New Britain Station

Modeling the New Haven Railroad 1946-1954

Street Side of New Britain Station. Colorized postcard, c1907

Don't miss the blog.

The blog is where I report on progress, covers research and what/how I'm modeling in more detail. Important data is eventually moved here in a more finished form. But the blog provides a place to post ideas, experiments, data and information as I find it so I can come back to it later.

New Britain Station

Welcome to New Britain Station where you can read about my HO Scale model railroad of the New Haven Railroad in New Britain, CT covering the New Haven's transition from steam to diesel from 1946 to 1954.

New Britain offers a unique mix of small industries, several large very industries, two yards with two locally assigned switchers, plus an additional fireless steam switcher owned and operated by the Stanley Works. The Highland Line is a double-track main during the era I model (it was single-tracked in 1954) with automatic block signaling, and the Berlin Line is a single-track main with no signaling.


My primary goals for the layout are to replicate prototypical operations as closely as possible, and model the scenes and equipment as faithfully as I can based on photos and other research.


This site is designed primarily as a repository of my research so I can refer to it as needed. Since I'm going to the trouble to document and record it, I figured I might as well make it available to others.

Ongoing work and thoughts are posted more frequently on my blog.


I'm fortunate to have chosen a location to model with a significant number of photos taken in the era I'm modeling. I have over 200 photos specifically of the New Haven Railroad in and around New Britain in the postwar era. The vast majority of these were taken by two New Britain natives, Kent Cochrane and Tom McNamara. While shared freely here, I ask that you provide credit if used elsewhere.


I-2 class 1300 at New Britain station with an eastbound train. Kent Cochrane 1947.

The Layout

Prototype: New York, New Haven & Hartford

Locale and Era: New Britain, CT, 1946-1954

Scale: HO (1:87.1)

Layout Size: 20' x 20'

Style: Walk-in

Benchwork: OSB/dimensional lumber, Masonite helix

Roadbed: N-scale cork or craft foam

Track: Micro Engineering Code 70

Mainline Run: 40'

Maximum Grade: 2 percent

Turnouts: Micro Engineering Code 70 #6 or #5 yard ladder

Turnout control: Manual

Minimum radius: Mainline 26", Industrial 18"

Control: MRC Prodigy and Iowa Scaled Engineering ProtoThrottles

Decoders: ESU Loksound (Diesels), Soundtraxx Tsunami (Steam)

Concept The Highland Line in New Britain, CT from East Main Street to Curtis Street, and the Berlin Line from the junction in New Britain to Whiting Street Yard.

The main layout room is 10' x 20' with an alcove on one of the long sides of about 12' x 4'. The station area, from Main St. to Elm St. is a little more than 70% to scale.

It is an around-the-walls layout with a helix at each end leading to staging under the main deck. Including the staging, the trackwork is a complete loop allowing continuous running.

The Berlin Line and Whiting Street Yard form a secondary 10' x 12' L-shaped section of the layout with a staging track in the utility room.

The lower staging deck follows the same footprint as the main upper deck, although it is narrower in most places. The staging is all stub-ended off of a single-track main with a 12' passing track that also bypasses the majority of the turnouts.


Operations are designed around two switching crews and run for 12 hours with a 4:1 fast clock. In addition, there is a Stanley Works crew and an Agent/Yardmaster position who handles all of the paperwork. Because the shifts are staggered, through trains are handled by the off-duty crew members.

Goal One: Prototypical Accuracy

My first priority is to model the New Haven Railroad in the city of New Britain as accurately as I can. I want folks who know New Britain, especially from this era, to know where they are simply by viewing the model. Closely related to this priority is photography.

Modeling Standards

In my opinion, we are in the midst of the best time to be a model railroader, especially a prototype modeler. Manufacturers continue to push the limits of injection molding in plastic and resin casting, and we also have 3D printing and other new technologies becoming mainstream too.

This wealth of riches gives us a lot of options for setting our modeling standards. The first step, in my mind, is identifying our modeling goals when it comes to equipment.

Is the "3-ft. Rule" good enough?

On many layouts, equipment is often divided into two or more tiers of modeling standards. For example, models that will run on through trains are often not detailed to the same level as those that will be run on local freights or featured near the front of the layout. Even for the foreground models, a common standard is the three-foot rule. Since that's a typical viewing distance when looking at a layout in person.

In the past I think this was a good starting point, since unless you were published in a model railroading magazine, almost everybody who saw your modeling would see it in person.

