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Alcos in the Alcove

HO shelf switching layout overlaps functions for space savings

There's almost always room for some kind of a layout somewhere in almost every living situation. One of my clients had an unusual little alcove in one corner of a room. Since it was only 5'X2', he didn't think much of a layout would fit, and resigned himself to a non-operating scenery diorama on a shelf.


But he was able to negotiate an additional 5' shelf along an adjoining wall and the search for an HO switching track plan was on. He had a number of Milwaukee Road models on-hand, including two KATO RSC-2 roadswitchers and GCLaser's beautiful model of the Sturtevant, Wisconsin Milwaukee Road station.

Compact HO switching model railroad layout MILW

The Sturtevant depot is a unique design since it served two different MILW lines at a near 90-degree crossing. It's also fairly large for an HO station, so I decided to place it first at the far corner of the alcove shelf. This allowed me to provide just the suggestion of a crossing line without using much space.


A number of the other on-hand kits were more of a granger theme, including Walthers' ADM Grain Elevator (AGE) and GCLaser's County Co-Op (CCO), which I placed across the main line from one another. So even though Sturtevant is not really out on the prairie, the layout took on that classic Midwestern feel.


Other must-have structures included American Model Builders' A.C. Brown Manufacturing (ACB) and Walthers' Merchants Row II (MR2), so I set about finding space for all of those.


In order for everything to fit, I had to make a number of compromises in the way the various tracks are arranged. This is explained in detail in my article in the July, 2009 issue (#3) of Model-Railroad-Hobbyist media-zine, always free for download on the web!

Tight space HO switching layout

One trick newcomers to design often miss is overlapping the various functions along the benchwork. If we can use the same linear stretch of shelf for runarounds, switching leads, and industry tracks alongside one another, we can incorporate more fun and interest in a given space. In addition, some track segments perform different roles at different times, creating further space savings.


Shelf switching layouts like this one are a great way to combine operating fun and modeling challenge in a space that's available in almost any room. If you'd like help with a switching layout project of your own, please contact me.

Overlapping elements model railroad switching layout
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