I have been modelling for 3 years now with some quite pleasing, realistic layouts. I’m currently working on an oo gauge Scottish distillery micro layout which is occupying most of my modelling time. I really enjoy building micro layouts but often struggle to plan them very well. How do you go about planning your smaller layouts and how do you design them?
I guess I should start by saying I aim primarily for a layout that looks nice, but will probably have the purists frothing at it's lack of prototype fidelity. Truth is that the real thing doesn't normally fit into the stupidly small space of a micro layout.
So, I start with the space and try to fit things in there. Sometimes it's easy. With Melbridge Parva, I just stuck a note on this blog and Michael Campbell came up with a plan. All I had to do was build it!
More recently, for Didsbury Green, I knew the overall dimensions of the box it had to travel in. The plan was that aside from a sticky-out fiddle yard, everything would fit on the baseboard. It needed to be a working layout too with no tricksy sector plates to handle one end of the run-round loop.
Which brings me back to deciding what features you need. I consider a run-round essential and ideally, I like sidings pointing in both directions too. Didsbury was planned around a normal 60ft coach, even though I built a 4-wheeler for it in the end.
Planning doesn't need to cost money. Download the Peco Point Plans and print them out full size. Along with some rolling stock and a full-sized bit of paper (or wood) to represent the baseboard, you can build the layout and roughly test operation. Can you get wagons in the sidings, that sort of thing.
Another option is using computer software. I find the Anyrail software good. Since you won't be using many track sections, it's free too. Very handy to play around with things and even if you are going to build your own track, it's a good start.
While planning track, consider mocking up buildings from cereal packet card too. The more you build, the better feel you get for the finished model. Once the planning starts, don't rush it. Always leave things overnight, or better still longer, so you can come back to it with a fresh eye. It's amazing what you spot after a couple of days.
Finally, don't expect great operation. Micro layouts are about building. That said, an Inglenook System like the one I used on Ruston Quays, can provide lots of entertainment without the space required for a loop.
With thousands of potential wagon combinations, there's a lot of "play value" here.
All this is my opinion of course, but if you look at Chris Nevard's layouts, they tend to work on the same sort of basis. All modelling, little operating - he likes playing trains even less than I do - but a lot depends on what you want out of a model.
I hope this helps a little. Layout design isn't easy, the best suggestion is to look at the space available, work out what you want to fit in, and play around with templates. Ultimately, if it looks right to you then it is right.