Coffee table layout – Chris’s

Chris has been in touch with his coffee table layout – quite a project! Just look at all the comments below!

“Hi Al,

One of your subscribers suggested that I send you the link to the YouTube video of my computerized N-scale coffee table model railroad.

I do not consider myself to be an expert model railroader, but I have a lot of fun applying my electrical engineering and computer systems experience to model trains.

The coffee table project was an experiment to see if I could build a programmable computer-controlled fully automated model railroad into a coffee table for my living room.

To make an already complex project even more challenging, the wood sculptor who designed and built the coffee table furniture suggested that I design the layout to rise up to the surface of the table as part of the automated operation.

He hated to look down into a box to see artwork, so he wanted the layout to be mounted on some sort of lift mechanism.

The design and construction of the layout, furniture, lift mechanism, and computer system hardware took almost six years to complete.

However, development of the controlling computer program is ongoing.

Presently, only one train (and the trolley) can run on the layout; however, it should be possible to run two trains in the same direction or opposite directions.

Programming the system so that the trains will avoid each other and the trolley should keep me busy for quite awhile.



Coffee table layout:

“Sorry I haven’t been in touch haven’t had much to ask show of my layout,but I’ve finished a couple of sections.







A big thanks to Ray and to Chris for sharing his coffee table layout.

There have been lots of coffee tables featured on the site over the years, and I’m happy to add Chris to the list – he’s done a fantastic job.

And Ray’s layout is coming along nicely – just goes to show they look like a mess before everything drops in to place – but that’s half the fun.

So if you feel like rolling your sleeves up and getting involved, don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide is here.

That’s all this time folks.

Please keep ’em coming.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here. It’s updated every single day…

90 Responses to Coffee table layout – Chris’s

  1. David V. Corbin says:

    Would definitely like to connect with Chris. I too am working on a highly automated layout [a bit bigger 4×8 in N-Scale] and there are sooooo many interesting topics…

  2. Mike says:


    Great layout I like how much track you have in a small area. Any chance you could post a picture of the track layout?

  3. Alan Williams says:

    His layout is certainly not what I expected to see when I read “coffee table layout”.

    WOW, WOW, WOW.

    It is a rather large coffee table and looks speacial made. I was impressed with all that he had in the limited space, but then when the layour rose to table top height, the views from inside the traina dn the car with it looking like you were really in them made me thik that THIS guy really know what he is doing. HE has a great imagination to dream of all the details and the patience and skill to translate hie dreams into reality.

    VERY, VERY IMPRESIVE and a real challenge to the rest of us.

  4. Thomas Meleck says:

    Wow. What a fantastic layout and a captivating video .
    Who says a layout is never finished? Congratulations on a very fine railroad.

  5. Gaty says:

    Absolutely masterful in every respect.

  6. Richard says:

    Ingenious layout, is all I can say. And, it does help if you have an electrical engineering back ground.

  7. George Mahoney says:

    I’m very impressed with Chris’ coffee table layout and with the excellent video! A few questions:
    What are the dimensions of the layout?
    What is the minimum radius curve?
    What is the maximum gradient?
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. John Meehan says:

    This is amazing Chris! I vote this the “Layout of the Year”! Wow. The virtual reality in the cab and the car are amazing. Wow!

  9. Robert Kent says:

    How cool is this? Beyond cool. Near genius. Thank you for sharing

  10. Jerry Connor says:

    Working on HO size L shape table with HO Slot cars and two tracks at this time! The track size is 12’x4′ (L shape) thinking about elevating to a second level? Any idea would be of great help! Thank you Jerry L. Connor

  11. John says:

    Totally awesome. Big layouts are okay, but what this train enthusiast did is beyond imagination. I can’t imagine what he would have done had he done it in “Z” gauge. My hat goes off to this man.

  12. Carl Kokes says:

    this is really fantastic tho not something that just anyone can put together .. The knowledge aspect + the patience level is way more than the average person- railroad fanatic or not- could do . I cannot begin to ” appreciate ” the time spent in detailing this- esp . the under parts …. This all had to be really calculated before getting started …. Kudos ….. CTK

  13. Paul Vogel says:

    Chris: Your layout is simply wonderful. I wish I had half the imagination you have. Thanks for sharing your amazing hobby. Paul Ohio USA

  14. Sundaram P says:

    Awesome. I like the way the layout comes up from inside the table uniformly. The light effects , the Advertisement boards and the fire fighting scene are fantastically done. I especially like the view from the Loco driver’s cabin.

    Need to learn from Chris the finer points and details especially. I use CTI as well. But this is something else. You are a genius at this work Chris. Hats off.

