The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Model Railroad Layout

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When Bruce Carpenter was first dreaming of a prototype road for his HO-Scale model railroad layout, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe – America’s second largest (by revenue) Class 1 railroad – was a logical choice. Stretching from Chicago to the West Coast, the BNSF is a bigtime modern railroad with more than 32,000 route miles.

Its forefathers – James J. Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railway, and Cyrus K. Holliday, founder of the Sante Fe Railway, dreamed of building transcontinental railroads that would spur development and move commerce in the rapidly growing middle and western United States.

Today, BNSF carries on the legacy of innovation, efficiency and modernization of equipment and services for which its predecessor roads were famous. That’s just what Bruce was looking for! As he tells Model Railroad Academy’s Allen Keller, he can relate to the modern-era today and BNSF’s heavy mainline traffic, and he designed and built his version of the BNSF empire to portray just that. In fact, Bruce can run up to 50 trains containing 800-900 modern-era cars of all kinds during a typical four-hour operating session.

His trains run across a bridge route from staging yard to staging yard – Chicago to Stronghurst, IL, with the line continuing to the 12-track Kansas City staging yard. With a unique overhead camera angle, Allen captures the action centering around Nerska (IL) Tower, a 4-track interlocking plant installed in 1892 and past which all his trains move. It portrays the crossing of Belt Railway of Chicago with CN’s former Alton Route, and BNSF’s former Santa Fe main line. While interlocking plants like this are common on the prototype, they’re rarely seen on a model railroad layout due to space limitations.

See how Bruce picks up this modeling challenge in his 25’x62′ basement space with a generous 32″ minimum mainline radius. Construction is a traditional open-grid benchwork. Learn the tips and tricks of designing and building a modern-day model railroad layout in Part 1 of this 12-part series. Hop aboard for some great heavy traffic mainline action!

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Tags: Allen Keller, model railroad layout