N-scale Kato Unitrack + Unitram layout: Small-build layout progress thread.

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#1
N-scale Kato Unitrack + Unitram layout: Small-build layout progress thread [revised].

I finally decided to go N-scale! After wracking my brain as to where to construct a layout, I just went into the garage and measured my Home Depot-built workbench cabinets. It runs most of the width of the garage, but the total area of the countertops measures only 20" x 12'. Though, I figure I can just build overhangs at each end to accommodate the 180°-turnarounds, or even build out a larger 'L' return at one end. This makes things a bit easier to get started since I don't have to build complete benchwork from scratch.

As the thread title indicates, I plan to integrate a fair amount of Kato Unitram street components into my layout. I ordered a few pre-built Tomix and Kato N-scale buildings to begin to populate my small urban-center, and I also ordered a couple of Walther's N-scale oil derricks (which are also present in and around parts of L.A.). I bought a pile of my favorite diesels, mostly Kato and Atlas engines, all in the Southern Pacific roadname. The location and era of my mostly-freelanced layout is Los Angeles in the mid-1990s to present-day. My most ambitious endeavor will be to produce a backlit photographic background for my entire layout using a Duratrans translucent display.

Since I'm not exactly sure of how the Kato Unitrack and Unitram components fit together, I thought I'd just start with some small starter kits. Here's my first Unitrack order:

• Kato V11 double-track set:




I plan on running four independent lines with my newly acquired inventory of N-scale locos:

Kato SD45s x2 Southern Pacific "speed" logo (MU'd).
• Kato F40PH x2 Metrolink commuter (MU'd) + Metrolink bombardier coaches (on pre-order).
• Atlas GP35s x5 Southern Pacific "Roman" logo (MU'd).
• Tomix Odakyu Series-4000 electric light-rail.

I think Unitrack dual-track is a neat way to add interest for those with limited layout space, and in this layout I'll have two, dual-track loops (one, completely elevated). Each dual-track loop will run a freight line and a passenger line, providing visibly contrasting operating scale-speeds. My layout is all-analog, and will eventually employ four separate controllers, plus two Kato Soundboxes (connected to a passive mixer into an external surround-sound stereo) to accompany freight-line operations.

The two basic Kato track kits I'll be starting with are the V11 dual-track kit, and the V13 dual-track, elevated-loop viaduct set. Although both kits have the same radius (15"/16-3/8"), each kit will be offset by a few inches, allowing me to incorporate a number of elevated crossings. At some point, I may add the Kato V1 mainline passing siding kit, and/or a small switching yard using the Kato V3 expansion kit. Regarding Kato's viaduct track, I found a very informative Kato-centric site located at sumidacrossing.org, which I found very helpful.

To aid in planning my modified V13 elevated-viaduct loop, I just downloaded RailModellerPro for OS X from the AppStore for $39.99 (a free, more limited Express Edition is also available). Thankfully, it follows common graphics-apps UI conventions which makes it intuitive and easy-to-use. The Pro Edition supports up to 99 layers, and an unlimited number of track elements (the Express edition supports just a single layer and tops-out at 50 elements). A full-resolution RailModellerPro image of my current track-plan can be seen here.
 
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#2
I initially bought the Unitram V53 kit as a $99 experiment. But after laying it out, I decided instead to get 8' of V52 roadway (three V52 kits). This allows a long track-and-roadway scene along the entire rear of the layout (which is what I originally envisioned). The V53 kit will probably be parted-out to complement the V52 roadway somehow. The problem with Unitram is that you can't easily "complete" roadways, since no accessory roadway components are sold separately (e.g., no available 90° turns to "exit" the layout).

• Kato V52 Unitram double-wide straight track expansion set (V54 shown):


I debated whether to model my own roadway (which would've looked more realistic), but going this route allows me to add an elevated viaduct-loop directly on top of the parking lot areas of the Unitram track-and-roadway scenic pieces. Though expensive, I can prototype (in the testing sense) an entire layout concept using moveable, modular components before committing to permanent scenery construction.
 
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#7
The aluminum shelf concept has been deleted! Though it made for a super-cool freestanding left-turnaround, it was going to be too much trouble to raise everything to the same height as the 0.25" aluminum support plate. Plus, the shelves would've acted as large transducers--it would've been loud!

