Here are a few thoughts concerning some of your questions.
--- In email@example.com
> 1. Can anyone recommend a good book for layout construction.
> to planning, ballasting track, stations, buildings, landscaping etc.
You can read my series of 4 layout construction articles (originally
published in Ztrack Mag) on the Val Ease Central website. Members
have access to my published articles.
See the Files-Articles-Ztrack
> 6. Is there a place here where one can share layout plans and
> especially get comments on the layouts. Some short words from wiser
> people often help us new guys save lots of time, money and
> frustration :-)
Concerning your layout plan:
My first thought is that you might consider reducing the amount of
trackage that is parallel to the sides of your layout board. You
have several elevated sections that are also parallel to the sides
and to the lower level. Try to envisage the topography of your
central area (on the diagonal) and have your lower level tracks
follow natural landforms that would be consistant with the rest of
You also have a couple of long straight leads or spurs on the upper
portion that might be more interesting if they had some bends in
them. Your planning software uses set track components. This is a
reasonable starting point but you will get much greater satisfaction
both from a design and running perspective if you used flex track
wherever possible. Flex should be used as you enter curves to ease
the transition from straight to the final radius of the curve. You
can also use it to good advantage on your long sections where you can
add gentle curves to avoid geographical barriers.
Designing a layout is a rewarding and enjoyable endeavour. My advice
is to take your time and try to imagine the landscape first, then lay
tracks from the point of view of a surveyor who doesn't have the
luxury of blasting a straight line through the terrain. The finished
product should look like it is a natural fit in the landscape and
scenery rather than a tangle of tracks. This is often the difference
between a model railway and a toy train layout.
I noticed that your plan offers lots of operating possibilities. If
you are interested in operations then you should also consider the
types of trains you will be running (passenger, commuter, local way
freight, scheduled or extra) and why they run. What industries are
being served (also a function of the geography and historical
economic development of your miniature world) and where the goods /
people are coming from and going to (on and off the layout).
No matter what I or others may say, the number one goal in layout
building is to have FUN. If your trains run well and you like what
you see, then your fun will continue for a long, long time. You're
the boss, after all.