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With the pressures of getting everything into your railway layout, there will without doubt be temptations to lay the curves and loops tighter than they realistically should be. This approach is generally problematic, even when you’ve done a few test runs with locos and long cars around the curves.
Even when the trains run alright –
• Does the tighter track curve look really natural? If you intend modeling a present day railroad, car and wagon lengths will be considerably longer than in earlier days. Long rolling stock will make the curves and loops appear sharper than they actually are.
• Would a real life-size railroad have curves that are that tight? Most likely not. Real railroad curve radii will be much larger than is possible to accurately scale to fit a reasonable space. The compromise solution is to construct the curves and loops as large as the available space permits – then apply some clever scenic tricks to distract the eye from the curve appearance.
• What will happen when you purchase a new locomotive or a longer piece of rolling stock that won’t navigate safely around the curve without hitting something or derailing? In truth this relates to the selection of era being modeled. A scene with big late steam era engines is probably not a wise decision for a confined space. Mining, logging or switching puzzle railroads with shorter cars will be a better choice if your circumstances demand sharper curves.
My golden rule is to make your minimum radius AT THE VERY LEAST as large as what’s recommended for the longest rolling stock you intend to operate on your model railroad layout. That’s the way to avoid regrets later.
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