The Layout

My Copper River & Northwestern is a 16’x25′ double deck N scale layout, located in my basement in eastern Colorado Springs. It’s a “what if” version of what the CR&NW might have looked like if it survived into the present day. I consider it to fall in the “proto-freelance” category of modeling, as I strive for realistic operations based on comparable northern railroads and a plausible extrapolation of historic events.

The bottom deck models the line from the Cordova docks and yard up to approximately Abercrombie, at which point the line goes into a helix roughly corresponding to inaccessible Copper River canyon stretch up to Chitina. The upper deck starts where the line comes into Chitina and continues to the end of track past the Kennicott Mill.

Planning began in the summer of 2013, and thanks to a few professional and personal curve balls, trackwork wasn’t completed until May 2020. Good progress is now being made and it’s anticipated that limited operations will be possible by the time the COVID-19 pandemic is (hopefully) winding down in mid-2021.


It’s always September on the model CR&NW, approximately 3 years behind real time. Why? Because if you’ve ever been to Copper River country in the fall, you’d fall in love with it instantly. Sunny days with reasonable day/night cycles, beautiful foliage color, and a certain crispness of autumn in the air.

Track Plan

While this isn’t a perfect representation of the final track structure – particularly the yards and around Eyak – it’s as good as I’ve got for the moment. These are my initial sketches drawn back in 2013 and the guiding documents that build the whole layout. It gives you a general idea of how the layout is organized until I can draft a proper final track plan.

Upper Deck Track Plan Original from 2013, not completely accurate to how things were built. I realized after I took the picture that I’d forgotten to relabel a few things after moving things around. Chitina is in the lower right, and Kennicott is on the peninsula on the lower left.
Lower Deck Track Plan

Construction Details

  • Track is mostly Atlas Code 55, with #7 or larger turnouts. There’s a few scratchbuilt turnouts in the mix using FastTracks jigs, and there’s some Micro Engineering code 55 track in the helix from a time when Atlas flex was unavailable.
  • The minimum mainline radius is 21 inches. Yard tracks and spurs can go down to 18″ except one spot with a brief 16″.
  • The benchwork is entirely open grid, built out of 3/4″ veneer plywood ripped down into dimensional strips.
  • Layout control is DCC, using an NCE PowerPro system to control three 5A boosters. Wireless receivers are installed both for NCE cabs and for the Iowa Scaled Engineering ProtoThrottle.
  • Aisleways are 36″ minimum.