TimeSaver Switching Layout


This page gives some history about:

  • the classic switching puzzle itself
  • a project to construction of a small, light, inexpenive, portable configuration
  • SDGRS presenting a larger version for the annual Boy Scouts meeting in San Diego.

History / What is the Timesaver?

This page is about the classic switching puzzle invented by John Allen, the famous model railroad pioneer.

The track plan is simple, but has been enjoyed by many people since it's introduction by John in 1972. The lengths of track and arrangement of switches have been designed to make you have to think about how you move the cars.

Below is the track plan from John's article in the November, 1972 Model Railroader:

t1   Copy


He built 2 identical modules which could be hooked together by the track goin off the top center. (This was sort of an "interchange" point for 2 people running one each of the layouts)


Below is one of the 2 original modules, in the San Diego Model Railroad Museum:



One goal was to make a design that others could assemble from readily available sectional track.

In October 1976, Russ Cain presented a design that could be made with Atlas "snap track", which was something the common man could buy:

MR1976 cropped2

 While it lacks the hand-laid Wye switches, it captures the operational "sense", and this is the "schematic" I have followed.


In the pictures below, the locomotive is the orange box starting in the "middle".

The goal is to put the cars in the starting order below, and then use the least moves and time to get to the "ending" locations"

 Starting locations: Ending locations:


Here is an excellent article explaining the history: http://www.wymann.info/ShuntingPuzzles/sw-timesaver.html

Here's a link to the original rules for the puzzle: http://www.wymann.info/ShuntingPuzzles/Timesaver/timesaver-rules.html

Portable construction: (G scale)

Goals were:


  • small enough to fit in back seat or trunk of any car
  • light
  • easy to set up
  • inexpensive
  • made from readily-available commercial components

Track Plan:

Again, working only from LGB stock pieces (although one straight needs to be trimmed shorter), I came up with this track plan:

timesaver portable



At this point I was confident I could build the layout with stock LGB parts, and get it to 8 foot by 2 feet.

I started looking for a lightweight folding table, 2 foot by 8 foot, that weighs only 20 pounds as opposed to the 55 pounds you get from the common folding tables from Costco, etc.

It turns out that a "regulation" "beer pong" table is exactly these dimensions and folds in 4 sections, to 2' x 2' by about 9".

Refining the track plan:

I was pretty happy with this, but I wanted to make this as quick and easy as possible, so by moving things around a bit, I managed to align most of the track joints with the joints in the table: (the grid is 1 foot squares)

timesaver portable aligned


Track parts needed:

  • 3 pieces LGB 12150 left hand switch
  • 2 piece LGB 12050 right hand switch
  • 1 piece LGB 11000 curved track
  • 4 pieces LGB xxx straight (24") track
  • 1 pieces LGB 10000 straight (12") track
  • 2 pieces LBG 10150 straight (6") track



A small power supply will be installed with reduced voltage for slow speed, and a left-off-right toggle switch for speed and direction to make it simple. The original HO version was set so the loco traveled at 7 scale miles per hour.


Kadees will be mounted for automatic remote uncoupling with magnets placed at appropriate locations

Progress pictures:

So I started laying out track, to find a way to use stock LGB sizes and follow the "siding lengths" that make the puzzle work. I used RR-Track and just laying things out on the table.

Here's an initial mockup:

timesaver mockup 1


Below I was trying to match some of the "simplified" renditions of the puzzle, again tweaked to work around the lack of a WYE switch:

timesaver mockup 2


Below is the final design, with the siding lengths correct. The goal was also to make gaps align with the center 2 sections The goal is to permanently fix the track in the center 2 sections (which fold to the outside of the table) and have rail clamps to connect when assembled.

timesaver mockup complete


"Folding" the track:

To meet the minimal setup criteria, it makes sense to fix as much track in place as possible. When the table folds, it the center 2 sections (2 and 3) are exposed on the outside, so I have focused on how to do this.

Clearly the track needs to come apart at the joints, so as mentioned earlier, I worked with the design to make as many of the track joints exactly align with the table sections.

Below is a picture of the joint between sections 1 and 2 (numbered from the left). The 2 tracks to the left of the joint will be slipped on after opening, and the joints line up perfectly with the track.

joint 1 2

Below is a picture of the joint between sections 2 & 3. Again things line up perfectly. The top track ends, but optionally another track could be slid on. The bottom 2 tracks will have removable rail clamps, probably a different design that is easier to put on and off.

joint 2 3

The picture below shows the last joint set, between sections 3 & 4, and the top track can use clamps, but the bottom switch needs to be removed for transport, thus the clamps on the switch itself:

joint 3 4

So, I will next add wheel stops to the ends of the tracks (from Ozark Miniatures), and easy to attach rail clamps from Train-Li (the mockup has Split Jaw, but they are too tough to put on for many people.

Deployment pictures:

Folded up: (track is on both sides:
There are 4 sections, and 2 latches that hold the unit together. Unlatch and spread:
Again notice that there is track on the 2 outer sides when folded. Below is a shot of the other side:
These 2 inner plain panels are now opened, notice that there is space inside for track and parts:
Take the track parts out and unfold completely and the 3 sets of legs swing out:
Now just tilt it up on it's legs, you see the 2 sections with track.
Now slide on the other pieces that were stored inside:
Tighten the joiners on the section that carries the switch and away you go!
Weather Underground PWS KCACARLS78