Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Track plan for a port that fits on shelf

This simple HO scale model railroad depicts the Port of Brunswick RR in Georgia
An Alco RS-1 pulls a cut of cars near the docks in Panama City, Fla., in 1953. The Port of Brunswick RR is set in coastal Georgia in the same time period and moves bulk freight from rail to ship.
W.V. Anderson
Click on the link to download the track plan.
This might be the simplest track plan ever to appear in Model Railroader. It includes just three turnouts, almost all the track is dead straight, and it’ll fit in office cubicles, studio apartments, dorm rooms, and other spaces traditionally considered too small for a model railroad. But don’t underestimate the Port of Brunswick RR; despite its size it delivers plenty of challenge and satisfaction. I built a version of this layout and enjoy operating it often.

The track plan shown here depicts a small rail-marine terminal yard serving the docks of Brunswick, Ga., in the 1950s. Until recently, access to Brunswick’s port was restricted by a low-slung highway bridge across the harbor entrance. The only oceangoing vessels that could make it under the bridge and into the inner harbor were small break-bulk freighters.

The Port of Brunswick RR helps load and unload these freighters. The railroad receives cars from the Southern Ry. and Seaboard Air Line and spots them on the wharf track next to a docked ship. Their loads are then transferred to cargo nets and hoisted aboard, to be stowed in a freighter’s (or freighters’) various holds. But a ship is like any large industry with multiple car spots. The setouts on the wharf track must be spotted in the correct order, so each car is next to the proper cargo hold.

Designing and building
This track plan is actually a Layout Design Element (LDE), adapted from some industrial sidings on the Central Connecticut RR. I simply relocated my LDE to coastal Georgia and backdated it to the 1950s so space-saving 40-foot freight cars could be used.

On a very small layout such as this, every inch counts. The wharf track must hold five 40-foot freight cars in the clear. A 3-foot length of flextrack is ideal for this. The two other yard spurs each hold three 40-footers, with half a car or so to spare. The yard lead must be long enough to let three cars and a locomotive clear the points on the wharf track switch.

Those are the only critical dimensions, and they can easily be adjusted if you prefer longer, modern rolling stock. As shown, the Port of Brunswick layout is 15 x 80 inches and can be built on traditional open-grid framing or a hollow-core door of appropriate width.

Light, code 70 track looks great and is easy to lay on such a small layout. Keep in mind that using different turnouts than the ones shown in the plan may affect the layout’s dimensions. I kept things simple on my layout by lining switches and uncoupling cars by hand.

I’ve suggested some inexpensive plastic structure kits, but this layout would be a good showcase for detailed craftsman structures and rolling stock. Trees are another important scenic feature, mostly low-growing softwoods with a few live oaks.

Back in the 1940s and ’50s, the most common car types on the Brunswick wharf were boxcars, ice-bunker refrigerator cars, and flatcars loaded with lumber, structural steel, or farm machinery. Bulk commodities such as oil, coal, and kaolin clay were handled in another part of the port, so tank cars and hoppers wouldn’t appear on this layout.

The Port of Brunswick is a one-locomotive railroad. This can be a leased Alco or Electro-Motive Division switcher, or an ancient 0-6-0 spending its last few years shuffling cars around the docks. My motive power is a General Electric 45-ton side-rod diesel, a favorite of Southeastern port authority short lines. And since there’s only one engine, you can make it a real showpiece with extra detailing, eye-catching weathering, and sound.

Switching the docks
As mentioned earlier, operation involves setting out five cars on the wharf track so their lading can be transferred to a ship (not modeled). The cars must be blocked in order for efficient loading.

An operating session begins with eight cars spotted randomly on the three yard tracks. You’ll need car cards for these eight cars; shuffle them and pick five. Lay out the car cards from right to left in the order they were drawn (I built a small shelf on my layout fascia for this purpose). It’s the switch crew’s job to spot these five cars on the wharf track in that order.

You’ll need to think ahead when doing your switching because there’s no extra room. Some operating sessions are more involved than others, but I’ve never encountered one that couldn’t be completed. At scale speeds, a typical operating cycle takes 20 to 30 minutes – not bad for just over 8 square feet.

Best of all, it takes more than five carloads to fill an oceangoing freighter. After allowing time for the cut of five cars to be unloaded, you can remove them from the layout, replace them with five fresh cars and paperwork, and start the operating cycle over again.

There’s no staging on this plan. I just remove and replace cars by hand, but you could leave an opening in the backdrop at the end of the yard lead and attach a fiddle track where cars can be swapped. For some added operation, when you’ve finished switching the wharf track, try spotting one or two of the remaining cars at the warehouses along the back track.

Operating this layout with a two-person crew is a good way to introduce new modelers to switching operations. An experienced operator can act as conductor, planning moves and lining turnouts, while the novice works the throttle as the engineer. Teamwork like this is fun and entirely prototypical.

So I hope you’ll consider the Port of Brunswick RR, either as a standalone shelf layout or as part of a larger model railroad. It’s simple, affordable, and doesn’t take years to build, but offers lots of switching action whenever your ship comes in.
Track plan at a glance

Name: Port of Brunswick RR
Scale: HO (1:87.1)
Size: 15" x 80"
Prototype: freelanced
Locale: Brunswick, Ga.
Era: mid-1950s
Style: shelf switching
Mainline Run: none
Minimum Radius: 24"
Minimum Turnouts: no. 6
Maximum Grade: none

Downloadable File(s)

Join the discussion

Read and share your comments on this article
Comment on this article
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of are allowed to comment on this article. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.


How to personalize your layout.

Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!
By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Model Railroader magazine. Please view our privacy policy