Bob Rosenberg's The Berkshire Air Line
April 26, 2014

Layout Pictures by David Arday and Marshall Abrams


I’ve written critiques of many things over the years; meetings, courses, speakers, even model railroads, but never one where the subject of the critique was something that I had done myself. I was concerned that I might have problems being objective, but it was suggested that not only would I be able to extoll the virtues of my handiwork, but to also point out some things that I would do differently were I to build it again – things that might not be evident to the casual visitor. So viewing it from that perspective, what would I keep and what would I change?

I would definitely keep the original concept. When I started the Berkshire Air Line in the 1970’s I had a good idea of what I wanted; a rural New England railroad utilizing mostly New Haven and Boston and Maine equipment with the emphasis on the surroundings - more fields, trees, hills, buildings, animals, and people, and less railroad (i. e. filling the space with as much track as could be accommodated), and the biggest problem, the one thing I was unable to change at the time, was the space. A 30 foot long room seemed (and is) more than adequate, but the 12 foot width proved problematic for someone who wanted a minimum main line radius of 30” for running  full length passenger cars, large steam locomotives, and multiple unit diesels hauling long trains, but with walk-in access (no duck-under). To do that, I had to build it on the long walls instead of my initial plan of running back and forth across the room. But I still kept the concept of a bridge route between the NH and the B&M that interchanged with the B&A/NYC and the Central Vermont. I grew up on the New Haven, and to see those I class Pacific’s, Alco DL109’s, PA’s, and RS-3’s, Osgood Bradley “American Flyer” coaches, even the Comet, all running again, if only in HO scale, reminds me of a time long past because the New Haven, always pressed for funds, scrapped everything.

One of the bigger things that I would change would be to make one of my grades more gradual than the other. I have some steam locomotives that can’t pull trains up the hills because the two equal gradients are too steep for them. Another big change is that I would build it as a two level railroad. A peninsula down the center of the room wouldn’t have been wide enough for my 30” main line radius. Two levels would have given me more main line running and switching opportunities for operating sessions which are so popular now days, and space for more staging tracks; none of those are really practical right now. I would also minimize the amount of hidden trackage because I’ve learned from personal experience that if you’re going to have problems they will almost always occur in areas where you can’t get there from here. Nor would I hand lay track today; the commercial varieties are much more realistic than when I built my layout, but mine has held up quite well considering its age. Additionally, I realized that my original five T-12 light fixtures were no longer adequate so I installed five additional T-8 light fixtures that increased the brightness of room substantially and contributed to the high quality of the photos that were taken that day and are now on the division web site. My next “improvement” will be to get some thick carpeting or those large sponge pads to stand on for those of us with back problems. Finally, I would keep the space under the bench work clear of “stuff” as Frank Benenati and others have done; it just looks better that way, even though my seamstress daughter did an outstanding job of making the skirting to cover it.

A Potomac Division member once suggested to me that many of my problems with the BAL are because it’s my first railroad. He’s right, of course, since I never built a second railroad where I could have corrected them, but the thought of re-building it at this point in my life (or hiring someone to re-build it) is not appealing to me at all, so it will stay pretty much as it is, at least for the foreseeable future, warts and all.

                                    Bob Rosenberg