New Layout bench-work Design

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Hello everyone, I have started the process of designing layout for our new house and I have kinda hit a snag when figuring out the best benchwork design. Currently I am basing my track-work/industries off the amount of space that the layout will take up (the benchwork) area so the rest of the design process is on hold until a more finalized benchwork plan is found. The issue I am currently having is that I'll start design a few plans but they always end up looking about the same whether its a layout around the room with peninsulas jetting out into the middle (picture 1) and having about three lanes of benchwork down the area space (picture 2). The images have track-work just to give a sense of the area space and by no means what the track plan will look like. I really want two decks as well as a sub-level staging yard under a portion of the first deck with a dual track helix connecting all the levels.

Currently my limitations are:

Mainline Min Radius: 36" (Branch/Local 30")
Aisle Space roughly 30-36" (Prefer area around main yard to be closer to 40"
Need at least one area to be ~4' wide to cover shelving units under the layout (Layout could be divided)
The Yellow area has limited headroom so I’m trying to avoid large switching scenes in this area.
The Red Area is not used for the layout.
There is an Orange area for the furnace water-heater that I want to leave exposed on 1 side for servicing and generally want to avoid running tracks through this area, but not impossible to run trains through the area and between the heater/furnace.

I provided a blank image of the area space in case wants to chime in with their suggestions on a better benchwork.

Option 1
E Option.JPG

Option 2 ( It should be noted the center peninsula is connected to the grayed out bench-work by the water heater area, it just looks sloppy
OPtion 2.JPG


Well-Known Member
Welcome aboard BB. Pretty nice area to start with. Rather aggressive layout plan, but doable if you have the time. A few more questions/answers will help us in assisting and giving some ideas. Where do you get into the basement? How high off the floor are you going to have the lowest level and is it going to be a full level? Either benchwork plan will require duckunders or removable sections in order to maneuver around. As one ages, duckunders get to be more problematic. Why is the red area off-limits? Will you still have access to the layout from that area?
I like the benchwork design of option one, but not necessarily the track layout as presented.


Active Member
Some things to consider before even starting a layout plan is what you want the layout to do? What is the theme, what is the era, where is it located? Do you want continuous running, do you want terminal switching? Do you want staging? Is it going to be point to point? What do you want the yard to do? Is it a major classification yard? Is it a staging yard to park trains? Is it primarily an industry support yard? How many people will be needed to operate the layout? What scale?
To give some more information:
Scale: HO (1:87.1)
Size: ~32' x 29' L Shaped
Prototype: BNSF
Locale: Proto-freelanced around Chicago
Era: Modern (2018+)
Style: walk-in
Minimum radius: 36” (main), 30" (backing branch)
Minimum turnout: no. 8 (main), no. 6 (branch)
Maximum grade: 2.5 percent
Benchwork: L-girder and open grid
Height: 42” (Lower) 60” (Upper Deck) 30” (Staging)

I redid the area space to clear some things up, you can enter that portion of the basement from the bottom of the image. I haven’t decided which is best yet because you enter the layout space from either the lower right corner of the image or the lower left corner of the image(Pink Areas in Black outline). It doesn’t matter to me where the door would be located, just what ever helps the layout design. The layout would accommodate this by having the lower level removable and ducking under the higher level, I’m also trying avoid having the lower staging area in the door area to avoid having to make a removable section for the staging yard but would not be the end of the world to do so. I outlined the basement foundation in black line so the layout is mostly around the room, I found it easier on the track planning software to just create a bigger rectangle work area and then red out areas that are not there.

For the operations of the layout, I want the layout to be point to point but support continuous running for just having trains run. I would prefer to have the option to have trains runs continuously on a single level as well. The layout will just by run by me 90% of the time, maybe 1-2 times a year I have a few friends over for ops session but that’s infrequent and unscheduled. I am designing the layout to have ops in mind but not to be ops driven with the main focus of the layout just have something that runs and looks good for me. I really enjoy large trains so the layout should support up to 50+ car trains, but locals would be closer to 15-20 cars or so. I also enjoy running excursion trains so large steam engines may make an appearance from time to time.

Currently what I am thinking is that trains will leave the lower staging yard, run up the helix to the lower level and enter the layout into a city area that gradually goes into more suburban look before hitting the classification yard. I really want a mid sized classification yard on the lower level that would serve the majority of the layout, and will be located more in the middle of lower level. I'm also trying to find room for an intermodal/autorack area as well but will only have so much room. Then the trains will continue on the lower level around the rest of the basement until they hit the helix again and continue up to the 2nd level. The second level will be mostly plains/generic scenery that gradually gets into more hill/mountain style landscaping. I would like a smaller yard(2-3 Tracks) /interchange to switch with a short-line on the upper level that will provide most the switching support on the second level. Most through trains will not stop at the smaller yard and will continue back to the helix and travel all the way down back to the staging yard. I would also like to have a double track mainline on the lower level and single track main on the upper level.

I also worked on a few more options in terms of the benchwork designs and some basic mainlines that would apply to the benchwork. I’m still not perfectly happy with any of them, I really want to maximize mainline length but would also like to find room for stub ended industry space. Right now it looks like Option 5 is the best so far, but a lot of the aisle space is compromised where most the aisle spaces is 2’. 2’ aisles are okay for single operations but 3’ would be better for more people even if most of the time it will be just me.

Option 3:-- feel like this good bones, but a lot tight spaces for the broad curves.
Option 3.JPG

Option 4
Option 4.JPG

Option 5-- I feel that this is closet, would like to fine some more room for industries, but overall pretty good feel. Not 100% where the main yard would be, but the aisle would have to be adjusted to allow more space for switching. Also feel that the double track main would look really full on some section where the mainlines backtrack against each other.
Option 5.JPG


Active Member
I would strongly suggest avoiding a duckunder and moderately suggest avoiding lift out or gates. If you have to have them a lift out or gate, that will work but you will be opening them more than you expect while operating.

You have a LOT of very narrow aisles, in the two foot range, but then you have a LOT of very deep benchwork, in the 3 foot range, so you can "borrow" some of the layout width to widen the aisles. For two people to work in an aisle, 36" is about the bottom end of comfortable, 48" is better.

Option 6 is to take #5 and move the peninsula, to the left wall, and put the blob towards the upper right corner. Along the top and right walls would be a stub ended branch on a very narrow (8-12" wide) shelf.

I would use L girder on the peninsula and then put the benchwork along the walls on shelves attached to/cantilevered off the walls, or use free standing benchwork with a vertical support in the back like this:


Well-Known Member
OK, Dave beat me to it. His suggested plan is very similar to what I was thinking. Duckunders are not operator friendly. I have no experience with removable sections so I cannot comment. For a solo operator which you indicated would be the most common, I found that 30"-32" aisles are sufficient. 36" reach-ins are not. I would avoid as much as possible trackwork running exactly parallel to the edge of the benchwork, it just looks boring. Angle it slightly if you can when you design/build. At 60", the upper level can be continuous across the entryway, it becomes a "stoop-under" instead of a duckunder.
Dave really knows his stuff. I learned some things from him on a different forum in the last century. Hopefully a few other members will chime in here as well, as there is a lot of experience lurking here. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.