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Wilmington and Northern Branch

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The History Of Both W&N Branches

The Prototype

The Wilmington Northern Branch was built in 1868 as the Wilmington and Brandywine Railroad. The Reading Company obtained control of it in 1898 and it became the Wilmington and Northern Branch. The W&N is almost entirely curved as it follows its route along streams and rivers from Reading, PA to Wilmington, DE.
The W&N is known for serving steel mills at Reading, Birdsboro and Coatesville. There were numerous smaller industries along the way, including coal dumps, paper mills, scrap yards and quarries. In the Wilmington area was the DuPont Company. The W&N crossed the PRR five times between Birdsboro and Wilmington, with four interchanges. At Wilmington it interchanged with the B&O.
The W&N was one of the last refuges of camelback engines and later regular steam power on the Reading. There were helper grades in both directions on either side of Coatesville, which is about the mid-point of the 70 mile branch.
Hurricane Agnes damaged the northern end of the branch between Birdsboro and Coatesville in 1972 and that portion was abandoned. From Coatesville to Wilmington is still operated by the Brandywine Valley Railroad.

The Model

Originally I had modeled the W&N in the 1950's.  I had always been fascinated by 1800's, early 1900's railroads.  I had the opportunity to operate on Jerry McGee's wonderful P&P layouts, based on the Milwaukee in 1906, and the early rail bug really bit.   In 2006 I decided to model the branch circa 1900-1905, when the W&N operations were formally merged into the P&R.

The new layout required a change in concept.  The 1950's layout only modeled the northern half of the railroad.  I wanted the whole branch because I wanted the crews to have to turn their engines, I wanted them to complete a trip , a tour of duty, not just run the train from one end of the layout to the other and then go get a different train.  That meant I had to have a completely new trackplan.  The new track plan is simpler with no lower level staging.  The design train is about 12 cars and a small engine, about 6-8 feet long. 
I will have the terminal at Wilmington, with interchanges to the PRR and B&O, plus a staging track representing the Delaware River extension (the line to the Pigeon Point car ferry) and one representing the King St. (downtown area).  There will be three major on line switching locations, Montchanin, Coatesville and Birdsboro.  From Monchanin will be two short branches serving mills along the Brandywine River.  Coatesville will be about half the size of Coatesville on the original layout.  It will also have the connection to the French Creek Branch.  1900 Birdsboro will be smaller than 1950 Birdsboro also.  I will have a portable staging yard to represent Reading that will be out in the hallway .

There will be a continuous running connection from Montchanin to Coatesville on the peninsula.  The major advantages of this are that it retires the drop connection across the doorway and allows continuous running with full access.  The down side is it will require 18" radius and a relatively short continuous run (basically an oval about 15 feet long).

One new approach I intend to try is "cassette" staging to allow for cars to be removed from the layout without a lot of handling.  It will be used at all staging and interchange locations.
After the first operating session I realized I needed to add Reading staging, so a portable staging yard was designed and built in October/Novemeber 2010.