A left over piece of MDF produced the idea for this layout. My youngest daughter recently acquired a new bunk bed for her room, and wanted a place to do some painting without painting on the walls of her room. My wife purchase a large piece of MDF for that purpose, and had it cut to size at the hardware store, and a 1200 x 240mm piece of MDF and a few extra pieces 1200m wide and about 70mm deep, were left over. My wife specifically said to me “can you use these for a model railway”. Of course I can, I thought!

Brazilian Micro Layout Rock / landslip feature

Track Plan, Theme and Era

But how to use it? I perused the various eBooks by the late Carl Arendt until I settled on an expanded and customised track plan based on the “Tramways de Chamies-Les Thurs” track plan in the “Creating Micro Layouts” eBook. That track plan is only about 600mm x 300mm, whereas the track plan I will be using will cover 1200 x 240mm.

Sugar Mill spur with a hopper awaiting pickup by the local freight. train

The next thing to do was to decide on a prototype / theme. I had thought of a tram / streetcar layout like that suggested for the “Tramways de Chamies-Les Thurs” track plan in the eBook, with the possibility of a Melbourne Tram layout. But in the end I settled on a Brazilian themed layout.

Track plan

The reason for this is that I have a limited budget, and the Melbourne Tram model was over $250 (Australian) – a huge chunk out of my model railway budget. I had previously come across the Frateschi HO scale models, made in Brazil. So I did some research about them and from what I read they seem like reasonable models, and very reasonably priced. I went onto ebay, and found a model of a Brazilian G22 Bo-Bo diesel electric locomotive with an RFFSA (Rede Ferroviária Federal, Sociedade Anônima) paint scheme which is about 6 inches long, for $99. And so I purchased it. This allows me some space to also have some freight cars to move through the layout attached to the locomotive.

Because the RFFSA only operated between 1957 and 1999, and the layout will be run with an EMD G22 diesel rather than steam motive power, the era is fairly well defined to between 1967 (when the G22 was introduced) and 1999. This era is about the same as the other model layouts I have, and is purposely broad to allow for the use of more types of rollingstock.

Foliage on the layout.

Innovation and Operation

Not only is this the first Brazilian themed layout I have built but it is also the first one where I employed multi-use foam board (called XPS insulation board) which is very similar to extruded foam board used in the USA.

RFFSA loco shunting the yard.

Rather than the layout being a passenger switch-back between multiple tram stops like the original “Tramways de Chamies-Les Thurs” track plan, this layout is a freight switching layout, with a small 2 track yard, the switch back, and various industries on the different legs of the switch back. This gives a fair amount of operational interest in a micro layout space.

Shunting a reefer into the cold storage spur.

An innovation (for me) for this layout was the inclusion of a chain switching system, after watching a YouTube video of chain switching on a micro layout.

Chain switching guides and chains.


The scenery on the layout includes palm trees, lots of grass, small bushes, Agave plants (at least that’s what I think they look like), a rock face that slopes away at the front of the layout, and a bamboo plantation, and some small hills that help break up the layout into small scenes and hide the train (or part of it) for a while. The scenery has the feel of an almost tropical area with verdant greenery.

Using the capstan / chain shunting system to move a car into the Sugar Mill spur.

The XPS foam allowed me to have some features below and above the level of the track, which I think has given the layout a more realistic look than if it had built straight onto a baseboard.

This layout was quite interesting to build, and I have had a number of operating sessions on the layout, the chain and capstan system adding a level of interest and complexity that can keep the train crew busy for 20 to 30 minutes.

To view Blog posts related to this layout, go to the Brazilian Micro category.