Introducing the Northern California Terminal Railroad

A few years ago a friend and I started planning a FREMo layout together focused on iron ore hauling in the upper Midwest. Fast forward a few years, and for various reasons that project didn’t progress, though I had some equipment left over, and I decided to take advantage of that and my own issues with planning the YV, and waiting in 2020 for supplies, etc… to create a switching layout.

Enter, the Northern California Terminal Railroad. This is envisioned as a small modern shoreline set in Northern California, interchanging with the Union Pacific and BNSF, providing industrial switching services. The idea in general was to build something that doesn’t involve super-detailing equipment, allows me to practice and learn some skills with structure building, and try some weathering products on equipment that is less of a focus than the Proto48 equipment.

So I created some equipment “rules” for myself:

  • Ready to Run equipment. The couplers can be changed for Kadee if not standard.
  • Weathering. Everything will get weathered before it sees service.
  • The size is restricted. I have 2 engines, will likely need about 20-25 freight cars, and the space is 18″ x 6′ plus an attached switching extension.

I also set some goals:

  • Create an operational scheme that requires at least an hour to switch the layout.
  • Be capable of single person, and ready for two person, crews.
  • Install lighting, sound, and other effects when possible.

This project is not intended as a replacement for the O scale modeling, and I’m not taking on anything that I left HO scale originally for either. The goal is to have some fun, and have a layout that is portable and be able to potentially take this project to RPM’s and train shows when those return.

On the layout, I plan to include 4 rail-served industries.

Creaky Chair Electronics. This industry will bring in materials and also ship out via mostly boxcar, but may occasionally get a tank car of industrial chemicals and may ship a gondola of scrap from time to time.

Marck Tool & DIe. This company will make metal stamped parts, meaning they will bring materials in via coil cars and in boxcars and then ship out via boxcar. There will also be some tank cars, and gondolas bringing draw oils and cleaning chemicals to the industry and taking away scrap metal.

Team Track – Just about anything can be shipped here. This track provides leeway to bring in bulkhead cars with big CAT tractors or cars with grain or culvert loads on a flat car. The big catch here is that this track is also the sorting track for the area, so keeping the number of cars here low is likely going to be important.

Cal-Trans. The California Department of Transportation depot on the layout gets road salt, can get equipment, and may get chemicals delivered. It’s an interesting spot to find a hopper of rock salt and maybe a hopper of concrete switching spots.

A couple of other industries that are not rail served will be included to create the look of a modern industrial park.

Power for the layout is a patch-out ex-Union Pacific GP39-2 and a leased SD38-2. I want the look of a shoestring budget short line, so a patch-out and a lease engine make sense.

This project also feeds my enjoyment of rail fan trips and modeling from photographs. Additionally, while I make progress on the Proto48 plans, that is a long term future layout. This is a finite size, buildable, completable, limited scope project in the quasi-cameo style.

At this point, the layout has track laid (Atlas code 83), wiring is done, and the Digitrax Zeyphr is up and running. When the weather improves, the track will get painted. Shortly, I’ll introduce you to the power and other projects that are done, and to some of the things I’m building.

It’s going to be fun!


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