Oakland Harbor Belt
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An N scale layout focused on engaging operations

The Oakland Harbor Belt is my proto-freelanced N scale model railroad set in 1955. The layout is under construction now and will include scenes around the Alameda and Oakland, CA areas, with an emphasis on yard and industry switching. The layout will share my roughly 20'X22' garage (image at right) with a family car. Update December 2008: Brooklyn Basin will be the first portion of the OHB built. Click here to learn more.

"Proto-freelanced" in this case means that the areas depicted are based on prototype (real-life) railroads, but that there have been significant changes to reality to suit my own needs and interests. In my case, I have tinkered with history to create a mix of operations and industries that were not present in real life. If you're interested, you may read more detail on my imagined history.

Click any image for a larger view in a new window

In short, my alternative history proposes that the industrial switching around the Oakland Inner Harbor is not dominated by the Southern Pacific (SP), but instead much of this area is served by the Oakland Harbor Belt (OHB), a joint venture of the Santa Fe and Western Pacific. Basically, I assume that the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast (SPC) was not swallowed by the SP in 1887, but instead survived and standard-gauged, eventually selling its electrified trolley and commuter operations to the Key System. The SPC's remaining freight operations became the OHB. This is similar to the real-life Oakland Terminal Railway and Alameda Belt Line (both owned by ATSF/WP in 1955).

At right is a sketch of the OHB's lines around Alameda and Oakland in 1955, the era I model. I imagine that the OHB would divide these lines into switching "districts" for organizational purposes. Some of these operating islands are interconnected by OHB trackage, but other segments are only connected by car float or interchange with the corporate parents. Thus, the Oakland Harbor Belt is a "belt" in name only, but it's not unusual for railroads to have names that are a bit more grandiose than their actual trackage. The major mainlines of the SP, WP, and ATSF are drawn in roughly for reference. Click the small image for a larger view in a new window, which may be useful while you read on.
Click image for larger labeled map in new window

Here's a brief description of each OHB district and its representation on the layout, beginning in the lower right on the map and moving right-to-left along the inner harbor area. For now, I am spending more time on the OHB layout design and room preparation and less on the web pages, so only the Alaska Basin District, Brooklyn Basin District, and Webster Street Lead have detailed descriptions (see below), but I may add more over time.

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The Alameda District includes some real-life Alameda Belt Line and SP trackage. The major visible classification yard on the layout is at Fernside, where OHB/SP interchange takes place. This yard also serves the car float operation that links the Alameda OHB operations to parent Santa Fe in Richmond.
The Alameda District will serve a number of industries, some via reciprocal switching arrangements with the SP. The small Mastick Junction Yard has a couple of electrified tracks to allow interchange with the electric box motor operation to Webster St. in Oakland.
The Alameda District will be modeled on the main deck of the layout benchwork, connected to loop staging tracks representing the link over the Fruitvale Bridge (to SP/Brooklyn Basin District) at one end and via the Posey Tube (to WP/Webster St. Lead) at the other.
Cick the image at left for a sketch depicting staging, the Alameda District, and the Alaska Basin District as planned to share the main layout deck.

Very busy in real life, the Alaska Basin District serves large industries including Alaska Packers, Del Monte, and Pennzoil. The impetus of these shippers created the Alameda Belt Line in real life and my article about a small N scale railroad suggesting the ABL's activity in the area was published in the 2005 issue of Model Railroad Planning magazine. The Alaska Basin District will share a section of the main deck with, and connect to, the Alameda District. More on Alaska Basin
Click to visit Alaska Basin

Click to visit Brooklyn Basin
Due to some remodeling, the Brooklyn Basin District will actually be the first portion of the OHB to be constructed. This layout will be a mix of fictional and real locations, serving a variety of wharves and industries along the inner harbor area. In real life, the SP served some of this area, and OHB and SP will both serve the large 9th Street Pier at the end of the Brooklyn Basin District. On the layout, Brooklyn Basin will occupy narrow shelves in our home office.

The Naval Service District is inspired by SP's real-life service to the Navy's Alameda Supply Station and Naval Air Station. By 1955, this traffic was probably winding down in reality, but the Navy will still be an active shipper on the layout. This district will be imagined to be switched by either the SP (using OHB traffic rights demanded by the Navy) or the OHB itself to add some variety to operating sessions (only one of the railroads will work the facility during a given session).
An independent "pocket" railroad in real life, the Howard Terminal served a series of wharves and warehouses, interchanging with the WP and SP. This will be a small portable section of the layout on casters. This section will be stored in the aisle of the fixed layout between operating sessions. Due to a lack of appropriate loco models for this unique little railroad, I may choose to operate it as part of the overall OHB umbrella, with "leased" WP power.
Unfortunately, there will not be room to model the Oakland Terminal District unless some extra space can be negotiated. This district is essentially the real-life Oakland Terminal Railway, which used a combination of its own tracks and trackage rights on Key System and Sacramento Northern tracks. Portions were electrified until 1955.

Representing what was once real-life SPC trackage into downtown Oakland, the Webster Street Lead is linked to Alameda through the Posey Tube (tunnel) under the inner harbor estuary. Former SPC electric passenger service on this trackage is now part of the Key System. (In real life, only automobiles go through the tube, but I'll add the RR tracks.) OHB freight service to downtown Oakland industries will be via an electric box motor with connection to the Alameda District at Mastick Yard. Parent WP also uses this track for transfer interchange runs to Fernside Yard. Read more about the Webster Street Lead.
Click to go to Webster Street

The Santa Fe's Alice Street Yard was a unique "pocket prototype", isolated for most of its existence except for the car float connection. This segment of the layout will be modeled relatively closely after the real location and operated as ATSF, not OHB. Alice Street will occupy part of the upper layout deck.
An additional modeled segment not shown on the map is a car float terminal area suggesting ATSF's Ferry Point facility at Point Richmond. This small yard will switch cars on-and-off the car floats, interchanging with the rest of the ATSF via hidden staging tracks representing the large Richmond Yard. This area was actually reached via a short tunnel on the real-life ATSF, so (for once) the prototype configuration helps the model. These ATSF car floats will be hand-carried to-and-from the car float aprons at Alice Street and Alaska Basin. Ferry Point will be modeled on the upper deck.
I hope to provide more information over time on the imagined Oakland Harbor Belt prototype and on my attempts to model it.
 Copyright 2005-8 by Byron Henderson

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