Model railway layout tips

“Hello Alastair,

After spending six decades in this hobby, I’d have to say my best tip is to think small. Gargantuan layouts are fantastic, but for many of us they are impractical, if not overwhelming. I’ve achieved my best results with the good old 4 X 8. When I tire of one, I simply dismantle it and build another. Of course there are compromises due to the smallness, but it’s easier to wire, scenic, and operate the completed layout. Admittedly, no layout is ever truly finished, but it is easier to gain a sense of completion (success, if you will) with the smaller pikes. I’ll leave the huge layouts to the masters. I certainly enjoy seeing them, but I have to accept my own limitations as far as skill, energy, and finances. I also need to be aware of my wife’s interests.

Not really a technical skill, but it might encourage a few folks who are just beginning, or even simply needing to downsize.

Thanks for the opportunity to spout off.


“Alastair – When laying track ballast (relatively large stones) for “0” gauge track, wet the stones in salt water first and apply them wet. After the ballast has dried, the salt binds the stones to keep them from straying and adds to their appearance.


“Hi Al,

Here is a tip for you, I admit I got this one second hand.

If you need to remove track that has been glued down to the roadbed, and ballasted.

First pour hot water on the track, this dissolves the glue and loosens the track.

Leave it for a while, then start dismantling the track.

This works well for track renewal or replacement, also if you want to be Doctor Beeching and close a branch line.



I like to keep my train’s and car’s serviced, cleaned, and oiled about every 4 week’s. Even if I have not run them, and I have very few problem’s over the years. It also give’s me a break from, my busy life & buisness. It is very relaxing, as well as good for the equipment. I don’t have much of a layout, but love to hear the trains run on the track, and change them up quite often, and just so they don’t get a lot of wear. Busy work I guess.

Love your book’s and information. When I retire, (soon), I plan to use some of your idea’s for a big layout, to keep me busy.

Thank you for all the information you share.


“My best tip, or advice, is to pay close attention to the prototype that you are modeling. If you are free-lancing, then pay attention to the prototype of a railroad that resembles what you are trying to do. Study. Take photographs. Compare your trackwork and scenery to the real thing. If you do these things, you will be able to create a more realistic model railroad, assuming that’s your goal. It’s certainly mine.


“One way to make realistic wood piles is to use old wine corks sliced vertically into wedges


“hi allistair

here are some of my latest developments to my oo gauge layout my layout is made up with three stations and up and over .we then added a container base to it .also stead loco depot with turntable I will forward you some pictures of it along with the diesel repair shed

hope they are of interest


Thanks for all the tips and pics – please keep ’em coming.

And don’t spend a penny before having a quick peek at the latest ‘ebay cheat sheet‘.



26 Responses to Model railway layout tips

  1. Very useful tips about removal of ballasted track.It will save lots of money in the future.

  2. Hi Can you please teel me where you bought the Stobbart loco and truck please



  3. It has always been a kind of a nagging feeling that 8 x 4 is too small,thanks to you Ray i feel good and of course i agree with you that in the long run smaller is better even for cleaning or maintanance.I’ve started on 7 x 4 (thats how much space i could spare) will be posting soon.thanks to you Al for all the mails,it always brings cheers to me from all the modellers…

  4. Thanks for all the great tips … thanks for ebay cheat sheet … thanks to everyone contributing.

    Al I like what you said about going smaller. I am building a 3′ X 6′ N scale railroad. The planning the purchasing(almost done) the building next. I will send some pictures when I get started.

    best regards,

    Keep on training!

    Tom N

  5. Does Roger not know that SALT is very corrosive! It is best kept well away from electrics etc. It also attracts moisture, = rust.

    Cheers, Geoff

  6. Some good tips there Al, and nice pictures , like to just add about lifting track . I just spray with PVA mix leave for 15 minutes , then find it lifts easily , done that a few times

  7. like the latest tips, please keep them coming

  8. Some good tips and food for thought.

  9. al: i feel the samy as Ray about size. stay in your class and make it better like every i would love to beable to make a veey large layout but if can`t fimish it what good is it, oh i like to see them and wish i could have one like it knowing i can`t thanks bh

  10. Hi Al,
    I have to agree with Ray, after having a 20 x 15 foot layout in the roof we then shifted house. Had fun and games stripping it down and i don’t think i ever totally completed it. I’m now down to an 8 x 4 and loving it and almost FULLY completed it.
    Love your tips and info that come through as i’m only an amature.


