I’m currently working with someone to help refine the phase 2 of my Windsor St Yard layout. The starting point is a questionnaire which got me thinking that I really haven’t explained my overall plan for the Windsor St Yard layout here. So that’s what I’m going to do.

There are two main cities on the Northern Central (south of Harrisburg): Baltimore at the south end, and York on the northern end.

Most of the major activity in Baltimore is located along the Northeast Corridor, which I’m not planning on including in any future modeling endeavor (unless Kato changes their mind and starts making AEM-7s, but I’m not holding my breath).

This leaves York, on the northern end, to scratch my yard work itches. I’m a huge fan of modeling freight yards, and the activities that occur there. York is great for this, because, as modeled, it’d be a fairly busy location, but still manageable (unlike something like the massive Enola complex, 30 miles north).

I had always planned on York being a main focus for “the big one” that’s in my future, and that the yards there would be pretty busy. However, when a turnkey yard fell into my lap, I realized I could use it to provide a reasonable approximation of the eventual York I wanted, and could provide a lot of fun in the process.

First, an explanation of what would be going on in York PA on my Northern Central. It helps to first look at a map to see where York is, and to see its various connections.

A map of the NCR, as modeled.
A map of the NCR, as modeled.

My modeled York, as in the real world, is a crossroads. The NCR runs generally north and south, a pair of Conrail branches extends east and west, and a number of interchange partners: The Maryland and Pennsylvania, Chessie (coming up from Hanover), and the Maryland Midland (who, since Hurricane Agnes didn’t wipe out the former PRR Frederick Branch, can run all the way to York and open up a second railroad to interchange with) who make appearances in town via various routes.

The interchange jobs alone would keep a yard crew busy during the day: sorting out what’s come in, and assembling cuts to return. Then, add in a number of locals to serve the large amount of local industry, and York gets pretty busy.

On top of those two categories of local business, York would also see a number of run-through Conrail freights (and possibly a D&H one, if I decide to get fancy) that would be making pickups and set-outs to feed the interchanges and locals.

Add all that up, and York gets to be an operationally interesting place.

So, how does the layout replicate that?

In reality, York has a number of smaller yards, but Conrail, and then Norfolk Southern have operated out of the Windsor Street facility, which is what my yard represents.

It was incredible that, when the former owner measured his already constructed yard segment, it was 1″ shorter than the space into which I was going to put it. The good luck didn’t stop there. It was also almost perfectly sized, proportioned, and constructed to replicate what I was trying to do. This included a double track mainline, a controlled siding that was across from the yard itself, a few arrival tracks, and a classification bowl that was the right size. It also didn’t hurt that the entire yard plan was thoroughly dissected and analyzed in a few different threads on The Railwire.

It also included a rather sizable engine shops and servicing facility, but that produced a great opportunity to deviate a little from reality, but still model a very “Conrail” thing: a downsized yard facility, with strong traces of its past. I’ve replicated this by filling in the turntable pit, leaving some traces of it, and leaving lots of negative space where the old facility once was.

While not a perfect match for the real Windsor Street facility in York, it’ll do for now.

The rest of the layout serves to provide additional interest to the yard: giving crews somewhere to run between it and staging, and a place to do a little industrial switching. It’s divided into two halves, by the yard itself: the north half, representing the NCR north of Windsor St, and the south half, representing the city of York. At the end of both of these sections will be a staging yard, ideally the same one, to facilitate continuous running for when I just want to drink a beer and watch some trains run, or when I want to space out arrivals at the yard (yes, I know it’s cheating).

The north end of the layout (to the right of the existing yard section) features a number of the actual industries in the area: a Harley Davidson assembly plant just north of the actual yard, a flour mill, a plastic packaging manufacturer, a cold storage facility, and a Georgia Pacific corrugated box plant. There are a number of other interesting and potential industries that might play into a future layout, but these are what I think make sense for the current incarnation of the NCR north of York. I’d plan for this section of the railroad to be double track, since there would often be a local working it, which would extend from the north end of the Windsor St yard to where the tracks enter staging.

The south end of the layout is currently less thought out. My goal is to replicate some of the signature scenes of downtown York: the interlocking tower, the sheds along Queen Street, the passenger station, and the wonderful mainline street running along Pershing Street. However, it also needs to provide a way to get back into staging and ideally have a junction that represents where the various lines branch off (one to the west for the MMID, Chessie and Spring Grove local to head down), one to the east for the York Industrial Track, and some sort of interchange with the Maryland and Pennsylvania. I’ve often thought about just cheating, and letting some of these destinations be represented by staging, even though it’d break the real arrangement of things, where these branches break off before the street trackage.

One of the important aspects of the layout is staging:  a place for trains to go off the layout that represents locations beyond what’s modeled. In this layout’s case, staging would represent both the north end of the world (Enola, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Selkirk, etc…), the south end (Baltimore, Washington, Potomac Yard in Virginia), both branch lines (the York IT and Spring Grove / Frederick Secondary), and the interchanges with other railroads (MA & PA, MMID, Chessie). I’ve thought hard about the best way to fit staging into the layout, and I currently believe the best approach will be to use an active staging yard, located somewhat below and in front of the existing yard. The goal would be to keep it narrow enough to be unobtrusive while actually working the yard, but with enough tracks so that it’s not continuously being worked. I think between four and six tracks should probably do the job for the rather casual ops sessions that I intend to host.

Now, of course, the real challenge of all of this will be fitting it into the existing, finished space in my basement. I don’t want to do anything super complex, because I want to keep the construction to a minimum. This rules out double decks, mushrooms, and other exotica. I’ll be the most happy if I can even avoid a helix entirely.