LED lights for model trains

When it comes to LED lights for model trains, Fred’s layout really is hard to beat.

It’s a stunning layout. And believe it or not, this post slipped through the cracks. Embarrassingly, I don’t think I published it.

If you watch his youtube you can see blank space for the oil refinery which he’s now done – you can see it here.

I thought it worth posting because it’s like a retro update:

“Hi Al –

Since we last traded notes I’ve been very busy on the western end (The city of Port Charles) of my layout. I’ll send some slides and a video if i can figure out how. Hope you like ’em.

I think one of my personal triumphs was figuring out how to light up all my cars with fiber optic strands.

I’ve been using .75 mm single strand fiber optic line for all the back drop lights, so I managed to drill out the headlights of a couple dozen plastic N scale autos, pushed the strands out through the lights, and through the floor of the car, then passed them through a 1/8″ hole in the street to a light source under the layout. in my street scene. Half were drilled (oncoming) for white headlights, half for red taillights. It really provides some visual excitement to the street at night.

Together with high rise kits, neon signage, I was pleased to see my city really come alive these last few months. My city backdrop is just a sketch at this point, but I’ve installed hundreds and hundreds of fibre optic strands to simulate night high rise windows, flashing beacons, aircraft strobe lights, etc.



led lights model train

led lights model train

led lights model train

model train subway

trestle bridge N scale

trestle bridge

model railroad factory

N scale model railroad

model train LED lights

model train led lights

Here’s what I really like about Fred though. I asked him if his layout was a ‘professional’ one. Here’s what he came back with:

“My layout is just for fun. Although one of your group during the last comment session sounded frustrated with the extent of some of my detailing, I think, because he felt I was overlooking the trains. In so many words he was saying “what’s the point?”

What he didn’t understand, clearly, were my motives. I’m not particularly interested in the trains (I once was, as a boy) but rather the process of modeling.

I did a lot of it as an architect, but never had an opportunity to do it in color, or with backdrops (I used to paint landscapes in oils) and certainly never had a chance to model anything this large.

N scale is great in one sense – that it offers you the elbow room to design plausible vales and hills, rivers, cities, ports, without that dreadful look that everything has been crammed in there simply because you couldn’t bear to give something up that you really wanted to include.

The bad side of N scale, I think, is that it’s so ridiculously small that most architectural details and surfaces have to be purchased rather than scratch built. Can you imagine scoring scale brick out of plaster at 1:160? I tried, and gave in to the kits. The other thing that is frustrating about N is the fussiness of anything mechanical, and I have to say that the only reliable locomotives I’ve found are all Kato.

I think your group has a majority contingent that IS in it for the trains, which is great, but it’s just a different thing. I don’t want to diminish from their pleasure at operating trains by setting a different standard for scenic modeling which they may temporarily envy, but for which they don’t have the desire to put in the money, time, or risk. It’s about priorities, really.

If each of us can help the other with pointers, tricks, or even by inspiring, I think that’s great. But when I see comments like “I wish my backdrop looked like that,” it saddens me that I might inadvertently be puncturing someone’s ballon. If it makes them feel any better, you can assure them that I am a frustrated model train operator who is a technical luddite, and can barely get a successful locomotive circuit of the layout without drive rods coming off, electrical short circuits form “frog juicers”that were supposed to work, and all sorts of other things that guarantee none of my friends will want to participate in an “operating session” whatsoever. The personal blessing is that it’s not why I’m doing this, so I don’t care!

So in conclusion I think this is a wonderful hobby, whether or not you view it as modeling where you employ moving parts of the model to enliven the static, or operating scale models of railroads with necessary scenic embellishments, but it is very important that we each remember why we got into this in the first place. So your question of me is an important one in the deepest sense, and I hope I’ve answered it.


A big thanks to Fred.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you stop dreaming and start doing, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

32 Responses to LED lights for model trains

  1. Brian Liddicoat says:

    Fabulous modeling. You are very talented!!

  2. orion says:

    Now this I really enjoy. I relate to the concept, as I am not into the trains, they just complete a landscape. I personally began my set up around the old HO gauge car racing sets ‘Model Motoring’ as I am far more into cars. Years ago, I had an Aurora car track, with an integrated HO train track, for a train crossing. It disappeared whilst I served in the Navy (curse little brothers) … and I am determined to find another crossing. And that is where my layout begins and ends. Right now it is all concept. I do have a small HO train track .. engines .. a few cars. I have an old Aurora ‘Model Motoring track and cars … and ideas galore. Just haven’t started putting it all together yet.

  3. Maurie May says:

    Good on you Fred!!
    We each have our strengths and interests. My layout is a simple double loop, built for my grand kids to play trains on, and for me as a test track.
    You see, my interest is getting old, not working locos etc, and fixing them, so I have no scenery at all. But all the “For parts, not working” items I have bought are now working, and working well, except for one that I used for parts for another unit.
    So just enjoy what you do!!

  4. Peter Bayley-Bligh says:

    Looks good and like the emphasis. Model railway clubs survive because of the variety of members skills – some like to model, some like to talk and most at some time o other like to run locomotives and trains. Each to hiss own but overall the best hobby.

  5. Colin edinburgh says:

    Stunning detail and layout. I would suggest a revisit to the trees. Most look like balls of wool stuck to the hills. Trees in the main have some trunk. Just about all your trees touch ground with their foliage and donot show any form of trunk or the trunks are so short as to be hidden. As I said an outstanding layout and I. My option the trees really let it down.

  6. robert dale tiemann says:

    very nice lighting job and buildings.