Instead, I went to buy two sheets of 49" x 97" 3/4" melamine stock at Home Depot tonight (I had to do this tonight, since my track is coming tomorrow!). I had it cut into three sections: Left-turnaround: 42" (depth) x 49" (width), center section: 28" (depth) x 53" (width), right-turnaround: 49" (depth) x 42" (width). Since melamine isn't as rigid as the 0.25" aluminum plate, I'll need to support the overhang with something else: Ikea sells an adjustable leg that I can use to support the left turnaround without obstructing the cabinet doors below. The right turnaround is still supported by the tig-welded Rakks bracket.

I arrived at the final layout dimensions based on the "which radii?" thread, while also making physical mock-ups to help better determine what "fit" better in the space, both literally and visually. Ingress/egress are also considerations since this borders an exit door. We'll see how this works out when I put the Kato V11 kit in there tomorrow.
 
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#8
Underlayment (sound-insulation):

Between the cabinet-tops and the 3/4" melamine boards, I put down a layer of ultraSeal floorMuffler "premium floor underlayment." I found it in the flooring section of Home Depot. According to the manufacturer, it's a, "highly engineered, cross-linked polypropylene foam," designed for "laminate, engineered and solid hardwood flooring." It's pretty dense, and fairly thin, perhaps about 3mm. Also, it's pink! I didn't use any adhesives, and I plan to just sandwich it in-place (I'm screwing the melamine board into the MDF countertops with counter-sunk machine screws and nuts).
 
#9
Plus, the shelves would've acted as large transducers--it would've been loud!
That was my first thought when I saw you starting to use aluminum. You figured that out before I was able to post my concern.

I arrived at the final layout dimensions based on the "which radii?" thread, while also making physical mock-ups to help better determine what "fit" better in the space, both literally and visually. Ingress/egress are also considerations since this borders an exit door. We'll see how this works out when I put the Kato V11 kit in there tomorrow.
It is hard to beat the "lay down the actual track in the actual space" method. I always keep a pile of sectional track and an open space to put it on just for this reason.
 
#10
That was my first thought when I saw you starting to use aluminum. You figured that out before I was able to post my concern.
Yeah, it's too bad, since it would've been a slick install. I thought for a moment of filling the shelves with expanding foam, but in the end this approach was going to require far too much work. Plus, drilling through aluminum to wire switches and lighting would've been one more thing to deal with.

It is hard to beat the "lay down the actual track in the actual space" method. I always keep a pile of sectional track and an open space to put it on just for this reason.
Agreed! It would be nice if I had some track! (My track order is due to deliver tomorrow, not today!). As I mentioned before, starting with the basic Kato V11 kit, I'll be adding track piece-meal as I mock-up layouts, ad infinitum, far beyond the scope of the basic kit (this is one of the main reasons I went with Unitrack).
 
#11
Kato Unitrack available radii:

The Kato V11 kit contains the second-to-the-smallest Kato double-track radius available, so this will likely end up being a light-rail line with shorter cars and smaller engines. The Kato V16 "outer-loop" kit includes Kato's largest-radius double-track: 17-5/8"/19" (though, the individual track packs specify: 17-5/8"/18-7/8").

Kato Unitrack available radii (single-track):

• 6" (45°)
• 7" (45°)
• 8-1/2" (45°)
• 9-3/4" (45°)
• 11" (45°)
• 12-3/8" (45°)
• 13-3/4" (45°)
• 15" (30°)
• 19" (15°)
• 28-1/4" (15°)

Kato Unitrack available radii (double-track):

• 11"/12-3/8" (45°)
• 15"/16-3/8" (45°)
• 15"/19" (45°)
• 17-5/8"/18-7/8" (45°)

Until I summarized Kato's track products above, I didn't realize that their Unitrak was available in as many radii as indicated. Two large-radii, single-track items immediately caught my eye:

• 19" (15°)
• 28-1/4" (15°)

These should allow for pretty decent-looking radii while still keeping within the Kato Unitrack product line.
 
