Model Train Track Layouts

Making and planning model train track layouts is one of the most fun aspects of train collecting, and is one of the reasons this hobby often lasts for a lifetime. You could never run out of changes to make to a train layout! There are numerous websites devoted to train lovers who write about and post pictures of their model trains. Video upload sites like YouTube have countless videos of model trains in action. These sites are not only entertaining, but they can also serve to inspire, and they’re great places to find people who can answer just about any question concerning model trains and model train track layouts.

For some model train enthusiasts, one scale of model train just isn’t enough! Some may have a little N scale or HO scale indoor layout, but also have a large G scale layout running through their garden outdoors. While most train hobbyists have one or two scales to which they are more devoted, they can appreciate the beauty and functionality of the other scales, too. There is nearly infinite scope for model train lovers to indulge in the great fun of making model train track layouts.

While some enthusiasts have entire rooms devoted to model trains, others may only have a table-top display that has to be put away when company comes over. There is room for every level of train collecting in the world of model train hobbyists. It is a passion that transcends nationality, geography, race, or gender, and sharing model train track layouts is a big part of the experience.

There are dozens of websites where people can share model train track layouts through pictures, videos, and text. These sites are great sources of information and help for things like designing for the sharpest curve your particular model can make without derailing. Collecting, designing, and running model train tracks are very enjoyable aspects of the hobby for most people, second only to the fun of sharing the experience with others.

Model Train Layouts

Model train layouts can mean anything from simple ‘found’ pieces like Matchbox cars set up to surround a Lego toy train to amazingly realistic landscape and built-to-scale buildings in elaborate, complex designs. The great thing about model train layouts is that you can make them a little at a time, changing and modifying as you go.

The most popular scale model railroads, O, HO, N, and OO (in the UK) have accessories that are widely available and don’t have to be custom made. In addition, there is a growing cottage industry of software used for designing model train layouts and printing simple fold-together building designs onto card stock. For those who go for the most realism, there are custom model railroad artists who make very realistic, perfectly scaled architectural and landscape features for the most demanding model railway enthusiasts.

This is not to say that Lego model train layouts are in any way inferior. Now that an entire generation of Lego train enthusiasts has grown up and has more disposable income for such pursuits, Lego trains are very popular among adult model train hobbyists. The beauty of Lego train sets is that the bucket of Legos that a child has grown ‘too old for’ is suddenly a source of building materials for model train layouts. The fact that Lego model trains are sturdy enough to stand up to years of use is one real advantage to choosing such a set for a child who is a beginning model train enthusiast.

Whether a model train lover wants perfect scale and realism, or whether he or she wants the fun of running trains, with scenery ranking less importantly, there are plenty of other like-minded train enthusiasts all over the world. Because when you get down to it, one of the most fun things about having model trains is sharing them with other people who appreciate them.

How to build 2mm Model Railway Layouts (Q and A)

First what does a beginner do to start getting into 2mm model railway layouts?

– The 2mm Scale Association website (

– A booklet called “The Beginner’s Guide to 2mm Modelling” from the 2mm Scale Association.

And you’ll pretty much have to join the 2mm Scale Association to get the bits you need to make the model.

If you are quick off the mark, you could sign up for a day-long tutorial on getting started in Oxford in December

Can I use Steam or use a diesel shunter?

Its slightly harder for both DCC and 2mm in that there are not many easy to convert small N steam locos around. Would a Farish 04 diesel be acceptable; its a bit easier to convert ?

If happy with a bigger locomotive, a new Farish class 37 runs excellently, converts to 2mm very easily, and has a DCC decoder socket inside it.

If you are willing to build your own locos (or assemble 2mm kits) then steam is practical.

I want to do the inglenook layout like the one above, and I think I want to go straight to DCC because of the better slow operation it allows (is this correct?)

Yes in my experience. Clive Road runs extremely well under DCC, I was using it a few weeks ago with its current owner.

But DCC won’t hide basic mistakes; track needs to be level and clean. Locomotives need to pickup from all their wheels, etc.

But I don’t yet know enough about 2mm – what exactly is different in scale – everything? Do I need to get 2mm specific everything? Or just the gauge?

Depends how pedantic you get about scale. Officially 2mm is 1:152, whereas British N gauge is 1:148. If you are a total purist you will therefore build all your stock to 1:152. However, most modellers I know use a mixture, at least when starting out.

