Like many others, I have built several train layouts over the years. My last couple have been what I would call "in progress" meaning they had advanced beyond the benchwork and track laying into the scenery stage but were no where close to finished. My last four layouts (of which I still have two) were N scale because over the past ten years I have lived in small apartments. Before those, I had two different HO scale layouts. Part of my problem is that I have moved a bit and the layouts couldn't come with me (my last HO layout almost did but there was no room in the moving van for it so I had to leave it... how sad!) and part of the problem is that I really wasn't focused on what I wanted.
My favorite aspects of building a layout are laying and ballasting track. Yup... ballasting track! On the opposite end of the spectrum, I absolutely hate wiring of any kind.
I have three goals I have for my "next" layout, which likely will be based on the D&H's Colonie Main line:
Goal #1: I want a layout that will let me run whatever trains I want, whenever I want, just for the pleasure of it. While most of my HO scale equipment is period correct for the D&H in 1984, I also have some British model trains, some trains from earlier and later periods, and some models that were given as gifts to me. First and foremost, I want a layout where I can plop anything down on the track and just let it run round and round for my enjoyment. That might mean a short freight pulled by a D&H RS-3, Bachmann's Hogwarts Express, some of my Arcade and Attica Railroad equipment, or maybe even some Maine 2-foot On30 stuff. It is my railroad and I want to be able to run whatever makes me happy at that moment.
Goal #2: I want it to be sectional so that I can expand it easily, transport portions outside for construction or maintenance, and bring it with me if/when I move. I envision my layout room slowly being filed up with detailed sections of layout temporarily connected with stretches of track, with staging yards or reverse loops at the end. As I build more detailed sections, the connection sections will be dismantled. And, if I move to a place with a larger basement I can reconfigure my sections to adapt to the greater area. (Or, if the area is smaller, I can store my extra sections on shelf brackets). I don't want to have to start from scratch if I move again. Also, if the sections are movable and I need to perform some construction on part of the basement I can temporarily remove my layout to gain access to those areas being worked on. That means I don't have to worry about installing a drop ceiling, carpet, backdrops, etc. right at the beginning because I can easily evacuate the train room later to do so.
Goal #3: I want to accurately model the Delaware and Hudson's mainline between Albany, NY north through Cohoes, NY, on a switching layout set in the year 1984. In future posts I will discuss what led me to choose this but for now it is sufficient to say that I want a modeling challenge. I am more of a "let the trains run" type of person than a "prototypical operations" guy. However, I want the opportunity to switch various industries if I operate the layout by myself. That is one of the reasons I am converting back to HO. The portion of the D&H I am modeling is full of dozens of structures and I will likely need to scratchbuild them all. So, when the mood strikes to concentrate all of my modeling energies into something specific I will work on accurately constructing my layout to replicate my chosen theme. Other times, when I just want to relax I can run a train.
Are all of my goals possible? To a certain extent, I think so. I sometimes wonder if I will start this layout and lose interest but the fail-safe in my plan is that even if I decide I later don't care about the D&H I will still have a layout I can run trains on. I can remove certain sections that might be "too specific" and replace them with others that fit my new theme. Who knows? The most important thing is that after 10 years without a readily-accessible layout I just want something to work on. By building it in sections, I can advance it slowly and incorporate new techniques and ideas into it without having to redo large sections.