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Model Railroad Figures

Figures add realism to every layout. Railroads, industries, and businesses exist to serve people. Many modelers take great pains to add fine detailing and proper finishes to structures, scenes, and equipment. But why put them in a deserted scene? Figures bring layout scenes to life and remind us that people, pets in neighborhoods. And wild animals in forests and deserts are all part of the model railroad landscape.

John Allen

John Allen made his figures by adding candle wax over a wire armature and then carving it to shape. Most military modelers (NOT wargamers!) use Milliput (now available from Micro-Mark) to make some of the best miniatures. The low-temp clay found in craft stores works well too. You can make your own figures too by pouring molten soft metal into molds. A lot of people don’t like fooling with it because it contains lead and it’s easy to get burned if you’re not careful.

If and after the casting process the figures are detail painted, they look factory made. You could create miniatures using the lost-wax method. Carve a figure out of wax, then cast it in a mold, melt out the wax, and add molten metal. There are several low-temperature metals that can be used for casting–the Micro-Mark carries several that can be melted on a conventional stove. But, really, the only reason to make your own figures is that you have a dire need to occupy your time. Miniatures aren’t cheap, but unpainted ones aren’t that expensive. And even if you need to modify and paint a miniature. It’s a lot less work and eyestrain than making your own from scratch.

Model Railroad Figures

Making figures would be a daunting task at least. Even some very skilled modelers have ended up with figures that looked like they were made at playschool. I have seen 2 figures handmade and could hardly keep from bursting out loud. Luckily the makers agreed how bad they were. Most modelers proceed with purchasing good figures and spend time on painting them properly and according to your taste.


  • HO scale figures range between 0.7 and 0.82 inches tall depending on the height of the modelled person. HO is based on 1:87 scale – which means a 6′ tall person would be 72 inches divided by 87 inches – or approximately .8278 inches.
  • scale is not as precise – it can be 1:43, 1:45 or 1:50 meaning that a 6′ tall person would be 72″ divided by 43, 45, or 50 – giving you the equivalent height of the model.

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Christmas Layout

What could be more fun to work on during the Thanksgiving Holiday than a Christmas layout scene, complete with railroad station, church, Christmas tree salesman, and a little town, complete with gazebo and town Christmas tree?

The steps below provide a guide to building your own Christmas layout;

Step 1:

Village Base: your village base can be made of pressed wood. I’m not sure a base is absolutely necessary, but I do think it gives a stable base to the train tracks and provides the means to get electrical chords out of the way. You might need to make it smaller to fit your space.

Step 2:

Village Board 2: you may cut your board in half and join with hinges. This makes storage and moving it about the house a lot easier. Once the board is down cover it with white felt. This is just a base layer of white for the whole village. You will be walking and crawling on this felt while you decorate your tree and construct the rest of the village. Once the board is down and covered, cut a hole in the felt at one of the holes in the board and place a power strip on the board with the cord going through the felt through the hole, under the board to a power outlet.

Step 3:

The Stand: On the board, next place a stand. The stand provides the tunnel for the train to go through and creates visual variety. The stand is also made of pressed wood. Simply cut two pieces of wood (approximately 2 feet by 8 inches) and cut notches in the center of each. This allows them to be joined together and is a very stable base. Whatever size you decide for your stand, the higher you make it, the wider it should be. Tall and skinny is a recipe for disaster.

Step 4:

Place and Decorate Your Tree: Once the stand is in place it is time to place and decorate your tree. Don’t do anything else until it’s decorated, and don’t forget the put the star or angel on top. It’s very difficult to put it on later once the village is finished.

Step 5:

Laying the Track: Now lay the train track. I don’t always lay the track all the way around at this point, but I at least lay it in the tunnel (under the stand) and behind the tree. The rest can be done later.

Step 6:

Placing Risers: I use legal books as my village risers. The risers allow me to create hills and valleys for the buildings to be on or in front of. Cinder blocks, bricks, boxes, or anything could be used for the risers. The legal books I use are decorative books on our shelves for the rest of the year. At Christmas, they come down and are used in the village, and Christmas decorations go on the shelves, so it’s a great solution for us.

