When it comes to capturing the gritty industrial areas and action-packed northeastern region’s railway activity, few model railroad layouts can match the efforts of Matt Snell and Debie Baker. Model Railroad Academy’s Allen Keller visits the duo and learns how the Conrail New Jersey division portrayed in HO scale grew out of Matt’s discovery and exploration of rail lines when he was a young railfan.
It’s a 1⁄87th world of chemical plants around Newark, with heavy freight trains intermingling with high-speed commuter lines and lots of interchange traffic. The layout also features trains from Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and Rahway Valley Railroad.
The Conrail New Jersey is designed for model railroad operations as close to the prototype as possible and follows the same operating rules as other Northeastern lines. Controlled by signals and dispatcher, the CNJ runs different sessions for day and night operations.
The benchwork is open grid, and the minimum mainline radius is 22”.
Debie has helped build and operate the 24’ x 40’ basement layout—an uncommon woman in the normally male-dominated world of model railroading. But she says the hobby has allowed her to go places and meet people she would never have had the opportunity to experience. Matt agrees that building the layout together has allowed him and Debie to develop similar interests—and have fun doing it!