Rio Grande Southern RR - Layout Plans

Here's my own layout - a version of what the Rio Grande Southern might've become had it lasted beyond 1952. Construction started in 2004, and operating sessions started around 2014. I'm always open to improvements, suggestions and wise-cracks! Email me at ! Thanks.

Blog   Photos   Operations   Drawings   History   Specs   Stats / Analysis  

Photos & Benchwork!

  Layout construction, historical mutterings, and lots of detailed workshop-type postings about modeling are posted in my RGS Thoughts & Mutterings blog.

Since it's a lot easier ad faster, the main collection of layout photos are on Steve's RGS Facebook pg, including many shots of each town, taken over time as the construction has evolved.

Operate the layout - with TrainPlayer!

A version of this layout was used in the early beta testing of a simulation program called
TrainPlayer. This is a great piece of software that lets one actually 'operate' a layout, including running trains, switching towns, etc. My layout was one of several posted for beta testers to use, and I got a lot of great feedback on the early design from those testers.

My design improved because of that input! My layout from that time is still posted and I believe is included as one of the layouts you can operate if you purchase or try out the software. TrainPlayer used to be Windows and Mac, but now is offered only for Windows. Still - great software and I highly recommend it.


Here's the layout design; medium and larger versions are also available. You can see how the design has evolved, based on input from lots of kind folks, by looking at an earlier 2001 design. I used Empire Express to create the drawing, and then used a CAD program on a Mac to add some additional colors and labels.

Layout Drawing


I hope to add a more complete history later, but essentially what I propose happened is this: at some point the line was standard gauged, as management hoped to capitalize on the std-gauge Farmington branch out of Durango, and also make itself more attractive for through freight heading for Grand Jct and beyond.

The Southern Pacific, around 1910, was looking to find a way into Franklin Jct or Durango for access to the coal fields. Attempting to help them (and of course gain profits), the D&RG built a std-gauge line south from Durango to Farmington.

There's a longish story behind this move - copper mines in Bisbee (Copper Queen Mining Co) and Morenci (Phelps-Dodge) Arizona used huge amounts of coal, and wanted cheap coal locally, from the coal areas near Durango. These folks sent a delegation to Durango in 1905 to explore options with the D&RG and RGS, but nothing came of it. Instead, they purchased coal interests in Dawson, New Mexico, and built two railroads to move their coal to their copper mines. The first line was the El Paso & Northeastern, and the second the El Paso & Southwestern (from El Paso to Benson). These merged under the EP&SW name, by they extended to Tucson. Also in 1924, the merged lines were acquired by the SP in 1924, giving the SP it's first access to the Bisbee area. Today, the old EP&NE is part of the UP line from El Paso to Tucumcarri, while the EP&SW is mostly abandoned.

The Farmington branch was built std-gauge by the D&RGW in a bid to give SP access to these coal areas, but the EP&NE and EP&SW lines put an end to that, and the Farmington branch was eventually narrow-gauged. In my alterate history, however, the SP helped fund the D&RG's branch to Farmington, and purchased a majority stake in the RGS.

The RGS was std-gauged with SP funding, and the SP connected to the southern end of the Farmington branch. The D&RG line from Ridgway to Grand Jct was also std-gauged (by the D&RGW). This, after some negotiation for trackage rights) gave the SP a connection all the way from it's southern main line to it's western connection at Salt Lake (via Grand Jct).

But, the bottom fell out of the economy in 1929, long before the SP had completed all the work it intended on the RGS. The work of std-gauging the line was completed, but not much else. The line remained 'just operable' for many years.

There were benefits, though: mining operations around Ophir, Rico, and Telluride were able to hang on, as shipping to points north and south (beyond the NG empire) were now economical because of the SG connection via the SP. Coal and lumber from the south end was in high demand, and ore operations on the north end, while not overly profitable, were at least able to remain open. Much later, the SP was also able to add passenger runs into Telluride, as that town began it's conversion from mining to ski resorts. All of these factors helped the RGS to survive, essentially as a partially-owned subsidiary of the SP.

Today (about 1958 or so) the line is running, but improvements are still coming and the infrastructure has a long way to go. A couple of diesels have been purchased, but aging steam still rules this roost. The track is passable but could use a lot of new ties and ballasting. Bits and pieces from NG days litter the landscape, w/numerous boxcars and old b&b cars serving as offices, sheds, bunkhouses and even depots. Here and there old bits of abandoned spurs and sidings may be seen. But times are changing - the SP occasionally runs scenic tours using chartered Daylight streamliners into Telluride, where talk is beginning about resorts and skiing. Dolores is still generating healthy amounts of lumber from McPhee (regrettably not able to be modeled), and coal is still in high demand. Thru-traffic from Farmington abounds, and there's still a bit of mining above Rico thanks to some new owners and new uses for the ores available there, and economical shipping to points north via the SP.

