Above is the track plan of my South African Railways HOn3.5 layout at my home in Randburg.
This layout is constructed in a stand-alone room of 48 square meters, that was originally a double garage. This space was fully prepared before construction on the layout was begun. A new ceiling was installed, superfluous doors were bricked up and the entire room re plastered and painted. A carpet was installed, although in hindsight this was a mistake. My suggestion to anyone planning a layout room, would be to lay light coloured ceramic tiles or wooden strip floor. Less of a dust trap, easier to clean, and fewer small parts getting swallowed by the carpet monster. New fluorescent lighting was installed, although this was replaced in 2012 with modern LED technology tube lighting. Apart from the power saving, the colour temperature of the new light is very close to sunlight, and there is far less ultraviolet radiation. One wall has full length concertina wooden doors with large glass openings, that are dust sealed, but can be opened for an open air feel, and to take advantage of our great weather. They open onto an enclosed courtyard where guests can sit during running sessions. There is a bar fridge and espresso machine close at hand.
The track plan was drawn on an early CAD township planning program by friend Ryn Vlietstra, another fine SAR HOn3.5 modeller, over one public holiday, with the assistance of a few 6 packs and pizza’s. The design philosophy was to create a single track secondary main line, and to capture the flavour of the Eastern Transvaal or Natal Midlands. Some of the design parameters included, minimum main line curve radius of 1 meter, 750mm in yards and sidings, maximum gradient of 2%. All points were to be Tillig TT large radius points (radius 980mm), with an uncluttered track plan to mimic our wide open spaces. During design it was uppermost that the resulting terrain must look believable. In other words the terrain was there first and then the railway line came. Particular attention was paid to drainage lines and for the terrain to be above and BELOW the track bed. When designing a layout it is imperative to kill the ‘tabletop’ effect. What is not visible on the track plan is the hidden staging and return loop that is located under the main station. Departing from the main station, which has been named Belfast, in a clockwise direction the main line follows a right hand curve through a view block and crosses a five arch cut stone bridge, modelled after the preserved bridge at Waterval Onder. From here the track drops continuously at 2%, through a single turn helix. Just before entering the helix there is a short spur to a siding called Pynbos, after the siding just outside Sabie. This siding has a small goods shed and a log loading facility, as it is located in the middle of a large commercial pine plantation. So far over 350 trees have gone into this forest. The helix is partially hidden in a tunnel and gives the effects of greatly increasing the apparent length of the line. Emerging from the helix one arrives at Rosehagh. This is the the mid point of the 53 meter long mainline, and has a lengthy passing loop, a station building, goods shed and a large saw mill complex. There are additional sidings servicing the sawmill. There is also a small engine servicing facility with ash pits and coaling stage for the locos that double-head heavy trains up the helix back to Belfast. Continuing on in our direction of travel the line passes over a river gorge on a plate girder bridge, and into a tunnel which leads to the 5 track hidden staging yard and return loop. Emerging from the tunnel the track crosses a typical SAR Warren truss bridge and enters the siding called Cement. There is once again a small station, goods shed, log loading facility and a rock quarry and crusher. The quarry is served by its own siding, and again there is a small coaling stage and servicing track. From Cement the line carries on to re enter Belfast from the opposite end to when we departed. Belfast has a large station building, goods shed, cattle dock a large grain silo complex, and bulk fuel depot. There are 4 passing loops and a 4 track shunting yard. Behind the yard is a 4 track loco shed, with associated ash pits, watering points, sanding facility and a small diesel fuelling depot. Pride of place is the 2.3 meter long incline coaling stage that forms the backdrop to the loco facility. In the back are a row of railway workers houses and the depiction of a platteland town main street facing the railway complex. At Belfast there is a typical turning wye, one leg of which disappears off the layout to represent a branch line. The difference in elevation between the highest and lowest point of the track is 60 cms.
Although the names of stations etc are actual place names they bear no resemblance to the actual place, but are used to add to the flavour of the layout.
All of the structures are scratch built to represent truly South African architecture. In some instances commercial kits have been used, but have been extensively modified to appear South African.
The era modelled depicts the mid 70’s to the early 80’s, and all rolling stock and vehicles etc reflect that.
A full suite of operating semaphore signals are being developed, and the layout will feature full lighting for night time operations.
The layout is controlled by a Lenz DCC system, divided into 4 power blocks with individual track boosters. Point control is done from schematic panels at each station or siding, and utilise Tortoise slow motion machine controlled by toggle switches. This route was decided in the interests of simplicity of wiring, and because the philosophy of the layout was that it should be operated prototypically, with individual crews following their train and following SAR operating practice.