Making the Most of Corners

One common aspect almost every layout shares is corners. In this article, we’re going to look at how we can utilize these awkward spaces on our railroads to either add to our operations, or increase the realism and dramatic impact of our scenery.

The Problem with Corners

When planning a layout you’ll likely know the essentials of how you want it to look. You’ll have a theme, perhaps an era, and you’ll probably have a rough idea of how your scenery will look, at least in the defined areas (stations, towns, industries). But what about those awkward spaces common to almost all layouts – corners? Many modelers will neglect these small but noticeable areas in their scene – simply choosing to cover them in grass, and maybe a few trees, since they probably aren’t central to their design. But in doing so, they are missing out on taking advantage of some of the best areas to develop.

On a classic 4×8 sized layout, corners are defined by the outer edges of the table. Usually cut off from the rest of the scene by a loop of track, but easily accessible to the builder. On a layout built against a wall, this might be reversed, with the corners being the furthest point from the operator, falling between the far tracks and the corner of the room. Either way, these spaces can be some of the most challenging to develop, but also the most rewarding.

More Room for Interesting Operations

Whether your layout is large or small, you can never have enough excuses for businesses to switch! Corners are the perfect spot to place that industry that won’t really fit anywhere else. These could be anything, and since they won’t interfere with your main scene, they can really adhere to any design you’d like.

One of our personal favorites is the Medusa Cement Company, which we used on our layout to fill an otherwise empty corner. What could have just been a mundane curve on our mainline now features a commanding structure which adds a great deal to the landscape of our railroad, and operationally, we now have an interchange siding and spur into the plant which even has it’s own switcher. This small space is now it’s own fully functioning scene!

If you don’t want to go the industrial route, corners are also a great place to fit an extra station. Say you have a smaller layout that features a central town scene with a passenger station. Instead of just taking your riders in circles around your loop, you could add another station (and even another town scene depending on the space available) on a short spur line into one of your corners. Now your passengers have a destination to travel to!

Of course your scenes don’t have to be as elaborate as these –  a simple siding off of the mainline into a single warehouse or coal trestle would also add interest and depth to a smaller space scene.

A Chance to Include Additional Scenery

OK, so maybe you don’t want to fill every corner with more track and structures – balance is best for a realistic layout anyway. Corners can also be a great space to show off additional scenic elements, and more importantly, can be used to further blend your tracks into your scene, giving your trains something to travel through, rather than just around.

There are plenty of options for flat scenic elements to fit in these spaces (plowed fields, orchards, forests, etc) but if you really want to make an impact with your scenery, we suggest using these spaces to build a change in elevation. The real world is not flat, even in plains and deserts, and the slightest change in elevation will do wonders for the realism of your scene. If your benchwork allows for this, a corner is a great spot to drop the level of the scenery down, and have your train either pass along an embankment, or over a bridge or trestle (allowing for further scenic elements such as a road or river flowing below). A change in height will also give your scene a more immersive feel – that there is more beyond what we can see laid out on the board.

Another option is to increase your elevation. This can take the form of either a hillside on the outer edge of the tracks, or a cut or tunnel for the train to pass through. In addition to creating the idea that the scene continues off-board, elements which obscure the track (even if just momentarily) create a great scenic-break, giving the illusion that your train really is traveling to somewhere else. This can also be used to help separate two scenes which may be close in reality, but are representing locations that are much further apart. For this effect, a tunnel, or simply a bridge over the tracks in a deep cutting will work best.

Choosing the Right Scene For You

Of course there are external factors to consider in addition to what you would like to have. For instance you might not want a detailed industrial scene sitting close to the edge of your railroad if people frequently brush past the layout (flailing jackets and arms don’t generally mix with intricate scenes). Likewise, you might not want to build a hillside that could obscure the viewing angles for your railroad. And if your corner is against a wall, you probably don’t want a scene that requires hand-throw switching or reaching over the layout.

These are just some ideas. There are plenty more, and there’s likely an idea out there which can work for your situation. You might have to get a little creative – but isn’t that what this hobby is all about?