At a minimum you will be:

1) Building your own model railway layouts, or commissioning someone to make it for you (not expensive, around £15/turnout from the track builder I know).
2) Rewheeling N rolling stock, a simple matter of removing old wheels and dropping in
new ones.
3) Converting N locomotives. In some cases the wheel tread can be turned to a 2mm profile and the back-to-back adjusted. This tends to work better for diesels, though is possible for some steam locomotives.

Optionally, you will be:
4) Building finescale kit rolling stock; either for items not available commercially, or because you think the finescale item looks better than the commercial one (eg. contrast Stephen Harris kit mineral wagons with any plastic ones, and appearance wise, the Harris ones win. But they cost more and take time to assemble).
5) Building finescale locomotives. There are a handful of complete 2mm scale locomotive kits, the majority being North Eastern prototypes.
6) Changing the couplings on N stock to something smaller and capable of remote operation. The Clive Road pictures will show DG couplers which are opened by an electromagnet below the baseboard, once open the wagon can be propelled into a siding and left behind. There are numerous coupling options with various pros and cons.

For the DCC side, you just need a decent chip in your locomotives. Suggest you buy either Zimo 620 or CT Elektronik DCX74 or DCX75. They run really well with small motors at low speeds. If picking a DCC (or analogue) controller for such a simple layout, then don’t go overboard on keys; you’ll only have one or two locomotives so won’t need to select from a thousand ! Feeling good in your hand is the critical issue; there are quite a few decent and not overly expensive options.

> Finally, what books/resources can I go off and read and then get going I don’t yet even though what sort of stuff I should be putting on an inglenook, as I do want it to be realistic, so don’t want to just go off and fo my own thing, if it is unrealistic and not what such siding would be used for.

In some respects you are starting from the wrong position; the Inglenook concept was a “trainset” shunting puzzle. If looking for a prototype, you need to dig around to find a small siding or industrial yard of about that arrangement and work up from it. In steam days before Beeching, there were many on minor branch lines (I can think of half a dozen within 8 miles of my home in rural Suffolk).

Alternatively, look at more modern items such as loco stabling and refueling points.

Model Railway Track

Track pieces for model railways are designated by their ‘gauge’ which is the distance between the rails. For example, the popular HO scale train has track that is 5/8’ or 16.5 mm wide, and the scale of the rolling stock is 1:87.1.

When you plan a model railway track layout, you need to be familiar with ‘loading gauge.’ All it means is the space required on top of and on either side of the track so that the train doesn’t knock over anything. You can test this simply by adding your largest cars to the track and noting their outside dimensions, particularly as they go around curves.

If you have a model train with a pantograph on top, you need to account for the height of the pantograph when it is fully extended. (A pantograph is a metal device on top of a train that collects electricity from overhead lines. They are used on electric trams and electric trains.) You also need to account for any loads that your cars will be carrying. Do they stick out to the sides or above?

As for track layouts, much will depend on what locomotives you want to use and how fast you want the train to go. Generally speaking, the faster you want your train to go, the larger the turning radius you need on curves. Otherwise centrifugal force will cause it to derail. If you want to run locomotives that aren’t pulling cars, you need to adjust the turning radii depending on how powerful that locomotive is. If it is powerful enough to go really fast when it’s by itself, it will also require a larger turning radius to keep from derailing.

You may not give much thought to the gauge of track for your layout, but simply buy track made for the scale, such as HO. That is fine. However, there are narrow gauge purists who set up narrow gauge tracks to mimic some of the narrow gauges that were used in the early days of railroads. It’s just more proof that with model railways, the possibilities are endless!

Model Steam Layouts

Model steam layouts encompass small electric locomotives that are made to look as if they’re emitting smoke all the way to ‘live steam’ layouts that are big enough for people to ride on. ‘Live steam’ refers to trains that are actually powered by steam rather than just made to look that way.

‘Live steam’ enthusiasts are interested not just in the great mechanical choreography of a train track layout, but also in the use of actual steam power, like the very first trains used. While model steam layouts that can be ridden on are expensive and take up plenty of space, there are also smaller ‘garden railways’ that cannot be ridden on but cost much less and take up much less space.