Step 7:

Placing Buildings: After you have your risers where you think you like them, start placing your buildings. Here you are testing your layout to see how it looks. You may have to switch out books because they make certain buildings too high or too low. You may end up moving books because it just doesn’t look like you visualized. This is your testing phase and it’s the time to make your major changes. Once you lay down your cover felt, it’s difficult to move books around and make design changes.

Step 8:

Cover Felt and Replacing of Buildings: After you have the placements right, take everything off the risers and lay down your cover felt. The cover felt will be the main floor of the village that people will actually see. It will help you make the hills and valleys out of the risers and it will help hide the electrical cords. After you have the cover felt generally in place, start putting the buildings back where you had them.

Fluff the cover felt to make it look natural. Avoid hard edges. After it looks how you want it to start laying the cords. Cut the cover felt and snake the lighting cords underneath to your power strip. I’ve switched to the multi-light cords verses the single light chords that come in with the buildings. This allows me to light more buildings with fewer outlets and allows fewer cuts in the cover felt but does hinder building placement as the lights are a set distance apart.

Step 9:

Figurines and Finishing: Last is placing the figurines and scenery. This is mostly people and trees, but can also include bridges, fire hydrants, benches, Christmas tree farms, city lights, etc. The most important of these are trees. Add different types of trees. They add variety, scale, and depth to the village. I don’t think you should overdo using people figurines. In my opinion, the people are best when they are slightly noticed, verse jumping out at you. I use them to soften the landscape, not to populate the village.

After all your figurines are placed there is one last important step. Fake snow. The little bags of snow sold at craft stores. I resisted paying for the snow for a couple of years, and then one year I broke down and bought some. What a difference it makes! The fake snow is like the magic you sprinkle on at the end. A thin sprinkling is all that is needed, but put it everywhere; on the buildings, on the people, trees, etc. It really seems to make the overall village look better.

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Choosing Switch Machines

Choosing Switch Machines from lots of different types of electrical switches can be used in wiring your model railroad.

Lots of different types of electrical switches can be used in wiring your model railroad. It can often be quite confusing trying to decide what kind of switch to use when. For example, what is the difference among the SPST, DPST, SPDT or DPDT varieties? What do all those letters mean? Many modelers like to use the Atlas switches for their control panels to try to simplify the process, but even these are confusing sometimes. How do you know when to use the Atlas Selector, Connector, Twin and Relay Switches?

Single Pole (SP) vs. Double Pole (DP): The difference between single pole and double pole electrical switches is the number of items that the switch can control. If you use a single pole switch, it will control one accessory. A double pole switch can control 2 accessories.

Single Throw (ST) vs. Double Throw (DT): -The single throw electrical switch is an “on-off” type switch. One flip of the switch turns the light on, Flip the switch the other way and it turns off.

-A double throw switch is an “either-or” type switch. You have either one light on or another but not both. Or you have either one section of track powered on or another but not both at the same time. In other words, if you flip the switch one-way, Light A comes on and Light B goes off. Flip it the other way, Light B comes on and A goes off.


SPST – Turns one light (or track) on or off.

DPST – Turns two separate things on or off using one switch.

SPDT – One way turns A on and B off. Flip the switch to turn B on and A off.

DPDT – One way turns 2 things on and 2 other things off. The other way reverses this. This can be used to control track polarity of an isolated section of track. One way turns Rail A positive and Rail B negative. The other way turns B positive and A negative.


Layout Preparation for Choosing Switch Machines

Switch machines are generally designed to mount under the layout with the spring wire transmitting the linear motion through the layout board and roadbed to the turnout throwbar.    Turnouts should be checked for free movement of the points and a clear area under the layout for mounting the machine.  Although the switch machines are extremely forgiving in mounting, a turnout that binds will still not switch smoothly.  It will be necessary to provide a hole or slot directly under the throwbar.  This hole is typically located between the rails, but may be outside the rails, if desired.

