Tips For Building and Operating
Model Railroad Layouts
Model Railroading A Hobby For Life
It doesn't seem to matter whether you’re 5 or 95 - or somewhere in between. The
personal satisfaction of building and operating a realistic miniature model
railroad layout is rewarding and fun - no matter how old you are. Model railroading
is a truly rewarding leisure activity that will keep most model railroad
enthusiasts busy and entertained for hours...if not a lifetime.
Getting Started On Your Model Railroad
It is a fact that many modelers begin model railroading without having a
specific interest in any one particular railroad line or company. The model trains
that they start out running have either been given to them as a gift or chosen
because they look nice or are priced within the budget.
Model railroading is a wonderful hobby, but mistakes can be costly. Take your
time and work through the process carefully, logically and thoroughly. After all
model railroading is a hobby, so building a railway layout should not be
rushed. It is better to think things through carefully and then do things the best
way to achieve your goals in building the ultimate scale model railroad.
Planning Mistakes With Model
When planning a railway setup it is usually best to start small. Then hopefully,
mistakes can be small too. You will probably want to begin your model railroading
hobby by purchasing only a small amount of track and maybe some plugs, switches, a
locomotive or two, and a few cars. A small model railroad layout of 4 foot x 8 foot
or less might be a good place to start. There is no point in being intimidated (and
maybe discouraged) by a large or complex train layout when you are learning the
basics of the hobby. With a smaller railroads it will be easier to fix mistakes or
A 4 x 8 train setup is large enough to fit the 18-inch
radius curves that come with many train sets. With a 4 x 8 model railroad layout
there is also room for an oval with 18-inch radius ends and a few sidings.
Train Arrival Yards Important To
Model Railroad Layouts
The arrival yard is where arriving trains drop off the cars of
their train. The cars are then moved to the classification yard, being switched
back and forth as necessary to get the right cars onto the right trains. The trains
are then built out and moved to the departure yard. After getting a new caboose and
locomotive, they then proceed to their next destination.
Sectional Track Used On Model
Model train track comes in sections (called sectional track) for
convenience and ease of use. You can purchase model railroad track in different
lengths and shapes, straight and curved. Some model railroad track snaps together,
and some track is made on plastic roadbed sections. Sectional track is what most
railroaders start with simply because the sectional track is easy to use and it's
what usually comes with the railroad sets.
Decide Between Roadbed Track Or
Whether you choose standard railway track or roadbed track is over
to you and your personal preference. It also depends on the nature of your railroad
layout and what looks best, works best and what fits with your budget
When using standard tracks on a model railroad layout, separate
ballast is laid. Whereas, the plastic roadbed sections look like real railroad
ballast and feature interlocking tabs that help hold the railroad track sections
securely in place.
Why Railroaders Choose Plastic
Roadbed track has the advantage of having a reasonably realistic
appearance without the mess involved in adding loose ballast and then having to
glue it. The disadvantage is that roadbed track is more expensive than standard
track. Another drawback is that the various makes of roadbed track are not always
compatible with each other. Also, you are limited by the modular set track nature
of the roadbed pieces.
Roadbed tracks are particularly good on temporary train layouts
because they are generally more stable. If you intend to set up a railroad on the
floor (not recommended), then roadbed track is the better option because it is
slightly raised up. If standard railroad track is put on the floor, especially on
carpet, then no matter how clean you think it is, grit, hairs, fluff, cotton and
things you never knew were on the floor will get inside and ruin the mechanism.
Assembling Model Railroad Track In
When assembling sectional train track do not force the track pieces
together. Make sure both ends of the model railroad track are lined up with the
metal rail joiners and fit snugly with little or no gap. If your model railroad
track has molded roadbed make the tabs lock securely between track sections. Make
sure there are no gaps at the end of the rails when assembling the model railroad
Solder Joints On Model Railroad
Good soldering is important to any railroad setup, because poor
electrical connections result in higher electrical resistance with heat generated
when power is applied to a poor electrical connection. Over time, this heat has the
potential to damage wire insulation and wire enamel.
To avoid electrical connection problems, on a model railroad
layout, it pays to regularly inspect wire connections.
A solder joint that is a dull silver color, or one that is just a
"big blob" of solder, will sooner or later cause problems when running model
All solder connections should be clean and shiny and use only a
small amount of solder. If a solder joint is suspect, take a soldering iron and
apply fresh solder to the joint. This will help improve the connection and keep
your railroad electrical system in good working order.
Flexible Train Track On Model
Flexible track (often referred to as flex track or flexi track), as
its name implies, can be bent to any shape you want. It is usually available in
three- foot lengths. Flexible train track has the advantage of being bendable which
opens up new options when planning a setup. Flexible track can be curved or laid
straight or any combination you wish. With flexible train track there are
usually fewer connections to worry about. Flexible railroad track does however need
to be nailed down to a< board and the rails need to be trimmed to length as you
bend the train track.
Constructing Model Railroad
Layouts To Avoid Derailments
When using "flexi" track on a railroad setup, it is important to
remember that if you make the bend too tight in your layout you’ll need to use
shorter trains, otherwise your trains will be prone to derailment.
Flexible track also enables you to go into a curve more gently and
make the train tracks fit your railway without the constraints of fixed track
Model Railroad Layout Track Options
Railway track comes in different
types made of brass, zinc-coated steel, nickel silver and steel. Regardless of what
the tracks are made of, most track sets come with a terminal section so that you
can hook into the transformer. Brass track and zinc-coated steel track are common
in starter model train sets and, when purchased separately, are usually cheaper in
price than nickel silver tracks.
Zinc Coated Tracks Exposed On
Zinc-coated steel track is one track
option for railroading enthusiasts to consider when building a model railroad
layout. The big disadvantage with zinc-coated track is that the zinc can wear off.
This can expose the steel that can then rust. However, zinc-coated tracks are often
cheaper to buy than other track options and are worth considering by any model
railroader who is on a tight budget.
Brass Tracks On Model Railroad
Brass tracks are one track option for
railroading enthusiasts to consider when building a model railroad layout. It is
generally accepted that brass tracks are the best conductor of electricity, but
brass tracks do need a regular cleaning to keep them in good condition. This is
because brass forms an oxide when in contact with the atmosphere, which creates a
barrier to the current.
Nickel Silver Tracks On Model
Nickel silver tracks are a popular
option with experienced railroading enthusiasts.
As with Brass track, Nickel silver
train track also forms an oxide, but are still a good conductor of electricity. The
oxide that forms on nickel silver happens to be electrically conductive whereas
that which forms on steel and brass is not. What this means is that after a while
on steel and brass rails the model trains tend to run erratically. This means
you'll need to clean the rails frequently to avoid this problem.
Using nickel silver railway track
means you will have better running model trains and less time spent cleaning train
track. That's why many railroaders favor nickel silver train tracks for their
Ballasted Track Adds To Replicate
Ballasted track adds more scenic
realism to railroads. However, you need to make sure that the electrics are all
sorted out and that all the rail joiners are tight fitting before you start
ballasting. Otherwise you may find that after you have ballasted your railroad
track, some sections of track wont work properly.
For yards you may want to use a finer
grade of ballast to give the impression of more lightly laid lines, while on the
mainline you might want more coarse ballast.