The Nova Scotia Eastern Railway, Part 2


I recently took down the web page for my second model railway layout, the Nova Scotia Eastern Railway (NSER), a freelanced shortline railway based on a prototypical railway. I had written the web page as if the NSER was a real railroad.

Welcome to the home page of the Nova Scotia Eastern Railway. We serve the Dartmouth area of Nova Scotia with quality, efficient freight railroad service.

Our track extends from the Eastern Passage through Dartmouth to our interchange with CN at Windsor Junction for a total of 29.6 km (18.5 miles). We serve numerous industries in the area, including the Imperial Oil refinery in Dartmouth, the Autoport in Eastern Passage and industries in the Burnside Industrial Park.

Please contact us for your transportation needs!

I wrote a history of the railway as well. I highly recommend doing this to help flesh out the story of your railway. In the NSER’s case it was presented as a shortline that took over the CN Dartmouth subdivision (which in my world, still ran to Upper Musquodoboit).

The NSER and the other shortlines in Nova Scotia, the CB&CNS and the Windsor and Hantsport, formed an association (Nova Scotia Shortlines) to facilitate cooperation and car exchanges between the shortlines. The CB&CNS and the NSER in particular are very close together (they both terminate in Windsor Junction) and wished to exchange cars without CN’s involvement. After some negotiations and the involvement of the federal Transport Minister, they gained running rights over a short portion of track in Windsor Junction to allow them to interchange traffic.

In 1995 the provincial government was approached by a tourism operator, Scotia Tours, interested in operating excursion trains over the abandoned trackage to Musquodoboit. Some negotiations took place but CN was not interested in providing access to their portion of the Dartmouth Subdivision. Once CanRail took possession of the subdivision, negotiations were reopened. CanRail and the province agreed to allow Scotia Tours to operate a daily excursion train over their trackage, and the province invested approximately half a million dollars to upgrade the line, replace signals and crossings, etc. to permit safe operation on the line. Scotia Tours acquired a steam locomotive, CN 6043 from Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg, and a few former CN passenger cars. It leased a portion of CanRail’s Dartmouth yard to house the engine and cars, and began tours in May 1998.

In 2001 the Campbell Forestry company (owners of forest land, pulp and paper mills in New Brunswick and Maine) decided to make an investment in the Nova Scotia forestry market. They purchased the MacTara lumber mill in Upper Musquodoboit. CanRail approached Campbell Forestry to provide transportation for their wood products from Musquodoboit to Dartmouth, with CN taking the shipment from there to Saint John, NB for shipment to the United States on the NB Southern Railway. CanRail leased the trackage from the province for a period of 20 years, and began operations on the line in late 2001. The majority of the traffic is either cut wood (to the mill) or finished lumber (from the mill), with the occasional boxcar or gondola for other industries in the area.

Traffic on the NSER is typical of many shortlines. The industries located on its line (the Imperial Oil refinery, the autoport, the Campbell mill, and several smaller industries) provide the bulk of traffic that is interchanged with CN at Windsor Junction. Two or three times daily, a unit train runs from Windsor Junction to Burnside under CN control to deliver gypsum to waiting ships. As well, a train is infrequently run from Dartmouth to Windsor Junction to interchange with the Windsor & Hantsport. Scotia Tours’ excursion train provides a glimpse of yesteryear with its imposing steam engine and passenger cars.

I had/have one caboose and one passenger coach decorated for the NSER in white with blue trim.


The model railway was a two-level layout. Here’s the bottom level:

NSER Bottom Level

There was staging on the right, behind a backdrop, leading into Windsor Junction and an interchange with the Windsor & Hantsport Railway. The tracks then went to Halifax staging on the left, with a long and steep climb to the second level.

NSER Top Level
NSER Top Level

Most of the top level was never built. I think it was too ambitious, honestly.

The NSER was a great learning experience.

See these other NSER posts for more:

Room Preparation

I tore the Nova Scotia Eastern Railway up in the summer of 2004 to get ready for our move to a larger house. Being a good railway baron, I ensured I would have (more) space for a new layout in the new home. I ended up with a 10×16 foot room, which is about double the area of the NSER.

Empty roomThe first trick was to get the room ready. It had four walls, if you could call them that. Two of the walls were the concrete foundation, and the other two were framed but had no electrical work done. There was one heater in the room and one single-bulb light fixture. The floor was concrete and there was no ceiling. Clearly a lot of work needed to be done!

Empty roomMy father-in-law and I put the framing, insulation and wallboard/gyproc up. The ceiling is gyproc as well. I painted the entire room light blue, including the ceiling. I had a flooring dealer come in to install dark grey carpeting with an underpad, for comfort.

We put in six electrical outlets, two each on the long walls and one centered on each of the short walls. I wanted to have plenty of light, so we put in four two-tube flourescent fixtures on one switch plus provision for a track light on a dimmer. The baseboard heater remains on one of the walls, controlled by a thermostat in the room. There is no telephone connection in the room yet, but I plan on installing one as well as a network port for a future computer.

Finished roomI think the finished product looks pretty good. I’m glad I decided to go with the four light fixtures. It may seem like overkill but I like being able to work without having shadows in the way. I think it will work well when it comes time to take “railfan” photographs. I still haven’t put the track lighting in, but that will come in time.

Finished roomI should mention the two floods we had in the basement. We had a problem with the drain tile around the house, and in the winter of 2005-2006 our basement flooded several times. There were two times in particular where the train room was flooded enough that the carpet became saturated. Both times I had to rip the carpet up and bring in blowers and heat to dry it out, after sucking up whatever water I could with the shop vacuum. Fortunately no model railroad stuff was damaged and the carpet seems to have survived. Even though our flooding problem is fixed, I still don’t leave anything on the floor – just in case.

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