The size of this hole should equal twice the total turnout throw (1/4” works well for HO and S).  In addition, a small hole will have to be drilled in the throwbar for the spring wire to pass through.  Some turnouts have a rivet in the throwbar which can be used for this purpose. Next determine the total thickness of the roadbed and board and mark the 1/4” bit with tape or use a drill stop.  Then, using the pilot hole as a guide, drill up through the base and roadbed, being extremely careful not to break through and destroy the throwbar.  It may be possible to flex the throwbar away from the roadbed slightly to help prevent this.  Finally, use a hobby knife to remove any remaining roadbed and to clean up the hole.

Choosing Switch Machines

Choosing Switch Machines Preparation (Tortoise)

The spring wire which is usually provided with the switch machine is suitable for layouts having a total roadbed/baseboard thickness of one inch or less.  If your layout thickness is greater than 1”, you will have to substitute a suitable length of .025” spring wire for the one provided.    If greater tension on the points is desired (for O Scale and larger), you may substitute a heavier gauge wire.  The output arm will have to be drilled out with a suitable diameter bit held in a pin vise. Do not use a power drill!

  1. Prepare the spring wire by gripping it with pliers 1/8” from one end and make a sharp 75-80 degree (nearly right angle) bend. At a point 3/4” away from the initial bend, make an additional 15-degree bend in line with the first.  Figure 1 is full size and may be used as a guide.
  2. Using a #1 Phillips screwdriver, carefully thread the small Philips head retaining screw into the large hole in the throw arm.  Do not push any harder than necessary on the arm!    After the screw bottoms out, remove it.    It will be reinstalled after the switch machine is mounted.
  3. Slide the fulcrum into the fulcrum rails on the front face of the switch machine so that the larger openings of the tapered pivot holes face the bottom.


Cut out the template and use a punch or hobby knife to make a hole in the center of the large black dot.  The switch machine can be mounted off centerline if necessary for special clearance applications, in which case one of the two dotted alternate circles should be used.    (This changes the geometry of the spring wire, though.)    Also, Tape the template to the underside of the layout with the hole you just made centered over the 1/4” hole previously bored through the layout.  NOTE:  The large arrow should be parallel to the rails.  Drill pilot holes for #4 wood or sheet metal screws at the four points indicated (3/32” or #42 drill bit).  Remove the template and fasten the switch machine to the layout with #4 x 1/2” wood or sheet metal screws.  The hole in the fulcrum should be centered directly under the hole in the layout.

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Choosing Roadbed & Rail

Choosing Roadbed & Rail is the start to make your perfect layout on a good start. Then you need the best ballast from ARMballast.

Choosing Your Roadbed

Once you are satisfied with your model railroad track arrangement, you can start gluing down roadbed, working on one section at a time. The roadbed is commercially available as cork or foam and is manufactured in various scales in 36” strips. It can be separated down the middle into 2 long strips. When you are sure of the proper placement of a section of your model railroad track, you can make dots on the sub roadbed between the track ties with a felt-tipped pen.

Then lift the track off the layout, and glue down one of the ½ strips with the inner edge lined up along the dots. (The beveled edge of the strip is the outer edge.) Then glue the other half of the strip lining it up along the inner edge of the first ½ strip. After you’ve glued down 1 or 2 sections of roadbed, you can then set the track back down on top of the roadbed.

Choosing roadbed base

Modelers use plywood on home layouts, as well as foam for portable layouts, both work well. Under the track, some use laminate flooring underlay. This paper-based product is cheaper than homasote, cuts easily with a knife, and is about ballast thickness for HO. Lay it right across the track area and then cut it to the correct profile after the track has been laid. It is not affected by soaking with dilute PVA for gluing ballast. This has shown to have no effect when soaked in water. Seal the top surface with cheap acrylic varnish as I find it holds spikes better.

