SOU Oneida, Tennessee and Brimstone, TN track plan HO

  • Size: 27′ x 30′
  • Scale: HO
  • Minimum Mainline Radius: 30″ (27″ Brimstone)
  • Minimum Aisle Width: 32″
  • Designed by Dan Bourque

Southern LogoOne of the Southern Railway’s most famous lines is its Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific (CNO&TP) main through Tennessee and Kentucky where it was known as “the Rathole” for all its tunnels and bridges. Though this busy line ran through the heart of Tennessee coal country, it didn’t serve the coal operators directly. Instead, the CNO&TP interchanged with several short lines that ventured down into the valleys full of tipples to bring the coal up the slopes of the Cumberland Plateau to its mainline. These short lines included the Kentucky & Tennessee, the Oneida and Western, the Tennessee Railroad, and the Brimstone and New River Railway (simply known as the Brimstone) which operated a small fleet of steam-powered shay locomotives until it was bought by the Southern in 1970.

The Layout

This double-deck layout is designed to capture the operations of two of these short lines, the Tennessee and the Brimstone and their interaction with the Southern’s CNO&TP main. The mainline occupies the lower deck and includes the yard at Oneida where it interchanged with the Tennessee, the small town of New River where it interchanged with the Brimstone, the large bridge across the New River and the narrow canyon of “tunnel hollow.” The CNO&TP had a double-track main that went to single track for tunnels and long bridges, which is what is modeled here. The CNO&TP went through a major rebuilding project in the 1960s, so this layout is correct for the early ’60s before the line bypassed tunnel hollow and a new bridge was built over the New River further north. The Brimstone was about 10 miles long and served two small coal operations at the end. The major features of the Brimstone are included here, though the mainline is severely compressed. Additionally, topo charts are not clear on the location of the Brimstone’s engine house in New River, so I’ve taken my best guess (let me know if you can help get it in the right spot).

The upper deck represents the Tennessee Railroad and its major coal loading operations of the ’50s-’60s. The Tennessee, which used 6 green and yellow Rutland-esque RS1s as power, was about 40 miles long, and the origin at Oneida and the last 20 or so miles are represented here. The layout is very compressed for 20 miles, but because there is a lot of room between scenes, it should still feel uncompressed. All of the prominent bridges, scenes and loaders along this portion of the route are captured.

Lower Deck

Oneida, Tennessee and Brimstone HO scale track plan - lower level

Upper Deck

Oneida, Tennessee and Brimstone HO scale track plan - upper level

Scenes are fairly well deconflicted between the upper and lower decks, and a third staging deck goes along the walls. Staging is comprised of two double-ended yards (and a smaller stub-ended yard if desired) that are connected to form a continuous run for the CNO&TP. There are no duck-unders, though two lift-out sections are included for access to a storage room. Aisles are generous with plenty of “passing sidings” for operators to accommodate the large number of operators needed. There is also room for a “window” to view inside the helix from the aisle right next to the entrance to the room.

A large DCC system with walk-around control would be needed to make this layout run smoothly, and a DCC system connected via computer link to JMRI would help with the signaling on the CNO&TP main. Due to several trains operating at once, wireless radio throttles would come in very handy.


This layout would need 7-9 operators for a full operating session, though 1-2 could easily run the Brimstone and Tennessee without a supporting cast. In a full session, the CNO&TP would need a dispatcher and about 4-5 road crews. A 1951 CNO&TP timetable lists 8 First class trains including the Royal Palm and Ponce de Leon, 8 second class freights and 2 third class trains plus extras–that’s a lot of trains! The staging yards aren’t big enough to hold all this, but the design allows for trains to be run more than once in a session. One or two locals would be needed to work the several small industries along the main, and one or two trains would be needed to bring empty hoppers to Oneida and New River and to pick up coal loads from the Tennessee and the Brimstone. Power on these freights in the ’60s would be a mix of older 4-axle power like GP7s and F-units and newer 6-axle power like SD24s and SD35s.

The Tennessee would keep two operators busy. One operator would run the mine run(s) and the other would run the yard and serve as the conductor for the mine run when the yard work was complete. Depending on the season, one or two mine runs would be needed per day. Loads had to ascend a steep grade to get into Oneida, so sets of 3-4 RS1s were common. The mine runs would leave Oneida with empties bound for the tipples on the second level and then drop empties on the way down the line and pick up loads for the trip back to Oneida. The tipples have many track arrangements to add variety to this job.  The Tennessee would probably take around 3-4 hours for one crew to work!

The Brimstone would be simple enough for one operator. The crew would start in New River where a train of empties would be assembled. There were no turning facilities on the Brimstone, so the shay would run backwards to the tipples and forward returning to New River.

Things I like about this plan:

  • Continuous running option
  • Lots of space between scenes
  • Captures the feel of operations for three prototypes well
  • Great scenery possibilities (especially New River Bridge)
  • Tons of operation
  • No duck-unders
  • Generous aisles
  • Shays and SD35s on the same layout

Things I don’t like about this plan:

  • Unprototypical grade on Tennessee (should climb into Oneida)
  • A few poorly disguised track transitions into backdrops
  • Limited number of staging tracks

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One Response to SOU Oneida, Tennessee and Brimstone, TN track plan HO

  1. Patrick Tillery says:

    Looks like a great plan for an Sn3 layout!

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