Look around and decide how much space you have to devote to your model railroad? If you are lucky and have a large basement then the possibilities are endless. If this is your first layout, it is still better to start small and expand as your experience grows. A small room for instance, may limit the size to a 4’x8’ table-top.
What scale do you prefer? This is the number one decision because it is governed by how much space is available and how much you plan to spend. You don’t want the layout expansion bug to bite you and then find yourself with no room left over. HO scale is the most popular size and will provide the widest range of equipment while N scale is the smallest and is gaining in popularity. See the gauge and scale section for a discussion of the different size ratios and scale measurements.
Think about the era you will be modeling. Will it be the steam age, the transition from steam to diesel, the diesel only period, or modern-day? Later on when you begin to build structures and add automobiles and signs to your model railroad you will establish a time period.
If this is your first layout, consider purchasing an inexpensive train set with everything you will need. There are many good manufacturers who sell complete packages containing track, rolling stock, locomotive and controller. These are usually supplied with sectional track which can be snapped together and laid on the floor.
Once you have the train running, start thinking about how you want to expand the operation. If you are completely captivated by this hobby as I was, your next step will be to add a couple of turnouts, more track and possibly some industries to provide revenue. You will also want to mount the entire layout on some sort of benchwork. Now you will start thinking about buildings, roads, automobiles and little people. In other words you are hooked!
If you already have a model railroad and now want to expand or upgrade your operation, you have come to the right place. Your model railroad may be a table top layout which you wish to incorporate into a larger model railroad with mountains and streams. Or perhaps you have a DC layout and want to re-wire it for digital command control. You will find the information to accomplish these and many other tasks in this web site.
Once you have decided where and what, the next step will be to develop a track plan. For inspiration check out some existing model railroad sites, like model-railroad-infoguy on the internet. Just do a search for model railroads in the scale you have chosen. There are also many fine books and magazines, some on specific scales, which will contain photos that are guaranteed to quicken your pulse.
No matter which direction you choose-get stated! It is surprising how many ideas will occur to you once you have a layout constructed and trains running. You will immediately grasp the possibilities of expansion and also feel satisfaction with the accomplishment. Anyhow—it’s just plain fun.