You also have many choices for your roadbed. Some tracks, like Bachmann EZ Track, comes with an attached roadbed which you can mount directly to your sub roadbed. Other manufacturers offer similar products. You can use Homasote. This a time-honored way to build a layout but there are misgivings about it. Homasote expands and contracts quite a bit as seasonal humidity levels change. That can make for major problems with your track because the metal rails and plastic ties move very little. Cork is much more dimensionally stable, inexpensive, and easy to use. I suggest that you give cork some serious consideration. There is a similar plastic product (expanded vinyl). Modelers who have used expanded vinyl wallpaper have found it to be exceedingly easy-to-use, attractive, and durable.

Roll-out Sticky Roadbed

There’s also a roll-out sticky roadbed. It’s relatively thin so it won’t look like high iron but it will hold itself and your track in place. You can get away without ballasting (the rock, cinders, etc. which holds the track in place on 12 inches to the foot railroads) some model railroad tracks, like cork or the ones which already have plastic ballast or something just for children who won’t care as long as the trains go at light speed. However, you MUST ballast the sticky stuff because anything else which touches it will stick to it and that will lead to a cruddy-looking railroad. The other ways of doing roadbed (plastic, cork, homasote) should be ballasted for appearance. Yes, that applies to the roadbed attached trackage, too.

Choosing Roadbed & Rail

Choosing Rail – Track

A question that always comes up first is – What type of model train track should I use? There are several different brands and sizes available. Mostly what you use is a personal preference. One thing to remember is that the size of the rails is reported as the code. For example, the code 83 model railroad track has larger rails than the code 55 track. The smaller rails are often used for branch lines and the larger codes are for mainlines. This is often the way they appear in the prototype (real life), so you can simulate that on your layout if you wish.

A caveat to this is that you have to make sure that when you make the transition between different codes on the same layout, you have to line up the rails properly so there won’t be any derailments. You may have to use small pieces of wood underneath the railroad ties on the adjoining end of the code 55 track so that the rails of the code 55 track will line up properly with those of the code 83 track. Also, another point to remember is that sometimes branch lines may not have much roadbed, if any, under the track while mainlines almost always do.

The model railroad track is sold as sectional track, i.e., small sections of either straight track or curved track that come in 2-3 different standard radii, or as flex track, a very flexible 3 ft piece of track that can be curved to whatever radius you want. Sectional track, but not flex-track, can also be purchased with roadbed attached. Some model tracks have more realistic appearing railroad ties than others

More info

Many brands have black ties that are far apart. These are probably less realistic than the ones that are brown or gray and are closer together. Of course, hand-laid track ties are probably the most realistic. Also, the ties can always be painted to look more realistic. Varying the shade of color of the ties is always more realistic than having them all be exactly the same color. This would be tedious and probably not really that noticeable in the smaller scales, but it would make more of a difference in the larger scales.

Modelers generally use the sectional track for the most part (without the attached roadbed) in places where the straight track is required, and when curves with the standard radii are needed. However, flex-track is better if you need curves with nonstandard radii, or if you are making s-shaped curves. Many model railroaders use flex-track for the whole layout except for the turnouts. One note of caution when making s-shaped curves is that you should always have at least one car-length of straight track between the 2 curves. Otherwise, you will likely have derailments.

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Model Railroad Cars

Model Railroad Cars includes freight cars, passenger cars, maintenance of way cars, cabooses, and cable cars.


A “Car” is just about anything that runs on rails. This includes

  1. freight cars
  2. passenger cars
  3. maintenance of way cars (including equipment such as cranes)
  4. cabooses
  5. cable cars
  6. unpowered (dummy) locomotives, etc.

Everyone knows that a railroad takes cars from one place to another.  But why?  Well, to deliver cars to industries and manufacturing plants.  But why?  So those industries can have the supplies they need to make the products they make, and also to ship the finished products to places that need them.  That is why we put buildings and industries on our layouts that have sidings next to them.  We all know these things, right?  But how many of us realize how this is actually done.  Sure, we make up trains with cars and take them to our sidings and drop them off, picking up other cars as we go.  But so far, we have no real purpose in mind. 