But with digital cameras, photographing models is much easier than it used to be. What may seem to be an obsessive level of detail when building a model becomes much more apparent when photographed. This is because the picture essentially scales up the model to 1:1 scale. Out-of-scale or missing details become much more evident. Now, the vast majority of folks likely to see your modeling now will only see it in photos.

My Modeling Standards

For all equipment models, my standards are:

    • Era accurate equipment

    • Era accurate painting and lettering

    • Era appropriate weathering

    • Major dimensions and components accurate

    • Accurate appliances per prototype

    • Separately applied detail parts (grab irons, ladders, etc)

    • Details reasonably close to scale

    • Appliances (brake gear, etc.) that are visible when on track


Some compromises are inevitable. The primary goal is to have an operating layout that depicts a specific time and place reasonably accurately. Areas where I'm likely to accept compromises, at least temporarily are things like:


Some molded-on details on locomotives, particularly if very fine (handrails along doors, etc.) is acceptable if a more accurate model is not affordably available.

Plastic vs Resin

I will accept detailed plastic models with separately applied details that meet my standards, even if I know a resin model exists that could be built with higher fidelity. The Atlas 1932 ARA Box cars are fine, even though Sunshine and others released resin versions. If needed, I'll consider the feasibility upgrading a plastic model (appliances, running boards, painting/lettering) before jumping to a kit.

Manufacturer Applied Details

Separately applied details must be reasonably fine. I usually use the supplied parts and replace them with wire parts later if broken.

Weathering and Reweigh Dates

Since I'm modeling a wide range of years, there is no easy for me to affordably model all of these eras. I don't recall who to credit with this, but somebody said something like, "somebody who models 1950-1960 is just modeling 1960...poorly.'

While I appreciate this sentiment, I think that by selecting a primary operating year for each model and weathering and dating appropriately, the mix is more important while operating.

Roster Standards

I have two basic categories for freight car models; 'Must Have', and 'Can Have'.

'Must Have' Models

'Must Have' models are those that I need for the layout and will pay full price as soon as they are available. This primarily consists of specific locomotives, cabooses, and home road equipment. Other equipment is layout specific. For example, since there are Armour and Swift meat-packing distributors in New Britain, I need a reasonable number of accurate Armour and Swift reefers.

Others might be a specific prototype that was so numerous that it must be represented. PRR X29 box cars and NYC USRA-design steel box cars are good examples.

'Can Have' Models

'Can Have' models are everything else. When a manufacturer releases a model, I try to determine which prototypes it accurately represents with reasonable modifications.

As far as I'm concerned, any prototype that was in interchange service in the era I'm modeling is a candidate for appearing on the layout, however unfrequently.

I've used Ted Culotta's Essential Freight Car series, plus books like his Postwar Freight Car Fleet as well. With resources like this readily available I don't accept the idea that foreign road cars should be held to a lower standard than home road cars.

While I don't mind kitbashing or modifying a model, these types of projects (including cars that require removing a lot of molded detail) are lower on my list of priorities. Even if there is no other available option for a 'Must Have' model, I would rather work on other models first and wait to see if a better model is available in the future. While I haven't progressed to brass freight cars yet, considering the cost of some no-longer produced resin kits, an available brass version may be a cheaper option. Before I go that route, I might look at scratch-building the model first.

Roster vs Operation

When considering freight cars, I differentiate between my (total) roster, and cars in operation at a given point in time. This is because part of modeling a freight car roster is the mix of types of cars and specific prototypes, not just the roads represented.

A lot of modelers limit the number of a given model based on things like the number of cars in service in their era, or how far a road is from the one they model, etc. The problem I see with this approach (other than the fact that I love freight cars), is what John Nehrich dubbed the "Pickle Car Syndrome."

The problem is that people like to model interesting cars, such as the Heinz Pickle Cars. Which means they are overrepresented on many layouts, unless one happens to be modeling the Heinz plant.

Another point he has made relates to the availability of models and a proper mix of cars. We usually have far too many of a given car that is easy to acquire (1937 AAR Standard box cars), and not nearly enough of a prototype or type of car that is harder to come by (single sheathed box cars).

I see the same issue arising by limiting the total roster for a given prototype. For example, in the late '40s there was a drastic decline in 36' and 40' wood double sheathed box cars. A modeler might choose to own only one such car, since they were so rare. But the "Pickle Car Syndrome" rears its head, since it makes that single car seem more prevalent than it should. While it's not a stretch to assume that every couple of sessions a 36' double sheathed box car would appear. It's not likely to be one of the same road every time. To have a better mix, we need more than just that single car.