#12
My track order finally came! I built the V11 kit and added small inside-corner benchwork to fit. My straight-track extensions won't be here for another week so I have a slightly-off layout. I built the Unitram V53 kit, and it looks just like it does in the pictures . . . 100% plastic. It's very beautiful and extremely detailed, but it's very manufactured-looking (I consider it a $99 experiment). At this point, the V11 will eventually be integrated into the V53 kit and will be relegated to an electric tramline.

Now, I need to decide "to foam," or "not to foam." I think the freight line will run almost entirely elevated (which leaves space below for the Unitram line). This will permit the liberal use of truss bridges, girders, concrete overpasses and the like. Need to decide on the overall topography and its basic construction.
 
#13
A quick shot of Dull-Coat will take care of some (not all) of that plastic manufactured look. Just be sure to wipe it off the rail tops immediately before it dries. Weathering the roads with weathering powder will also help.
Willie
 
#14
Thanks again for the tips! Yeah, some amount of Dull-Coat and road-weathering should improve it. Also, street lighting should bring the diorama to life. The V53 kit is bigger than I thought, and doesn't fit where I had originally envisioned it (middle of the dogbone). But it does cover a huge blank spot at the rear right-corner of the layout (the area furthest from the operator). This may work out since putting N-scale buildings further in the background helps to promote the illusion of perspective.

The real trick is going to be creating my own roadway which matches the Unitram roadway. This would allow me to blend the Unitram streets with the rest of the layout so that the Unitram streets don't just "end" mid-layout (I will however, have the Unitram roadways "end" at the horizon-lines).
 
#15
I've just set-up a four-engine consist (it would be more, but I have two incompatible coupler systems). I knew there was a reason I bought so many engines! I just love how multi-unit trains look! Apparently, even though I'm running different locos (all-analog), they all seem to speed-match quite well. Here's an SD40T-2, GP35, SD40, and a GP35 on their maiden run:

 
#16
Benchwork underlayment build-up + working surface: (from bottom to top-layer)

Here's what I have so far:

1. MDF cabinet countertop base.
2. A 1/8" layer of polypropylene closed-cell, high-density foam underlayment.
3. A 3/4" layer of melamine.

Planning to model directly on top of the melamine surface, I bought some JTT Scenery Products' light-green grass mat, which has a paper-backing. I chose the JTT product mainly because I'm attempting to model "corporate park-style" landscaping (which would either be well-irrigated/freshly mowed, or in fact, actual synthetic grass). I was planning on using either a simple, low-tack glue to lay down the grass mat, or a special melamine adhesive.

Paper-backed scenic products:

1. MDF cabinet countertop base.
2. A 1/8" layer of polypropylene closed-cell high-density foam underlayment.
3. A 3/4" layer of melamine.
4. Low-tack adhesive or Titebond melamine glue [Update: 3M Super 77 is probably going to work just fine].
A. Paper-backed JTT grass mat.
B. 3M 2000-grit wet/dry sandpaper (for simulating asphalt).

On-surface roadway modeling:

1. MDF cabinet countertop base.
2. A 1/8" layer of polypropylene closed-cell high-density foam underlayment.
3. A 3/4" layer of melamine.
4. Krylon spray-on enamels (both flat and textured).
5. Chartpak-style adhesive matte vinyl graphic arts tape (road markings).
 
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#17
I had a can of 3M Super 90 laying around, so I used it to cement a piece of 3M wet/dry sandpaper to some melamine: It works great! Whatever wetness that wicked up into the top of the sandpaper evaporated within a few minutes, leaving no discoloration. I think the spray pattern of 3M Super 77 is finer, so that'll probably work just as well. The good thing about 3M Super 90 is that it's also supposed to work on the polypropylene laminate-floor underlayment I'm using.
 
#20
I test-cut a piece of the JTT Scenery Products' N-scale, light-green grass mat (above), and temporarily adhered it to the "blank" part of the Unitram street. I'm pretty satisfied with the effect, and should work well as "parkway" grass. I'm going to try a light coat of 3M Dulling Spray (removable) on the Unitram streets to take down the sheen, and attempt an application of PanPastels' Weathering Kit and Greys, to add some oil and grease marks to the roadway to make it less plastic-looking.
 



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