My model railroad is based on the Moffat Road's line between Denver and Winter Park, during the last decades of Rio Grande (and Southern Pacific) ownership. I am also now expanding into contemporary times, adding Union Pacific equipment for post-1996 operations.
The idea is to capture the feel of the ascent from Denver to the continental divide. For the real railroad, ascending some 4,000 feet of elevation in about sixty miles is a real operational challenge. In my case, the distances are much smaller but the challenges are similar. For one thing, I don't have automatic air brakes on my cars!
With the current version of the layout, I implemented a major change in design philosophy. Instead of a continuous loop, the layout is of a point-to-point design with a reverse loop at one end. The mainline is single track with sidings, just like the real thing.
The layout occupies about half of my garage with a footprint roughly 18' X 12'. In HO scale, it's difficult to fit much railroad into a space this size, so I decided to double-deck much of the layout. Since I don't have a warehouse to build it in, I chose to concentrate on a few selected scenes. Each is separated from the rest by some sort of view block, and arranged sequentially. Some of the scenes are fairly large-- Denver North Yard and the Big Ten loops, for instance-- whereas others are more compact.
Also, given the dimensional restrictions and the scale, a considerable degree of compression is required to fit everything in. My compression ratio is roughly 4:1. I didn't compromise on the ruling grade, which is 2% in places, so some of the tight curves are a bit of a problem with longer, heavier trains. On the other hand, this makes powered helpers something more than a cosmetic feature-- I actually need the extra power pushing back there!
On the subject of compression: I have taken quite a bit of "modeler's license" with certain aspects of the scenes. Notably, I have moved Tunnel 27 about a half mile up the canyon so it's much closer to tunnel 29, and moved Tunnel 30 about 4 miles east so that it's right next to the bridge at milepost 36.45. On the layout, it makes sense to do it that way.
Revised! Click Here to see the basic track plan. Starting at the lower end, the route begins at North Yard in Denver. The south end of the yard leads to the Joint line connection (not modeled), and to Denver Union Station (under construction).
Next are the Big 10 curves, which connect the lower level to the upper level. Clay siding is next, followed by tunnel 2. This forms a scene break. (Photo: westbound freight train rounds the Big 10 curve.
The next scene is in South Boulder Canyon, between tunnels 27 and 30. The scenery is vertical and the track's curvature is tight, just like the real thing. Those who have visited the area will recognize the scenery. (Photo: westbound Amtrak No. 5 exiting tunnel 27 high above South Boulder creek.)
After this, the track disappears into Tunnel 30 and transits a hidden helix which represents the Moffat Tunnel. About 15 feet later, the tracks emerge from the West Portal and curve past the Winter Park Ski Area. Winter Park siding stretches down the "valley" to the north.
Beyond Winter Park, we come to the Hideaway Park area (the contemporary town of Winter Park). At this point is the upper reverse loop. (Photo: an eastbound manifest of all-SP power crosses Vasquez Road in Hideaway Park. The hill conceals the reverse loop.)
I've been a fan of this stretch of track all my life, so I hate to pin the layout down to a single time period. Accordingly, I have equipment which dates from the early Sixties all the way through modern day. Since I also detest anachronism, I choose an era to operate and then take pains to only run valid rolling stock for that period. Eras can be just about any date between 1964 and the present day, although I do have certain favorites...