For a lot of layout planning fun, try http://carendt.com/ . Here you will find the late Carl Arendt’s site, “Micro layouts for model railroads – Creative concepts for getting the most bang out of the least space.”
There are nearly 500 micro layouts on this site. Some are not worth a second glance, really, but many are excellent and could be expanded (yes – expanded) to make a module. The “Micro-layout Scrapbook” contains some of the best ideas, as these are often slightly larger layouts.
What is a “micro layout”? Micro layouts are defined as “small model railroads, usually less than three or four square feet in area that have a clear purpose and excellent operating capability.” The layout size is more a state of mind than a rigid dimension, although “four square feet or less” (“under 3600 square centimeters”) has become the canonical size for a micro, regardless of scale. What distinguishes these layouts from simple dioramas is the requirement for “excellent operating capability”. These are working railroads, not just display scenes or tail-chaser loops.
Why would anyone want to build a micro layout? They do have advantages, including:
• They’re small enough to complete in a reasonable period of time;
• They’re reasonable in cost;
• They’re small enough to permit detailing to the nth degree; and
• They need little space to run and store.
Planning an ultra-small micro layout is slightly different from traditional model railway design methods. It has a lot in common with theatrical stage set design, where you carefully pick a single location then figure out how to squeeze the illusion of it into an extremely small space. Like stage designers, you’ll find yourself using a lot of special tricks including backdrops, low-relief and flat models of structures, forced perspective, behind-the-scenes fiddle yards, and carefully chosen rolling stock.
Carl Arendt also produced three books of micro-layout idea. These can now be bought as PDF e-books from the site for a very reasonable price. Recommended!
Below are some micro-layouts – hi-jacked from the web site.
Based on a real location, and modelling traffic in and out of the steel mill in the foreground. The traverser is the key to moving wagons around.
Designed for passenger stock, the two overbridges convince you that 2 coaches are really 10. I fancy building this as an interurban line, so that one or two car trains are prototypical.
Box Street is a modern classic. Reasonable shunting and operational options in a tiny space (this is 5½ feet in HO) and one point and a single/double slip. The sector plate completes the loop. A number of people have built this, and it works well.
This would work well in a similar space in ‘N’.