During the planning and building process (which is still in progress), there are several guiding principles and critical success factors I followed during the process. Listed below are the items most important to me. The are roughly in priority order, but more importantly separated between absolute requirements and directional preferences.
Single Person Operation I am not a club person. I did not want to be dependant on a "crew" over to my house to run my layout. The railroad I designed had to be simple enough, and small enough that I could maintain it by myself.   Ironically, after starting construction, I actually redesigned the layout to be SMALLER!!!  "Blasphemy" cried all real model railroaders.
Focus on Switching My preference has always been towards slow switching operations where the railroad is servicing a variety of customers. Branch and shortlines have always been favorites of mine.

Included in this needed to be a yard where I could originate and terminate local trains. The yard would not be dependant on trains moving between staging yards. Past layout experience had taught me a yards works well when adding and removing cars from the yard between operating sessions.

Confortable Train Room People space versus train space is a constant struggle when layout planning. I decided early I didn't want to give away comfort for the sake of a few more sidings, another loop or a bigger yard. I also wanted to avoid duck-unders if at all possible.

Another feature I set out to include (this should probably be under "Preferences") was a counter top area that I could sit at and just watch trains run. Preferably with a TV to watch ball games. I didn't have the space for a full crew lounge, but a table top area where guest could gather would be nice.

This is taking shape in what will be known as the "Roundbottom Lounge".

Staging Yards for Expanded Operation Now this may sound like a contradiction to the "Focus On Switching" requirement, but I always preferred the option of having through trains, and originating/terminating traffic in staging yards. The biggest benefits are added operations for the Clare operator and additional trains for road crews during an operating session.
Continuous Run With a focus on switching, having a continuous run option was not necessary. Many of my track plans are actually much simpler without the space required to create a return loop or helix. But I knew to achieve the level of satisfaction I hoped for, having the option to just watch trains run was important.
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