November 2015 - New Rochelle, NY

Featured in Classic Toy Trains magazine, July 2017 edition.

Click Here for final photoshoot images.

Project Objective:

O guage, 5' x 10' table layout running up to 3 trains at the same time. All tracks connected for elaborate operation. Old fashion Block control. New York City theme with elevated track and buildings. Complete layout lifts into a wall unit for storage.

Planning the Track

These are the drawings for the initial track plan:

Lower track (ramp up in Red):
Lower Track

Upper track:
Upper Track

Two lower runs, 1. Outer loop with 42" diameter curves. 2. Inner folded figure 8 with 31" diameter curves. This track has a siding on the lower left, it can hold a train or cars or create a new simple loop making the inside track a holding area.
Two lower runs

Another possible run is a loop to loop from the upper track to the lower inside track (Red is upper and Green is lower):
Loop to Loop

There are many other runs and operations possible. Track activation and un-coupling tracks will be included.

To achieve this complex track design we needed switches in various radius's so we selected Ross Custom Switches because they have a wide variety of switches from which we were able to find the right ones for the job. The rest of the track is Ross sectional track and Gar Graves flex track.

Table Construction

This project requires an elaborate table system. The table size is 5' 2" x 10' and 30" high. Built to address the customer's mobility limitations the table needs to be accessible from all directions because the customer can reach about 2.5 feet onto the table. In addition the table needs to be out of the way when not in use.

We needed to designed a whole new concept in train tables. What we came up with is a table that is lifted with an electric hoist onto a wall unit. The wall unit has depth of 12" that allows for 6.5" high elevated track and buildings that are about 10" high. The table legs are hinged to each other and the back of the table, they are on wheels and fold back when not in use. The whole unit extends 25.5" from the wall. To open the user extends the legs, lowers the table, releases the latches that secure it to the wall unit and then the table can be moved around.

Wall Unit Diagrams1 shows the table closed. The dark brown is the wall unit, it is secured to the studs in the wall. and has two latches that hold the table and legs securely in place.

2 shows the legs extended and the table lowered onto the legs.

3 shows the table detached from the wall unit by rolling it on its wheels.

Top and Front Table ViewThe extreme right image is what the table will look like from the front (facing the wall) and the image on the right shows a top view. The dark lines are the wall unit and the leg configuration is visible. This leg configuration has six main points at the hinges at strategic locations to make the table stable, even if leaned on.

Once the table was built we proceeded to install it at the customer's location without any trains on it. We needed to make sure it fits and the hoisting mechanism works. Once this step was done the table portion was transfered to our shop where we started to work on the layout.

The table and wall unit during initial installation:
Table and Wall Unit

Paint Selection


While the table was being constructed by an outside carpenter we started to work on one of the buildings. I like to have some of the scenery items available during construction it lets us get an idea of what the final layout will look like and helps to make decisions when changes are needed. The first building is a row of four building units. We used four fronts and two sides. The back and roof will be foam boards. To get some ideas for the colors we reviewed several images of building in New York and settled on one that looked interesting and would follow the semi whimsical theme our customer wanted. Next I lined up my spray paint collection and started the color selection process.

Painted Building


Fronts are masked and spray painted. Once they are dry I do the detailing and assembly. The window dressing is made from images of blinds and curtains I found on the Internet and some from the original kits. The bottom windows are made from printable transparencies and printed with logos and other graphics. The interior is divided and will have lighting by Woodland Scenics.



Laying Track

Once the table is back in the shop we start laying track. Due to the complexity of the track design and a chance we might have issues with clearances we first construct the entire track layout and test it before we lay any roadbed, paint/detail the surface or place any scenery items. Once the track and elevated sections are tested we mark the placement and remove all the track to work on the table surface and the roadbed.

The elevated track is constructed using the Bridge Boss elevated track system. We had all the components assembled but left the heights as is. The final height will be determined on the layout once we test the incline ramp with some of the trains our customer will be running. Next we start laying track and placing the elevated sections we have ready.

Constantly testing the clearances and readjusting the track plan as needed. The building is in place a road has been added, these elements help us visualize what the layout will look like. We strive to create layouts that are visually interesting when viewed as a whole from a distance. The WOW factor is important when building layouts for other people.

Once we have enough track in place and most clearances are set we start building the ramp up to the elevated track. When it is tested and all the trains run up well we start cutting the elevated track sections.