Live model steam layouts are especially popular in the United States, the UK, and Australia. The late Walt Disney had a small steam train around his home, which inspired the narrow gauge railroad at Disneyland. The largest live model steam layout is Train Mountain in Oregon, USA. It has more than 25 miles of 7 ½ inch tracks! The Finnish Railway Museum in Hyvinkää, Finland has a similar (7 ¼ inch) track and runs on live steam that is propane fired.

But model steam layouts that actually run on steam aren’t always convenient or practical. That’s why many scales of electric trains have simulated steam for their model steam locomotives. These have an electric coil inside the smokestack. When a few drops of a certain type of oil are dropped into the smokestack and the train is started, the coil heats up enough to cause the oil to make little puffs of smoke. This is plenty realistic for many young steam train enthusiasts (and their parents!).

Steam locomotion is how the first trains ran, and even now, over a century later, steam locomotives are just as fascinating for train collectors the world over.

Model Railway Track Plans

Model railway track plans range from the tiniest Z-scale tabletop trains to backyard trains that you can actually ride on. The hobby of creating track plans for model railways is as attractive to adults as it is for children. Track plans can consist of a simple loop (popular underneath Christmas trees in North America) or extremely elaborate routes with spurs, switches, curves and straight areas.

There are numerous scales of model trains, so you should take the size and scale of the train into account when making your model railway track plans. One popular scale developed in the 1950s in the UK is ‘O gauge,’ with 32 mm tracks and wheels. This scale was perhaps the most popular one of the 1960s and 1970s. While O scale trains started out being mostly indoor trains, the scale eventually became popular for outdoor garden railways as well.

The most popular scale model railroad in the world is ‘HO scale,’ with the HO standing for ‘Half O’ because it is half the size of O scale railroads. There is a huge selection of kits, parts, locomotives and accessories for HO scale trains. One reason this scale is so popular is that it is one of the most affordable. O scale model trains tend to be proportionally more expensive.

Part of the fun of model railway track plans is that you can gradually add to them over the years: cars, locomotives, scenery such as trees, even papier maché mountains with tunnels are reasonably-sized projects for HO scale model trains. Another advantage of using such a popular scale layout is that you’ll have an easier time purchasing secondhand accessories, and if you join a model railway club, you will probably meet plenty of enthusiasts who also have HO scale trains.

Making model railway track plans is an activity that school-aged children, their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents can all enjoy.

Ultimate Guide to Model Railway Scenery – Part 1

A model railway without scenery is like a dog without fur. You need to learn how use scenery before you can ever hope to master the art of creating awesome train layouts.

This model railway scenery ultimate guide will show you how scenery can be used effectively for any model train layout.

Railway scenery can be split into two main categories.

1. Handmade

2. Bought

1. Handmade or built scenery is the cheapest option and for some types of model scenery it is also the only option (hills, rivers, rocks’¦etc) Handmade scenery can be very tricky to create properly and many railway beginners can end up with a lot of mess. We recommend getting solid advice before embarking on a large scenery project.

2. Bought or shop purchased model scenery is an option for people who higher budgets. A good quality finish is sometimes easy to achieve with bought scenery but it can start to get expensive.

Track Ballast scenery

Track ballast is the most important aspect of nearly every model railway train layout that your are likely to build. The ballast is the rocks/stones that are used under the tracks to add drainage and flexibility to the rail track.

A badly constructed ballast scenery can make even the most interesting train layout look amateur.

We have three possible options when it comes to creating ballast for our model railway:

1. Ballast Scatter

  • Paint the board a similar colour to your ballast
  • Next you literally scatter a mix of glue all over the board
  • Now Scatter the board liberally with your bag of model ballast and give it time to dry

2. Ballast Scatter Mat

  • You just buy a ballast mat from your local model train shop or ebay and then cut it to size and cover your board

Ballast scatter mats do not look as realist as homemade scatter as it looks too neat and tidy. Do you notice perfect ballast on your local train line?

3. Ballast Sponge Overlay

  • This stuff is a sponge material that already has ballast particles and is laid under your track. Not as realist as the other options but is very quick to install.

Model Hill Scenery

The next most important element of model scenery is the hills. Even intricate train layouts look flat and lifeless without the inclusion of gradient.

We have two main options when it comes to using hill scenery within your model railway layout.