Layout Specs

Rio Grande Southern
Item Description
Scale: HO
Size: 29' x 37'
Prototype: Rio Grande Southern, beyond 1952
Locale: SW Colorado, San Juan mountains
Period: approx 1958
Layout style: around-the-walls, w/a peninsula
Layout height: 45" (Mancos) to 62.5" (Enterprise mine)
Aisles: 36" typical, 24" minimum
Benchwork: L-girder, built in 8 ft 'movable' sections
Roadbed: 1/4" cork on 1/2" plywood
Track: Main: code 70
Sidings: code 55
Staging: code 100
Type is TBD, probably Atlas and ME flex
Min track separation,
Visible: 2.25"
Staging: 2.00"
Min track separation,
4" (includes roadbed)
Mainline length: 326'
Turnout minimum: #6
Minimum curve radius: 30"
Maximum grade: 4% (on Enterprise, Telluride branches), 3.0% elsewhere
Design train length: 9'-6"
Scenery: yes! (details TBD)
Backdrop: Drywall, painted. No coving in corners
Lighting: TBD, but single-bulb T8 fluorescent strips (at least 85 CRI) are planned over entire layout, w/valences. Aisle lighting is in - ordinary recessed incandescent cans. Night lighting provided by having some of these (near towns) having blue bulbs. Directional sunlight (and perhaps directional fill as well) is planned to be from Par20 fixtures. Quad-outlet boxes are planned every 8' or so, between or near the fluoresent scrips, and the Par fixtures would just plug into these. The outlets would be wired so that each has four dimmable circuits available. The Pars can accept theatre gels, so this directional light can be adjusted for color. Outlets, fluorescents, and Par20s are just ideas for now, but eventually when there's something to light beyond plywood, and if I ever have the budget for them, they may be added. Basic infrastructure to support this idea is available.
Control: Keller Onboard (older analog command-control; not DCC but similar)

Distances, Lengths

Mileposts reference the north end of towns, sidings, etc
Town MP Elev Notes
Ridgway 0' 0" 51" Arrival siding is 12'-8"
Departure siding is 11'-3"
Yard lead is 12'-4"
3 yard tracks are 9'-8" to 8'-5"
3 staging tracks, 9'-5" to 10'-9"
(bathroom) 51"
(laundry) 51"
Vance Jct 33' 10" 51" Bottom of 4% grade to Telluride
Siding is 4'-2"
Spur is 3'-8"
Telluride 46' 10" 56" Top of 4% grade
Siding is 9'-6"
Siding tail is 2'-6"
Butterfly 40' 7" 51" 1% grade begins just S of here
(bridge 45-A) 60' 0" 52.5"
Ophir 62' 4" 52.5" Spur is 2'-9"
(Ophir siding) 71' 7" 52.5" Bottom of 2.5% grade
Siding is 7'-2"
Capacity is 12 34' hoppers, plus loco & caboose
Lizard Head 101' 8" 58.75" Top of grade
(2.5% toward Ophir)
(2.5% then 3.0% toward Rico)
Rico 126' 9" 53" Bottom of 3.0% grade
Siding is 10'-3"
1 yard track, 10'-3"
1 house track, 5'-6"
2 spurs, 2'-4" and 3'-10"
Black Hawk 148' 6" 57.5" Switchbacks are 4%
Tails are 2'-9"
(sw-b) 60"
Enterprise 163' 1" 62.5" Top of 4% switchbacks
Spurs are 2'-6"
(section houses) 126' 9" 53" Top of 1.5% grade
Dolores 180' 4" 47" Bottom of 1.5% grade
Siding is 9'-9"
2 McPhee staging tracks, 9'-4" and 9'-8"
(laundry) 47" (lower track)
(bathroom) 47" (lower track)
(under Ridgway) 211' 2" 47" (lower track)
(stairs) 223' 9" 47" (lower track, top of 1.3% grade)
Mancos 236' 7" 45" (lower track, bottom of 1.3% grade)
Hesperus 256' 1" 45" Siding is 12'-4"
(under Ophir) 268' 9" 45"
(under Durango staging, S end of turnback loop) 283' 4" 45" bottom of 1% grade
(below Durango yard, main becomes visible) grade steepens to 2%
(junction into
318' 4" 49.5" top of 2% grade (on main)
(bottom of 2% grade into Durango)
Durango 325' 9" 51" Top of 2% grade
Siding is 10'-0"
Yard lead is 11'-0"
5 yard tracks, 6'-10" to 8'-5"
3 staging tracks, 9'-4" to 10'-3"

Layout Stats / Analysis

Here's the layout's stats calculated according to Joe Fugate's suggested layout comparison stats, when the layout was first designed.. It was an interesting exercise... All the sq footages and lengths are approximate. Since then, there were a couple changes to spurs in Dolores, and an added stockyard spur replaced once of the class tracks at Ridgway. But, still pretty close to the original used for these calculations.
Room Area (sq ft)
Layout Area (sq ft)
367 (57%)
Number Turnouts
Total Track (ft/cars)
Mainline Track (cars)
Passing Track (cars)
Storage Track (cars)
Staging Track (cars)
Service Track (cars)
Connecting Track (cars)
81 (incl 7 3-ways)
809 / 1618
Number of Passing Sidings
Passing Length (max/avg/min) (cars)
Number of Staging Tracks
Staging Length (cars)
24 / 20 / 14
21 / 19 / 18

Note - Number of cars is based on 40' cars.

Note - Ridgway arrival / departure each count as
passing sidings, and Vance Jct's siding counts as
storage track.
Max Cars
Cars Moved
Avg Train Size
Avg # Trains
Dispatch Threshold
19 cars
14.9 trains
17 car trains

Note - Cars moved is number of
cars moved in a typical operating

Note - Avg train size is measured
in 'cars' but w/loco and caboose is
really about 15 40' cars or approx 7
passenger cars.

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