Securing The Elevated Track

Securing the Elevated TrackEvery part of this layout needs to be secured to the table and be able to endure being raised and lowered on an angle by an electric motor. This kind of abuse can cause elements of the layout to separate and fall out of place. The first step we took was to find a mechanism to secure the elevated track and keep it out of view as best as we could. The solution we decided to use incorporates a small metal angle commonly found at hardware stores. We drilled holes on the elevated track columns, inserted a machine screw and secured it to the angle with a washer and bolt. Another screw goes down through the layout table top and is secured with a wing nut or another bolt. The angle are all placed behind the columns, will be painted Black and coved on their flat areas with the scenery colors where it will be placed.

All the track has been cut and placed, we are working now on completing the elevated track system and securing it to the table. As we work we always run trains to check for any shifting of the track that might cause problems with clearances.

Here are some images of the progress so far:

The Ramp

The ramp has two distinct sections, one is a continuation of the elevated track and the other is a stylized single-column concrete section. The original plan had single-column concrete columns all the way up to the elevated track section. While testing the column placement is was evident that there wasn't enough room for the columns so the plan has been changed and the elevated track structure was extended a quarter of a circle with a grade and columns places out of the way. The elevated sections were left at the same internal height. The cross beams were tapered to fit the reduced size of the columns and to conform to the 4.6% grade of the ramp.
Here is what the final extension of the elevated structure looks like:

The single-column section is made of wood dowels topped with flat wood and plywood sections. The dowels will be secured from below with screws and glue as well as the upper surface and the track.
Here is what the unpainted section looks like:

The next step will be to mark all track and elevated track elements on the table top before removing everything and starting the road bed and ground cover process. In addition all the track needs to be tested with several types of rolling stock to check clearances, grades and general operations.
Here are some images of the layout at this stage:

Here is a YouTube video showing three trains running on the layout, part of the testing for clearances and operations:

Transformer RackTransformer Rack

The layout will be controlled by three Lionel 80w transformers. Each of the eleven blocks on the layout control panel will have a rotary selector switch with an off position and a position for each of the transformers.

The rack is a modified standard metal shelving unit with an addition of a wood bottom that works as an additional shelve and for adding casters, making the rack mobile. The decision was made to not have the transformers permanently on the layout structure because of their weight and the space they would take. Having them on this mobile rack allows for additional train storage and transport when the layout is in the upright, stored, position.

Connection to the layout will be done by automotive electrical connectors.

The top shelve has an added wood panel affixed to the metal rack and the transformers are screwed to the wood.


More Buildings

Three more buildings are now in construction. Two will be on the same side of the road as the first one, one is a single unit bank style building and the other is a three unit similar in style to the first unit. Now we have room for an intersection and the additional road lead to the track behind and another pace to put a crossing gate.

The view from the front showing the intersection and the crossing gate:

On the other side of the road we need buildings that are lower in height to allow for a visual line to the feature buildings on the other side. The first building an industrial building.

The next Step

Before we can start working on the road bed and the ground cover we have to remove all the track and structures so we marked all the track placements and the locations for the elevated track system. This is what the table looks like with the markings:

While the elements are off the table we can start applying pant and texture. The cement part of the ramp gets a textured paint and some additional coloring. The top of the ramp is painted with the same stone textured paint as the road bed will have:

Refinishing the Table

At this point we have the opportunity to refinish the table and leg system. All the damaged and bad finish is striped, new stain and coating is applied:

Laying the Roadbed

Table has been reassembled and ready for the roadbed. The track centers have been marked to apply the roadbed in halfs. We used Woodland Scenics foam roadbed and attached it with contact cement.

Masking and Painting the Roadbed

Painter's tape is used to mask the roadbed and painted using Krylon Stone Textured Finish spray paint. This will simulate ballast.

Painting and Applying the Ground Cover

First we place a piece of track to see how the roadbed looks and then we start painting the uncovered wood. The outside areas will be made to simulate the grass type of green layout mat with same additional variances in color and texture. The inside areas will be covered with ground, dirt and rock.

After the paint is dry we apply water based satin polyurethane and while it is still wet we sprinkle the ground cover on top. Later we will apply a coating of diluted white glue to secure the ground cover in place. This is needed because the layout will be tilted when in storage.
While I was painting my wife took my camera and shot a picture of me at work, see insert below.

Painting the Elevated Track System

New York City has been using this color for several years now to paint the elevated subway structures. It is available at Home Depot and it is called Sea Smoke, go figure.