We are just doing it because we are so-o-o bored with running trains in circles. True operations are more fun with two or more people.  One person runs one train while the other person runs another train.  A computer program like RailOp, Pro-Track, Ship-It, or JMRI Ops makes running by yourself more interesting. Because the computer picks the cars for the train. Picks what cars are to be set out before the train departs.  It is no longer a matter of getting the train to the industry. Then asking yourself “what cars do I want to set out here”.  The Manifest tells you, and you have to work the puzzle with your locomotive to get them there.  If the tracks are in place for good operations, solving the puzzle is easy.  If the tracks are not there, the puzzle becomes harder, but can still be done.

Model Railroad Cars - ARMballast


If you’re new to model railroad operation you may not be familiar with the basic switching moves for picking up and setting out cars and assembling trains.

Trailing, facing, and running around: “Trailing point” turnouts and spur tracks are those you can back an engine and cars into from your current direction of travel­. “Facing point” turnouts and spurs are those your engine can head into without changing direction. You can easily pull a car from a facing point spur using the engine’s front coupler. But it comes out in front of the ­engine. Cars behind the engine can’t be put into the facing point spur without a momentum maneuver called a “drop” or a “flying switch”. That’s impractical with small-scale model trains.

Skip the runaround:

Running around can be time-consuming. Crews on the big roads prefer to avoid it if they can. Besides the momentum tricks that we can’t copy (and which now are generally prohibited by rule). You can avoid running around by only working trailing point spurs. If local trains work in both directions on a given line. They might do only trailing-point work. They leave cars for facing-point spurs on ­double-ended storage tracks for the ­other ­local to pick up and set out. This was a common practice in the steam era.

The long shove: Rookies may still be challenged when cars have to be placed at two or more spots along a single spur. There may be several different industries. Or several spots at one large plant, but the task is the same in either case. Here’s a plan that usually works; First, line up the cars to be set out in the order in which they’re to be placed on the spur – any convenient spur lets you sort a string of cars into any desired order. Then keep those cars to be set out next to the engine while you pull all the cars from the spur and set them over with the rest of the train.


Real railroads move cars, people, and goods from Point A to Point B. So why do many model train layouts make them run endlessly in circles? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the view of a passing train. But if you want to increase your railroad’s action, the easiest way is with operations that match the prototype. Waybills are forms used on railroads to help route each car from its point of origin to its destination. They ensure that the loaded car will arrive safely in the right place at the right time and be handled properly along the way.

Good railroad operations also mean getting the empty car to its next loading point as quickly as possible. Picking up, moving, sorting, and delivering thousands of cars from hundreds of shippers is a daunting task. Railroads employ armies of workers to not only move the cars but track them and coordinate operations for the most efficient shipments. Fortunately, model layouts are much smaller, the destinations fewer, and the customers less demanding than the prototypes.

Even though there may not be a profit to be had by improving your operations, replicating the prototype processes of moving cars with a purpose can add a lot of fun to your layout. In order to keep this work fun, most model waybill systems are designed to replicate prototypical car movement with the least amount of paperwork possible. There are several systems out there, and even some commercially printed forms that you can purchase and use. Others have developed their own methods. Whether you use prepackaged forms or come up with your own, adding a waybill system to your layout will revolutionize the way you look at the hobby.

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Model Railroad Passenger Cars

Model Railroad Passenger Sleepers Coach Articulated Dining and Lounge Cars are rolling stock that is designed to carry passengers.

A passenger car is a piece of railway rolling stock that is designed to carry passengers. Up until about the end of the 19th century, most passenger cars were constructed of wood. The first passenger trains did not travel very far. But they were able to haul many more passengers for a longer distance than any wagons pulled by horses. As railways were first constructed in England, so too were the first passenger cars. One of the early coach designs was the “Stanhope”. It featured a roof and small holes in the floor for drainage when it rained. It had separate compartments for different classes of travel. The only problem with this design is that the passengers were expected to stand for their entire trip. The first passenger cars in the United States resembled stagecoaches. They were short, often less than 10 ft (3.05 m) long, and had two axles.

