INT Dixiana Branch, VA track plan HO

  • Size: 12′ x 16′
  • Scale: HO
  • Minimum Radius: 26″ (except 24″ on hidden tracks as noted)
  • Minimum Aisle Width: 28″
  • Designed by Dan Bourque

Interstate LogoThere are probably close to a dozen track plans on this website dedicated to this area of the Interstate RR in southwestern Virginia. It so happens this is one of my favorite coal branches in the Appalachians, and the Interstate is the railroad I model (in the Southern era). It also happens I’ve recently moved and am looking to start building a layout again, so this particular track plan is one of the potential plans I may build someday in an unfinished area of my basement.

The Glamorgan Branch, and its 20-mile extension, the Dixiana Branch, were two of the busiest coal producers on this 88-mile short line that was acquired by the Southern in 1960. The branch was home to around a dozen loaders of all ages, shapes and sizes from small wooden docks to the five-track classic tipple at Dixiana.  Built in 1954, the Dixiana Branch was a late add to the Interstate and never saw steam. After completion of the branch, the wye at Holton became the operational center of the branch.

The Layout

This compact double-deck track plan focuses on the far end of the branch from Holton to the ends of the branches at Glamorgan and Dixiana. This portion of the branch housed all but three of the branch’s loaders and one of the major non-coal industries (though coal related) in the area, Austin Powder. The track arrangements represent this area around 1970, about 5 years after Southern F units and GPs replaced the Interstate’s colorful RS3s on the line. While this date was chosen, it would be easy to backdate to the early 1960s by removing a few of the tracks, most notably Austin Powder, Camp Creek and Dixiana No 2. Likewise, it would be easy to move more modern by changing the track arrangement at Glamorgan by removing one leg of the wye and adding a pair of more modern tipples. As-is, this track arrangement allows for the backdating or updating of operating sessions with only a few discrepancies.

The lower deck represents the end of the Glamorgan Branch and the start of the Dixiana Branch. It includes Holton with its wye and sidings, and the single-track loader and small coal docks on the legs of the Glamorgan Wye. A narrow helix (24″) takes trains up the 20 miles to Dixiana where the small Critical Fork Branch left the Dixiana mainline. Due to the tightness of the space, the biggest challenge is preserving both aisle width and minimum radius, so the result is a compromise of both with a 28″ pinch point in the aisle and 26″ minimum radius for visible track (I prefer a minimum of 30″ for both). Staging is a three-track reversing loop under Glamorgan. While I would prefer more tracks, the three tracks are more than 20 feet long which would allow operating sessions with trains of an impressive 35 cars each.

INT Dixiana Branch, VA track plan HO

From a construction perspective, one challenge with this double-deck design is supporting the upper deck in the widest spots. For this plan, there is room for a central support under each of the ends of the layout, making it easy to support the weight. It would be easy to operate this layout using straight DC since only one train at a time normally operated on the branch. However, with today’s wireless DCC systems, it would still make sense to make this a DCC layout using an entry level system with boosters or a more advanced system.

Operations

This layout would take 1-2 operators 2-3 hours to fully work in an operating session. In the late 1960s and 1970s (Southern era), this area was worked by two mine runs, the First Mine Run and Third Mine Run. Each mine run would start in Andover staging and consist of 20-35 cars, a cab (probably still painted “Interstate”), and a pair of 4-axle units. In the ’60s, this would mainly be F-units with an occasional GP7, and in the ’70s, this would be GP38s and an occasional GP30 or 35. The mine runs divided their labor based on the type of loads being handled. The First Mine Run was called in the morning and focused on the “interchange coal” heading directly to the Southern and N&W (or occasionally the L&N and CRR)–these loads originated primarily from the Dixiana area. Dixiana No 1 loaded several grades for many customers, both Southern and N&W, so crews would also be required to block the loads before leaving Dixiana.

Interstate 32, Andover, VA

Interstate RS3 Andover Yard, VA, Oct 1965 -Ron Flanary

The Third Mine Run was called in the afternoon and focused on the “transloader coal” heading to the large prep plant and transloader in Appalachia, VA. The cars used for these mine runs differed as well with 70-100T cars being the norm for interchange loads while transloader coal was placed mainly in 50T cars, known as “yellow balls” for their markings–old Interstate cars or Southern offsets with extended sides. In the ’70s, Glamorgan and Holton tipples primarily loaded transloader coal. The Third Mine Run also handled the cars for Austin Powder, covered hoppers usually lettered for SCL or ACL where the Ammonium Nitrate was shipped from. Mine runs would work their up the branch, dropping empties on their way up the branch and pulling loads on their way back down.

As mentioned earlier, this layout would lend itself well to variety in operations based on the era. An Interstate-era ops session would have two mine runs as well, the Norton Switcher and the East Switcher, each powered by a single orange, grey and cream RS3. In this era, there would be no Austin Powder, Dixiana No 2 or Camp Creek. Variety could also be gained by varying the tipples active and idle and by changing the volume of cars loaded. If one mine run’s tipples are mostly idle, it would pick up some assignments from the other mine run (like the First Mine Run handling the placing of some “yellow ball” empties and working Austin Powder). Additionally, the small loaders at Dixiana No 2 and Critical Fork could occasionally load yellow balls requiring the Third Mine Run some extra work and vice versa for the loaders at Holton and Glamorgan.

Things I Like About this Plan:

  • Lots of loaders in a small space
  • Allows faithful prototypical operations (explained in great detail in Appalachian Coal Hauler by Hugh and Ed Wolfe)

Things I Don’t Like About this Plan:

  • Tight aisles
  • Tight minimum radius

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