Track planning using predetermined layout design specifications.

Layout design is essential when deciding where to put your model railroad. Once you have chosen a scale, it is important to know how much and what will fit in the available space. We decide this by creating a set of standards and a scale drawing. Many modelers start with a simple oval which is what you get in most train sets. This, of course, does not require a lot of planning. Once the decision is made to expand the operation by adding more track or structures however, we must decide how best to fit them in. Most model railroaders want to jam as much track as possible into their space. All of us are guilty of this, but we must do it with proper planning. Many modelers build narrow shelf layouts that provide really interesting operation when they find that they are limited by the available square area. The deciding factor should be your operational desire-what turns you on most about model trains? I remember an article I read many years ago in one of the model railroad magazines entitled “I built my layout for the structures.” Constructed by a scratchbuilder whose greatest enjoyment was building turn-of-the century wooden buildings. The entire layout design consisted of a single loop of track on a 4 x 8 ft. sheet of plywood running through and around a small western town which was the complete scenery. Another beautifully rendered model built in a similar 4 x 8 area consisted of a turntable, roundhouse and complete engine servicing facility with no mainline track. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The point is – given enough thought, an enjoyable design can be developed, and possibly expanded at a later time when more space becomes available.

Design Factors





Although there are many books full of track plans most serious modelers eventually develop their own designs tailored to their individual tastes. Some layouts concentrate on operation and are built with loads of track but a minimum amount of scenery. Others love towering mountains and jagged rock cuts with long curving mainline. Some want both and for this reason most modelers end up creating their own custom track plan. One approach would be to find a published plan that you like and add or modify it to meet your own needs. Track Plans show some basic configurations which gives one a starting point no matter which approach is taken. Be sure to take into consideration the space which will be required for scenery and structures and especially the track clearance and separation needed for curves and tracks which cross over one another. Go to Track Planning for one example of developing a layout design.

I have built several layouts both small and large and no matter how carefully I plan and try to anticipate every problem in my layout design I usually find some discrepancy when the actual construction starts. So far, these have not been disastrous and in some cases actually improved the final product. I have also built sections of a layout that were not at all the way I visualized them when I drew them on paper. I long ago accepted the fact that some re-design in the middle of the building stage may be necessary to achieve the desired result. At some point in almost every layout I would discover a place which begged for a particular scenic feature or structure that I had not previously noticed. Be flexible, don’t be afraid to change or alter any part of your design to suit your own taste.

Other design factors to consider:

What type of rolling stock will your railroad operate?

What type and how many freight yards?


Single or double track mainline?

Hidden staging yard?

Engine servicing facilities?

This is by no means a complete list but hopefully it will kick-start the thinking process of what you would like your railroad to look like. No matter how carefully a track configuration is planned, when the actual construction begins unseen problems may occur. These annoyances can be minimized however, by starting with a solid plan.

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