It's quite common to use this approach with locomotives, where only a handful of locomotives run during a session, but we might have a roster of 40, 50 or more. Sure, we all need to make decisions and prioritize models for budgetary and other reasons. But I won't be limiting my choices based on whether a given prototype is rare. That will factor into how often it appears on the layout, but not whether I'd consider owning it.

Goal Two: Operations

My second priority is all about sharing the layout with others. The primary way we do that is by operating the layout as the New Haven Railroad operated in New Britain.

I approach modeling from a wholistic perspective. That is, I want to model the operations of the railroad with the same accuracy and fidelity as any other part of the layout. But I also want to design it to be flexible to meet the skills and interest of the operators for any given sessions.

The Operating Experience

My goal is to provide an immersive experience that makes it feel like you're operating the prototype as much as possible. I think of this process as having four separate, yet related, aspects to design operations.

  • The Jobs Performed by the Railroad

  • The Movement of Trains

  • The Movement of Cars

  • Paperwork

As I have worked through the research and designing the operations for the layout, I've also more or less reversed the process of designing the operations themselves.

Jobs Performed by the Railroad

I've had the pleasure of riding along on the CNZR to see how a small railroad actually operates, and I have a few other friends that are on the job. I think that operating on other model railroads was probably the biggest influence on how I go about designing a model railroad. Operating on the protoype has been the biggest influence on how I go about operating the layout.

The primary job on the model railroad is running the trains. Passenger, freight, switching, etc. It's all about running trains. So I start with the engineer, conductor and the ground crew. I prefer a two-person crew, but it might be a single operator performing all of these jobs.

The running joke is all the engineer has to do is, "go ahead and go back." But the reality is, if you're modeling the role of an engineer running the locomotive/train there's quite a bit more to it. The speed, following the rules, the horn, bell and headlight, are all aspects that can be modeled. But there are other things that aren't modeled as often. Such as running the train like you have a ground crew that has to get off the locomotive or end of the train, throw switches, get back on the train and ride along to couple/uncouple the cars.

The Conductor, of course, has to manage the work and the paperwork. Another part of this is providing a place for the conductor to do their work. A lot of times that ends up being the layout itself. I've provided desks and working shelves in several locations so the conductor has that room. If I had a longer linear layout, I have considered using a small rolling cart as their "caboose desk" that they can keep with them (and fits under the layout to keep out of the way when needed).

To me, this is the foundation of the operating session, and everything else is layered on top of it. The goal is to provide the operating crew the most immersive experience possible, so it makes sense to me to focus on the operations from their perspective.

Movement of Trains

For many folks talking about prototypical operations, this is probably the biggest aspect that is layered on top of Movement of Cars. Some owners may start here.

For a long time, Time Table & Train Order operations on a single track mainline provides the most operational interest. This requires a Dispatcher, possibly some clerks/agents, you can add a phone system, etc. I love this aspect of operations, as it's quite interesting. Unforuntunately, on my layout it's not a huge part of the operations since I model a single town. But it does have an impact on the design of the ops, and I've incorporated as much as I could.

Other systems, like fully operational CTC or other signaling systems are quite fun as well.

Movement of Cars

Most operating schemes start with (and often focus heavily on) the movement of cars. For example, the popular Car Card & Waybill system is entirely about the movement of cars. Some systems get into even more detail to try to better simulate how the cars move from industry to industry, including offline.

That's fine, but it often requires some reworking to make the rest of the operations function prototypically. But it's also a lot of work and preparation for something that is often primarily for the benefit of the layout owner. For example, one of the things that the more complex systems "fix" is that with a 4-part waybill, the same car moves through a 4-step cycle, returning to the initial one at the fifth session. If you have a stable crew that are the only folks that operate your layout, this may be noticeable.

One of my buddies, John Grosner, has two sessions. The primary one is the one we run each time we are there. The second one was designed to reset the first one. There are quite a few jobs on the railroad, and I think I've operated all of them now. But it's months between times when I get to operate the layout, and even when I've performed the same job I never noticed that fact. The only reason I know, is he asked me if I wanted to test the new "Session No. 2" to reset the layout for the next session.

On the prototype, the crews generally don't care what's in the cars, nor where they are coming from or going to (except to block them). The railroad does, and certain positions (like an Agent) has to be more aware of certain rules than the train crews. But overall, the movement of cars to the crew is largely, "put this car over there."


