Planning A Model Train Layout (Part One)

If you’ve arrived at the point where you’ve decided that you would like to become a model railroader and invest the time to plan and build a model train layout, you’ll soon discover that you’ve made a great choice for a hobby.  One of the additional benefits is that this is also a pastime that you can share with your friends and family, but quite frankly it is also much more than that.

This is a hobby that offers more than a temporary experience.  Rather, it is one that is also very fulfilling, educational, and for most model railroading enthusiast will continue throughout their lifetime and, what they’ve created is often handed down from one generation to another.

With that said, however, the biggest challenge that most new model train enthusiast face is the task of planning their layout.  The first and most challenging question that must be answered is where to begin?  Obviously, what you don’t want to occur is to find that your buried in the planning stage, and there are quite a few people who are interested in this pastime who do exactly that.

Clearly, a solid and well thought out and researched plan must be created, and this is then followed by the pro-active step of the layout’s actual construction.  The balance of this article is therefore dedicated to outlining the steps which should be followed to accomplish this goal.

Choosing A Scale

Much has been written about this topic by model railroaders and I have to include myself as well.  There can be quite a few factors which may influence your decision, but the most important relates to the space you have available to actually build your layout.  If the space you have available is limited then the smaller scales such as the N, O, and HO scales are choices which favor smaller areas.

You may even have to consider scales like the TT and Z scales if you’re really tight on space.  The philosophy of at least having something is better than nothing at all may apply here.

With a larger space, you may still want to work with the N, O, or HO scales because these are some of the more popular among hobbyist.  What you may want to do instead is build a layout on a much grander scale.  You may even ultimately decide that you want larger trains, and if this the case, then the G scale train is the scale for you.

As you can see, choosing a scale may not provide the option of being a more desirable personal choice if the space you have is too limited, but at least there is some type of workable solution which will allow the enthusiast to enjoy this rewarding pastime.

Choosing A Location

Having touched on the subject of available space in the previous section, we still have to choose a location which is suitable and one that you will feel comfortable in using.  After all, you’re probably going to spend a great deal of time in this area.  The following is a list of the more common choices for building a model railroad:

  1. Spare Room-If you’re fortunate enough to have a spare room in your home to build your layout this can be an ideal location. Just keep in mind that certain of the projects involved in building a layout can really create a mess, so much of this work will have to be done in the garage or in an outdoor work area. 

Building yourbench work and some scenery features which are modular are two good examples of projects which create a large clean-up project after they have been completed.  I would absolutely consider doing these in another area, and when they are finished move them to the layout room.

Basements-This a great location for a layout as long as you consider that there may be factors which you’ll have to evaluate before making a final decision.  For example, most basements tend to be somewhat cool throughout the year and this is due to a higher level of humidity in this part of a house.

The problem here is that the dampness created by high humidity is not good for model trains.  The solution to this problem however, is an easy fix.  Set up a humidifier or two depending on the size of the basement if this is your final choice for your railroad’s location.

Another thing to consider is that many basements have low ceilings and they have steps which are tough to ascend or descend.  If the basement doesn’t present these challenges you’re okay, but you’ll want to consider in advance that this is a long term hobby which will also involve other people after the layout is completed.  So, easy access is an important issue.

Attic-If you decide that the basement in your home isn’t going to be a suitable location for your layout, you may want to consider using your attic.  It’s away from the hustle and bustle that is typically associated with the rest of the house and may just be a perfect location.

However, most attics have low ceilings, and if there is a more serious problem it is that heat always rises which can make this a pretty uncomfortable layout site during the hotter part of the summer.  Even still, you may be able to figure out a way to use this space for your trains.

Garage-Garages are one of the more popular choices for a model train layout, and many modelers even find a way to build their layout in this space and still have room for at least one car.  Although garages often lack heating or cooling this is still one more area where this type of problem can be easily addressed.

Thinking Out Of The Box-There are a couple of additional options which you may want to consider as well.  For example, if you happen to have a work shed on your property and if it is large enough this may be a suitable alternate consideration for a layout area.

Also, you may want to consider abandoning the idea of an indoor model train layout all together, and try your hand at building an outdoor layout such as you can with the G scale which are known as “Garden  Railways.”  This type of railroad will certainly lend itself to taking advantage of creating a realistic model railroad, and can also be a way to have a very unique approach to an outdoor landscape theme for your  home.

In the next part of this article we’ll take a look at the remaining steps which are essential in building a successful model train layout.

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