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Big locomotives, small layout

Selecting locomotives for your layout should be based on the size of the layout and the job they are going to do, not just what locomotives are painted in your railroad’s paint scheme. In the photo of the NS SD60E, the large size is not that apparent when it is viewed alone on the layout. The prototype SD60E was designed for heavy duty drag freight or medium speed freights, not for switching industries. So when viewed in context on the layout switching an industrial area, it just looks “wrong”.

No, I am not switching to modeling Norfolk Southern, the locomotive is a “guest” on my layout and soon will be going to a new home. The NS locomotive does prove a point about how a large locomotive looks out of place on a small switching layout. There are places even on the prototype Class 1 railroads where large 6 axle locomotives are not permitted to operate due to tight curves and track weight restrictions. On the prototype Georgia Northeastern (GNRR), six axle locomotives are prohibited from operating on the line due to the larger size and weight of the locomotives.

Once you place the SD60E next to a smaller locomotive, like the GP9, you really get an idea of how large it is. The prototype SD60E is 71’ long and weighs 368,000 pounds. The GP9 is 56’ long and weighs 259,500 pounds. The smaller GP9 is ideally suited for the work on the GNRR line with its sharp curves and tight clearances. On the prototype GNRR Marble Hill Branch, there are places that some of the slightly larger locomotives, like the GP38 at just over 59’, scrape by trackside obstructions. You would not think that a few feet longer would make a difference, but it does.

The size discrepancy between locomotives is even greater when compared to the NW2 that is only 44’ long and weighs 248,000 pounds. The smaller NW2 is a great locomotive for switching industries served by tight curves and close clearances. The NW2, just like on the prototype, works well to switch the marble industries in Marble Hill on my layout, and looks “right” doing it.

The size issue with the larger locomotives is most apparent on the curves. The locomotive just does not look right squeezing around sharp 24” radius curves like the one seen above. While the locomotive does make it around, it can cause problems with cars derailing as the coupler swings out to the side. If you choose to run large locomotives on your layout then you’ll need to have larger radius curves to make them look and operate better. Smaller four axle locomotives look better on a small switching layout with tight 24” radius curves. It all comes down to selecting the right locomotive for the job, just like on the prototype.

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4 comentários

I agree that the six axles don’t look right on some types of layouts. I model a 21 mile branch line in New England and sometimes even a GP38 looks big although they do operate on these lines today. Your layout is one of my favorites. I like switching and branch line railroads. I have come to believe that less is more. The detail on your layout is fantastic. Be well,



Hi Thomas,

While I own both 4 and 6 axel locomotives, the big guys are restricted to use at the club and I have 1 that I use for the BNSF interchange on the Port of Catoosa Layout (Occasionally if I want some variety). With the tight radius curves and smaller spurs we are restricted to SW1500 and SW1200 for power. We also use a CF7 on the grain tracks if operators choose.

This is a well presented article and illustrates your point perfectly.

All the best,



Well stated Thomas. I use all 4 axle units on the JAM, EXCEPT for one that I just bought cause I love the look. An SD7. It's not that much bigger than the GP9 or the GP35. Unless you have a basement size layout, the massive units, while gorgeous, just dont like right.


Tom Oconnell
Tom Oconnell
22 de mar. de 2020

Thank you for some great comparisons between large and small locomotives. How true they are. Around September of last year I realized all 6 axle locos were too big for my ISL. I have sold them off and have switched to Gp40-2w and Gp38-2’s. As you say, the smaller looks better. Happy modeling


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