The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, something real railroads have first and foremost in their minds when it comes to going from point A to point B.  In real life,  railroads go a LONG way without turning.  Unfortunately, our basements are so small that we can only go a few feet before we hit the proverbial wall and need to turn.  Taking something that is long and straight and bending it back and forth so that it fits in our basements is a real design challenge both in terms of realism and creature comforts.  Going back to the 1950’s the ‘go to’ design solution was the dog bone solution shown in figure 1.

turnback1

Figure 1

There are four major problems with the dog bone design shown above:

  1. Area 1 is out of reaching distance, a real problem if you need to access the rail for maintenance or to deal with a derailment.
  2. Ideally we would like rectangular shaped areas when dealing with rail features such as yards and structures.  The track running behind the features in area 2 looks toy like and out of place.  The circular region in area 2 is difficult to deal with visually both as far scenery is concerned and track layout.
  3. Straight track is more realistic, more reliable, and easier to deal with when it comes to industrial spurs and sidings. 360 degrees of S curves is a worst case scenario.  Curved turnouts help to an extent but they are expensive, less realistic, and less reliable than their traditional counterparts.
  4. Scenes are more realistic when a train passes through a scene only once.  It looks odd to have a train passing through an area it was just in a second time and heading in the other direction.  Separating the tracks visually  in area 4 is a problem.

turnback2

Figure 2

Unfortunately, the dog bone has become the design solution of choice, almost by default. In reality it should be used only as a last resort.   Railroads are mostly straight and the features around them are generally parallel or perpendicular to the right of way.  To the extent we can maintain that linear spirit with our layout designs the better off we will be.  They will look better and be more comfortable to interact with.