My Model Railroad has taken years to plan so far, and is still in the midst of a planning stage. One of the main sticking points is the decision to compress the layout, or have a more realistic layout. The choice of using N Scale is one many modelers make, because it allows them to get more layout in the space they have. This is also true with my choice. But how much compression is too much?
Recently, I was lectured about having too much going on in an unrealistic space. "How could a 20 car train have its head end in one town, and its tail end in another?" This is a valid point. I have seen many layouts like this, where the mainline between towns is only a few feet long. Realistic? Not really. One method I have heard of for operating such a layout is to count laps between towns. In this type of operation, an Engineer leaves one town, and circles the whole layout again before actually arriving at the next scene, which is really only two feet down the line from the town he just left. This method gives the impression of running a longer mainline stretch while allowing the inclusion of many sidings and industries along the line, given the space available.
The more realistic option, of modeling long stretches of mainline between a few towns, provides much less in the way of operation. However it also tends to be more relaxing to operate. I suppose the choice between the two really depends on your intentions for the layout. If it is to be a busy operation focused layout, with a social aspect; where you can have many train crews working different jobs, then perhaps a more compressed option is better. If you plan to mostly solo the operation of the layout, then a more realistic setting is perhaps more fitting.
The SVNO (Scajaquada Valley NOrthern) railway will be a mostly remote link between 2 mines, a seasonal port and a Class 1 transfer yard. That is a lot of stuff to fit into a 20ft x 30ft room believe it or not. Especially if you add some other industries to add some more rolling stock variety. I have been working to narrow down the line as much as possible. Already, I have foregone having 2 yards (The transfer yard, and the central company flat yard) and will now house the main yard at the Southern end of the line, along with the transfer yard. There too will be the maintenance shops, and some supportive industries. The mainline will snake around a peninsula, and end up at the first town and siding where some other industries will be located. There will also be a siding here which will head back into the peninsula to service an ore processing facility. Further down the mainline there will be another siding, this time at a lumber mill. The line continues further and passes by an iron mine which provides regular shipments. Further down the line, at the end, will be a Northern port city, with some industries and a container handling area, and an ore dock.
I believe this will allow me to model most of my vision in a realistic setting with the space I have available.