Layouts that are not seen on the exhibition circuit but still worthy of viewing. Here is Colorado Northern, a layout in American N Scale.


The Colorado Northern is a 12' x 9' N scale layout being built by the club Treasurer (that's where the club funds are going) in his basement. Although operated centrally from within, the layout is accessible on the outside on three sides. All baseboards or bench work as the Americans would say are two feet wide. The layout is operated with a Digitrax Super Chief DCC system. Originally operation was by an Empire Builder system but it was found that this Command Station did not have enough memory to handle all of the consists which were required . The Digitrax Infra Red system of control was used originally, but now that Digitrax have introduced Duplex Radio to the UK the layout is now operated with this system.

 The imaginary route is based on the Denver & Rio Grand Wester line from Salt Lake City, Utah to Denver, Colorado, although the section involved is from Grand Junction (Lake City), Colorado to Denver via the town of Glenwood Springs (Mesa). In my imaginary scenario this line was owned by the Colorado Southern. The C & S was taken over by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (Burlington Route) which, in 1970, was itself amalgamated into Burlington Northern, along with Great Northern, Northern Pacific and Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroad. Although the line is run as a Burlington Northern line in the general time frame 1975 to 1985 some of the loco's purchased by the individual companies before 1970 remain painted in their original colour schemes although I have patched some of them with their BN numbers. This allows me to run some CB&Q and Great Northern loco's in their original liveries. The time frame itself is variable as I do also run 1990's equipment.


 ASD40-2 leads a TOFC train through the Rockies.

In the track plan the line leaves the rear staging loops and arrives on the layout arrives via tunnel No 9 from the West and along the banks of Boulder creek into the town of Lake City and particularly, North yard, which is a division point yard on the route. All trains stop here to change crews, some, i.e. loaded coal trains require helpers to be added for the climb up into the Rockies over Monarch Pass to the mid point town of Mesa, where helpers are cut off and return to Lake City.

North Yard is divided into 9 tracks. From inside to outside they are as follows.

1.      Loop beside the Depot.

2.      No 1 Mainline.

3.      Yard lead.

4.      Eastbound arrivals and departures.

5.      Westbound arrivals and departures.

6.      Terminal road for freight cars for Lake city Industries.

7.      Terminal road for freight cars for Mesa Industries

8.      Terminal road for freight cars for the Paper Mill and Grain Elevator.

9.      Caboose Track.

Engine servicing and a small engine house diverge from the Depot loop, as do four industries.

On exiting North Yard the line becomes double track for the climb over Monarch Pass. Trains pass to the right of the large Cargill grain elevator and the Delta paper mill complex, before beginning a two per cent gradient climb around a horseshoe curve over the pass to the summit of the line just before the town of Mesa. A line to the Monarch No 1 mine leaves the mainline at Mesa. This mine supplies coal to Mesa Dept. of Public Utilities as well as Delta Paper at Lake City. Mesa also has Printers supplied by Delta Paper and a Flour Mill supplied by the Cargill grain elevator. A Lumberyard and Oil dealer also figure in the industries here. Leaving Mesa the line returns to single track and runs along behind North yard and over a couple of trestle bridges before dropping on a two per cent gradient behind the back scene and into the looped staging yard.

The staging yard has eleven tracks supporting the undernoted trains.

1.      Divisional freight from the West

2.      Amtrak California Zephyr Superliners Westbound

3.      Amtrak California Zephyr Superliners Eastbound

4.      Autorack train Eastbound

5.      Combined Double Stack/TOFC (That's trailers on flat cars) train Westbound

6.      Manifest freight Westbound

7.      Manifest freight Eastbound

8.      Loaded Grain Train Westbound

9.      MTY coal train Westbound.

10. Intermodal double stack train with some Tri level auto-racks Eastbound

11. Loaded coal train Eastbound

Stationed at North Yard are one pair of helpers, the Mesa local, and a yard switching loco. All trains are double headed, some triple. Some twenty three Loco's have sound decoders installed.