1. Paper Mache

  • Very cheap to buy, you only need newspaper, water and glue.
  • Can be really fun and you can get the kids to join in with you

2. Modelling Rock

  • Relatively expensive and requires far more adult supervision
  • Tricky to get started on
  • Requires the use of a chicken wire frame and then you add the plaster impregnated fabric on top of this.

3. Polystyrene/Styrofoam

  • Very easy to create large hills with
  • A lot less messier than the other two options
  • Still very cheap and only just requires a little Polly fill to smooth the surfaces.

Update in the next few days to include: trees, rock faces, tarmac, buildings and bridges!

Choosing Your Model Train Scale

When designing your model railway layout, one of the first things to consider is determining which model train scale you’ll want to use.

Scale is the term used to identify the actual measurement of the model compared to its prototype. Your scale will determine the overall layout of your model railway, among other things.

Scale affects model railway layouts because it ultimately determines how big the train set will be, how much money can be devoted to your hobby, and whether you have the patience or the dexterity to detail with very small trains.

Luckily, there are quite a few options when it comes to selecting your model train scale.

Some of the more popular model train scales include:

  • O Scale ‘“ O Scale is usually used for general toy trains. This classic scale has been used by the Lionel Train Company since its inception. If you have younger children who enjoy the thrill of an impressive locomotive, or if your children are helping you construct your model railway, then an O scale may best suit your needs.

Most O scale trains run on AC current and feature standard, three-rail tracks. Because of their larger size, the scenery of O scale model railways layouts tend to be much smaller than the train, but this is usually not a problem for novice model railway train enthusiasts.

You can also find a nice variety of accessories when using O scale, which may make the process of building a model railway a bit more fun.

S Scale

  • S scale model trains are reminiscent of days past, so many baby boomers of today enjoy using S scale because it reminds them of the trains from their youth.

Although not as popular as the O scale model railways, you can certainly still find a nice selection of S scale accessories for different types of model railway layouts.

HO Scale

  • HO Scale – If you are new to mode railroading, then you will have likely already seen HO scale train sets.

HO scale offers model train builders the best of both worlds when working with model railway layouts. This is because it’s large enough to work with easily, and small enough to fit on a reasonably sized platform.

If you are looking for a scale that offers a huge variety of accessories and supplies, then look no further than the HO scale.

Z Scale

  • Z Scale ‘“ If you have a passion for model railways, but standard model railway layouts take up too much space, then consider the intricate Z scale.

Your ability to manipulate and maneuver the accessories and equipment of a Z scale may prove challenging, but it sure does make a fantastic accessory in your den or office.

The super-small Z scale is surely the most complex in terms of model railway layouts, but it can provide you with the opportunity to become a model railway builder, even if your space is at a minimum.

Choosing your model train scale first when deciding upon your model railway’s layout is the easiest way to get your train up and running. With a bit of forethought regarding your needs and desires, you can be showing off your model train sooner than you think!

Model Railway Locomotives

I have been modeling for almost 20 years now. This is what I think of the current state of locomotives:

Bachmann Spectrum Steam

– I bought two 2-8-0 Consolidations. These are decent runners, granted I am not to crazy about the cogged rubber band gear drive, but I have not had any problems with them.

Bachmann Spectrum Diesels

– The old adage “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”. I have been fooled twice so shame on me. About 15 years ago I bought two Bachmann Spectrum GP35s. They both screamed right out of the box. I took them back to my local hobby shop and exchanged them for two Proto 2000 GP18s, which still run today on my layout. A couple of years later I bought a Bachman Plus B23-7. I got it home it would not run, I took it back to LHS and exchanged it for one that did. After a few hours it started to scream. I don’t care if Tony Koester, Alan McClelland, or any other famous modeler came back and told me the new Bachmann Diesels are great, I WILL NEVER BUY ANOTHER BACHMANN SPECTRUM DIESEL!!!


Three categories, the old Atlas with the Roco drives are crap. The Atlas with the Kato Drives are excellent. The Atlas locomotives with the Chinese drive built with the Kato Designed motor are just as good. I have no problem laying down hard earned money for an Atlas.


