Z-scale Alpine Layout

Marklin Z-scale, at 220:1, is the smallest model train scale made (in production quantities). For me the attraction of this was that it is capable of making a U-turn in less than 12", and so one can make a reasonably complex layout in a small space. As part of the 30 year anniversary of the release of the scale, Marklin offered the 81862 starter set (description at left), representing excellent value.

What I have discovered as another benefit is that Marklin Z is altogether brilliant engineering. The switches (points to the non-american) are beautifully engineered, sprung so that they never derail a train, even one so small as Z-scale (as do G-scale points, but unlike N-scale); the double-slip is magic, electrically switching from crossover to overlayed-curve mode; the available radii and angles, appearing at first like a crazy and disjoint collection of incompatible angles and distances (curves in 13-, 30- and 45-degree angles but not all radii in all angles?) combine to allow the most intricate arrangement to be achieved. The track joints themselves are quite beautiful....

The above set might cost Englishmen 218GBP (US$310) over the web or 260GBP (US$360) in Hamleys, but I paid US$270 over the web. I needed another three or four boxes of track, amounting to another $70. Pricey, but good value when you look at the stuff close up. Speaking of "close up", the picture adjacent of a track join is taken, not with a camera in macro mode, but our QX3 digital microscope... the largest of the stack of coins, placed to give scale, is a US penny; the middle coin is an English 5 pence piece, and the smallest an Australian 1c coin.

Notice how the joint is so tight and close; notice also that the ties (sleepers to the non-american) are equispaced even over the joint. I cannot see to join two tracks without my glasses, but I can join them by running them toward each other on a table, and ...

... I can check the joint by feeling the underside to see that the small cup-and-ball joint in the plastic of the sleepers is in place, and feeling the topside to see that the joint is perfectly flat, implying that the fish plates hold the rails correctly. The rail joints look flat even at 60x on the QX3.

The track planning was done with my own piece of software, customised to the Marklin Z-scale range of track.

The thinner lines indicate that the track will be in a tunnel. The layout has three levels, three sidings, and thirteen tunnel portals, one double-width. It fits in 18" by 42" with space to spare,as you see below.

This layout was designed to be portable as well as small. As you can see, its cover converts it to a 20kg slightly larger-than-guitar-case size. One person can lift, carry and unpack it, and it can be shipped UPS. The photo shows me carrying it.

Altogether it is 48" long, including the power and controls, and the rolling stock; it is 18.5" inches wide when packed, not including the handle (that is affixed to the baseboard). It is 6" deep.

Construction is 3/4" plywood base plate, with 3mm craftwood sheets held in place by blocks of wood and plasterboard self-tapping screws. At right you can see the initial skeleton being given a protective coat of paint. Woodland Scenic plaster cloth is used to make the skin over the bones. The "flesh" was crushed paper, held with the assistance of a staple gun, and subsequently removed via the access holes in the base plate.

The access holes in the base are quite large (notice the glimmers of grass that can bee seen through the base) and are normally covered by a thin sheet of plywood covering the bottom of the layout. This can be removed for serious maintenance. The cover is ply also.

As usual for me, the finished layout derives a great deal of interest from the use of tunnels. Here is the view from above, giving a good idea of the track that is covered and that exposed.
Note also that the power pack and switch controls are built into the red painted section at the "North" end.

Some pictures of the finished layout in action.

A train running under the bridge.

The 1861 tunnel, with the cutting behind, goods train emerging from the tunnel.

Goods train passing Wintersdorf Baden.

Guglingen Station from above.

My experience is that the Marklin models are both easier to build than the Faller, and better looking, at least lit externally. The Faller models have many more pieces, and more care taken with things like windows (they all have clear plastic for glass, and cardboard baffles inside to stop light leaking from cracks and thinner walls), but they are fiddly and less cleanly coloured.

A train passing over the bridge, view looking South to Guglingen Station in the valley.

View of Wintersdorf Station, the cutting and the 1861 tunnel.

View of a train passing the lowest level, "the loop".

Here are the portals, each close up.


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