Friday, 26 November 2010


The design of the city layout I mentioned in a recent blog posting is gradually coming along. Thanks to a few long evening sessions slaving over a hot Mac, I'm not far off completing Phase 1 of my design - the subterranean area. This basically consists of a large oval of track completely enclosed in a tunnel, and an underground subway station. Phase 2 will be a LEGO city featuring roads, more rail track including sidings, a rock formation with a rail tunnel running through it, trees and landscaping, and of course buildings, road vehicles and trains. The city level will sit on top of the subterranean area.

Per my previous posting, I'm using Lego Digital Designer (LDD) to design my layout. You can see an LDD screen shot of one corner of the subterranean area below (click to enlarge).

While LDD has proved to be a powerful and useful tool, there have been a few things which I couldn't readily do 'virtually', such as checking to make sure that a LEGO train could actually navigate the track curves within the tunnel without hitting the sides. Other tasks better lending themselves to a hands-on approach included figuring out an acceptable way of physically attaching the subterranean level to the city level above (the 32x32 baseplates forming the floor of the city level don't have inverse studs underneath), and also coming up with a way of supporting the city level from below without using a million bricks in the process. I therefore delved into my ancient loose LEGO and constructed a 'mock-up' of one corner of the layout out of whatever bricks I could lay my hands on. I'm pretty obsessional about keeping my 'official' sets together, so they were largely off limits for parts, but I thankfully found enough old loose bricks and random baseplates in various colours to get the job done, and you can see the result below. It's a bit of a dog's dinner, but it does the job.....

Mock-up of one corner of the subterranean level - the train fits !
I'm planning to run the train from Set 7938 Passenger Train (below) in the subterranean tunnel, and I'm relieved to report that the coaches seem to be able to navigate the corner curve without hitting the tunnel walls so I'm still in business. The colour scheme of the train should contrast well with the grey arches and walls of the subway tunnel, and I managed to get a couple of extra coaches from eBay as a nice finishing touch; I did fleetingly consider running the iconic Metroliner train in the tunnel to bring a touch of nostalgia to proceedings, but decided that the subterranean level was grey enough already without running a grey train through it......

Building a rough 'mock up' of part of the layout from real LEGO rapidly taught me that there are things you can do with real LEGO that you can't do with LDD. This is I suspect because LDD won't permit certain 'bad building practices' which, while physically possible with real LEGO, place additional stresses on the bricks. Aside from the psychedelic colour scheme and the multitude of substitute pieces, there are some more subtle differences between the mock up and the LDD version. I'm hoping that these won't be a problem when I finally come to build the real thing, however, although I'm nevertheless planning to order slightly more bricks than I think I'll actually need in case I have to redesign anything on the fly.

So far I'm making good progress with the design, but being predominantly a collector and builder of 'official' sets rather than a MOC'er, I keep encountering issues and challenges that would previously never have even crossed my mind. Like how to attach curved rail track to baseplates, for instance. And how to deal with the difference in thickness between standard plates and baseplates. And how to accommodate the geometry of curved rail tracks within a modular design. Honestly, I can tell you that this kind of thing would have seemed like really pitiful, anoracky stuff to me beforehand, but now it keeps me awake at night..... No doubt others have long figured out solutions to these conundrums, but I'm actually kind of enjoying the challenge of figuring it out for myself. Just like I did as a kid, in fact - this project may be on a bigger scale than my childhood efforts, but the principles are the same.


  1. I'd be interested to know your approach to laying the curved track on the baseplates. I've generally just copped out and used tiles before (which isn't hugely stable...)

  2. @Frankie : OK, I'll try to explain. I'm quite fortunate that in the subterranean level at least I'm only dealng with one large oval of track with a 90 degree bend at each corner of the layout.

    Each 90 degree bend is made up of 4 pieces of curved track, and is anchored at either end by lengths of straight track. The key was to elevate the whole track oval by one plate above the baseplate. So basically, all the straights are attached to the baseplates below by a 1x2 or 2x2 plate at either end of each sleeper. Also, the first and last sleeper of each 90 degree curve, where the curve attached to the straight at either end, can also be attached to the baseplate, and in this way each 90 degree curve is basically held at either end both by an attachment to the baseplate beneath and also an attachment to the straight rail section at either end. Finally, I lay tiles under the sleepers of the curve section so that the curve lies at the same level as the straights, i.e. 1 plate above the baseplate. This arrangement seems pretty stable.

    I hope my explanation makes sense, but if not then feel free to e-mail me and I'll see if I can explain more clearly..... I suspect that you're doing the same thing already anyway !

  3. Hi. Yep, that's the same as I'm doing. Uses lots of tiles though.

    There is the odd stud or two on a corner that you can attach directly to the baseplate (via a 1x1 plate or 1x2 jumper plate) which can help. Not sure how required this really is though.

  4. Agreed - providing the curves are firmly attached at both ends and rest on a bed of tiles then they seem pretty secure.

  5. Hey! I have two questions. When you open up LDD, on the home screen you use to be able to pick a base in order to build from(house base, car base, etc.).
    Now I was wondering, if you used a base on your LDD model. If not, did you just continusly keep stacking bricks to make the building? The second: How did you get train tracks in LDD? Thanks!

  6. @akscarboro - I started my LDD design with a blank screen, selected the base plates from the parts menu, and gradually built from there. The key is to activate 'Universe' mode in LDD before you start your design. This opens up a wealth of parts and colours which are normally hidden. Do a Google search for "LDD Universe mode" to find out more about this. The train tracks were listed with the other parts; I assume from your question that they're not normally available in LDD, in which case I assume that they must be unlocked with Universe mode.

  7. Any update to your progress on this project?

  8. Thanks for asking. I've basically finished designing the basement level on LDD, and have started to source the huge number of parts I need from various places. Once these have arrived I'll be able to get building. I've also bought 3 tables which I've constructed and put in place which the layout will sit on.

    Once building is underway I'll post a proper update on the blog including some pictures..... Might be a while until the parts arrive, however.

  9. Dear Dr. Dave: I loved your concept of a large scale subway. I was charged by the Little Rhode Model RR Club to build a G scale modular layout. Looking for an idea I stumbled on your concept. With a friend of mine, we have completed about 80% of the layout which is built of 1/2 inch birch and is 5'X10'. We are working on a Harry Potter theme with LBG trolleys. Thanks for the inspiration and hope you are progressing on your Lego RR.

    1. Cheers, Dave, and glad I was able to provide some ideas for your layout!