The Railroad ran on paperwork. Train Orders, switch lists, waybills, the railroad ran on lots and lots of paperwork. Of course, we aren't actually running a working railroad and business, and the purpose is to have fun. But it helps set the scene, and make it feel like a real railroad. The trick is finding a balance, and focusing on paperwork that is helpful, but not too confusing or difficult to work with. My operating scheme means that the majority of the paperwork is handled by one person - the Agent. Another important aspect is providing plenty of places for them to organize and work with their paperwork.


Throughout the era I'm modeling, from 1946 to 1954, the fluctuating schedules reflected the traffic patterns of the New Haven Railroad in the postwar period. Freight and Passenger service were in general decline, although after Buck Dumaine became president, passenger service saw a brief resurgence, particularly with the delivery of the RDCs.

I use a fast clock, at a ratio of 4:1. That means that every minute that passes is four minutes on the railroad, allowing us to do a day's work in a few hours of operating. Trains operate at prototypical speeds, but the fast clock allows us to maintain the proper train schedules. A session lasts about three hours.

Passenger Service

Passenger traffic consisted primarily of commuter traffic between Hartford and Waterbury, typically three in the morning and three in the afternoon, with a daily roundtrip to Hartford to Bridgeport, and another Boston to Waterbury.

Traffic increased starting in 1950, first with the reassignment of Comet as a second Boston to Waterbury train, and then the RDCs. This was short-lived as passenger service suffered during and after the McGinnis administration. The station was torn down in 1956, and passenger service discontinued altogether on the line in 1960.

Freight Service

Following World War II, the New Haven went after freight traffic with several promotional programs. However, aging factories, and better economic incentives elsewhere (particularly in the south) combined with the rise in industrial mergers resulted in its gradual but inevitable decline.

Maybrook-Hartford trains were eliminated in 1949, with traffic routing via Cedar Hill, until the Korean War increased traffic enough to reinstate them in 1951. In 1953 they would be eliminated again.

Otherwise, freight came via Cedar Hill, up the Berlin Line, through New Britain to Plainville, then up the Canal Line to Westfield and Holyoke. One of these Holyoke freights was a local that did work in Berlin and the Canal Line north of Plainville.

The other local freight that usually ran during this period is the New Hartford Local, or HDX-5, from Hartford through New Britain, then up the Canal Line at Plainville to work the New Hartford branch from Farmington through Unionville and Collinsville to New Hartford.


The primary operation on the layout is switching. New Britain had enough industries and traffic to warrant two locally assigned switchers. In addition, Stanley Works has their own locomotive to work the Myrtle Street plant.

The entire layout is within yard limits. As such, I won't need a dispatcher. Yard Limit rules are simple. All trains must operate at yard speed, prepared to stop.

First class trains on the mainline operate per posted speed limits.

Any train can occupy any track without protection but must clear the main 15 minutes before a first-class (i.e., passenger) train is scheduled to leave the prior station. In my case this is Newington or Plainville. If they are not clear of the main at this time, then they must protect against the first-class train.


One position that will be relatively unique on my layout is the Agent position. Filling in for the Station/Freight Agent and associated clerks, their job will be to organize the work of the two switch crews.

When a train drops cars off in New Britain, the waybills will be given to the Agent. As on the prototype, the Agent will manage the waybills and similar paperwork (Empty and Home Route Cards, etc.). They will write up switch lists for the switching crews.

All of the bills will go to the Agent, and not to boxes at each industry. The Agent will also receive orders to pick up the cars, and empty orders from the industries. This was typically done either by phone, or by clerks who went to each industry.

Since mainline trains are on the layout for such a short time, it doesn't make sense to prepare complete Time Table and Train Order paperwork. As a result, the rules that apply to the layout are minimal.


Although I enjoy operating with Time Table and Train Orders, there will be very little operating paperwork needed.

Trains will have a Clearance Card. Many operation schemes use a train card or train sheet that includes the locomotive information, etc. A prototypical Clearance Card serves the same general purpose.

Most trains won't carry any more orders beyond that, although I could (should) supply Form 19 orders for the freight trains since they are technically extras.

Freight trains will have waybills and switch lists. I haven't determined whether I'll have all of the waybills for a through freight, or only those for New Britain.


I prefer running two-person crews, one as an engineer and the other the conductor. Especially when there is a lot of switching to do. A typical operating session would be six people on the three switching jobs, plus an Agent.

Yard switching on the New Haven was an 8-hour day job. Operating sessions are centered around this, and since there has to be a crew for the opening and closing of the freight house, I believe the shifts were staggered. Because of this, the three crews can also cover the through trains.