A good, if rather conventional, place to start with interurban layouts, is the conventional branch line. Some electric railroads were no more than a branch line in total. Others, like the Pacific Electric, had twigs off the branches off the trunk. An interurban branchline has all the merits of a conventional one – small space, little stock needed, and what one builds can be built to a good standard.
I think it’s going to take several posts to explore just a few of the options!
Let’s start with a true branch line layout. 6 foot long in HO and short trains of two or three cars, and the occasional preserved interurban. This is Andy Gautrey’s Wiley City on the Yakima Valley. This little layout has a simple track plan, and some well observed modelling.
You can read all about this lovely little layout, with plenty of photos, on RMweb.
Let’s contrast this with an example from the prototype. When the Pacific Electric Railway (or at least its predecessor) came to the San Fernando valley, there was nothing but fields of grain. If you go there now, there is nothing but sprawling suburbs. The interurban opened up this part of the Los Angeles region. The freeways did the rest of the damage.
At the very end of the Pacific Electric empire lay San Fernando itself. Even after the passenger service from downtown had been abandoned, the ‘Orphan Spur’ – an isolated mile or two of track that served a few profitable citrus packing houses. A single locomotive lived on the spur and dealt with all switching. This little line would make a good model, especially if the passenger service from downtown was kept going into the post-war period. The map below comes from Bruce Petty’s excellent ‘Los Angeles River Railroads’ site, as does his interpretation of this line.
For more, see his San Fernando page .
One attraction of this line is a chance to model the San Fernando Mission. The postcard below is its 1900’s form. It was extended a lot in later years, but the simple building shown here would be the right sort of size for a model railroad. A little modeller’s licence would place it next to the tracks rather than a road away.
If you are really interested in this line, I can recommend this book. It’s full of delightful pictures and lots of information on the freight and interurbans and also plenty of social history of the area. However, you will probably have to get it from the USA, as even Amazon don’t seem to stock it here in the UK.