Monday, March 30, 2009

Running Rosenberg Meet with Friends: PRICELESS

As I was preparing the bill of materials and budget for my layout, I recall this famous Mastercard Priceless ads. So, I just going to remind myself:

Atlas Flextrack: US$2.89
Kato BNSF C44-9W: US$73.50
Running Rosenberg Meet with Friends: PRICELESS

Jimmy Low

Deciphering Train Symbols - More Than Just Symbols

Last week, I got connected with 2 important people that spurred my interest to model Tower 17 in Rosenberg, Texas. Yes, Stephen Foyt and Wes Carr are now in my Facebook. I also found out that both are with UPRR and BNSF respectively as train dispatcher. Wow, what a discovery!

Train dispatchers are the air traffic controllers of the railroads. They control the movement of trains over large track territories.

Train dispatchers assign train symbols to indicate the train type, origin and destination of train and other information. Different railroads uses different train symbols. Knowing each railroad's train symbols help to make the model railroad operations more prototypical. I reread Stephen's 24 hours at Tower 17, Rosenberg report and trying to decipher all the 77 train symbols, both BNSF's and UPRR's.

By looking at each train symbols, I can now tell the origin and destination of each train type. It also give me an idea where each train originates and what it carries with it, and where it is going - loaded trains normally to ports in Texas or other States such as those in Long Beach or Los Angeles, California or New Orleans, Louisiana for handover to /from CSX.

Coals come from Wyoming for Smither's Lake Power Plant traveling over BNSF Galveston to Thompsons.

The train symbols also tell the type of commodity or product that BNSF and UPRR carry in this region. Grains and coals are BNSF main commodities while UP bends towards rocks (?) and intermodal between New Orleans and Los Angeles.

So, you will see actual* BNSF and UPRR train symbols used on Rosenberg Meet.


* I was told the BNSF train symbols have changed but since I am modelling 2004 period, train symbols in Stephen's report remained correct.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's Now Official - Rosenberg Meet in N-scale

It's now official. My layout is called Rosenberg Meet in N-scale or Rosenberg Meet in short. You can also call it "Rosie".

The Official Logo of the Rosenberg Meet Layout

The Final Upper Deck Layout Plan

Rosenberg Meet white polo shirt

As for the polo shirt, I will definitely make one for myself. If there are fans out there who are interested to get one, please email me.

Jimmy Low

* The UP Shield and BNSF Circle and Cross Logos are trademark of Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway respectively. Non-commercial use.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

We Are Ready ..... Next Step, Lumber Sourcing

Bharani aka Mr Carpenter and Jason, his sidekick dropped in this afternoon. I showed them my layout and we examined every inch of my train room to get a feel of the place and where each module will be.

Bharani taking notes while Jason looked on. In the middle,
my layout plan on ironing board and facing the right direction.

Jason measuring the wall next to Algoa

We later discussed each note from my Ideas Book and finalised the benchwork details. Okay, my to-do list is almost completed. Bharani will study my layout and determine the best way do make the benchwork, type of lumber to use as well as costing.

In the meantime, I am working on the bill of materials and calculating the helices we need to build. I built a stacked helix calculator to assist me and Bharani build the two helices.

My Model Railroad Helix Calculator.

Punch in parameters in beige boxes and results displayed in white boxes. A handy Excel tool to speed up the calculations. It computes the rise and run of each level, total length of tracks needed, height of the stack to build, etc. Click here to download a copy.

I am going to take a day off next month to source for the lumber in Ikea and nearby hardware stores. Bharani told me they have pine lumber which are sturdier and stronger than local ones. Plus they do not warp easily. Well, got to check them out.

Jimmy Low

Saturday, March 21, 2009

If You Think Google Map is Good, This is Even Better

I stumbled upon Live Search Maps and guess what I found.

An amazing crystal clear view of Tower 17 junction viewed from 45 degrees. Just like how you will view it from a layout.

Beat that, Google!

Jimmy Low

Headspinning Helix (Updated)

One challenge (in fact, 2 actually) I added to my layout is helix construction. I need one at each end of my layout to get to lower deck which is 14 inches from the upper deck. Now, firstly, this is my first layout and secondly, adding 2 helices (!), I got to be nuts.

Anyway, I got to. Else, I would need to run 100 inches of straight track just to get between levels. I don't have the space to do the distance run and it does not make sense.