The 1930’s Model Railroad Passenger Cars

Many American passenger trains, particularly the long-distance ones. They included a car at the end of the train called an observation car. Until about the 1930s, these had an open-air platform at the rear, the “observation platform”. These evolved into the closed-end car, usually with a rounded end which was still called an “observation car”. The interiors of observation cars varied. Many had special chairs and tables. The end platforms of all passenger cars changed around the turn of the 20th century. Older cars had open platforms between cars.

Passengers would enter and leave a car through a door at the end of the car which led to a narrow platform. Steps on either side of the platform were used for getting on or off the train. One might hope from one car platform to another. Later cars had enclosed platforms called vestibules which together with gangway connections allowed passengers not only to enter and exit the train protected from the elements. Also to move more easily between cars with the same protection.


Starting in the 1950s, the passenger travel market declined in North America, though there was growth in commuter rail. Private intercity passenger service in the U.S. mostly ended with the creation of Amtrak in 1971. Amtrak took over equipment and stations from most of the railroads in the U.S. with intercity service. Amtrak began to push the development of U.S.-designed passenger equipment even when the market demand didn’t support it. Ordering a number of new passenger locomotive and car types in the 1980s and 1990s. However, by the year 2000 Amtrak went to European manufacturers for the Amtrak Cascades (Talgo) and Acela Express trains, their premier services. These trains use new designs and are made to operate as coherent “trainsets”.


TYPES of Model Railroad Passenger Cars


The coach is the most basic type of passenger car, also sometimes referred to as “chair cars”. In one variant, an “open coach” has a central aisle; the car’s interior is often filled with row upon row of seats as in a passenger airliner. Other arrangements of the “open” type are also found, including seats around tables. Seats facing the aisle (often found on mass transit trains since they increase standing room for rush hour), and variations of all three.


Often called “sleepers” or “Pullman cars” (after the main American operator), these cars provide sleeping arrangements for passengers traveling at night. Early models were divided into sections, where coach seating converted at night into semi-private berths. More modern interiors are normally partitioned into separate bedroom compartments for passengers.

Articulated car

Articulated cars have a number of advantages. They save on the total number of wheels and trucks, reducing costs and maintenance expenses. Further, movement between cars is safer and easier than with traditional designs. Finally, it is possible to implement tilting schemes such as the Talgo design which allows the train to lean into curves.

Dining cars

A dining car (or diner) is used to serve meals to the passengers. Its interior may be split with a portion of the interior partitioned off for a galley, which is off-limits to passengers. A narrow hallway is left between the galley and one sidewall of the car for passengers to use. The remainder of the interior is laid out with tables and chairs to look like a long, narrow restaurant dining room. There is special personnel to perform waitstaff and kitchen duties.

Lounge Cars

Lounge cars carry a bar and public seating. They usually have benches, armchairs, or large swiveling chairs along the sides of the car. They often have small tables for drinks or maybe large enough to play cards. Some lounge cars include small pianos and are staffed by contracted musicians to entertain the passengers.

Self-propelled cars

These vehicles usually carry motive power in each individual unit. Trams, light rail vehicles, and subways have been widely constructed in urban areas throughout the world since the late 19th century.

Passenger Cars For Your Layout

Most of the cars may tell you they can go around 22-inch radius curves but experts recommend nothing less than 24 inches because the cars overhang the track by a little bit that the rails actually stick out beyond the edge of the car which creates clearance problems in your layout and also gives a ‘funny’ look to your layout. It will create conditions that you will never see on a track in the real world.

If you have a small layout with tight curves, running passenger cars can be difficult and therefore try to use the broadest curves possible especially if you are running long equipment such as long passenger or freight cars. Keep in mind that some of the long-distance trains can be 11 to 13 cars long plus they may have some the locomotives and therefore If you are running a small layout and you want passenger service, you may want to look into an RDC or run a mixed train with a combine.

