Model railways tend to fall into 2 distinct categories, those that are models of prototypes and those that are freelanced. Both come with distinct advantages and specific challenges, for example a freelanced layout allows the modeller freedom to create something within the limitations of space, perhaps even allowing a layout where it would be otherwise impossible. The prototype location does not have such flexibility, but does mean that the model will look correct and there is no need to struggle over the design aspects. In terms of looking correct, one thing that really stands out for me if when modellers build a branch line terminus, with most of the sidings the wrong way round.
Now I understand that the terminus does allow a lot of activity in a relatively short space, but in all of the research I have done, across a number of areas and railways, the terminus generally has sidings that funnel into the running lines. This means they are generally wide, a distinct disadvantage for the modeller. So many models depict a line arriving into a terminus platform and have the sidings kicking back, in order to run parallel to the baseboards - for very obvious reasons. The advantage of following a prototype is that when you lay out the track it will look right. You will also avoid any faux pas that a scholar of the local scene will pick up on. An example of this is the favourite space saver, the single slip. Well used by the modeller, but for anything Great North of Scotland outside of the station in Aberdeen (or in fact for many of the pre-grouping Scottish companies in rural settings) this was not in the PW vocabulary. Following the prototype avoids these indiscretions and makes for a more realistic model.
The disadvantage of following a prototype is probably around the size required and the research that has to be done. Even small facilities are larger than we suspect, pointwork can take up board after board and that width issue can quickly become problematic. For a rural setting it seems that land was cheaper than maintaining fancy track work, so standard turn-outs would be used. Space was left between sidings for access and storage. All of a sudden our 2' of plywood seems rather narrow. Research for buildings, often long gone, can also be a difficulty and time consuming. Of course the satisfaction of someone recognising a location cannot be replicated on a freelanced project.
One of the big challenges facing the freelancer is the proper signalling of a track plan. I wish to model 2 separate time periods and require a location with traditional signalling. Of all of the topics that modellers can access written expertise on, the biggest single weakness (in my opinion) is in the understanding of how signalling works. By that I do not mean the physical means nor the equipment, the study of which has been voluminous. Nor in fact the overall theory, which again has received considerable attention from the academics. Many modellers could give a reasonable outline of what signalling was intended to do, but there is little available to help the modeller apply the theory to a plan. In other words there is little that puts them in the shoes of the signalling department, asked to come up with a solution to a certain situation and actually plant the various signalling/pointwork features in their correct locations.
How then does the modeller apply the desire to maintain authentic operation to restricted space? In my case I will base my layout on a prototype, using the basic track plan, signalling and layout. I need to build in sufficient flexibility to take account of differing operating time periods, none with dramatic differences, but still requiring sufficient compromise to prevent any one making an absolute model of a time and place. That is a compromise I am willing to make as it suits me to do so. It allows me to operate the way I need to and takes account my initial criteria that I want both an early 1950's and a 1980's time period.
I will use architecture from the local area and move scenic features to suit. I will want to keep the station open in the later period, where it would likely have been closed and fallen into disrepair. I want to end the scene in a cutting rather than the prototype embankment, I will perhaps compress other scenic features to fit the scope. This approach is not uncommon, a half way house of; is it? Or is it not? Fact or fiction? The answer probably lies somewhere in retaining enough prototype to rely on 100 plus years of railway expertise to make it look right, with enough flexibility to make it fit the physical restrictions (roof trusses in my case) without breaking that link to reality.
Basing the layout on a location allows the use of working timetables, signalling, track plan etc to give a realistic operation. I will not claim it to be a model of a specific location and will alter the name to do so, but keeping that firm footing in reality is vital. Thats the challenge.
As a footnote:
Just when you have all of your plans made something unexpected happens. It is of course a well known phenomenon that as soon as you complete a kit build of a project, one of the major manufacturers will produce it RTR. However I wouldn't never expect them to produce the more outlandish subjects. But then something dramatic happens. This is "black swan" theory and Hornby have done it with their announcement of a P2. I'm not sure quite how that will influence the next layout - but it definitely will!
Merry Christmas to you all.