So, I learnt from other forumers how to calculate helix. Here's my calculation for Algoa single track helix.

Algoa Helix Calculation (from my Ideas Book)

I am waiting for forumers to comment on the above calculations. But, in essence, I am considering 16 inches effective radius to helix edge (to support 15 inches radius to track center) and a 2.5% max grade (Updates: Calculation okayed. Need to mock the helix and test the traction power of loco(s) and no. of cars it(they) can pull.

Jimmy Low

P/S: The Ideas Book is a great idea. I have jotted many notes there and handy to carry around. Do you have yours today?

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Good Idea to Have an Ideas Book

I do so much thinking these days about Rosenberg Meet that I decided to have an Ideas Book. A place to do brainstorming and brain dump. And, it will be a good reference book as the layout progresses. What works and what does not.

I just took about 20 pieces of blank A4 sheets (we use A4 paper instead of Legal) and comb-binded them together. I included my track plan in A4 size as well as A3 size (twice of A4) at the back. The A4 sized plan is placed on right side so that I can use the blank space on left to scribble.

The A3 sized plan can be unfolded which will reveal clearer details.

Besides model railroading, I like writing. I hope to publish a book on Rosenberg Meet one day.

Jimmy Low

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What's On Lower Deck? Galveston Terminal

I have not started work on this yet but here's the preview of what I had in mind.

After exiting the Algoa helix, the train will travel a stretch and reach Virginia point, which is directly below the intersection of the UP Glidden and BSNF Galvesto tracks at upper deck. The Galveston causeway stretches from that point west to where the word "Alvin" is.
The peninsular will host an industry and the Galveston Bay. The space between Alvin up to Rosenberg on lower deck will be Galveston terminal which will have UP and BNSF yards, intermodal terminal and petrochemical industry.

While waiting for Phase 2 Galveston island, I will install a 4 track staging yard beneath Rosenberg. This allows continouous running between Algoa helix and Temple/San Antonio helix (lower wall helix) at lower deck. I will have the mainline installed but not branchlines or yards that Galveston will have.

Lower deck track plan is still in my head but I am seeing a clearer vision now :)

Jimmy Low

A Little Research Adds Realism

A little research goes a long way in adding realism to a layout. Not that I am a rivet counter. Think about it. Everything has a story to tell. The way tracks are laid, the trees branch out, the location of a structure or even some dirt on the track (yes, I noticed something).

I bought this book on BNSF by Brian Solomon. It is an interesting coffee table book that talks about the pre-BNSF days and how each mighty railroad started and merged to become the King of Grain BNSF today.

After all, I am modelling BNSF. It helps to sell them if you know them. Don't you think so?


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Amtrak Sunset Limited Train No. 2 Is Now Departing for New Orleans via Houston

Good news!

Amtrak Sunset Limited train #2 will pass Tower 17 every Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays on my layout to Houston and New Orleans and return as train #1 every Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

I have 3 P42s and 8 Superliner coaches. Amtrak Sunset Limited runs on this configuration: 2 locos (P42, P40 or P32) + Baggage + Transition Sleeper + Sleeper + Diner + Sightseer Lounge + Coach + Coach.

Now, I need to find a Budd baggage car and a transition sleeper in N-scale to complete the configuration.

So, when you see Amtrak Sunset Limited running on UP Glidden in certain direction, you know what day it is.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This Weekend's To-Do List (Update #1)

I have this weekend all planned out:

1. Meet Mr Carpenter and his sidekick (Done)
2. Prepare bill of materials and budget - tracks, turnouts, locos, cars, structures, etc. (Done)
3. Source used cardboards - build mock-up layout and helices as template for actual cutting
4. Work out project timeline

Target to start work 1st week of April.

Jimmy Low

Madhatter: That's Me

Stephen Foyt posted his 24 hours at Tower 17, Rosenberg report and concluded that report saying "Anyone who actually read this far must have been REALLY interested." Yes, Stephen. I am one of those who read that far and analysed all the train movements as described by you.

I even looked up Google Map to map each of the start and end destination of the 77 trains you and Julian observed and recorded that winter 2004 day, just to get my orientation right vis-a-vis Rosenberg.

In fact, I went to the extent of analysing each train - the loco model, road number and cars that it hauled. You will notice a certain type of cars come from certain direction. And as I dived further, I found the reason why this is so. Well, I let you read Stephen's report and watch the type of trains that will ply my routes on my Rosenberg Meet.