  15. Howard Weiss says:

    Love the layout, are tracks plans available. Also what is the size of the layout. Absolutely awesome.

  16. Kevin says:

    I have never seen anything like this! THIS IS THE N SCALE COFFEE TABLE LAY OUT. He should mass produce these and make millions.

  17. terry witkowski says:

    excellent work. I wonder how I could do that in HO?

  18. Don says:

    What can I say that hasn’t already been said ? Al some and thanks for showing.

  19. ARNIE STEINER says:

    Ray — Nice work. All worthwhile projects take time. Stick with it and continued success and enjoyment with the developing layout. — Arnie

  20. BullfrogEH, in Ontario says:

    WOW ! The hand-sculpted woodwork in the table itself is beautiful. But, the hidden DCC RR in N-scale in 3 levels is absolutely amazing. What a beautiful accomplishment. You must be very proud of all your work. Certainly a ‘treasure’ to be preserved for the craft, and the viewing of RR hobby enthusiasts around the world. … thanks for sharing !! … (dave in Ontario).

  21. Barry says:

    Chris –

    I too send my congrats on something truly amazing. I have been planning a layout in the very near future and hope to order the lumber to build the layout table. N gage, 7 1/2 x 22 feet, and also computer controlled. I am also an electrical engineer turned computer programmer and plan an autonomous setup where the trains run at random depending on if something else is in the way.

    Where are you located; I promise not to come over if not invited. 🙂

    Chesterfield, Missouri USA
    Future n gage.

    BTW –
    If you are in the US, that indeed would be called a “coffee table layout”, but if you live in the UK, would it be referred to as a “tea table layout?” (Sorry about that. I just couldn’t help myself?)

  22. dionisios says:

    excellent job!!!! fantastic layout!!!

  23. Lenore Hirsch says:

    hi Chris, OMG!!!!!!!!!!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOW!! FANTASTIC!!!! SUPER!!!
    I have been dreaming of something along those lines ever since I saw one in MR years and years ago. Yours is way beyond anything I have seen. Kudos to you!!
    I especially like that the layout can rise up ‘out of the box’! Your track plan is great.
    Now you can have fun running your trains and entertaining your guests. Think about taking your layout to a national show, a local show, call your local TV station, etc. The world should see what you have done, so everyone could see what a great hobby we have in model railroading. On a personal note, sorry for the loss of your beautiful kitty. Lee

  24. ARNIE STEINER says:

    Hi Chris — What can I say that has not already been said? Your video depicts an achievement that speaks to a level of creativity that only few can hope to emulate. The artistic carpentry by Kerry into a beautiful coffee table is masterful. But when combined with your electrical (micro) engineering and computer skill sets has yielded an envious array of talent. Great job! — Arnie

  25. Dave Ewing says:

    Wow, l had to show this one to my wife. Never did that before.
    Dave in Eden NC

  26. KR says:

    Wow! Chris’s layout is fantastic. Would love to know some details, such as type of track, turnouts, etc.


    KR in NJ

  27. Totally Amazing! This magnificent layout should be in a Museum! You must be “DAVE’S” cousin! There are a handful of geniuses and creative ones out there that could even think up a layout like yours let alone make one! Fantastic Job! one for the Record Books!

  28. Mario says:


    What can I say that hasn’t been said here already. Genius,this is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Your meticulous attention to detail combined with the creative video make you a master in my view. My wife and I were blown away by this layout. Definitely got my vote for Model Railroader of the Year. Absolutely, I would buy this coffee table in a heartbeat and be content for the rest of my life, no joke! Don’t ever stop letting your imagination take you to the next level my friend. Thanks for sharing this work of art and invoking us amateurs to aspire for more.
    “Build it and they will come”

    Mario S.
    Huntington NY

  29. Outstanding video of a unique layout. Very much enjoved

  30. NJ Mark says:

    I am in total awe, Chris! What a masterpiece! I will never achieve what you have; continued success. Poor Bandit, I hope another kitty will be in your home soon. Cheers! NJ Mark

  31. Bob Carolan says:

    Great layout. I’d like to know what kind of mechanism is used for the raising/lowering aspect… I would imagine theraded rods? Also, what camera/lens was used to for the cab video?

    Again… great layout

    Bob C. in Yonkers NY

  32. Dr Bob says:

    A phenomenal layout Chris! Your talents have given even a non model railroader insight and applied science techniques to bring many talents together into a beautiful display. Well done!

  33. Russ in Burlington, WA says:

    Hi Chris,
    Inspiring lay out! Going to share this with my brother-in-law who is a fellow
    train nut.

