model railroads resources

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.

Basstlaw North Notts Railway Society

Getting Started On Your Model Railroad Layout

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 Railroad Layouts

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 make changes.

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

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.


Amherst Model Hobby Train Show

Sectional Track Used On Model Railroad Layouts

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 Standard Track

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 requirements.

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

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.

track work on model railway

Assembling Model Railroad Track In Sections

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 track.

Solder Joints On Model Railroad Layouts

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 trains.

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 Railroad Layouts

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 sections.


Model Railroad Layout Track Options Considered

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 Railway Layouts

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 Layouts

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 Railroad Layouts

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 railroads.

Ballasted Track Adds To Replicate Realism

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.

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