The Shoreline Route

The Shoreline Route Photo Gallery

Above: An F40PH leads a train west over the Connecticut River Drawbridge on Jim's Shoreline Route layout. Photo Credit: Jim Spavins

Above: Station stop at New London Union Station. Photo Credit: Jim Spavins

Below: Providence and Worcester NR-2 heads back east through Old Saybrook, CT. Photo Credit: Jim Spavins

Article By: Jim Spavins

My first home layout was based on the Northeast Corridor between Groton, CT, and Old Saybrook, CT. When I was a teenager and got my license, my friend Matt and I would spend many days after school visiting spots on the Northeast Corridor in southeastern Connecticut and southern Rhode Island. Needless to say, these railfan adventures inspired the building of a home layout in my parents basement based on this area. After one false start, I built the layout shown here.

Layout Design

The layout plan I developed was from all those railfan trips -  in particular the time spent chasing the one Providence and Worcester freight, NR-2, that traversed the Corridor from Groton to Old Saybrook and back again. The track plan is based upon the operation of this train, arriving from the staging track in Groton, traveling to Old Saybrook and back to Groton switching the various industries and interchanges along the way. There is also a branch to Pfizer/Electric Boat and an interchange yard with the New England Central at New London. Amtrak trains can be staged in the lower staging yard and traverse the main at their scheduled time. The staging yard includes 3 storage tracks, one for an Amtrak train in each direction and then an additional one for Providence and Worcester freight train NH-1 which runs from New Haven, CT, (represented by the staging yard) to Old Saybrook to pick up cars left by NR-2 in the afternoon. My goal was to capture the general flavor of the operations and the scenery along the route.

When coming up with the track plan, besides the operations, another major consideration was continuous running. I wanted to make sure that trains could be run for visitors coming down to see the layout. As for the physical design, I knew I didn’t want to have any duck unders which led to the walk-in layout. I have visited a number of layouts that require the visitor to go through a duck under and these typically weren’t pleasant. I couldn’t imagine having to build a layout constantly having to duck in and out and I’m still young! Having a walk-in layout has been a great feature since I didn’t have to worry about building a lift out section or continually banging my head on a fixed duck under.

Benchwork and Wiring

The benchwork is of the tried and true L-girder design. I used ½” AC plywood for subroadbed and cork for roadbed. The mainline track is all Code 100 which consists of Atlas flextrack and Peco turnouts and motors. All the sidings are Atlas Code 83 track with Caboose Industries ground throws to control the turnouts. I used ¼’ Masonite for the fascia and painted it a forest green. The most important part was finishing off the room before starting any of the benchwork by adding a drop ceiling and finishing all the walls with sheetrock and painting the walls blue.

For control of the layout, I used dual cab control. On the prototype, there are very few times during a day that there would be more than two trains running between Groton and Old Saybrook. If I did have operating sessions I could tweak the schedule such that there wouldn’t be more than two trains running on the layout at one time. Since I had designed a walkaround layout, I made four separate panels that contained the controls for each of the major switching areas in Groton, New London, Old Saybrook, and the staging yard. I also installed MRC walk around controllers so that operators could follow their trains. At the time, DCC wasn’t a practical option. It was too expensive compared to the DC system (probably still true today), and since I was only running two trains at a time, there wasn’t that much of an advantage to DCC other than the headlights could be turned on and off. Now with the addition of sound, I would have certainly converted the layout to DCC.

Structures and Scenery

I mostly used kits and kitbashing to build structures for the layout. I wasn’t that concerned about building accurate replicas of structures from the prototype. My intent was really to capture the flavor of the area as opposed to building a rivet for rivet layout. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time to get the layout to a reasonable point of completion before leaving for college. My structures therefore capture the flavor of the area and visitors that live nearby can usually recognize the scenes.

One of the interesting points about this section of the Northeast Corridor is that there are four drawbridges between Old Saybrook and Groton. As a student pursuing a degree in civil engineering I knew I wanted to model a few of these. I had already built a module featuring a compressed Connecticut River drawbridge. This model actually works and was kitbashed from three Walthers double track truss bridge kits. This module has been incorporated into the layout and can be removed and taken to shows with my local modular club, the Mohegan Pequot Model Railroad Club. This had a number of advantages in that constructing the mechanicals for the bridge could be done away from the layout with the module on its side allowing easier access to the bottom of the module. In addition, when I placed it in the layout, I had eight square feet of scenery finished immediately since I had built the module before construction of the rest of the layout. Also, when the layout has to be torn down, I can easily save this piece of the railroad. I also built a static model of the bridge over the Thames River between Groton and New London again using Walthers kits.

As for the scenery, the first question I am always asked is “How did you make all those trees?” My answer is Super Trees from Scenic Express. These have to be the easiest to build and best looking deciduous trees I have found. There are probably over a thousand trees that were constructed for the layout and I enlisted the help of my sister who graciously volunteered some time to help in the foresting of the layout. These trees went into a base of foam which had been carved and shaped with a hack saw blade and then was covered by plaster cloth. The rest of the scenery base was the tried and true ground foam fixed with diluted white glue.

In any layout, it is the details that make the difference. This is the most time consuming portion of the layout. Overall, I was able to get the layout to a reasonable looking level of completion in about 2 years but the details that I have added little by little over the last decade greatly increase the realism of the scenes. Adding little things such as telephone poles, figures, utility boxes, and more all make the layout look better. Even on such a small railroad, I doubt I will ever be able to finish detailing all the scenes.

Final Thoughts

This layout was mostly finished by the time I left for college in the early 2000s. My parents decided that they liked the layout and one semester when I was away finished the layout room off by painting the floor and adding carpet. It really completed the room and is quite a nice place to visit. I would be remised if I didn’t say thanks to them for giving me the opportunity to build this layout and give me the space to build it in. I would also like to thank the folks who ran the 2009 NMRA National Convention for including this layout as part of the layout tours during the 2009 National Convention. It isn’t often that a National Convention is in your backyard and the fact I had a layout ready enough to be included was a privilege. In 2012, the layout was taken down to allow my parents to use the room for other purposes.

YouTube Construction Journal

Back when I was building the layout, I happened to have a video camera and did periodic journals of the progress of layout construction.  These have been digitized on the YouTube channel if you want to see the life cycle of the layout here.

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