  34. Barry . Devon UK says:

    Chris. Stunningly brilliant. Inspiring.

  35. C.J. May says:

    This is nothing short of amazing! I want!!!!

  36. Best video I have seen in awhile. I live in an apt with no room for a layout, but I enjoy all of the layouts featured here. Keep’m coming.


  37. Fernando Serra Ubeda says:

    What a joy to watch! Absolutely marvellous Chris I am lost for words really…!


  38. Steve Hudacko says:

    This one is definitely a hall of fame layout. I am so impressed by the computer controlled system. Now that you are finished with the coffee table you can start on the dining room table or the bed.
    Nice job you should be proud of your accomplishment.
    Steve from Toms River

  39. Lynn Taubeneck says:

    I see some of your coffee table technology in “high end” private jets that I crew. Never thought about using it for my model RR. Just outstanding!

  40. Ben Taul says:

    just love it so much in a small place and no crowding. but that table by it self is just awesome.
    Ben from Nebraska USA

  41. Ian Mc Donald says:

    very inspiring work the detail alone the electrics really put you in the high achiever bracket I do believe it would make a great display at shows very compact . thanks for sharing.

  42. Chris McCabe says:

    WOW !!!


  43. Mike Looby says:

    Spectacular! One of the best posts I’ve seen. I love my old Lionel 027 guage trains, but they can take up so much space. Your N guage really is an outstanding example of perfection in maximizing the use of limited space. Congratulations and well done!

    Minnesota Mike

  44. Great lay out. It’s out of the ball park. Thanks for sharing it with us.


    Chris your coffee table layout is off the wall fantastic. I will be sharing this video with other model railroaders.

  46. Graeme Bregani says:

    Excellent ! Just shows what can be done when you have proper cat supervision!

  47. Just wondering if you had ever thought of using JMRI as your program? You can enter in the different cab numbers if you are in DCC mode and have trains automatically stop at stations and slow down or wait a crossings for other trains to pass, create routes by programming in what turnouts to throw and then clear after last car has cleared.
    Norm in York, PA
    Miniature Railroad Club of York

  48. GREG says:

    Holy Cow!!! Very Impressive, you are really creative. Sure beats having magazines on the coffee table!!

  49. david howarth says:

    Fantastic job with the coffee table top layout Chris , and Ray your layout is coming along very nicely …Dangerous dave

  50. Roy Pachkowski says:

    Worthy presentation at club meeting.

  51. Bob virnig says:

    The electronics are quite impressive. Did you design and install it’s?

  52. Thomas Murphy says:

    Astonishing layout Chris. Very accomplished video also. The lighting accompanied with the animation was simply astonishing! Jaw-dropping to say the least. Thank you for sharing your talent Chris.
    Tom from Maryland, USA.

  53. James says:

    a nice, beautiful, and inguinous layout

  54. Raymond Appenzeller says:

    Just awesome!

  55. Andrew Brody says:

    Outrageously AWESOME! Call me impressed beyond words. I am a -10 on a 0 – 10 scale for imagination. I can only copy what others have done and this would be perfect for my small (way too small for HO) apt. Are plans for this available? I would be putting it on dining room table (41″ x 59″).which I never use for eating.

    Hats off to you!
    Andrew M. Brody

  56. Gerry says:


    WOW! WOW!! WOW!!! I’m almost left speechless. I’ve NEVER been so impressed. And a Big THANKS to Bandit for making an appearance….


  57. D.J.Radanovich, Milwaukee says:

    Wonderful Kitty-Cat! Great video and layout. Great music. Really enjoyed all.

  58. Bill Sparling says:

    A thing of beauty is a joy forever – doesn’t seem to fit in this case. This one is worth at least a dozen forevers. What an amazing table and then the lid comes off and I just sat here with my mouth hanging open. That whole system, table, layout and computer control is well worth some kind of prize. I can easily see how it took 5 years to build it all. Well done, Chris and kudos to the man who built that gorgeous table.

    Bill – Sequim, WA

  59. Rich B. says:

    Not much more or different I can say. About the journey and destination lol. Proof a huge layout always isn’t a must…… Anyone Z scale?

    Also sorry on yesterday’s double post. First one just wouldn’t fly, kept saying already sent and duplicate, oh well.

    Regards, Rich

  60. Wow look at all the responses to this fantastic layout. It is inspiring. Just as was and still is to me, John Allen’s famous Gorre & Daphetid RR from the 40’s and 50’s.

    And to think we would not have seen this is enough of us had not stepped up to keep Al’s site in the black.
    wonderful wonderful.

    I would like to see more of Ray’s layout also, I see a lot of good work and effort in there.