Interestingly, BNSF tends to use specific motive powers in this region. The common ones are, in descending order of fleet, C44-9W and SD40-2 and SD70MAC. On the other hand, UP loves SD40-2, SD60M and SD70M. You will also see some SD40-2T (Tunnel Motor in Texas??), C44-9W and GP60. I suspect these came from ex-Southern Pacific fleet.

As for cars, definitely lots of rock hoppers and gondolas which are UP's "favourite" haul, the King of Grain BNSF with its grain hoppers and mixture of tanks, boxcars, stacks and trailers mainly by UP from New Orleans and Los Angeles

Now, you know what kind of traffic you will see on my layout and my coming acquisitions. Stay tune.

And, Stephen, someone is watching you :D

Jimmy Low

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Story Behind Rosenberg Meet

Last weekend was another productive one for me. I am happy with this latest track plan for Rosenberg Meet.

Let me run you through this update and the motives behind each track arrangement, position and industry. Give me your feedbacks - positive and areas to improve. I always welcome comments.

Overall Layout
My layout will occupy the existing 11.5ft x 10.5ft utility room. President has approved my real estate acquisition based on the boundries below. I need to present to the Board of Directors the budget, revenue projections, etc. for this project. After all, nobody wants to run a loss-making enterprise, even in a 1:160 world.

Why Rosenberg?
Tower 17 interlocking tower charmed me when I first saw Wes Carr's photo. Since then, I have been researching more about Rosenberg and this is the one for me. I like BNSF and UP, the two Class 1 railroad west of Mississippi River. Both railroads run long trains on their respective subdivision to Galveston.

Modelling BNSF Galveston and UP Glidden subs along this stretch in my utility room fit nicely.

Focus is Tower 17 Rosenberg
I kept reminding myself that Tower 17 junction had to be right to capture the feel and awe of BSNF and UP trains crossing each other. Today, Tower 17 is a museum piece but on my layout, I want to re-enact the last few days of Tower 17 still in operations and with various BNSF and UP liveries still plying that route (if you see some of the photos taken by railfans, SP, SF, BN liveries are still spotted) Tower 17 will NEVER be boring. There is a story to tell and I will be the story teller.

Both UP Glidden track and BNSF Galveston tracks run parallel to each other east of the Tower 17. UP Glidden (to Houston) will disappear at Point B to subroad level and re-emerge at Point B after Alvin. I will model the cotton gin factory at the curve and north of I-90 highway.

Smither's Lake
Between Richmond and Alvin, there is a junction to Thompsons and Smither's Lake where Houston Light and Power (HL&P) coal-fired power plant is located. I will model compressed coal deposit pit and power plant. The track to no-where is the bypass track that connects to UP Popp sub at Alvin. So, it looks like it disappear off the scene and reappear as 90deg crossing at Alvin. Cool eh?

Algoa is the intersection between UP Angelston, BNSF Mykawa and BNSF Galveston subdivisions. As mentioned earlier, trains will reappear on Point B and cross below the bridge after Alvin (in reality, there is no such crossing) I added to make the UP Glidden run more interesting as well as allowing UP Glidden to have a continuous running. I added a wye near Algoa which connects to UP Angelston (lift-up bridge) to the other side of upper deck and another track that disappears to no-where.

On BNSF Galveston, the track after Algoa will head downgrade to a helix to lower deck (staging yard for now, Galveston in the future).

There is some empty space right of Algoa (above the helix). I want to model grain elevator. Thus, I am using my creative license to do just that. Is there one in the real Algoa? I did not see it in Google Map.

West of Tower 17
The double track north of Tower 17 is BNSF Galveston sub to Sealy and Temple. Not much focus there but the tracks are long enough to hold 2 locos + 10 cars (represented by light blue line and curve). It heads to Point C and into a double track helix to lower deck staging.

Meanwhile UP Glidden heads west to San Antonio (represented by track to helix). I don't plan to do much at this corner.

Upper Deck

Tell me what you think
I am happy with the overall layout and track arrangement. I will be using Atlas and ME code 55 flextracks and turnouts. The minimum radius is 15 inch to accomodate 6-axle power motives that ply the route. I could not go beyond 15 inch without compromising on the aisle space.

This layout is intended to be run by 3-4 operators. The layout will be DCC using NCE PowerCab (and upgrade to PowerPro later).