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Design Model Railroad Layout starts by choosing a scale track for operating trains. Your layout size is what every you can get away with.

A layout in model railroading is a diorama containing scale track for operating trains. The scale of a layout varies from the size of shelves to design that occupy entire rooms. Once you’ve decided to begin designing your model railroad layout. It becomes important that you first develop a plan on how to proceed.


An important part of designing your model railroad is decision making and best belief. There are several choices to make when designing your model railroad. Do you want to freelance the railroad or copy a prototype?  What kinds of equipment (locomotives and cars) do you want to run?  You may want to add your own rules like what you want the height of the layout to be. How wide the aisles should be if you have aisles. You may want to make sure that all areas of the railroad have easy access. So you’re not having to break your back bending over or stand on a ladder or scaffolding to reach the farther sections of your track and scenery. 


If you are creating this railroad by yourself, you may want to start with a small layout and add to it later gradually.  Or, you could plan for a large model railroad layout, but then just build and complete small sections of it at a time.  Or, get all the track and trains up and running and then approach the scenery gradually.  You have to realize at the outset that if you are planning a large, room-sized layout, and if you still have to earn a living out in the real world, which means you may not have a lot of time to work on it, your model railroad may take a few years to “complete”.

Once you have answered these basic questions, then you can begin with your layout. Next is the track plan. You can either use a track plan that has been published or design your own original plan. Whichever it is, always keep the theme and function as well as the end goal of your railroad in mind as you draw out your plans. Ensure that the model railroad layout room is a nice place for you to work and in good conditions of lighting, air-conditioning, and absence of pests and critters.


Building Designer Model Railroad Layout

Listed below is a step-by-step guide on how to design your own model railroad layout:

1-Build the Benchwork

There is a lot of ways to build your benchwork. Ensure not to build too big of a railroad in limited space. Space is ideal in railroading. You should be able to move around your layout comfortably. Also step back to have a good view and to appreciate your work. You can cover the area under the benchwork with a curtain or with sliding panels.

Make a Backdrop

Your backdrop could be a blue wall in the background. Or you could buy a backdrop scene or even paint one. Ensure that it blends in with your theme. Pictures of your layout should not show your workshop or the cluttered storage area under the layout.

Make a Backdrop

your backdrop could be a blue wall in the background. Or you could buy a backdrop scene or even paint one. Ensure that it blends in with your theme. Pictures of your layout should not show your workshop or the cluttered storage area under the layout.

Draw or loosely layout your track on the benchwork

Visualize where you want your rivers, roads, mountains, and structures to be and mark them on your layout surface. Make cardboard mockups for future structures.

Build the Terrain

Begin to build your terrain and once you’ve got this in place. You can start fastening down the roadbed and track.

Start Laying Track

Make sure you put easements into the curves. Be careful about S-curves, make sure you have enough clearance and radius on your curves to accommodate the longest passenger cars you will be running. Especially if 2 passenger trains will be running close to each other on a double-track curve.  You will need to be thinking about where you will need rail gaps to prevent short circuits for reversing loops and to make isolated blocks if you are going to be wiring for DC.  Make sure the track sections are lined up well at the joints to prevent derailments.

Test and retest your track after laying each section. Solder rail joints where you need to, but not all of them – especially not turnouts in case you need to replace one.  Make sure your turnouts are installed on flat areas only – never on inclines.  Test and retest the turnouts to be sure they work properly and don’t cause derailments.  Use a metal file that was needed to smooth ridges that may cause a wheel to jump or hangup.  Use a track gauge appropriate for your scale to be sure the rails are the right distance apart in all areas.  If you are going to use uncoupling devices, you should know where they will be needed as you put down your track. So you can install them as you go.


now attach feeder wires at every three feet to the bottom or outside of the rails. Many railroaders say this should be done every 6 to 10 feet but this should work just fine as long as the rail-joints are tight. Choose whether to use DC or DCC power and wire. Wiring remote turnouts for your railroad can be a very tedious and difficult task, because there’s a lot of them to do on a large layout. Make a control panel that you will be proud of and that is organized well enough that running your trains will be easy.  Take your time on this.  If you can’t operate your railroad well, you won’t be happy with it.