    Dick Chapple in Hardin Montana USA

  61. Don says:


  62. James Marek says:


    Just an awesome layout…by far the best I’ve seen so far on this site. I can’t imagine how much time and effort was spent, but you’ve definitely created a masterpiece! Likewise, your video was amazing and a great pleasure to watch! Wow, wow and wow!

  63. WOW,totally awesome,love to see a great minds work!!

  64. Jim Stack says:

    Wow! Three masterpieces in one… The coffee table, The layout and the production. Very well done!

  65. Ross Johnston says:

    What a great layout Chris! I really enjoyed your video! Thank you for sharing! Cheers Rossco, Adelaide, South Australia.

  66. John Dougherty says:

    Wow just awesome, love the track plans, and how interesting everything is, amazing table. Would love to know what you use to video. Thank you for sharing.

  67. Benjamin Wright says:

    Such a cool layout! Really fun video too! Great job!

  68. Ron Paul says:

    Just wow. I save some of these videos in a special folder, very few, but this one goes to the top. Chris, the advance planning is incredible. Were you a mechanical/electrical engineer? And architect? The focus, the concentration to make everything work in such a small space, amazing. And the carpentry, the video, really enjoyed this one. Thank you Chris.

  69. I want to add something, Holy Moly!!! That is beyond anything I have seen. I have and i hope you don’t mind, sent this along to several RR clubs and just ordinary folks to see. That is fantastic work, planning, and modeling. It is a driving force for a lot of enthusiasts to keep going, enjoy the hobby, strive for what they see. Thank You for sharing that video. Time is at hand for me and that was another check on my bucket list ” Seeing Perfection” I see now it’s not a small town in Nevada.

  70. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Chris…..everyone has responded with amazement. This includes me. This for me has to be the most impressive piece of model railroading I have ever seen.

    Raymond….great layout…..I am very jealous of your detail skills.

  71. Bill Roberts says:

    Ho Hum, any physically skilled genius could have done it…….I think

  72. Bill Roberts says:

    Ho Hum, any physically apt genius could do it…………..I think

  73. axel wittig says:

    Very nice ! Wish I had one ! My cats wouldn’t play with it in the table .

  74. Brian Rockey says:

    Just amazing Chris! What more can one say!!
    Brian, Wokingham, Berks, UK

  75. Carol Marcus says:

    Chris –
    I’m speechless.
    That is all.
    Carol – NJ

  76. Richard says:

    WOW!!! Truly one of the most inventive setups I ever seen. Pure genius. Look forward to seeing it when complete. Totally blown away.

  77. I make few comments on Al’s page but the only comment I have is that this is simply amazing 👏. I take my fire helmet off for you.

    Eric the firefighter St. Louis Missouri area.

  78. Erick says:

    Looks pretty kool,!!!! Keep what the good work.

  79. Norman Rosen says:

    I can only add my congratulations to Chris. One of the most impressive projects ever to grace the pages of Alastair’s newsletter.

  80. Tim Golly says:

    Totally awesome mind-blowing job!!!

  81. OMG well that is Model train Making at its Best
    A true Show Piece of awesome Skill and dedication to rail Modeling
    Thank you for Sharing this with us all
    Great Job

  82. James Marek says:

    I can not find words to describe this layout.

    I feel like I have just witnessed the 8th Wonder of the World!

  83. Al RE: Chris’s coffee table layout. The trains are museum level but did you look at
    the table itself. That kind of woodwork is inspirational !!! Such talent is a real gift !!
    and THANKS again for helping my life. RJL

  84. Ken of Lakewood Shores says:

    Chis…..your layout is nothing short of EPIC….thanks for sharing.

  85. Jim Snoke says:

    One of the nicest pikes I have ever seen. I have been involved in model railroading for more than 70 years and the coffee table layout is by far the best example of what can be done in the smallest space. Too often, I believe, “layouts” are about cute buildings and playing house rather than operation. Chris has been able to combine both into a functional operation that involves trains moving through well-done scenic features. It is an inspiration.

  86. Dave in Niagara Falls Ontario Canada says:

    I have seen some amazing railroad layouts in my life. I have to say this layout just goes right through the roof. This piece of work is just magnificent. The work involved is to the point of perfection. All anyone could ever say is this is a piece of not only a model railroad layout but a piece of real art work. Congratulations on a beautiful layout.

  87. Peter Bayley-Bligh says:

    What can yu say but “Wow” – craftsman coffee table and exquisite layout.

  88. Mr. Ron from South Mississippi says:


  89. Dan Yorba linda Calif says:

    This is a master Piece– on many levels

  90. Håkan Lundberg says:


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