An empty BN Coal train drifts down through Monarch Canyon.

When first venturing into DCC I used loaded speed tables to programme all of my Locomotives to run with each other. However with the advent of sound decoders I now have to programme locomotives to match the individual sound equipped locomotives with which they are running, as these locomotives, particularly the ones equipped with MRC decoders seem to operate at varying speeds. This means that once a consist is set up it pretty well has to stay that way. Although some of the MRC Sound Decoders have speed table programming capability this is not as straightforward as with other decoders. In my experience you have to status edit the Digitrax DT400 to 28 speed steps before the MRC decoders will accept the speed table. Locomotives fitted with Digitrax, Loksound or Soundtraxx sound decoders are much easier to match to as they have speed table capability just by altering part 4 of CV29


When I first started installing MRC N scale sound decoders some three years ago I had to spend a great deal of time grinding out the fuel tanks of Loco's in order to fit the speaker. The newer MRC Sound Decoders with the speaker attached are much more user friendly. Recently I have purchased one of the Digitrax Sound decoders for Kato SD40-2 Loco's. The number is SDN144K1E. I was actually fitting this decoder to a Kato C44-9W so I had to get the supplier, in this case Digitrains to load in a C44 file. Although the decoder performs reasonably well and has good sound effects I had to grind out the fuel tank to fit the speaker and I also had to purchase a smaller capacitor from Maplins and grind out some space for this at the rear of the frame, so a bit more work there. I have also purchased Digitrax SDN144A0 and SDN144A1 decoders. The speakers for these decoders now fit in at the top rear of the Loco frame, however Digitrax recommend milling out the rear fans in the body and installing BLMA etched fans to allow more volume of sound. This is fine but the rear light shines through the fans when the Loco is in reverse. If the Loco is in a consist this is normally OK as you don't use the rear headlight much when Loco's are consisted. The capacitors supplied with these decoders are now smaller, similar to the one I installed in the C44-9W, however, you have to fit them in front of the decoder LED's, which means that the light to the Loco's light lens is blocked. To solve these problems I have used small pieces of 1mm Fibre Optic cable super glued to the front or rear LED's on the decoder. These are then painted black to ensure that only the front end of the cable carries light to the Locomotive light lenses. I have also used black electrical tape over the decoder LED to stop light escaping. In one case I actually painted the LED with black paint to ensure that light was channeled exclusively along the Fibre Optic cable.   

Loksound and Soundtraxx make a small sound decoder but you need a wide bodied diesel to fit them in. I have fitted a Loksound Micro and two Loksound 13mm speakers into a Kato F40PH and this gives a nice sound. As I don't have a Loksound programmer Digitrains UK programmed the appropriate F40PH sound file into the Decoder at no extra cost.

Although sound in N is not particularly loud, due to the small size of speakers, as far as I am concerned it provides a more realistic dimension to running my trains.

 The layout is run to an operational sequence but freight cars used for switching each have a car card giving instructions for its next move. All freight cars and loco's are fitted with Micro Trains couplings to allow remote switching. Most points in the main yard and industries are operated manually by Caboose Industries ground throws. Remote points i.e., staging and some mainline points are operated by Peco point motors and are considered under control of the dispatcher. At this time I have started installing Digitrax DS64 accessory decoders in order that I can route trains using the DT400R to throw the points.

Although built as a one-person layout, operation could be extended to two Loco engineers plus a Dispatcher to control the sequence.

 Any questions and or comments can be directed to me at   [email protected]

Amtrak California Zephyr led by a P42 Genesis Locomotive climbing the 2% gradient East out of Lake City.

A BN coal train climbs the 2% horseshoe curve into Monarch Pass.

A BN RS1 in GN livery switches the Monarch Mine.

A BN coal train at the summit of the line at Crystal Lake, just before the town of Mesa.


 An F45 leads a Manifest freight up through Monarch Pass.

The TOFC train downgrade through Monarch Canyon.