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RyPN Briefs March 17, 2006
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Book Review: Civil Engineering for Outdoor Railroads - Volume One
by Douglas van Veelen, published by AuthorHouse 2005, 188 pages, paperbound

Doug van Veelen is an accomplished Civil Engineer with a life long interest in full size and model railroading, with professional railroad engineering credits. This book is the outgrowth of some articles he wrote for Live Steam magazine, in which he adapts full size railroad civil engineering practice to the design and construction of large scale model outdoor tracks.

Topics covered in this volume include curvature, spirals, easements, grade, planning and profiling track, surveying techniques, retaining walls, water and erosion controls through ditching, culverts and bridges, and maintenance. A series of appendices include tables for super elevations, easements, and offsets for track gages ranging from 3.5 inches through standard gage. A lot of information from the Pennsylvania Railroad Specifications for Construction and Maintenance of Track is also included.

Doug presents some pretty esoteric mathematical formulas which intimidated me, being mathematically challenged (no trig or calc), but the majority of which I could work through using his examples and step by step trial and error. He also makes other arcane stuff (like how surveying really works) simple enough, in plain English, that almost anybody with an interest can do an adequate job of laying out workable lines and curves with minimal equipment.

His use of photos, real life track design examples, his personal experience and experimentation with track construction techniques, and lots of examples gleaned from a large Atlanta area live steam track (which no longer exists) make the information even more practical and valuable.

A diskette with programs for doing calculations is included.

I would recommend this book to anybody who wishes to build a sizeable outdoor railroad on rough terrain, and ensure that it will be operable and maintainable. I would also not be afraid to use it as a reference were I to build an amusement park train ride track. And, given that it includes standard gage tables and examples, it may also be useful for museum track design and light industrial spurs as well, for those of us who need to build lightly used infrastructure without becoming civil engineers, or poring through many weighty textbooks.

The book is available at Doug's Railroad Stuff (on Ebay) for $21.02 plus $4.50 S&H in the continental U.S. ($6.00 in Canada).