  11. Love looking at all the different set ups and tips. Would love to get started again with a new layout, but money ! money! . I used to have a ‘N’ guage layout in a shed, 18 foot by 10 foot, with a mountain across the far end and inm the middle of this I had a viaduct (at eye level). There was sixty foot of track behind the hill out of sight of the front so it took quite a while for trains to re-appear, which gave more reality to the whole thing.
    Made one very bad mistake, though at the time there was no warning. I made all opf my scenery using newspaper and flour paste over wire, whivh gave me great options for hills, etc., and looked good when painted with poster paints, had trees houses and all the other bits and pieces put on.
    Disaster reared it’s ugly head when I bought a dairy farm and moved the layout to a new shed on the farm.
    No problem moving it, I had allowed for this possability when I laid it out. No, what i never thought of was a plague of hungry rats on the farm, that cleaned every bit of scenery off my layout within a week.
    Having stored the whole thing in the shed till I had time to get going again, I did not have time (new farm takes every minute to get going), the damage was not noticed until too late. What a disaster!!!! Finished up selling the l;ot to another rail mad person.
    By the way, loved working with n guage for the more realistic look.

  12. A beautifull layout,thank you for some tips and ideas

  13. In my forty one years as a professional photographer I have been asked to photography many outstanding layouts, some which have consumed entire basements. Layouts which have taken years to build and decorate and then had to be destroyed because they needed to be moved. Heartbreaking.
    In preparing for a new layout in a home we just purchased, I plan on using the sectional method of construction with no section longer than eight feet or wider than thirty inches. That way, if I have to move in the future, the layout can be disassembled with minimal structural or scenery damaged.
    The basement in the new home is thirty one feet wide and fifty seven feet long with ten foot ceilings, is totally unfinished, dry and has a double door outside entrance. A tremendous blank canvas.

  14. Great advice and tips from many, thanks for sharing and Al, thanks for posting them. Love reading others stories on railroading and getting hints. Austin Wilson.


  16. It’s funny that you mention about closing a line here in South Australia my home state in Australia that’s exactly what the Government has done closed the entire metro rail system so it can be electrifried ( mistake on purpose)??????? BUT you know wot I mean. These R great tips you have given us thanks.

  17. great tips and photos thanks.

  18. I love this public service you provide, Alastair!
    I’m currently working on a 3 x 4 layout in N scale (standard gauge), with point to point, circular and reversing track features. It’s designed to be lug-able by one person. I glean your website frequently for ideas, and am grateful to all who leave useful tips: Thank you!

  19. Love the tips and suggestions heres one my wife said , For bundling wires in small bundles use plastic bag clips like on veggie bags or bread wrapers to tag and bundle wires. recycle them save for future use on other bags but they would be good for siding ,or switch routes . Ken

  20. Salt does not corrode brass silver gold or copper the materials most tracks are made from will not be harmed by salt although it would make a mess and tarnish. the point someone was trying to make was the engines run on those tracks and pick up things from the rails and throw them on the chip boards and motors and gears. i would never pour salt water on anything i own. i know first hand what it does i work in the oil business and the tank trucks we used are made of heavy steel. About every five years they need to be cut up and overhauled because they literally rot away. salt water is no friend to any type of mechanical or electronic device. very bad tip.

  21. Love it, love it, love it.

  22. I too chose to have a small layout because of lack of space. I am 66 yrs, old
    and about to finish a ~5 x ~6, layout, I was able to have three tracks and three trains running at the same time, very nicely landscaped and very managble. Being retired and on a tight buget I really enjoy working on my layout as it makes the days fly bye.Ironically, the legs I have on my small table are the same wrought iron legs that I had on my first train table when I was 6 yes old.
    What a wonderful hobby.. Have what you can manage, the reason is to have fun,
    and enjoy……Good luck, Charles….North Carolina

  23. I agree with the Keep it within your own parameters, one smallish panoramic diorama, can offer loads of operating potential. Mind you if I had a warehouse I would still endeavour to fill it… hahaha Keep this stuff coming…. Nice one Alistair

  24. I have been buying N Scale items for four decades. My last layout was built into a modified mahogany office desk table thirty years ago. I have now constructed a 4×8 platform, installed mostly flex track and currently working through fine tuning the soldered rail joints, etc. I have based my layout on a section of my hometown area which had three railroads systems I could observe as a young boy sitting on a bluff near a river. I can run three trains on three routes or one train operating over the three routes linked together. If interested, I will send progress photos. Have appreciated, Al, the great service you provide and I thank your followers for many useful tips and suggestions. Tom

  25. Alan I saw 3 Eddie Stobart Lorrys for sale £ 4 each, this was at Thornbury leisure centre, Bristol last week end at the model railway show. You might see these at these shows. Best of luck. Where you saw these lorries in the photo, I like to know how how these Eddie Stobart lorries get over the bridge in the photo ? Roy

  26. Roger thank you for the information concerning ballast on the “0 “, glade to hear there is 0 garage person in the hobby.


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