Layout Concepts and Design Details

Grand Forks Area

Grand Forks, BC is located in the southeast corner of the province, just north of the US border. It is in a fertile valley that has produced a wide range of crops, and is just to the east of the famous Phoenix mining area. The town was served by three railways in its heyday,CPR, GN, and S&BC, but now it is down to only one short line that services a sawmill and one or two other small industries. It uses the old Great Northern tracks with loads being hauled down to Spokane via Cascade, and Colville. None of the tracks of either the S&BC or the GN remain across the border and down to Republic. Much of the old S&BC right of way was used for various roads, while much of the GN line has been turned into a hiking and cycling trail. Of the four original stations, only the original Columbia and Western (CP) one remains as a restaurant.

Overall Concept and Arrangement of the Layout

The layout encompasses Grand Forks as a focal point, and will include a number of towns heading south through Republic and eventually ending at a rendition of Spokane in a staging yard. The CPR makes cameo appearances with east and west bound trains in Grand Forks to exchange shipments, but it is not the main character. The focus is on the north – south S&BC line as it might have become by 1955. The Great Northen has been reduced to only a "bit player" making appearances at Grand Forks for interchange, and possibly other towns down the line.

Grand Forks is located in the middle of the currently constructed layout. Right now, without the rest of the line down to Spokane, it acts as more of a focal point that it ultimately will, but it does give us some interchange traffic to play with as a start towards full operations.

Grand Forks was served by three independent railroads in its day, but by 1955 only two remained. I am pretending that the third still existed and in fact prospered greatly, which is the namesake of the layout, the Spokane & BC. It only ran southwards from Grand Forks to Republic WA, but I am building it as if the planned extension to Spokane WA did happen and the line proved a bigger success than history records.

As such, Grand Forks is being modelled as being served from the east and west by the CPR, the north and south by the SBC, and an interchange to the GN from the east, or really the southeast.

So the overall concept for operations right now, is that trains pass through Grand Forks and exchange cars for the other lines. There are only a few industries so far at Grand Forks and Darestof, so most of the traffic consists of through shipments and interchanges that only pass through Grand Forks. Later on, as more industries are added, there will be more online and way freight switching opportunities.


The design for the entire layout has not yet been completed, as it is awaiting completion of the Car Forwarding software that will be used as a planning and simulation tool to help design a good car and train flow over the layout. Without that in place, it is very difficult to design a track arrangement that will meet the future operational needs and yield satisfying operating sessions. So far only Grand Forks and the upper and lower staging tracks have been designed in detail and constructed. A rough sketch for the reminder of the room has been made, but details will wait until it can be simulated by the program.


The layout has been built with pretty typical "L" girder construction with some use of plywood in larger open areas. The track subroadbed is made of two layers of 3/8" plywood laminated together. This technique results in a continuous length of constant thickness material that is very easy to work with to produce a very uniform surface for the track work. The final roadbed is traditional cork, with code 83 and 70 commercial flex track and switches.


The layout was designed from the start for command control and uses a Digitrax DCC system with duplex radio throttles in addition to several plug-in throttles. There are no control panels of any kind except for two very small power isolation switches for the staging tracks. All track switches are controlled by simple push-pull mechanisms embedded in the fascia directly in line with the switches. Switch point movement is always the same direction as the manual controls.


Grand Forks sits in the centre of the east-west CPR and the north-south S&BC lines. Trains from all four directions stop in Grand Forks to drop off cars for the other trains and for the local industries, and pick up outbound cars before leaving town. The local switcher is responsible for handling the arriving cars and switching them to the appropriate outbound tracks after each through train has departed. Twice a day it also services the local industries. Currently the Great Northern train has been annulled as there is too much activity and not enough tracks in Grand Forks. This one conclusion has proven the value of the software as a planning tool.

The starting point to design the train schedule was the CPR Employee Timetables from 1955. It shows three scheduled through freights each way westbound and eastbound through Grand Forks every day, plus the passenger trains 67/68 every day. Having six CPR freight trains plus some number of S&BC trains proved very quickly to be too much traffic for the Grand Forks yard to handle, so the number of CPR trains has been cut back to two each way. These trains travel between upper staging (West) and lower staging (East), stopping in Grand Forks to exchange cars. The passenger trains are currently omitted to keep the focus on the freight car forwarding logic. They will be added back later.

There are also two S&BC trains each way northbound and southbound that travel between upper staging as well (North) down to Darestof, which is currently the end of the line, and back again. These also stop in Grand Forks to exchange cars. These trains will travel a longer route as the layout gets expanded around the remainder of the room.

This yields a total of 8 trains through Grand Forks in a 24 hour period, plus the continual action of the Grand Forks switcher. In practice is takes about two hours to complete one half of the day's activities.

Simple operating sessions have started to prove out the Car Forwarding software. It generates switchlists for both the road crews and the Grand Forks switcher. No card cards or other bits of paper are used. Train operations are currently ad hoc and simply run in sequence, but eventually there will be some form of train order control.