Virginian HO 4X8 and an Alternative in 8X10
Comparing two approaches in the identical space
David Popp's HO 4x8 Virginian layout published in the February 2011 Model Railroader does a good job of overcoming many of the limitations of the HO 4X8 footprint. The design focuses on a narrow theme (coal hauling) and uses grades and multiple passes around the "sacred sheet" to gain more running room. This allows space for larger industries that are always more realistic.
But the design still leaves the builder with very tight curves (18" radius and Atlas Snap-Switches) and steep grades through those curves that might be tricky for a newcomer. Building this track plan as a 5X9 or 5X10 "island" would alleviate many of these problems and make for a much better layout. But the resulting track plan obviously wouldn't fit in the same 8X10 space as the HO 4X8 and its aisles.
As an alternative, let's take the full 8X10 space required for the Virginian HO 4X8 and its aisles and revise the track plan to use that space more efficiently. Click the image for a larger view of the 8X10 plan in a new window. We can spread things out substantially while also expanding the aisles, broadening the radius on the mainline to 22" from 18", and easing the mainline grade.
We now have room for an interchange track with another railroad and the option of adding more industries to increase the variety in traffic and railcar types.
This "Water Wings" approach does mean that access is needed in two room corners, but only to reach track with no turnouts. So there won't be much need to get back there unless one adds the additional passing siding shown in dotted lines on the left. These access areas could be left open or covered with a removable hatch. And of course in a little more space, there would be room for access aisles that could eliminate the need for the access pop-ups.
This exercise shows that even a very well-designed HO 4X8 model railroad track plan such as David Popp's Virginian can be improved upon when we see the space, not just a rectangle.
So don't limit yourself to an HO 4X8 model railroad when something more interesting, reliable, and enjoyable will fit. Click here for my layout design gallery of free track plans for many spaces. Or contact me for more information on developing a custom model railroad track plan to fit your interests and space. Don't fear the saw!
Click image to open larger in new window
A few folks have requested a more detailed view of the 8X10 "water wings" HO track plan showing radii, turnouts, etc. Just click the image to download an Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file showing these details.
Click image for an Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file of layout details