J. Alex Lang

Conrail’s Aspinwall Belt track expansion

In August, I posted an outline of the so-called “temporary layout”, Conrail’s Aspinwall Belt.  I thought I would share some layout progress and additional thoughts.  As I mentioned last time, the goal of this layout was to quickly get to the point where the kids and I could run some trains.  This way, Dad can be serious about developing the equipment fleet (locomotives and cars), while the kids can feel free to explore, mess around with scenery, move the building kits around, etc without Type A Retentive Dad getting too bent out of shape that something looks unrealistic. The point, after all, is to have fun, right?

My long-term plan is to remodel the basement, with a train-centric family room.  I envision a multi-deck shelf layout, mostly around the perimeter of the room, with some of the room completely occupied by train layout also.  In the middle of all this will be a couch, coffee table, and TV setup.  But mind you, this is all a few years down the road.  So, in the meantime, we have the Aspinwall Belt.  The future layout will be based on the Bethlehem, PA area in 1993-1994, right before the blast furnaces closed at Bethlehem Steel.  Conrail ferried coal in, coke out; lots of iron ore pellets, scrap, structural steel, you name it.  Canadian Pacific took over the Delaware & Hudson just a year or two before, so both will be represented via their trackage rights trains.  And, of course, we’re planning to feature Conrail favorites like the East Penn Drill, the Saucon Drill, Roadrailers, Mail trains, Conway (Pittsburgh) to Chemical Coast tank cars, Pennsylvania Power & Light coal trains, and more.

While the future layout will (hopefully) have a track arrangement that is similar to the real thing, the Aspinwall Belt makes no such attempt. I’ve named the locations after real places, but the names were chosen based on how the track plan at location corresponded to the real thing; not in any sort of geographic order.  Bethlehem Steel wasn’t really anywhere near CP-CANAL, but it is on my layout.

After several test operating sessions of the Aspinwall Belt, everyone agreed that we needed “more”. More yard tracks, more industry tracks, more staging.  So, today I present “v2.0” of the Aspinwall Belt.  In October, we will be hosting our first semi-official operating session, and this expansion gives us more flexibility, and more options.

Aspinwall Belt 09-29-13

Some of the operations that I think will be possible, just as examples:

  • Yard jobs (East Penn Drill, Saucon Drill, etc) will originate at Saucon Yard, drill cars, work industries, serve the Bethlehem Steel area via PBNE interchange. (The Philadelphia, Bethlehem, & New England was Bethlehem Steel’s own railroad, serving the huge plant facilities there.)
  • A PBNE crew can handle any switching on their territory, and assist when large coal or ore trains arrive/depart.
  • D&H could work Bethlehem Steel and Saucon, and return to Bethlehem Steel (as the D&H BS-1 job did in the early 1990s)
  • The main “road freight” PIBE/BEPI could arrive/depart Saucon.  Typically, I will pre-stage this train on the main, and end the operating session with BEPI on the main. (Since there’s nowhere else for a big train to go, other than in circles.)
  • Some extra activity can come in the form of an intermodal train, the Sperry Car, or the Conrail track car.

On to some layout photos: