Long Island Railroad Montauk Branch 
Layout Design Concept & Description

Name:  Long Island Railroad Montauk Branch 
Locale: Long Island City, Borough of Queens, New York City on Long Island 
Period: September 1963
Prototype: Long Island Railroad 
Branch: Montauk Branch 
Scale: HO (1:87) 


I have always been a fan of standard gauge equipment and urban railroads. As a child my only brush with prototype railroads was with the New York City Subway, the Long Island Railroad, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. As the New York City Subway and its elevated components were too much of a challenge to model, and as I had tried my hand at modeling the Pennsylvania passenger operations I had experienced, LIRR freight operations was all I dared try. My approach is that of prototype modeling. Free-lance is very tempting but out of the question. Free-lancing is just too much of a caricature for my tastes. 

Why HO scale? I find this the best compromise between the detailing available in O scale and the ability to run trains and have scenery dominate in N scale. N scale just looks too small to me and does not afford the ability to appreciate details to my eyes. In fairness to N scale, their just wasn’t the variety available today that existed when I first started collecting my rolling stock.

We have installed Digitrax Empire Builder Radio controlled DT300 throttles to operate our trains. Tethered throttles can also be plugged in to any of the LocoNet jacks on the UP3 universal panels or the UR-91 panel. 

While all LIRR freights ran as extra movements not listed in the timetable, freights did operate on a schedule. Throughout most of the 1960s, most LIRR yard jobs worked seven-days-a-week. LIRR symbols are: LIC – Long Island City; trains with the letter prefix MA (Metropolitan Area). receive their second classification at Long Island City or Fresh Pond and dispatched from that point. The second classification then becomes the “freight” we see along the way. With few exceptions, all LIRR freights are in reality locals. Drill – LIRR parlance for a switching job.

I picked an area to model that could be represented without undue compression in the space I had available. With the exception of Blissville, this entire modeled railroad is Long Island City. Long Island City was once an independent city until Queens County, where it is located, was absorbed by New York City circa 1898. The Montauk Cutoff, a prominent feature of this layout, was built to overpass the Long Island’s Main Line leading to New York’s East River Tunnels (not modeled). While the Long Island’s Eight Street Yard was in operation into the 1970s, space limitations prohibited its being modeled except as one track. Modeled industry spot numbers follow prototype LIRR practice. Crews must operate at restricted speeds and be able to stop within ½ the distance of their visibility.

Management Philosophy

During the era modeled, the 1960s, the LIRR owned no revenue freight cars as online industries shipped out comparatively little. On February 2, 1949, the LIRR was handed over to the bankruptcy courts by the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1965, the MCTA (Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority) took over the LIRR from the Pennsy. By 1967, the MCTA was reorganized as the MTA


Most traffic on this layout is generated offline. The Long Island makes interchange with other roads at Long Island City (NYC, DL&W, PRR, E-L, LV, B&O, New York Dock). Cars are classified twice: first by general destination at the interchange and second by consignee. On October 31, 1963, the LIRR closed its marine operations and transferred its tugs and floats to its parent Pennsylvania Railroad

Model Roster

Alco S-2 1000 HP Switcher by Alco Models custom painted
RS-1 Diesel LIRR 464 custom painted by Willis Hobbies


A single buff-colored card with a pocket from Old Line Graphics represents each freight car on our layout set in Queens, New York in 1963. Each pocket holds a “four-sided” white card (the waybill) offering four different locations. This combination of car card and waybill approximates the real-life waybills and switch lists used by the prototype Long Island Railroad to route traffic. 

For each track or industry, a Plexiglas “pocket” is provided on our layout fascia, labeled with the appropriate name. Each neighborhood has a box labeled “conductor” for cars currently being worked. 

Crew members must take an engraved clip-on name badge from our call board (badges have a magnetic strip on the back so they adhere to magnets on call board). We follow these operating positions to allow both visitors and regular crew members to participate without being locked into one of the more humorous identities. 

CABIN M Bridgetender operated both the double-track, skewed, deck plate-girder Scherzer rolling lift Draw Bridge and Swing Bridge (built 1914) over Dutch Kills Creek on the Montauk Cutoff. As actually built in 1909, the lift bridge had a simple wooden operator house instead of the rather ornate structure taken from LIRR plans. Pushing the appropriate button, operates the Ott sound system that warns Draw Bridge (not yet modeled) will open; neither bridge is operational as yet.

Montauk Cutoff traffic ran to the left. By thus running directly into the long tracks on Yard A’s north side, westbound freights could enter Yard A without interfering with other yard activities. This is followed on our model.

Interesting terminology – A swing bridge, such as the one over Dutch Kills, rests on a “turning pier” and its protective timbers are called “fenders”. 

The “draw rest” is the whole center island including not only the turning pier but the rest of the island.

LCL, small-lot freight shipments handled and billed directly by the Long Island Railroad, does not mean a car is not full.

LCL traffic goes to freight houses where several shippers’ loads have been combined in a car to move in local freight trains. Arch Street was an open (manned) station. As late as 1964 or 1965, the 3:59 P.M. Freight House job switched and placed all sidings from Harold Avenue Yard (not modeled) to 8th Street Yard (modeled as a siding only) as well as switching and spotting Arch Street Transfer aka Freight House. At Arch Street, LCL were unloaded and shipments stored for pickup by local receivers. Cars were spotted at Freight House platforms. Where two tracks were between platforms, Arch Street crew lined up doors so a forklift could drive over steel plates, through all freight cars in the unloading process to get to the other platform. Our modeled Arch Street Freight Agent is responsible for throwing appropriate turnouts at two tracks: the House Track (used for cars receiving or delivering freight at the house) and one body track.