The Costerfield Line

Categories: Costerfield Line and Member Layouts.


For the last 16 years, Mark Laidlay used an old caravan as his railway room. This layout was impressive in the amount of trackage, and operating potential.

Three stations, a loop, a small branch to a wharf, and two return loop staging yards all within the one caravan.

The caravan was on his parents’ house in Diamond Valley. Mark now has the space in his new house, so the layout will move inside. He will be re-using a lot of the old layout.

This page is about that move.

You can contact Mark Laidlay to ask more about this railway, and the plans for the rebuilding.

Layout Summary:

    • Scale: HO (1:87)
    • Size of Layout: 23′ 6″ x 8′ 6″ in main room with 20′ by 5′ up to 9′ in stump land
    • Schematic: Single track with balloon loops at both ends including staging.
    • Scenario: Model represents a portion of a major interstate route between two state capitals.
    • Prototype: Australian (Victorian) – Broad gauge (5′ 3″, modelled as 16.5mm).
    • Period/era: up to the early 1980’s.
    • Layout Style: Double deck, Around the Walls.
    • Layout Height: Waist and chest.
    • Benchwork: Open Grid.
  • Roadbed: 19mm Ply in yards, 1/4″ masonite spline elsewhere.
  • Track: Handlayed code 80. Rail soldered to printed circuit board sleepers (every 4th sleeper with wood in between)
  • Length of mainline run: Not determined yet.
  • Turnout(Point) minimum: no 6
  • Minimum curve radii: 30 inches.
  • Maximum grade: 1:50
  • Scenery construction: chicken wire and plaster soaked paper
  • Control: Linked section control (unusual method but I find it works well in my operating method of having signalmen drive trains towards their station).DCC & possibly CMRI/Mini nodes may be used.

Some Discussion on My Plans

My railway in the caravan suits me fine, it has good operating potential, there is good space in the middle for operators, everyone is in the same space, I have enough rolling stock and motive power to run it and enough time to maintain/improve it. My first thoughts were to just re-locate it exactly as is. The room under the house is very similar in size, just a bit bigger all round.

Then I thought if I have to do a lot of work relocating I would look at what improvements could be made. I came up with:

  • Less duck-unders – remove barrier of crawling under at main entry if practical, nod under is ok, the duck under to the middle of the staging yards is painful, if there is a problem at that end of Costerfield getting back and forth is bad news
  • Re-locate staging mainly to eliminate the duck under but will also allow the grade to the top staging to be eliminated, at the moment it is about 1 in 36 (approx 3%), also having the staging that close to the ceiling it is hard to fix any problems;
  • Space for workbench
  • Loads in/Empties out scenario (stop those ore wagons running full in both directions).

Please look at the plans of the current railway, I wish to use the existing station (yard) layouts as much as possible to cut down the re-build time. The plain track between the stations is dispensable, I will try to recycle the rail into new track. While re-using the stations is preferred I am happy to turn them around or curve or extend them. Also they can be rebuilt in a different position, Graytown may become the station on the top level with a Nimamanima on the bottom level. The major station (Costerfield) is 14′ long excluding the loco depot and the other two are 11′ long each. Hazel Dale loop is just a passing loop so how the points are re-used is a minor issue.

Ways of incorporating these improvements pointed toward using the under house space next to the room. I call it “stump land” as it is a narrow strip of concrete then an earth (with rock underneath) bank up to the original ground level and then a couple of rows of stumps holding up the back of the house. The hot water service and gas space heater are also in this space but conveniently located at one end. I plan to remove the hot water service because it is 20 years old and replace it with a solar system with gas boosting to avoid having a flood and having to remove the old and install the new by dragging them under the railway.

Logically the staging would have to go into this space, there is enough room to include a return loop. I like to use a return loop at the ends of my railway, I think they are the main reason for the success of my current plan. They allow trains to go off stage and then return at a later time as a different train. I don’t have enough rolling stock to make up all the trains for a session at once. Also this means that I we don’t have to stop the session at mid night or some other end of day time because we have run out of trains facing the right direction, the timetable is balanced so we could keep running trains all night (real time). The work bench might fit where the staging yards are at the moment.

I have a couple of worries, the operator (the mole) there will not feel involved and the potential for dust and cold, also this would mean that the main room would be open to the same conditions while the door way is open. Plans I have drawn see the tracks to the staging yards going through the doorway to stump land. I would have to rehang the door and cut away clearances for the roadbed and track. I have drawn plans with track going through the wall but it is brick thus not a job to be trifled with.

