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Stephen Floyd’s Southern Railway Sylvania Branch model railroad

This month I had the opportunity to visit Stephen Floyd and see his new Southern Railway Sylvania Branch model railroad. This new layout replaces an N scale layout that he previously built on the same benchwork. Stephen chose to model Sylvania Georgia, a small town approximately half way between Savannah and Augusta, Georgia served by the Southern Railway. In the early 1980s, Sylvania had several industries that were rail served and offered a lot of switching in a compact space. Cars spotted for some industries blocked access to other industries down the spur and would occasionally be moved then re-spotted. It was important for prototype crews to plan out their switching moves to efficiently switch the industries. While this may have caused issues for the prototype, it is perfect for a model railroad.

Stephen has a good sized room for his layout, approximately 26'X16'. While many may look at the room and see space for a helix and a double deck layout, Stephen chose to do the opposite and keep things simple with a single deck switching layout.

It is important for model railroaders to build “The Right Sized Layout” (shameless plug for my book) and what best suits their needs. Stephen enjoys modeling the last mile type of railroading where the railroad interacts with the customer so this layout is perfect for him. Stephen's layout room has very wide aisles, excellent lighting, and carpeted floors. All of this makes for an enjoyable room to build and operate a layout. In addition, Stephen has a small separate room for his workbench and paint spray booth. Along one wall in the work shop room is the shelf for the two track staging yard.

I was very impressed with the layout design and the amount of negative space he included in his track plan. It is always tempting to add a little more track and structures to layout which we think will enhance operations, but then reality suffers. Stephen resisted this temptation and he has included very large structures and industries that look like they realistically should be rail served. Including “spaces between places” (negative space) like wooded areas with trees, grass fields, and parking lots help a layout look more realistic. Stephen has certainly embraced this concept of realistic looking model railroading.

For the time being, Stephen has built mock up structures to help design the final structures and industries for his layout. These temporary structures help crews for operating sessions see the final vision for his layout and car placement.

Layout operations are centered on one local that starts in the staging yard, arranges the cars in the proper order for the job, then works up the line switching the trailing point industries. Once they reach the end of the line, the crew runs around their consist, then switches the remaining industries, now trailing point moves, on their way back home. While it sounds simple enough, working this one job can take over two hours to complete. There are no complex switch moves required, just following a few prototype rules and procedures is all that is needed to add a little more time to the job.

On the day that I visited, it was Stephen’s first “official” operating session for his Southern Railway Sylvania Branch line layout. Stephen uses a prototype Southern Railway System switch list form for his ops sessions. Listed on the top part of the form are the cars in the consist that are inbound from the yard to the industries. The destination of the cars are indicated by the industry alpha numeric code in the destination column. Next, each industry is listed in the order that it will be switched. Those cars with a destination of “yard” are those to be picked up, while those with a “hold” in the column are to remain at the industry. On this switch list form shown in the photo, the industries worked on the return trip after the turn are listed on the back side of the form (not shown).

I really enjoyed operating on Stephen’s layout. The time flew by and we had only completed the work up to the end of the line and run around track before it was “time for beans” (lunch). I am sure the prototype crew did something similar, taking a break half way through the job before heading back down the line. Just working those few industries on the way up took about an hour.

After taking a break it was time for a photo to capture the first ops session and sign the switch list card. Unfortunately I had to leave before we could complete the return trip, but it was a great time anyway.

I can’t wait to follow Stephen’s progress on his layout and come back for another ops session. I want to thank him and his wife for preparing a delicious lunch and accommodating our travel schedule. Model railroading truly is a great hobby and even better are the friendships that you make when you share your layout with others.

Until next time, stay safe and keep model railroading.

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Thank you Tom for the kind words about the Sylvania Branch. If anyone would like to learn more about the layout please visit my Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61552469184036


Very nice. I would love to see a track plan for this layout. I'm looking to build a similar concept for my new layout.


Jarrell Conley
Jarrell Conley
Nov 18, 2023

Knowing Stephen, this is going to be a first class layout! I'm glad a photo of his switch list was included, gives me something to study... :)


Excellent. Stephen is off to a great start. I look forward to seeing the layout as it progresses! Thanks for sharing.


Michael Armstrong
Michael Armstrong
Oct 19, 2023

Enjoyed the write-up, Tom. Stephen has a great start on what is certain to be a fun operating and switching layout. Thanks for sharing! Mike

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