The Nova Scotia Eastern Railway – Photos

As promised, here are some photos of my old Nova Scotia Eastern Railway layout.

A passenger train goes by the station on the main line, while a CN switcher shunts the Windsor & Hantsport siding in the background.

The NSER 76493 caboose brings up the rear of a short freight as they pass some rather desolate terrain on the approach to Windsor Junction.

Two CN diesels begin the long haul down the escalator track from the Dartmouth Subdivision toward the junction with the CN main line. The Dartmouth yard is on the top level at the very back, behind my son.

A view of the temporary Dartmouth yard. None of this track was intended to be permanent. The layout was torn out before any permanent trackage was laid in this yard.

The Nova Scotia Eastern Railway – My Druthers

In this post I will discuss how I designed the Nova Scotia Eastern Railway to achieve my “druthers”/modeling objectives, under the limitations of the “givens”.

Given that I had decided on HO scale, I had a limited amount of space to work in and a lot of operation I wanted to cram in there. I initially started with a single-level plan but realized I didn’t have enough room for staging AND a decent main line length. So multi-level it was. I shifted to a two-level design with a helix, but the helix ate up so much space in the room that it was impractical. I finally settled on a two-level design with a long, steep “escalator” track to connect the two.

I did not use any published model railway track plans, since I was basing this on the real CN Dartmouth Subdivision. I did have to make some compromises to fit the trackage in the room:

  • no space for a wye at Windsor Junction
  • no double track east of Windsor Junction (fiction becomes reality, as the double track has been removed on the prototype)
  • simplification of the Burnside Industrial Park trackage
  • gypsum facility in Dartmouth moved to staging

Since operations was a high priority for me, I included lots of switching opportunities. I set up a spreadsheet with a list of industries, what car types they accepted, and the length of each siding. This gave me an idea of how many cars I would need for the layout and how much operation could take place in one operating session. I tried to base the industries on real ones, but had to make some adjustments to get a good mix of cars.

I designed two staging yards, one at each “end” of the CN main line that the NSER interchanges with. Given the size of the room, they could not be too long, but I could stage three or four 6-7 car trains (plus engine) in each yard. That would give me enough room for a passenger train in each direction, plus a couple of mainline freights.

The penalty for having a multi-level layout was the connecting track between levels. To avoid looping around the room too much I made the track fairly steep, hence the name “escalator” for it. I think the grade was a fairly constant 4%. It became a bit of a challenge to get trains up and down the escalator, as some engines were just not powerful enough to “make the grade”. I expect that if I had continued with the layout for much longer it would have become an operational problem requiring double-heading most trains.

Another penalty for using a room of that size was the radius of the curves. I decided on a minimum of 18″ radius, which fit well into the room but did not permit reliable operation of cars longer than 60 scale feet. That ruled out modern autoracks and containers, which is a real problem when you want to model modern railways. I never progressed enough on the railway for this to become a problem, but it would have been an issue.

In the end I had the following standards:

  • Code 100 rail
  • 18″ minimum radius
  • Peco medium radius switches for mainline, small radius for industrials and yards
  • Two cabs for operation of two trains simultaneously
  • Manual switch operation using Caboose Industries ground throws

In my next post I will share some photos of the layout at its most complete, just before tear-down.

The Nova Scotia Eastern Railway, part 1

My first model railroad was the Nova Scotia Eastern Railway. It was a two-level around-the-walls layout built in an 8′ x 12′ room. The NSER was a fictional shortline that took over CN’s Dartmouth Subdivision in Nova Scotia, and interchanged with CN and the Windsor & Hantsport Railway at Windsor Junction. The Junction itself was a centerpiece of the railway.

The station at Windsor Junction

The NSER was never completed (are any model railroads actually finished?). In the end I had completed the lower level with track and scenery, and had track up to the upper level and had begun the Dartmouth yard. I had begun operating on the upper level to some extent but there was no scenery there.

Modelers may be familiar with John Armstrong’s “Givens and Druthers“. The “givens” are what you cannot change and the “druthers” are the key features of your layout you want. For this layout…

Room size – 12 feet by 8 feet with a door in one corner and a window on one wall
No room for expansion into other rooms
Cannot make permanent changes to the room (i.e. no holes in walls, no additional walls)

H.O. scale
Semi-accurate depiction of the modern Dartmouth Subdivision
Designed for operations
Longest main line runs possible
6-8 car trains
Adequate staging

In my next post I’ll talk about how I designed the railway to achieve my “druthers”.

View other NSER posts


Hi, I’m Steve Boyko and this is my blog about model railroading.

I plan on describing the construction of my own model railroad, talk about my previous railroad, and provide some links and pointers to anyone looking to get into the hobby. I am by no means an expert but I hope I can get some discussions going on techniques and how to get the most enjoyment out of the hobby.