The turnouts will be #5 and #7 for most of the locations. I am considering whether to invest in handlaid turnouts. I have 26 turnouts at upper deck. Maybe it is economical after all to buy Fast Track jigs and do it myself.

Model Railroader:

Jimmy Low

Saturday, March 14, 2009

With a Magnifying Glass, Google Map and Pen

Even though Bharani, my carpenter, and Jason could not make it this afternoon to survey the train room and discuss my layout, no time was wasted.
I took out my track plan and started looking at the overall feel of the layout. I started mapping the track arrangements from Tower 17 east and west all the way to Algoa.

In earlier plans, I only outlined the mainlines (BNSF Galveston and UP Glidden) and some sidings that shape Rosenberg Meet. While this is fine for a start and defines the boundary of my layout, I need to make sure I have interesting features captured in the layout. I can't have everything but something just evoke a feel of the place in 1:160 world. I hope to be able to capture that feeling and when someone sees it, he/she will say, oh yea ... that's so-and-so place.

I was working with XTrkCAD, Google Map and a few sheets of paper. I took a closer look at the track arrangements and sketched them on paper. I zoomed for a closer look and some of the amazing things I discovered (to find out what I discovered, you got to wait till the layout is completed and I point them to you then :D)

Okay, back to "track hunting" again. Stay tune.

Jimmy Low

Friday, March 13, 2009

(Did Not) Meet Mr Carpenter

Nope, not Richard Carpenter of The Carpenters siblings.

Bharani, a talented young chap, who built KTMrailwayfan club's benchwork (KTM took back their premises and the benchwork has been dismantled) , will be helping me with my benchwork. In my professional field, it's okay to outsource to the people who can do the task better than yourself. And, a solid benchwork is a MUST or the entire layout will suffer.

As the architect of Rosenberg Meet, I will drive the look and feel of the layout and the finer details while Bharani will help me with the knockings. I have seen his work.

We will meet today (Saturday) at 3pm with Jason, my first N-scale convert, to go through my layout plan. The overall track work is almost done. I will add the helices and other details based on feedbacks. I will also outline the structures and their positions on the layout.

This meeting signals the beginning of the layout construction. We will meet a few times to iron out the details. I intend to do a cardboard mock-up of the layout to get a feel of the layout height, dimensions and aisle spaces. The cardbock mock-up will also serve as a template for the plywood cutouts.

I will update as this progresses. So, stay tune and as always, your inputs are welcomed. Give them early so that I can take into consideration. I typically let a plan open for comments for 1-2 weeks before incorporating any details. 2 weeks is plenty of time. I don't like to rush and regret later. But, I have no regrets starting my first N-scale layout.

This morning, I overheard conversations about trains and I joined in the conversation. A few of my colleagues now know that I am a railfan and modeller. They are waiting for my layout to be ready to play trains! Wooooo Hooooooo!

Mr. Carpenter did not turn up today. His commuter train was 45 mins late and the heavy downpour in KL prevented him from reaching my place before 5pm. We have rescheduled for next Saturday.

Jimmy Low

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Wonderful World of Internet

Isn't World Wide Web a wonderful invention of all time? For modellers like myself, from a far away land, the Internet brings the railroad closer to home; right in front of me. As I research about BNSF and UP in south-west Texas and looking at the photos, Google maps and other information about Rosenberg, Tower 17, Algoa, Galveston, etc., it made me feel like being there without being physically there.

As I looked at photos from Wes Carr, Russell Straw, Bob Chapman and others for inspirations and get a feel on the places mentioned about, immediately ideas popped in my head. I begin to jot down finer details what should be incorporated into my layout; those little things that you will not nice. Like they say, a picture paints a thousand words. There are many more words that you can dechiper from the photos. Take a look at them in these links and tell me what you see (look at them and close your eyes)

Robert Chapman's Rosenberg
Tower 17 Rosenberg Webshots
Rosenberg Railroad Museum and Tower 17
Rosenberg RR Museum
William Davis Jr's Information on Tower 17
Russell Straw's Photos of Tower 17 and other SP Towers (the man with the keys to Tower 17)
Wes Carr's Photos of Tower 17 Rosenberg (the photo that started my Tower 17 hunt)

And, with instant messaging, I am in touch with many on the side of the world. Thanks Steve, Denny, Kenneth, Dave, Flash, Russell, Jamie and others for your advice and comments. I truly appreciate the help in my layout. Every bit of information counts.

