MY MODEL RAILROAD LAYOUT FEATURES A MULTI-LEVEL design which varies from 1 level in some areas to 4  levels in other areas as the tracks circle the room. The lowest level is 46" above the floor and the logging area, serviced by an operating incline, is 77" above the floor. While double-deck layouts are becoming more popular as a way to better utilize limited floor space, there are still a number of modelers who have never had the chance to actually visit or see a multi-level layout. Here are some photos and information to help you better visualize a multi-deck layout.

This is the view as you enter the layout room and turn slightly left to duck-under and enter the rest of the layout. (Note the YVRR grabiron from YV stock car 702 which is available to assist visitors to duck under this section.) The YV interchange with the Southern Pacific Railroad in Merced is on the left on the lowest level (at 46" above the floor) while the Moss Canyon wye (at 62" above the floor) is on the second level in this area. The logging area near Highway 120 is on the upper level. This latter level can be viewed only by using a step stool and is not used during normal operations. Note that there are four levels at the duck-under; the bottom level is actually under McClure Reservoir (the tracks from the SP Interchange disappear under the lake to reach a reversing loop and then reappear at the Merced yards on the far side of the duck-under) while the second level is on the bridge over the Reservoir.


This photo is just beyond the duck-under in the above photo. The main YV yard at Merced is on the left; this yard is important enough that it has been designed as a single level without another level above the yard to complicate viewing. Instead, tracks running from the first level to the second level pass behind this yard to emerge at the far end of the Merced Yards. You can see this track turning to pass behind the Merced Yards in the first photo; it is the track on the bridge. It then reappears to cross the bridge near Bagby in the above photo. On the right in the above photo is the area around Incline. There is a single-turn helix under Incline which is hidden by the tall fascia in this area.


Moving around the corner from the above photo, this is a typical double-deck portion of the layout. The AT&SF crossing, Bear Creek, Fahrens Creek, and Black Rascal Creek are on the lower level while the town of Bagby is on the upper level. The track level on the lower level is at 45" above the floor while the track level of the upper level is 60" above the floor. This results in a "railhead to railhead" distance of 15" which is adequate as long as the fascia and roadbed on the upper level is kept as thin as possible and the upper level is not too wide.


This extreme view from about 7' above the floor emphasizes both the curvilinear nature of the front fascia and the difference in the widths of the two levels. As illustrated by this view, I don't think that both levels need to be the same width nor do I believe that the front of either level needs to be straight. Even the bottom level here has a slight curve in the front fascia. I also suggest that the levels move in and out as needed to accommodate the locations being modeled; having them move in and out can minimize the distractions of a multi-deck layout. The upper level here is slightly wider than the lower level to accommodate the town of Bagby. The wider upper level also helps protect the lower level from errant elbows since it is opposite the narrowest aisle on the layout.


This view is to the right of the same location shown in the previous photo. Note that the electrical switch for the turnout on the right (lower level) has been recessed to protect it from visitors.


This area is around the corner from the previous photo. The tracks on the lower level emerge from their crossing of the San Joaquin Valley to cross the Merced River (this is the bridge shown on the "Then and Now" page which was 13 miles east of Merced) and pass through the green dairy-cattle-raising area around Hopeton. The tracks on the upper level pass the quarry at Emory and then chaparral-covered Jenkins Hill. The Yosemite Portland Cement Company quarry was a big shipper on the prototype Yosemite Valley Railroad and the benchwork on the upper level widens as necessary to accommodate the storage bunkers, passing track and siding. On the other hand, the trackage on the lower level is fairly simple and therefore the width of the benchwork is narrowed to allow the upper level to dominate the scene.


This view is just to the right of the previous view and shows Merced Falls on the lower level and the trackage east of Jenkins Hill on the upper level. Merced Falls was an important town on the prototype YVRR. It was a company town and featured a large, modern lumber mill which processed the logs from harvested the forests around Yosemite National Park; the log dump is in the foreground with the Merced Falls depot behind it. Because of the importance of Merced Falls to the operation of the layout, I moved the upper level back in this area so that most of the yard on the lower level would be easily visible. However, it is still easy to reach the turnout controls on the upper deck.


This view of Merced Falls helps shows how the upper level has been moved back to make the yard on the lower level more accessible. The lumber mill will ultimately occupy the blank area in the middle foreground near the station while the background will be covered by the planing mill, box company, and shipping dock.


This unusual view is looking up toward the upper level at Bagby and therefore not visible to visitors except those who bend over to peer up under the layout. General Electric Bright Stick fluorescent lights are hidden under the upper level to light the lower level. I used 3/4" plywood to build the profile boards which support the upper level track roadbed; these profile boards were screwed to vertical 2x2s which support both levels in this area. By using 3/4" plywood material under the track on the upper level, I was able to space the profile boards or supports about 16" apart. The switch motors which control of the turnouts on the upper level are also visible in this photo.

Note that it is not necessary to mount the Bright Sticks end to end everywhere. Space them together to light areas on the lower deck which are more interesting such as yards, bridges, crossings, etc. and skip over "boring" areas. These latter areas are not dark by any means but just don't have quite the lighting foot-candles of areas under the lights. Where I couldn't fit in a Bright Stick, I instead installed a standard incandescent porcelain lighting fixture with a retro-fit-type fluorescent light in the socket.

These GE Bright Sticks match the standard, "cool" fluorescent lights I use for general room lighting. I firmly believe that you need to have a high level of both room and general lighting for the layout room. The downside to a high lighting level is that dust will be visible but the upside (more important to me) is that you will be able to see details, car numbers during operation, etc. As you get older, it is more and more difficult to see adequately in low lighting situations (when you are young, a candlelit dinner is romantic but when you get older, a candlelit dinner means that you never know what is on your fork until it is in your mouth). If you are modeling a gloomy, overcast day, keep the lights low. But if it is a sunny day, the lighting level should be high. You'll never match the foot-candles of sunlight but if your lighting level is high enough, everything will look correct.

it is also important that lighting levels on all decks of a layout be equal and that includes the upper deck which is lit by general room lights. If the lower level is brighter than the upper deck, it will appear to glow unrealistically. If it isn't lit as well, it will appear even darker.

The type of lighting on all levels must also be the same. You can't have fluorescent room lights and incandescent Christmas lights for the lower level and have colors appear the same.

There is more information on designing multi-deck layouts in an article I wrote for the May 1982 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. Back issues of this article are available for National Model Railroad Association members from the NMRA library. You can also obtain copies of this article from Railroad Model Craftsman magazine.

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