Checking the Colors

The next step is to put all the elements (minus the track) on the table and see how the colors work together.
Once that is done we will start to apply the ground cover top coat.

Control Panel

The control panel is designed on a computer, printed and placed under a 12" x 24" sheet of Lexan. The track design is then copied with automotive pin stripping material and holes are drilled for the electrical components. Next we remove the printed design and spray paint the back side of the Lexan with a coat of white paint followed by a coat of silver.

The control panel will be on top of a wood box made and colored to match the train table. The panel is secured with hinges allowing for access to the inside and the whole box will be hinged to the table. When the table is in its closed position the control panel swings under the table.

The switches, knobs and push buttons are all in place, so we can start wiring all the components inside the control panel.


The wiring of the control panel is done when we reinstall the track on the road bed. The unique construction of the table allows for easy access to the under side, it is raised from the front, secured by the back hinges and held in an upright position by a wood pole.

All the track for the lower level is now in place and it is wired to the block selectors on the control panel. All the switches have been wired and to ensure maximum reliability we decided to use the original Z-Stuff controllers to fire the switches. All switches have the none derailment feature activated and tested. For now the switches are powered from the constant voltage of two of the transformers. If we find that the voltage is not sufficient we will add a dedicated transformer just for the switch power.

Below is a view of the table corner showing the ground cover texture and track secured on the road bed. The right image is one of the new casters we found to replace the ones we originally installed. These casters are the same height with two wheels instead of one. They look nicer and seem to be stronger, we will see how well they perform once we have the table in place.

The next step will be to reinstall the elevated track structures and test the lower track for clearances. Once the clearances are correct the upper track and ramp will be installed and wired.

Track is Complete

All the track is in place and secured. Elevated track system and the ramp are secured to the table. The switches are wired including none-derailment wiring. Several trains have been tested for clearances. Next steps are the buildings, sidewalks and streets.

Making changes

Once we started placing the scenery elements we realized that two columns, supporting the elevated track, were in the way of elements on the bottom. One column restricted the clearance for long rolling stock and the other was in the way of the main street. We could of kept them and moved or curved the street but the visual result was not what we wanted. So the columns were removed and the spans above expanded with additional internal support. The image below shows where the street column was and the result of its removal:

Buildings, Sidewalks and a Park

The sidewalks were made from fiberboard, once cut to size they are spayed with textured paint. When dry the boards are scored with a pick and washed with diluted black acrylic paint. The buildings now have all the lighting and window defusers installed and they are secured to the sidewalks.

To create interest and not obscure the main building we added a park across the street. Three trees, a bench and a subway entrance will do the job just fine. Woodland Scenics trees are used but they come with brown trunks and trees in the city are gray, so the trees are painted gray with a dry brush addition of black to enhance their look.

Second building has window dressing done.

Trains running and several additional views:

Next we will bolt the sidewalks with the buildings to the table and connect the lighting. Additional ground cover will be added in open areas.

Lights and Action

All have been secured to the table with bolts, that allows for easy removal for repairs. Next, the buildings have been electrified with Woodland Scenics lights. The dimmer controls are affixed to the control panel and each dimmer set (4 lights) has an individual on/off switch. The subway platform has been built and painted, due to the delicate railing the whole platform will be secured with bolts for easy removal in transport.
Some of the images below have been changed in PhotoShop to remove the shop background and instead a night or sky background were added.

Additional ground cover has been added to the bare sections of the layout. Another tree and bushes have been added too.

First crossing gate is installed on one end of the layout, the second one will be on the other end of the road.

Below is a view that shows the lighted building and the edge of the park with the lighted subway entrance.

Here are two of the layout from each side of the table. In the bottom image the road is not complete and the crossing signals are not in place... yet.

The layout is finished.

The images below were photographed by Jillian McAlley for Classic Toy Trains.

Front view with control panel.

Elevated subway platform.

Friends and neighbors come out to see a restored steamer. The engine is a painted and weathered Lionel Christmas set loco. The buildings in the distance are HO scale creating a forced perspective effect.

Front view with subway action.

Action at the intersection.

GG1 on the south bend.

New York Central and the loading dock..

View from above.

Classic Toy Trains office on the same block as DG Design (my office) that is a dream!

Light on and on the move.

Watch how the layout opens. Done before the backdrop was installed

Thank you from the Train Layout Builders Tennessee, model train team.


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