One way of overcoming these problems would be do dig the dirt and rock out of stump land removing the stumps and supporting the house on steel beams held up by a steel upright at each end. This would give a 20′ by 15′ room in addition to the current room. As nice as this would be I don’t want a much bigger railway. I could use the space by single decking the railway and including more scenery space (something there is little of on the current build). The time, disruption and sheer effort put me right off this idea. Maybe I could dig out some dirt and cover the rock with concrete up to the first row of stumps then put up a wall against the stumps then install a ceiling and have a comfortable area with much less effort. Due to the need to travel through the main room to get to stump land this area has to be prepared first.

My first plan was drawn with Costerfield on the eastern wall as this put the staging yards at the opposite end to the doors, the same as the arrangement of the railway in the previous space (the caravan). Given that Costerfield is the longest station and likely to remain so this is still probably the right wall to put it against. Potentially by putting it against the shorter wall I could free up the longer wall for two stations, one on each level. Problem with this is that if I avoid going across a doorway by doing a return within the room the station against the shorter wall (shorter to avoid the doorway) has to run diagonally. To minimise the impact on room space I would see the station that runs diagonally having some degree of bend in it to push it back against the wall and to lead into the curve.

The room is only 8’6″ wide, Costerfield is about 18″ wide and a 30″ radius curve gives a 5’3″ bulge. That only leaves 21″ in an area the is currently the main operation point for Costerfield. Costerfield can be modified to provide a head shunt at the loco depot end but 21″ is still tight. A possible option would be to run the return track on the other side of the wall in the rumpus room, this could be done inside cupboards. The wall is double brick so I am not real keen on knocking two holes through, this would give an extra foot of space though so would be a huge benefit. The other disadvantage of the return turn in the train room is that it creates a big bulge into what is currently people space, there were 14 people once in the caravan, that would not be possible with the bulge.

LAYOUT’S NAME AND SCALE: It’s never had a name, it could be the Great Caravan Railway.


Largely Victorian Railways prototype with some South Australian Railways and Australian National Railways. Era is fuzzy as locos include A2s in 1920s condition through to BLs, generally it’s 1950s and 60s. The layout is operated using fast clocks and a timetable. There are no signals or bell codes yet so it’s largely verbal train order to get from station to station. Trains are driven by signalman at each station, there are no assigned drivers. There are five “stations”:

  • Costerfield, a large country town where locomotives are replaced on every train, locals serving the remaining stations originate and terminate in here. Through freight trains drop off and pick up here. There is a short branch to a pier on the nearby river.
  • Graytown, a wheat town with a rock crushing plant nearby, a 30 inch narrow gauge line serves the quarry and plant.
  • Hazel Dale Loop, passing loop only and the end of a long grade (the climb to the second level).
  • Ninamanima, another wheat town with a cattle siding.
  • Redcastle, this is a virtual station in the down end staging yard where local trains from Costerfield terminate.

The railway represents a 50 – 60 mile length of a main line between two major cities about 600 miles apart. The modelled length is about a third of the distance along the line. This means that there are major passenger trains passing through each way three times per day including one night train as well as freight trains. Local passengers are served by railmotors. The rest of the 600 miles is represented by the staging yards that are wrapped around the outside of return loops. The return loops (staging yards) are the lowest and highest level of the railway, there are two other levels. The main line is 200ft long and all this fits in a 25ft caravan (travel trailer in US I think). Next major job is to move the railway into a room in under our new house, it is bigger than the caravan. The railway needs 5 to 7 operators this is a small range but reflects the fact that the signalmen drive the trains. About 25 trains move in the 24hr time table, this takes about 2.5 hours.

Rebuilding the Great Caravan Railway

Plans to See

Costerfield Plan 1

To start things off, here is a initial plan prepared by myself.

Costerfield Plan 2

Here is a plan that I’ve seen Roger Lloyd and Mark prepare.

Costerfield Plan 3

Here is a plan that I have been meaning of trying.

Mark’s Costerfield Plan

Here is a plan that Mark has worked on. He originally did it on paper, then with Roger Lloyd’s help saw an Autocad drawing. Mark then learnt a way to do it (roughly) in Excel.

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