|The Southern-most Model Railroad
The McMurdo Station model railroad
in Antarctica is at the bottom of the world
by James Ross
We believe we have the world’s most southerly
model railroad layout. It is at McMurdo Station, Antarctica,
77 degrees 53 minutes south.
Click on the map for a larger
Map courtesy of Center for
Astrophysical Research in
McMurdo Station was
established by the US Navy and National Science Foundation in
1956 to support the International Geophysical Year. It is the
largest population center in Antarctica with around 200 people
in the winter and over 1,000 people in the summer. Its mission
is to support scientific research in Antarctica and act as the
air terminus for cargo and passenger flights to the
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and other camps and stations
deep in Antarctica. The majority of supplies arrive in
February when the annual tanker and supply ships are
offloaded. There are also periodic flights between McMurdo
Station and New Zealand during the summer months. The station
is isolated from all physical contact with the outside world
from early March to late August with the exception of an
occasional medical evacuation flight.
This past winter (southern hemisphere winter
of 2001, March-September) several of the McMurdo Station staff
formed a club to build a model railroad layout. The club
consisted of four members and no materials. During the winter
we scoured dumpsters and scrap piles to obtain 2 by 4s,
plywood, and various hardware. One of the members volunteered
to have part of an old disassembled layout mailed from home
when airlift and mail service resumed in late August. We
shared the costs of new cork roadbed, track connectors, minor
hardware and postage.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole, about 900
miles south of McMurdo
Other than obtaining materials, we faced
other obstacles unique to the Antarctic. We had to overcome a
shortage of heated space to house the layout, our 54-hour per
week work schedules and shifts, and the likelihood that some
or all of us would not have our contracts renewed for future
seasons to continue the effort. We finally found a place for
the layout in an old Quonset hut where it shares space with a
sewing club in a room located above a two-lane bowling alley
and weight room.
McMurdo Station as seen from Observation
Hill. Click on the photo for a larger
We had several dreams of how the layout
should look. At one point we hoped to develop a notional
railroad line serving the McMurdo Station and Scott Base area
of Ross Island (named by James Clark Ross in the 1840s).
However, when reality caught up we settled on an oval
plan based loosely on NMRA modular standards.
Southern-most model railroad is waiting for a new
crew to add landscaping and
a basic table using 2 by 4s and plywood (3/4” tongue and
groove) with drywall screws throughout. We built four
modules each 3 by 3 feet and four bridge modules each 2 x 6
feet. These were then bolted together to form a 6 by
12-foot table with two bridge modules in reserve for possible
future expansion. The 16 supporting legs are bolted to the end
Our track layout consists of two mainlines
and a third interior line to serve as additional access to a
switchyard and industrial area. These three areas or lines are
electrically isolated to comprise three main operating blocks.
All track is on the same level with any gradient the result of
the warped or uneven floor of the building.
not accomplished any landscaping or other improvements at this
point because we have now left McMurdo Station and turned
operations over to the summer crew. Hopefully, some of the
summer crew will continue the project and keep it alive for
any of us who might receive contracts to return to Antarctica
in future seasons.