Liftouts and Lift Bridges


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How the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers built their liftouts/lift bridges for long life and reliable operation. 
The images may take a while to load but they are worth it. If you like, you can read the text while the images are loading.

Our Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group uses two hinged liftouts on our HO exhibit at the Western Development Museum. We built them with simple box framing as seen in the photo at left. For strength we glued all the joints in addition to nailing them. If you look carefully at the photo, you can see that we cut the ends on an angle - compare the end of the bridge to its faint reflection in the shiny brown paint. This allows the bridge to swing upward without the bottom edge hitting the table at the left. When closed, the bridge sits on a two by four fastened to the brown table.

(This liftout is unfinished wood as it is in a private area not visible to the public.)

We use standard 3-1/2" butt hinges to align the ends of the liftouts and allow them to swing upward. These are the kind of hinges sold for interior doors of houses. We put a pair at each end of the liftout with the pin at the top. Two hinges are visible in the photo above and two more in the photo at left. When we pull two pins, we can swing the liftout up as a bridge. When we pull all four pins we can lift out the liftout and carry it away.

(This liftout is visible to the public as part of our "model railroad under construction" exhibit as opposed to our "historical diorama" exhibit. The white stuff is unpainted plaster of Paris. When (if ever) the exhibit is finished, the hinges will be hidden in trackside structures or clumps of bushes.)

The wiring to the liftout runs through a plug and socket so that it can be easily disconnected when the liftout is lifted out. The cable is at the end of the liftout where we do not pull the hinge pins when we swing it up as a bridge. We left lots of slack so that we do not have to disconnect the plug when we swing the liftout up.

(This is the visible liftout. Its framing is covered with painted hardboard to improve its looks.)

To keep the tracks aligned when the liftout is down, we fixed the ends of the rails firmly in place by soldering them to printed circuit board ties which in turn are glued and nailed to sections of wood road bed. We shaped the wood to match the profile of the cork we used under the rest of the track.

To make sure the tracks stay in alignment, the framework at one end of each liftout is firmly attached to the building structure but at the other end of the liftout, the framework is allowed to float. This is to allow for layout and room expansion and contraction caused by changes in temperature and moisture. From our own past experiences and discussions with other modellers, we found that failure to allow for this small movement was the usual reason why hinged liftouts eventually fail, go out of alignment, and start derailing trains.

In our case, the framework was floated by mounting the whole 4 x 25 foot historical diorama on casters. That worked for us. Our liftouts have been in use for 7 years, still align perfectly, and have never derailed a single wheel of the quarter million trains we have put over them. (Yes, we counted them.)

In a home situation, supporting the layout on legs and keeping it slightly away from the walls works. And so does supporting the layout framework on wall brackets as long as the framework just sits on the brackets and is not attached in any way. The framework must be free to move a little bit. The brackets can be the usual inverted U or triangular brackets made of wood, or they can be tables, bookcases, or other items of furniture, just so long as the layout framework is not constrained by the layout room structure. And as in our case, the framework needs to move only at one end of the liftout so parts of the layout can be rigidly attached to the room walls if so desired.

Liftouts can make life so much easier if they are build properly in the first place. There is no need to trade stand-up convenience for a maintenance headache if a little bit of care is taken in the planning and construction. Good luck with your liftout and let us know how you make out with it.


this page was created 23 September 1999 and was last updated 4 January 2000