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 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 Train Layout Plans

The near-universal use of the Internet has been a great means for model train enthusiasts to ‘meet’ others and share descriptions and pictures of model train layouts and model train layout plans. Whether you run trains for the fun of making them go through all the twists and turns of track successfully, or whether you have created a replica of a real train line or town, there are plenty of people all over the world who share your vision.

click for bigger version
click for bigger version

Model train layout plans can easily be shared over the Internet. Whether hand-drawn and photographed, or created with the aid of design software, there is an entire world of model train hobbyists sharing their layout plans online, and who are glad to discuss them in chat forums. Making layout plans has come a long way in recent years due to great improvements in computer graphics capabilities.

A simple search on Google using the words model train layout software produces over 2 million matches! You can find professional-level design software, open source software, and free downloads for model train layout design software. (Always remember to be careful who you download software from. Make sure your computer has up-to-date anti-virus software at all times.)

But you don’t have to have software to design model train layouts. After all, people were designing model train routes decades before computers became common enough and powerful enough to help out. And sometimes an idea comes to you when you’re not near a computer and the best you can do is sketch out a rough design on a paper napkin or in a memo book.

Every model train lover has had ideas for layouts that were inspired by unusual things. Creating model train layout plans is an art in itself, whether it is done by hand on paper, or with the assistance of a computer.

H0 Model Trains

H0 model trains are the most popular size/gauge in the world. The scale and gauge used in H0 trains are have the most real scale gauge ratio possible.

H0 model train specifications

  • mm = 16.5
  • scale = 1: 87
  • Scale foot = 3.5ft
  • Preferred radius = 6ft

H0 scale models have the exact size gauge as the UK only OO gauge. This means it is possible to use stock from each gauge on the same track.

The main advantage of H0 model trains is that ready made track and rolling stock is readily available. For beginners H0 model kits are the easiest way to get started with model railway trains.

I would recommend that beginners choose H0 scale model trains and then just ignore the rest. When looking for new trains or track, just look for ‘H0 scale’ as the plethora of scales and gauges can be easily confusing for any beginner.

H0 scale model trains are the most likely gauge that will be stocked by your local shop. Before deciding on a gauge, it’s worth visiting your local model railway shop to find what gauge is the most common.

Having a choice of equipment locally is certainly helpful in the opening phase.

As discussed H0 is model train gauge that is favored in the United States so if you live elsewhere it might be worth checking out OO or N gauge.

If you wish to learn more, its worth checking out our model railway guide:

N Scale Model Trains

it was during the early 1930s that the first sub HO gauges were tested out. N scale models trains were not operational or available commercially until around the early 1970s.

n guage model train size

  • mm = 9
  • scale = 1:160
  • preferred radius = 3ft

The main advantage of using n-scale model train is when you have very limited space. At first most model train enthusiasts would see n-scale model trains as a plan b.

The past decade has seen a revival of n-scale trains with the production of many ready-to-run models.

Now n-scale model trains are used to create layouts that are complex with several stations that allow for different routes.

If your are interested in hand building trains and coaches then this is not the scale for you. N-scale model trains and far too small for the average modeler to create. the benefit for many modelers of n-scale is the ability to create large architectural effects. N-scale model guage is perfect for a rail enthusiasts who enjoys the scenic modeling aspect of model railways.

if you have limited space or want to create a complex layout the n-scale model trains is the option for you.

For more information about n-scale model railway layout creation check out our guide.

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!