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Don Irace’s Providence & Worcester Railroad layout

The Inland Paper Company switcher works the large paper industry on Don Irace's Providence & Worcester Railroad.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet Don Irace and to operate on his amazing Providence & Worcester Railroad layout. Don recently moved from New England to Florida and began building his current layout in July 2020. With no basements in Florida, Don looked for a space to build his layout and decided on a detached shed structure on his property. Prior to beginning building his layout, Don finished the interior of the shed by installing electrical outlets, lighting, plywood floor, walls, drop ceiling, and an A/C system which made working in the shed much more comfortable.

The layout is proto-freelanced based on the Providence & Worcester Railroad (P&W). The prototype P&W gained its independence from the Penn Central in 1973 and operated on 163 miles between Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut with an additional 350 miles of trackage rights between Providence, Rhode Island and Queens, New York. In 2016 the P&W was taken over by Genesse & Wyoming (G&W) and still operates the line today. Don chose to model the P&W in 2016 just prior to the G&W takeover.

Don Irace has done an incredible job of fitting a double deck layout into his layout space.

Don designed a double deck layout in his approximately 12’ X 20’ shed with a helix on a 2.7% grade to move the trains from one level to the other. The aisle space is adequate at 30” and does not feel crowded for the four operators that he has for an ops session. When planning the layout, Don accounted for the operations that would take place at each location along the layout and did not place areas that required extended switching operations one above the other. Trains only pass through a scene once which makes the layout very realistic looking. Don also included plenty of “negative space” which gives operators the feeling of traveling greater distances between yards and industries. Visible staging is located on the lower level representing an interchange yard, and trains bring cars to and from the interchange yard to the other modeled yards on the layout. Don has done an excellent job or replicating the operations, scenery, and industries served by the prototype railroad.

Operating sessions are held with four operators working a total of seven different jobs during an ops session, including working a paper mill, various local industry jobs, yard switching jobs, and interchange trains. Don began hosting operating sessions beginning in July 2021, almost exactly one year after he began building his layout. The layout is controlled by a NCE DCC system and Don recently purchased a ProtoThrottle to use on his layout. All locomotives have DCC with sound, and turnouts in the yard are operated with remote controlled switch machines set up for routes through the yard. Turnouts at industries are hand thrown, and Don has installed operating derails on the sidings.

The Inland Paper Company is a large complex that has multiple car spots and has its own dedicated switcher. The inbound cars are located on the siding near the aisle.

The day I operated on Don’s layout the operating crew included Don, John Farrington, Vincent Gallogly, and myself. After a brief orientation on Don’s layout I requested to work the Inland Paper Mill switch job. This section of Don’s layout could easily be a standalone layout with the numerous cars spots and switching required. It took approximately an hour to switch the industry using Don’s unique switch list. The switch list indicates the locations of the cars when you begin the job on a diagram of the industry with car spots. Cars that are highlighted in yellow are to be pulled from the industry. On the lower portion of the switch list is a diagram of the industry indicating the position of the cars when the switching is completed. Some cars need to be re-spotted and you have to plan your moves to be efficient. At the beginning, inbound cars are spotted on a siding in front of the industry, and once the job is completed the outbound cars are spotted on a track at the industry that makes it easy for the interchange train to pick up and set out the next set of cars for the industry. It was tons of fun to switch!

The Tilcon Aggregates facility is modeled with a photo backdrop which reduces the space needed while still representing a large facility that holds 10 cars.

Dennison Lubricants receives tank cars at the facility. Note the amount of negative space and the large structure that makes the industry look more realistic.

The other jobs worked during the ops session were just as fun as the paper mill job, with lots of switching required. Don, John, and Vincent also enjoyed the three hour ops session and the time just flew by. Near the end of the ops session, Lionel Strang stopped by for a visit. He was very impressed seeing Don’s layout for the first time.

If you would like to see more about Don’s layout check out his Facebook page;


Don also has a YouTube channel at;


I really enjoyed meeting Don, and I appreciate him accommodating my schedule to host an ops session. Don has done an incredible job with designing and building his layout. I hope to be back soon and can’t wait to operate on his layout again.

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