Three types of staging yards: Staging serves the role of representing a model railroad’s connections to the rest of the world. Different kinds of staging, though, perform differently.
Using staging yards to represent “beyond the layout” connections is widely accepted among model railroad operators. There’s no better way to foster the illusion that a model railroad is part of not only a larger rail system but also of the continental rail network.
Staging also gets us closer to the experience of watching trains on the big railroads. When we see trains in the real world they come from somewhere else, pass by, and go away. We usually don’t see them again soon. Staging yards help us re-create this experience by providing places from which our trains can come into our layout scene and to which they can go away. In this respect, staging yards have aptly been compared to the wings of the stage in a theater.
Any collection of track plans will show you a variety of ways to arrange staging yards, but in general most fall into one of the three main patterns shown at right.
Stub staging – Three types of staging yards
Stub staging is the simplest and most space-efficient form of staging. That’s especially true if the two stub staging yards at opposite ends of the main line can be stacked vertically in the same footprint. Trains are set up or “staged” for an operating session facing out. When they depart they leave empty tracks where other trains can arrive. Leaving one or two tracks empty at the start of a session allows more flexibility in scheduling, although it can prove difficult to resist the temptation to add more trains to your operation.
Arriving trains head into an empty track in the stub yard and terminate. They can’t appear on the layout again until they’ve been backed out and “re-staged” between operating sessions, usually with some rearrangement of motive power, rolling stock, or both. Because trains go into stub yards the same way they come out, they’re sometimes called “muzzle-loading staging.”
Through staging – Three types of staging yards
In through staging, both ends of the main line connect to a single double-ended yard. Compared to stub staging, it requires greater length for switch ladders at both ends and greater width for an equivalent number of tracks. The great advantage of through staging is that empty and loaded open-top cars like hoppers and gondolas can be kept moving in appropriate directions without the effort of loading and unloading. This is of obvious benefit in modeling roads with heavy coal or ore traffic.
Of course, the through yard can be used as if it were stub staging for manifest and local freight traffic, with the extra benefit of handy runaround movements when at least one staging track is available. Especially with trains pulled by diesel power in double-ended consists, this can be quite convenient.
Though I’m focusing here on what might be called “passive staging,” with no work being done in the staging yard during an operating session, through yards are well adapted to the “active staging,” or fiddle yard, role. A fiddle operator, sometimes known as a “mole” if he works out of sight, can actively rearrange train consists during an operating session and send them on their way from either end of the main line.
Loop staging terminates the main line in a reverse loop with parallel storage tracks instead of a stub or through yard. Because of minimum radius requirements, loop staging uses the most real estate of any of the three main types. That disadvantage can often be mitigated by locating loop staging beneath layout “blobs” already required for on-layout turnback curves.
In loop staging, arriving trains are automatically ready to depart again. This can be a great benefit even if trains aren’t reused in the same operating session. It minimizes handling of steam locomotives and highly detailed rolling stock, for example. For modeling heavy passenger traffic, loop staging makes it easy to turn entire consists, and may make it possible to economize somewhat on expensive and labor-intensive passenger rolling stock.
To cite a personal example, I have a circa-1947 City of Los Angeles train set that required years of collecting and expenditure to accumulate, and is still going to need a lot of effort to paint, letter, and make operational. I’ll be glad to use loop staging to let that same consist represent both the westbound and eastbound trains, which on any given day is perfectly realistic on my part of the railroad. Multiply that by several more painstakingly assembled prototypical passenger trains and you have a strong case for loop staging.
There’s sometimes concern over the electrical complexities of reverse loops in two-rail wiring systems. I’ve never felt that to be a serious obstacle, as I show in my book Easy Model Railroad Wiring (Kalmbach, out of print – ed.) With today’s Digital Command Control systems and automatic reversing circuits, wiring reverse loops is less trouble than ever. What’s more, with automatic reversing, loops function with complete transparency, allowing operators to use them without any special controls.
Note that you don’t give up any capability with loop compared to stub staging. You still have the same flexibility to change power and rearrange train consists between sessions.
These staging yard patterns present a variety of ways to support your layout’s operations. They aren’t mutually exclusive, and you may find that some combination of the three basic formats is best for your railroad. You can use them to expand the scope of your space-limited layout through imagined connections to distant destinations.