Tips & Information on Designing a Yard

Desirable and required things for a yard:

  1. An arrival track (and departure track too) is required ... the road loco brings the inbound train in on that track either cutting off the whole train or just the cut of cars for this yard. The departure track is sometimes the same track.
  2. A track to build a train on ... while switching, some space is needed to place the cars blocked in the correct order for an outbound train ...after the train is built, it can be moved to the departure track
  3. A switcher pocket ... a short piece of track to stash the yard switcher out of the way to allow other trains to move through the yard, sometimes the switch lead doubles as a pocket
  4. A switching lead is fundamental ... a separate track is required that permits the local switcher to work without fouling the mainline
  5. A caboose track ... somewhere handy, a track is needed to place cabooses. Depending on your practice, the road loco may pick up the conductor and his caboose elsewhere and tack it to the train on the departure track or the yard crew fetches the caboose and tacks it onto the train just before departure

In operation, most trains are broken down on arrival as opposed to cherry picking the yard for departures. This implies that there should be as many tracks as there are outbound trains so that the switch crew preparing old 321 (afternoon wayfreight) would just pull all the cars on yard track 4 and block them on the train makeup track. Then they would be moved to the departure track to add a caboose ...

Description of main components of a yard:

  1. A passenger spur off the mainline for terminating passenger service. (Also used as switcher pocket)
  2. Mainline
  3. Long passing siding and freight Arrival/Departure track.
  4. Yard lead off end of passing siding. (Also used as switcher pocket)
  5. Engine facility off yard lead or other end of passing siding.
  6. Caboose track off engine facility. (also used as switcher pocket)
  7. Long make-up/break-down spur off yard lead.
  8. Shorter classification track for East/North bound cars
  9. Shorter classification track for West/South bound cars
  10. Short classification track for local and misc. cars.


Basic design rules

Your model is going to be a compressed form of a real yard, so some compromises need to be effected. A real railroad yard might have 2 or 3 double ended yards back to back, an arrival yard, a classification yard, and a departure yard. Sometimes this is duplicated on each side of the main line! You will most probably have to combine these into a single yard.

First, some basic rules:

  1. Avoid a layout that causes you to block or "foul" the main line. This usually means having "switching leads" or "yard leads" to keep the train off the main line. This means the lead track is dedicated to this purpose. The fewer turnouts on the main leading to the yard the better, ideally only 2.
  2. Try to have dedicated arrival and departure tracks. This way an arriving or departing train can be somewhere where it doesn't foul the main line, or switching leads, and are separate from where the real switching action is taking place. They are sort of holding tracks separate from classification tracks.
  3. For us old timers, have a caboose track. These are often off the yard lead, the main ladder, or the arrival or departure tracks. Make sure it is a facing point turnout.
  4. There should be at least one runaround track, where the loco can "run around" the train. This is also important where you do not have facing point switches for industries in the yard, i.e. the loco must pick up the car on the "wrong" end. The minimum length of a runaround is the longest car you have, but longer is better.
  5. Classification tracks are for storing cars that are to be repaired in place (RIP track), MOW rolling stock, house cars, etc. These can be located away from the main yard area. This is also where locos can "lay over" between runs, and be serviced with water, coal, etc.

The size of the yard determines how many cars can be in it. An easy way to determine how full the yard can be and still function is to figure out how many cars can sit on the track without fouling the turnouts, and divide by half. This is when the yard is FULL!.

Notes for designing my yard

  • Use a compound ladder, makes longer body tracks in same space, as long as you have more than 4 body tracks, but really pays off at about 6 body tracks.
  • Have a runaround track
  • Have a caboose track
  • I want a wye for turning trains ( I just like them, and no room for a turntable
  • There may not be enough room for pyramid or diamond layout
  • The hardest thing will be a yard lead, because it needs to be as long as the longest body tracks.
  • I'd like a wye on the mainline for turning trains, but it eats up space, any other way to turn an entire train? Otherwise a wye to turn engines can be smaller.... use the space for a yard with a diamond or pyramid?
  • A small sub yard at the end of the yard for locos looks nice, i.e an engine terminal or repair yard..
  • What about having team tracks?
  • The track spacing can be 13 feet, which is 5.4" in 1:29, 7.7" in 1:20.3, take this into consideration.

Yard accessories

  • tower
  • the yard should be lit with floodlights, all yards well lit.
  • fueling and servicing facilities in engine terminal
  • various buildings to support yard personnel, bunkhouse
  • buildings, ramps, etc. around team tracks


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