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Common Errors and Oversights Made by Beginning Trackplanners
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How Not to Reinvent the Square Wheel

So youíre tired of watching your train go around an oval, and youíre ready to design the ultimate layout — one whose trackplan alone will make the model-railroading magazines fight for the rights to your article. A plan so good that youíll never have to revise it or improve it. Sounds good to me! But if you havenít done much trackplanning, how do you know your grand ideas will work? Iím not here to tell you how to do it, but how not to do it. Trackplanning is a skill that improves with experience, which comes from making mistakes, and that can include other peopleís mistakes. Why make the same errors that others have already made? This article is a partial list of the most popular trackplanning goofs. If you heed this advice, you can at least be sure that your mistakes will be original.

Iím not addressing issues of execution here — things like kinked rail joints, bad solder connections, out-of-gauge track, and so on. The problems Iím describing are problems with the track plan itself, problems that would doom a layout to failure even if Allen McClelland and Tony Koester built it for you. The saying, "Thereís never time to do it right, but thereís always time to do it over" doesnít apply to laying down the basics of a model railroad, because we barely have enough time to do it once, never mind twice. A little planning at the outset can save you huge amounts of time, effort, and frustration.

Iíve divided the common trackplanning errors into four categories: mechanical, access, visual, and operational.

Mechanical problems are physical errors that will keep the layout from working properly. The most common ones are:

Access problems are issues of not being able to reach things. Everything works as planned, but the humans canít interact with the layout properly. This kind of problem results in a layout that doesnít get enough maintenance, starts to act balky, and gets abandoned because itís more frustrating than fun.

Visual problems are issues of the layoutís appearance. Everything works, but it doesnít quite look right. This kind of mistake usually goes unrecognized for a while, causes mild annoyance when itís discovered, and keeps you from really being pleased with the layout from that day forward.

Operational problems are errors in planning how the trains will run. Thereís nothing wrong with the plan or the way it looks. But when you try to go beyond toy-train running and do something realistic on your new layout, you discover that it canít be done.

As you browse this list, Iím sure youíll think of other problems that might arise, or that have arisen in your own modeling past, which I neglected to mention. Thatís great — it means this article has started you thinking about how to avoid trackplanning problems. An ounce of prevention goes a long way, even if the ounce is reduced to Z scale. And youíll enjoy your layout a lot more if itís free from basic problems at the outset. Keep 'em running!

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