Santa Fe, Needles District

Santa Fe, Needles District


The Santa Fe, Needles District layout was first featured in Model Railroader Magazine in September 2002, and again in 102 Realistic Track Plans.

I picked this mid-sized N-Scale layout as a challenge for myself to create a desert themed route from the American west-cost. Most of my route building has been focused on Northeastern US locales and I wanted to see how I would do with something completely different. I've never been out west and I'm not even a big fan of the railroads that operate in that region, combine that with a limited experience in Model Railroad style building and this route proved to to be the challenge I was looking for. 

Admittedly, it's less than perfect in many ways and some omissions and adjustments had to be made, but what I learned in the process is invaluable. 

Errors, Omissions & Shortcomings

Due to many of the constraints within Trainz some omissions from the original track plan had to be made. Combine that with my own lack of knowledge of the region and you'll find a few less than prototypical errors that I would like to address.

The most notable change is the omission of the interchange with the Union Pacific to Salt Lake City just outside of Barstow yard. I had to make this omission because there was simply no way to hide a staging track in the limited space along the peninsula. If I built the route all over again, I would have left room between the backdrop along the center of the peninsula for a portal or iportal. But there was also the issue of creating a decent junction between the UP interchange and the mainline. Space constraints in Trainz and maybe some errors within the track plan itself lead to a very jarring turnout and interchange connection. 

The next most notable change is the omission of Lee Way Trucking Transfer along the peninsula. This was again due to a space constraint and I opted to model the cement plant instead, since there wasn't enough room for both.

A possible error on the layout is due to my own lack of knowledge of the prototype, and that's the grade from Barstow to Needles. The track plan notes a 2% maximum grade but doesn't indicate where the start or end point of that gradient is. As far as I was able to tell it was meant to be 2% out of Barstow up to Desert Cement before leveling off, so that's what I did. I still am not sure if this matches the prototype or not but it works well within the space I used. It didn't seem possible to add a downward gradient back into Needles at any point, so this is what made the most sense to me. As a result of this 'error' or adjustment, Needles is a bit higher than Barstow. Normally this wouldn't be an issue except for the 3% grade it causes in the staging yard. 

Several of the staging tracks are on a 3% grade, which makes it difficult for trains to get started when facing Needles. The good news is that not all of the staging tracks are on a grade. My solution has been to stage all trains starting in Needles on the outermost tracks that are level with Needles, and all trains starting in Barstow on the downward grade. This prevents trains from stalling on the staging grade from Barstow to Needles. So far I haven't had trouble with trains stalling while entering staging at Barstow and continuing on to Needles. This is especially good for any kind of continuous running. 


While this isn't a route designed for switching, it's a great route for operating long trains and managing a double track network. Add a few Amtrak trains and you'll find yourself busy trying to keep the mainline clear! 

My personal favorite way to operate this layout so far is to set up a few AI freight trains to run in loops, through staging, in both directions, with an Amtrak train or two mixed in, while I take a local out of Needles to switch cars at the Shell Oil Refinery or Desert Cement. You can even operate a short local from Needles to Barstow or vise versa.

The bottom line is that this route is designed to run several long haul type freights & passenger trains from staging on one end to staging on the other. Have fun creating sessions and trying different types of operations! 


Needles was initially built entirely in Trainz Model Railroad Edition but has since been ported into Trainz A New Era SP2. The route should work without problems in either game version.


The bulk of the assets used along Needles can be located either on the Download Station or Assets not available at either location can be found at the links below:

<kuid:465961:100094> JS Texture Spline A-033 -

US&S Switches -



One Response to Santa Fe, Needles District

  1. Jip February 25, 2018 at 6:59 am #

    Approach medium,

    A grat route thanks for the effort, it is fum. However the erecting hall site does not have the US&S Switches. is there an other way of obtaining them ?

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