size: 105cm x 130cm)

Compromise 2

As space for modules is limited, I’m going to have to make my second minor compromise and assume everything after the initial switch on my modular Annacis Island is non-mainline. It won’t really make much difference to me when operating these modules alone but it does mean the modules couldn’t be used as part of the mainline at a modular convention. Here’s a picture to explain what I mean:

Managing Expectations

I don’t know if it’s just me but the size of N gauge always tricks me into thinking I’ll be able to model prototype locations in unrealistically small footprints. It only when I start scaling the real life locations that I realise I’ll still have to use a bit of model-makers license and selectively compress certain features to get it to fit into the footprint I have available. Take a look at these examples from Annacis Island to see what I mean:

This group of industrial spurs above would span almost 5 modules with  an overall length of ~575cm (~19ft) with lots of switches and angled track resting awkwardly on module joints. However with a little selective compression it could still make an interesting group of modules.

This group of industrial spurs shows that you can fit prototypical length spurs onto 105cm modules in N scale but there’s going to need be some selective compression to bring everything a bit closer together.

The track shown here looked like it would fit into a much smaller area. Interestingly, the spur on the right would be an almost a perfect fit on the “Module with Perpendicular Spur and #10 Switch” shown above.

That’s it for now.

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