Thank you CTValley, you have given me some great information and food for thought. I am going to try my hand at SCARM that seems to be a popular one on these forums, i'll take a look at AnyRail too. I understand what you mean regarding track expense, it is always best to have a plan especially in the haunt industry where I have some experience. Materials arent cheap and build is a lot of work, so one really needs to have a roadmap. Its just always a daunting task for me because I dont draw well at all. Has anyone ever tried Google sketch up to design their layout?Well, first off, you wouldn't be stealing... published plans are meant to be used by others. The real purpose, though, isn't really to hand out track plans, but to try to show people what can and can't be done, as well as to provide inspiration. I would definitely encourage you to design your own, some folks, though, have no idea where to start or how to proceed. If that's not you, then by all means, be creative! Unique is always better, in my opinion. Show us what you come up with (start your own thread and talk about your thoughts).
The first thing you're going to need to figure out is how much space you have available. 2-3 levels and lots of scenery is going to be a space eating monster, even in one of the smaller scales. In particular, grades are as much a problem for our tiny pikes as they are for the full sized ones. True, we can get away with somewhat steeper grades than they can, but still anything more than 3% is asking for trouble, and even that is pushing it. Even at 3%, you need 33-1/3" of linear run to change 1" of elevation, and that much again to come back down on the far side (and this doesn't allow for the required easement -- gradual transitions onto and off of the grade). Grades severely limit train size, with curves on the grade limiting it still further. Of course, if your levels are unconnected, that's a lot easier to manage, but that limits you to a "railfanning" type of layout where you pretty much just watch the trains run rather than doing anything with them. While that's fine if that's what you want, it gets boring quickly for others.
As far as just winging it, I have to be honest. Most of the folks I know who tried that gave up in frustration when they couldn't get anything to work right. It's much more effective to work from a plan, even just a rough one, because then you know it will run and you know it will fit. Consider that computer assisted designs are free (perhaps after investing in some software), and scale drawings cost only pennies (again, perhaps after some initial investment in quality drafting equipment). Track is expensive, and using it to plan your layout, unless you already have a bunch of it lying around, will run up a huge bill, and perhaps result in a lot of wasted track for parts you don't end up using. The commercial layout design software that I use (AnyRail), costs about as much as two good quality turnouts.
But anyway, welcome to the hobby! We're looking forward to seeing what great ideas you come up with on your own layout!
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