How Much Rolling Stock for a small Layout?

While I was working away on my VIA P42 today, I was also doing a bunch of small layout tasks, making adjustments to track and benchwork, and I decided to pull out the rolling stock from my old layout that I hadn’t sold off that is appropriate for my current layout, Liberty Village in the 1950‘s (exact year/season still TBD). I have sold off most of the freight cars that aren’t useful or appropriate for my layout. That left me with 16 cars on the layout after going through the box, and two sacrificial cars I bought cheap at shows that are going to get cut in half to become part of the scenery at the backdrop, and a couple of cars still in boxes in a tub I didn’t dig out. In my project drawer I have seven kits (8 counting a flat that will probably become a Maintenance of Way car that won’t run much), and I have two freight cars on pre-order. On top of that I currently have three cabooses, which aren’t revenue and are mostly to get in the way of crews switching. So all said, I have 28 freight cars at the moment, for a layout where there are 14 potential spaces to spot them at an industry.

IMG_0180.jpgCPR “Parkdale Yard” Staging, looking rather busy with 12 freight cars, a caboose and a single locomotive.

So, the question becomes, how many cars to I actually need, and how many is the realistic maximum I can have on the layout? I don’t necessarily mind switching cars between operating sessions, and at least my current operating session vision would see a handful of cars switched by CN from one end, and CP from the other, at most maybe two runs with 3 cars in/out of the sceniced area each time.

Accounting for some of the cars that I have already in the count being irregulars (coal hoppers, gondolas, a flatcar load of tractors, tank cars, oddball boxcars that don’t actually belong), and wanting to have some variety of cars from different railroads and coming/going to different places, I probably have room for a maximum of 30 regular freight cars, and maybe 10 irregulars that show up from time to time. When I look at what the CPR Parkdale Yard staging looks like with 12 cars on it above, its already looking busy, and It has marginally more room than the CNR Dufferin Yard Staging at the other end!

IMG_0181CNR Dufferin Yard, two cabooses, two locos and a single box car. There are only two single car pocket tracks to the right instead of three two car ones at the other end of the layout.

The longest train I can run is dictated by the staging traversers length, a small locomotive and max 3 freight cars with a caboose, or 4 without. It’s unlikely many trains even this long ran in Liberty Village because of the tight curves and the nature of taking cars into and out of specific industries. This is good for lots of movements in an Ops session, but will make staging tight. The CN Yard which has four less parking spaces for freight cars than the CPR yard will definitely require me to think about how I set things up for an ops session.

Yes, I’m getting way ahead of myself thinking about operations, but it helps me focus on not buying more kits or cars that I don’t need. It was nice to have a bunch of cars out, and start pushing them around trackwork looking for faults (almost all these cars have crap plastic knockoff Kadee Couplers, and metal wheels on plastic axles, some even had nasty plastic wheels), so I was also able to start replacing wheels and couplers to hopefully have reliable operations when I can run trains!

3 thoughts on “How Much Rolling Stock for a small Layout?

  1. Start working on replacing the wheels and couplers now. It is no fun to have to convert (and pay for) an entire fleet. I started with my first car and just built it into the time and budget of the car.

  2. Don’t forget that staging tracks are meant for storage, so although 12 cars looks “busy”, you could probably get to 20 or so before you had a problem. Suggests to me that if both storage/staging yards were at the useful fullest, you might have a 22/18 CP/CN split, but wouldn’t want any cars actually on the layout. (If your model layout was of a classification yard, then this would not be the case, but for your layout, having the fiddle yards as comfortably full as possible with the layout empty is probably a good starting point.)

    So the 30 regulars/10 irregulars looks like the right number: you can always swap out some of the cars between sessions, should you end up with too many.

    • Thanks Simon. I envision an operating session involving both moving cars that were either being loaded/unloaded on layout and replacing them or spotting other cars in different spaces, so having some open space in staging to go collect cars may be needed.

      I still have to figure out the operating scheme, but I think that will start to become more obvious once the track is down and I can start test running trains.


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