When I work with a design client, one question I always ask is why previous layouts didn’t get off the ground and gain critical mass. After almost fifteen years the answers haven’t changed. The three reasons layouts fail, the three headed monster if you will are: the layout dimensions were too large, the design was too complex, or poor ergonomics. It’s not uncommon to have all three at once. The one issue that, to this day, has never come up is a layout that was too small or simple. Nobody has ever said, “Well the layout was too simple and I quickly got bored with it.” It just doesn’t happen. Where we get off track is grossly missing the mark in terms of how little track it takes to keep us blissfully entertained. It doesn’t take much, even if we aren’t ‘pure operators’. For those that are operators, as our knowledge increases, the necessary track volume decreases further. Here’s a design exercise for those of you with a typical large bedroom or half basement to work with. Set a hard and fast limit of fifteen turnouts and stick to that. It will take some discipline but see if you can come up with a design that sticks to that limit.
The third trap, ergonomics, is dangerous because it’s so subtle. Our discomfort and dissatisfaction with a layout with poor ergonomics is often hidden in our sub-conscious. We find our enthusiasm dwindling with each passing year and aren’t sure why. The key word here is ‘easy access’. It is absolutely critical that ALL track be within easy ‘grab and go’, arms reach, accessible distance. For your average person this means no further than 27 inches from the fascia. It also means avoiding hidden track at all costs. Long tunnels, hidden staging, hard to reach staging are deal killers. The scary part is the problem isn’t so obvious during the first year when your enthusiasm is so high that you are willing to overlook any and all inconvenience.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m frequently viewed as a champion of small layouts. That’s not the case at all. I’m a champion of designs that quickly and easily get people immersed in the hobby. It just so happens that for most people smaller and simpler layouts are the best way to do that.