now it’s time to ass the scenery. This is what makes your model railroad layout realistic. Running trains through forests, valleys, over river trestles, and across mountains, through cities, plains, farmland, and other types of landscapes is really what makes your railroad come alive.  It’s definitely part of the “awesome” factor of any model railroad.  You can do a little at a time, in the beginning, just to give a flavor of the basic scenery and then come back and finish it in greater detail later as you have time. Don’t forget to add roads.  Create little mini-scenes in different sections of your layout to make things interesting.  Add a little humor to your scenes when you can.

Add structures

As time progresses, add structures. Designing model kits can be tedious and time-consuming but also very rewarding if you take your time to do them right. If you have a need for a building for which there is no kit, you may want to consider kitbashing or scratch building your model.  Make sure the structures you have chosen are appropriate for the era, locale, and theme. Pick your industries so that they make sense for the railroad in transporting goods from one place to another.

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Resurrection of a Mantua Mikado

This was purchased brand new as a kit about thirty years ago. It was an operational disappointment because the tender brass wheels got dirty with one trip around the layout. Lucky for it, I came across nickel silver wheels for the tender and now it works like a charm. The fake coal load was cut out of the tender so I could fill it with real coal from my Campbell operating coal tower. Three ounces of lead in the rear of the tender improved the wheel to track conductivity. Towing 14 steam era reefer’s is now a piece of cake. Pieces and parts arrived from a company called, yardbird classic trains to trick out this engine like the late John Allen’s engine #42


While I was waiting for some parts to come in, I scratch built a tool rack for the ash pit. Durango Press (JL Innovative Design) makes this as a kit, but I learned to make most of my own parts to build it. The fake cast on piping from the sand dome and “cast on” sand dome was ground away from the boiler. That big tank in front of the boiler was scratch built. Half of the cab window was cut out for the fireman to stick his arm out. The Westinghouse pilot, Berkshire sand dome, whistle, jewel markers, new brass bell, and other piping details have been installed. Most of the parts were from a basic detail kit that includes details for the Mikado “long haul” tender. The foreground track host the ash pit and wash rack. I used the “N” scale 1031 Black cinder, 1151 Basalt ballast, and 1011 Red Cinder ballast mixed for the effect of mining stamp sand at the left-center of the picture. It looked like this for thirty years and ran poorly besides lacking detail.

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Read about engine service yard

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The near siding track is called the “Oil Track” where the petroleum tanks and warehouses are serviced by rail and then trucks on this side. There is only about 8″ of depth to work with and there must be a narrow service road included in the foreground. The storage tanks are by Campbell Scale Models and tanker transport bodies from Sheepscot. The far spur is called “Suydam Siding” with the Swift meatpacking plant at this end. It still needs a cattle pen for unloading those fattened steers. All this will take a while as much scratch building must be done and I have to haul and crush rock for a few days.

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TRAIN ORDERS for El Capitan

A creative thinking station agent can now become a real trickster and raise havoc with the engineers. This was how train crews and agents communicated before the railroads had radios. Such is the case with 1939 El Capitan powered with a “shovel nosed ” E unit and new streamlined cars. The high level all chair cars came latter. Our train order rack has three places to string orders. The bottom is for Brakemen, middle for Conductors and the top for Engineers. I used a piece of cigarette paper tied with thread and attached it to the wye. This could be done with the other lower two but why. They all can be swung out or in as their independent to each other. When an engineer sees orders swung out for hand pickup, the agent has a situation card in a rack on the edge of the layout for him to read. It could read something like this. “Prepare to stop at New River Bridge as track crew is at work”. As a station agent, and you don’t have orders, swing the arm in.

This is a project you have to make for yourself as I don’t think any manufacture has one to sell. A little brass tubing, wire and lamp shade is all you need. The platform and steps were made with wood scraps and Campbell stair stringers.