Only if... only if I had a lot more space, I'd seriously consider a mountain railroad. What better way to show off your motive power than with lots of engines and shorter trains to attack those hills? These and other similar thoughts struck me as we vacationed recently in Altoona, Pennsylvania, at the base of the backbone of the Alleghenies. From here, trains depart for the tough climb over the mountains to Pittsburgh and western points beyond.
This rather simple stone train is a perfect example of what would make modeling mountain railroading so interesting and so much fun. Note that this train is headed uphill with two units and has an additional three units bringing up the rear providing extra power for the climb and extra braking for the descent on the downhill side of the mountain. I don't remember exactly, but I'm thinking that the train may have been in the range of 50-60 cars long which is kind of "short" when compared to some of the 100+ car trains that we see here on the flat lands of Northwest Ohio. So yes, shorter trains and lots of power would make for interesting modeling.
Here's another example of a high powered train only this time, it is coming down hill after having completed the climb over the mountain peak at Gallitzin. Again, there are three units on the point followed by a couple more bringing up the rear. But these "heavy duty" trains are not just for bulk commodities like stone, coal or grain. All during the time I was there, I saw similar power lash-ups on trains passing through. As shown in the first picture, this included the ever-present container & trailer trains and the classic mixed freights that ran through. About the only train that didn't have extra units & helpers were the Amtrak trains that ran through twice a day.
But there's even more to mountain railroading... and that's the transfer of power to & from the points where it is needed. Several of the movements that we saw were simply two and three locomotive lash-ups going in either direction to be where they needed to be. If there's an imbalance of traffic going in one direction, motive power needs to be transferred to where it will do the most good. Sometimes this is in the way of extra units on a regularly scheduled train but it can also simply be just the locomotives themselves moving from one point to another.
Because our space is usually limited, we tend to model things that are a little more condensed & packed together. But if one had the space, that mountain railroad climbing over hills & passing through tennels would certainly be a great theme for a model railroad layout.