To helix or not to helix

I guess one of the problems with my new layout is that it is being built around existing benchwork from the previous one. Hence, the benchwork in the middle of the helix. In that corner there is a lower storage level, a lower scenicked level and a yet to be built upper level. The lower storage level will be accessible from above where the helix isn’t sitting but from the side if there is something above it. The lower level will be a small city – with an elevated section running up to the corner. This is what it looked like on the last layout – the corner curve will now sit in front of the giant hole for the helix. It needs to be further forward as the staging level runs up at the back in a daylighted tunnel.


I plan to have a road with traffic lights etc in front of the elevated section with small city buildings at the front and taller ones at the back behind the staging level “tunnel”.

The upper level is a bucolic mill valley with green rolling hills, a river and some brick mills dotted along. It is visually very separate but I would like to be able to run a train from staging to the mill valley branch and pick up/drop off along the way.

To get from the staging yard to the lower level I already have 3% grades. Tests show that my I-5 locos can pull 4 coaches reliably up it but I’ve yet to test with box cars (their mostly still packed away). I’m hoping some bullfrog snot may increase this as the problem is not pulling power but traction on the curves. I have cleaned the track but the engines that have been stalling are ok if moving but if they stop (run out of ooomph because i’ve tested with too many coaches) they won’t start again. The I-5s are a dream so I’ve generally been using those instead. I’m thinking of getting a CMX machine for those hard to reach spots as I am getting more and more of them.

All of this doesn’t help with the helix problem and along with my neck it has put a real kink in what I’ve been doing. Until I resolve it, I’m in a holding pattern with everything else. I think the curved door access hatch would work best if I go down the helix route and I could hollow out the benchwork on the lower level in that area but I’ve still got the lower staging in the way of access from beneath.

Vertical staging takes less space but has problems with running on and off on the same side.

I think my main concern with the helix is actually the size. It looks massive when in place. A 50″ circle is third of my room width and it looks it. I would like something that is simple to use, reliable and stable and not too large.

I’ve been thinking of cassettes or an automated vertical storage yard – cassettes are ok but would need to be 4′ long which is very unwieldy and vertical storage is very mechanical and I’m trying to keep to the KISS principle.