Jimmy Low

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Locations to Model

I have taken some snapshots of the locations I want to model from Google Map. Some interesting features or industries to model (some selective compression is necessary).

Rosenberg Junction where BNSF Galveston and UP Glidden
cross each other

Richmond Junction where BNSF Galveston heads south-east
and UP Glidden heads east

Junction to Smithers Lake and Thompsons

Smithers Lake and Thompsons Coal Fired Power Plant

Thompson coal deposit pit and tracks that circle the pit

Thompson power plant

BNSF Galveston and BNSF Mykawa junction near Alvin

BNSF Galveston and UP Angelston junction near Algoa

BNSF Galveston and UP Galveston merge at
Virginia Point before heading to Galveston

Galveston causeway and lift bridge


Galveston can occupy the entire lower deck in the future. What a sight to model! Kenneth from Corpus Christi, Texas is modelling the island seaport of Galveston

I am drooling already

Jimmy Low

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Layout Critique 3 - Almost There (Open for Comments)

Thank you Steve Cox, Fred, Stein, Kenneth and Denny for your comments. I have revised my layout plan as per below.

I want a track plan that allows me to run long trains, average 10-15 cars per train and also to do some switching. Previous plans did not have a good balance of both; the tracks could not cater for long trains and Rosenberg junction was awkwardly positioned.

Rosenberg is the KEY FEATURE, don't you forget that, Jimmy!
The most important feature of my layout is Rosenberg Tower 17, which sees more than 70 trains a day (Two railfans spotted 77 trains on January 2004 over a 24-hour period!). By putting Rosenberg junction next to the west wall, I did justice to UP Glidden sub to Houston. This track heads east and in my layout, it will disappear below the subroadbed at Point B and reappear at Point B near the east wall.

Tower 17 Rosenberg, Texas

Where Rosenberg junction is now, you will get a good vintage view of Tower 17. If you stand near 10' marker (where I place the "BNSF Galveston Sub", you can take a good shot of the BNSF trains coming from; just like how Wes Carr took it (this picture started my layout idea)

There is a window sill on top left corner (between 9' and 11.5' markers). I can stand at the wash area and look into the layout room and will see this view of Tower 17.

Hence, I found the right place to position Tower 17! The rest of the trackages fits right in. A longer UP Glidden (to Houston) and BNSF Galveston that heads to "Galveston" at lower deck. I initially placed Galveston on the east wall corner but found that that section is too cramped to do any justice to the Galveston terminal. The causeway would have to be shortened and the tracks on the Galveston island could not accomodate 10 cars per track. There isn't enough room to maneuver.

By moving Galveston to lower deck, I can have the whole lower deck to model the causeway and island (for now, lower deck will act as a staging yard)

Upper Deck
(light blue line represents the length of 2 locos + 10 50" cars)

Follow the BNSF train to "Galveston"!
Let's follow the BNSF train from Sealy/Temple on BNSF Galveston sub heading south. It crosses the Tower 17 junction and takes the inner track towards Alvin. I have lengthened Alvin and added a double track to allow the train northbound train to pass. In most stretches on BNSF Galveston sub, it is single track with passing loops. I make sure any loop can handle at least 10 cars + 2 locos.

The train then proceeds to Algoa and take a curve before going behind the scenic divider and downgrade to lower deck (at point A). At lower deck, it runs from Point A to the shared staging yard beneath Rosenberg. For continuous run, I can make it reappear at Point C.

Houston, We Have a Train!
For UP train from San Antonio which heads eastward towards Houston on UP Glidden sub, it will go below the upper deck level and reemerge at Point B-B. It then cross underneath BNSF Galveston where it will apprear as adjacent to BNSF. This allows some interchanging activities to go on between UP and BNSF.

I added a wye at Algoa and a duck-under to allow continuous running of UP Glidden.

Lower Deck - Staging for now and Galveston later
As the BNSF train down grades at Point A, it will go to lower deck and inch its way to the staging yard beneath Rosenberg. The train can stop at the outer tracks so that it can proceed to Point C and up grade towards the upper deck again.

Lower Deck
(light blue line represents the length of 2 locos + 10 50" cars)

Feel free to comment. I think I am more or less settled with this track plan with minor adjustments from your comments.

Model Railroader: