One of the most common questions people have when they start looking at building their own model railway layouts is ‘Where on earth do i start?’
This page was written to answer that very question for you and get you started on designing, what i’m sure will become, the first of many model railway layouts you will design and build in the years to come.
Now, lets get into the nitty-gritty and explore what i think you need to know to get you started designing and building your own layouts. Bear in mind these are ideas and you should use them as a basis to think about what you want from your layout.
Step 1: Indoors or Outdoors?
First of all, you need to decide if you intend to build your model railway layouts inside, or if you intend to build a larger g-scale outdoor track in your garden or yard. For the most part on this site, we will be dealing with model railway layouts intended to be built and maintained indoors.
Inside meaning under a roof such as:
- In your house
- A basement
- A spare bedroom
- The garage
- A garden shed
Step 2: Scaling To Fit The Space
There are 3 scales of train you might use for building indoor model railway layouts, ranging from the tiny z-scale to the standard sized HO and OO scales, and which you decide to use will depend on the amount of space you have available. Z-scale is rather small and best suited for smaller model railway layouts that you might make on a single desktop or on a movable board.
While there is something to be said for the z-scale model railway layouts, I tend to prefer building to the HO and OO scales.
Step 3: Imagination
How do you plan to fill the space you have allocated yourself? One mistake many beginners make when they start trying to design and build their own model railway layouts is to get the store-bought train set they already have and ‘build-it-up’ to fill the space they have. While this might appear to be the obvious and cheapest way forward, you will find yourself limited in what you can accomplish with it.
Instead, take a step back and start from scratch. Consider the general impression of what you want the finished piece to look like – what era are you setting it in? what sort of features do you want to include in your model railway layouts?
Some common features might include:
- How many tracks?
- A Train Station
- A Village
- A Bridge
- A Tunnel
- Mountains and Hills
- The Sky
- A Backdrop
Start with a general idea, and refine it as you go. Remember that it’s pretty easy to add detail to a rough landscape, but very hard to add in a major feature to a detailed landscape. Don’t be afraid to experiment with thoughts and ideas, and no one says you can only do one layout, i prefer to juggle several model railway layouts at a time and usually find that I incorporate elements from several into a final piece.
Step 4: Planning
Once you have some rough ideas for your model railway layouts, it’s time to start pulling things together and forming a plan to get it done. Based on the scale you plan to use, the era or location you plan to use for your model railway layouts, the kind of general features you want to include, and the space you have available you should be able to draw or map out where everything will go.
Start big and add in the details:
- Where will the mountain be?
- What about the station?
- Where will the bridge over the gorge go?
and so on until you get an idea for how each feature will play against each other.
Why do we plan first rather than starting to create our model railway layouts? You’ll get bogged down with minor details, lose sight of the overall picture, and probably spend months refining only a small portion of your design without making real progress towards the finished design.
Planning out your model railway layouts will allow you to build them up gradually, step-by-step. You’ll be able to see progress, and just like raising children, the joy is in seeing the progression, seeing your dream develop and mature.
Enjoy the journey, don’t rush the end result.
Step 5: Practical Costs
Ok, you knew it had to be coming, right? In order to design and build your masterpiece model railway layouts you have to buy stuff. You can purchase everything you need from the hills and houses, the trees and people, and the trains and tracks (Typically, the most costly pieces of any model railway layouts will be the trains and track) – so depending on how massive and elaborate your model railway layouts are you could be looking at a very costly exercise to get it all complete.
The good news is that you don’t have to shell out all of the money upfront, you can just buy bits and pieces as you need them and spread the cost out over weeks and months as you build up your model railway layouts over time.
You can also drastically reduce the cost of the landscape features by learning how to build some of them for yourself, and while it might be easier and quicker just to buy the completed pieces, i find it a lot more fun to make them for myself. All you really need is the right instructions and a reasonable eye for detail and you can make scenery and buildings every bit as good as you see at model railway exhibitions.
I hope this page gave you some useful advice about getting started with model railway layouts. To learn more check out the articles and other categories in the menu bar over on the right hand side of the page.