I love Kato. I have four. I have two SD45’s and two SD80macs. The Kato drives are consistent. Right out of the box I put my 80macs, and SD45 together in a consist. There speed is matched perfectly, not one locomotive pushed or pulled faster than the other. My only beef with Kato is with my eyes and not so nimble fingers. I think I counted close to 80 separately applied pieces to the 80mac. This included the antennas, grab irons, handrails, windshield wipers, brake cylinders and lines, couplers and separately applied individual air hoses. I believe I spent about 3-4 hours on each locomotive applying all those parts. Fortunately Kato supplied extra parts. Some manufacturers will supply any extra spares in case a grab iron goes flying through the air.

Proto 2000:

Great runners, if you are running straight DC you can have them running on your layout in the amount of time it takes to put on the couplers. If you are running DCC, you may spend an amount of time trying to figure out how to get the shell off, only to find there is one almost inaccessible screw that has to be undone to finally get the shell off. This screw is sometimes hidden by a truck.

Athearn RTR and Old Blue Box:

I ran the crap out of my old blue box Athearns. I have since updated some with Helix Humper motors, when I converted to DCC and they continue to soldier on. I knew this one hobby shop owner who had an Athearn running the display train everyday he was opened. He told me it was on its 5th or 6th year and probably had over 10,000 hours on it. He just lightly lubes periodically. I have since bought 3 Athearn RTR units. Two SD45’s and an SD40. I have no complaints so far.

Athearn Genesis, Steam and Diesel.

I bought an Genesis 2-8-2. It is sitting on my to-do shelf where it needs more weight in the front to keep it from derailing everytime it goes over a switch.

I have an Athearn Genesis SD60i. It is nice looking and runs nice. However, I will not take it out to run on my modular group’s layout or to a club. The detail is just too fine and delicate to put up with packing and
unpacking it. I will say this about the sound units. I do not like the MRC sound decoders, I have known too many people who have had some issues with them. For my SD60i I put in a Lok-Sound decoder and it is really nice. I also am planning to put a Lok-Sound into one of my SD45 rtr models.

Broadway Limited.

I have two SD40-2 Diesels that run like charms, these are equipped with QSI factory installed decoders. They are my favorite locomotives to run and I take them to shows and my old clubs open house. Broadway Limited Steam. I have three steamers. The only one I had problem with was the N&W A class steamer. I had to send it back to Broadway on two separate occasions.

One was warranty covered, the other time was out of warranty and it might have partly been my
fault. Both times within a week after they received it Broadway, fixed and had it back to me. One time I shipped it out on a Friday and had it back on my layout running on the very next Thursday night, six days! Their service guy even sent even called me to discuss what was going on. I also have a Precision Craft Models (associated with Broadway Limited), steamer. No problems with that unit. My only complaint with Broadway is that they announce a product and you have to wait forever until it shows up. For example, they announced the SD40-2 high hood back in the fall of 2006 and then kept pushing back the date. Their website now says it will be March 2009.

Model Railway Layouts

Before you start to build any model railway you need to decide on what model railway layout you are going to use.

I am going to offer a number of resources that will help you to design and build the perfect model railway layout.

First things first you need to beg, steal or buy a copy of “Model Railroad Bridges & Trestles: A Guide to Designing and Building Bridges for Your Layout (Model Railroad Handbook, No 33)” as this book will teach you how to plan your layout from start to finish with clear diagrams and descriptions.

If your budget stretches, I would also look at getting a copy of “Railway Modelling: The complete guide”, which is a hardback book that will offer help and advice for all aspects of model railway building.

Starting out there are three main railway layouts to choose from:

1. Oval model railway layout:

This is your basic layout that most people start with when they buy a model train starter kit.


  • Cheap and easy to set up
  • Trains can run continuously without a change of direction


  • Not very realistic (how many oval railway layouts do you see in real life?)
  • Train can look like its chasing its own tail

2. Covered Oval Model Railway Layout

This is the most popular railway layout used and is very similar to the oval layout but this time a part of the track is covered.


  • Looks more realistic than oval


  • Can cost a lot more as more scenery is required

3. Straight model railway Layout

This railway layout is used to set a scene and is just a straight length of track that ends at both sides of the baseboard.


  • Very realistic
  • Does not use much space


  • Requires skills to change train direction
  • More difficult to manage

You need to choose a model railway layout that fits your needs. If this is your first layout – keep it small, you can alway add extra track later!

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