  7. Dwight in Toronto says:

    After having had the pleasure of viewing and marveling at Fred’s previous submissions, I’m somewhat shocked to learn that the model railroading aspects are a shortcoming for him. Even more surprising is his acceptance that he truly doesn’t care about that.

    I think that it’s marvelous how he long ago discovered the modeling skills that he is most proficient with, interested in, and passionate about. Clearly, his scale architecture reconstructions, and especially his proficiency with diorama micro-lighting, are exemplary.

    And I tip my hat at his candor, because in this hobby, admitting that all of your TRAIN related competencies are rather lacking is something that many might tend to shy away from. Fred, you’ve found your comfort zone, and you’re sticking with it … good on ya, mate!

  8. Stephen Hill says:

    Fred , that is amazing , there’s no competition just encouragement . Thanks for your insight and honesty. I agree , everyone must satisfy their own goals . The most important thing is just doing it , getting started and enjoying your work . Happy modeling.

  9. Ellis James English says:

    Here’s a retort to the naysayers of he hobby, it takes a village to raise a child, it takes innovation, tech, input from electricians, mechanics, modelers, lighting professionals, carpenters, also chemical (glues and silicone bonding and substrate for terrains rivers waterfalls, se it takes input from many sources. In building a layout, it encompasses so many different arts and personal touches we all need an idea or a thought or a picture proof of an idea put to work, being used regardless if a train runs through or not. I would love to see a diorama of the old electrics trains ford ran in se Mich. when I was a kid. That would take a lot of modeling experience. Think about what it really takes to be in this hobby and welcome input from others it just may be the idea you are looking for.

  10. Wolfgang Schulz says:

    What a stunning layout! One of the best I have ever seen. Fred, you are a genius. Congratulations!

  11. Rob McCrain says:

    Fred is building an absolutely beautiful layout. It is a perfect example of what you can do with a thoughtful approach to model railroading. It is not a vast layout but the perfect scale of everything in and on it and the blending of foreground and background makes it seem much bigger than I am sure it is Beautiful model building and a tremendous variety of scenes. Bravo clap clap
    Rob McCrain

  12. George Zaky says:

    Criticizing your work is like criticizing the Mona Lisa. The amount of effort and work it took you to create this masterpiece is astounding and in N scale yet.
    As an HVAC engineer who worked with some very creative and brilliant Architects I saw a long time ago that your talents were at play here and I cannot believe what you did. When we mortals say we wish we could create a semblance of your work we mean it with highest praise.
    It thrills me to see “Fred” on Big Al’s blog so please keep updating, show the incredible amount of effort you do, and the minutia details of your lighting work.

    Better yet, start all over in O scale 2 rail and show us what a real Architect can do ( just kidding). Much thanks for your contribution.

    Big Al- much thanks.

  13. George Gaspar says:

    Thanks for sharing your incredible work!
    If you keep working in this scale you will need better glasses.
    As an architect as well, I enjoy the scratch build process but I build in O scale. Lighting is a great way to enhance the experience.
    Al has posted some of my scenes as well. Keep up the great work.

  14. Fred Gevalt says:

    Colin –

    In case some are confused by the chronology of my layout progress, I think the video Al just shared is from 2019.

    I appreciate your critique of my mountainside trees, however, and agree that they should get a “rework.” As a private pilot with years of flying over the Berkshire Hills of New England, though, the overwhelming first impression is of “balls of wool” and rarely do you get to see the trunks, since forested deciduous trees (over here at least) are usually cheek to jowl, and from above you really can’t see trunks. I think that what you’ve identified is that they’re too homogenous, probably because I had so many of them that I went into “robo” mode, I was so sick of making them after about the 300th specimen.

    Given that my layout depicts the fall season, maybe an effort to “defoliate” a few, emphasize the color variation, and tweek and texture the black polyfiber that forms the tree itself would help add some more natural variation. I’ll keep you posted.


  15. Jim AZ says:

    Your layout and photos are truly unique, highly detailed and so realistic. The lighting effects are one of the best I’ve ever seen. And thanks to Alastair for sharing this masterful layout.

    Jim AZ

  16. Frank Pumillo says:

    Beautiful work, attention to detail is outstanding!

  17. Gary Gissiner says:

    This is the most realistic layout I have seen to date. It is great.

  18. peter theodore says:

    Wow Fred, incredible ! And in ‘N’ no less. Beautiful landscaping and detail, this rivals Rod Stewart’s layout for sure, two years? Amazing, I do O scale two rail because I can see it better lol
    Best to you Peter

  19. Wes says:

    Wow! Great work. Where did the N scale container cranes come from?? Please don’t tell me you scratch built them.

  20. Eugene Shaffer says:

    Great idea to put lights in backdrop painted buildings. Id like to try that with stars and consolations in my backdrop. Maybe even a translucent moon. I wonder if you could take pictures of the moon and print them on translucent material, then back light it. Hmmmm!

  21. Sam Hannigan says:

    Re: Orion,
    I too started with the Aurora cars and still have track and cars. I just haven’t figured out how to properly mix them with the trains and “town”
    I started out with the cars from the late 60s then came the “pancake” motor which I have still.
    As for Fred’s layout, I am just stunned by your talent. I have just a basic layout and am still learning anew. Great setup. I’ve been looking at LED lights also as they don’t take up as much power and are smaller to fit into buildings and such.
    I have so much to learn.

  22. Andrew Aves says:

    Wow! Awesome! A great layout Fred.
    Andrew in Oz

  23. Frank Vozak says:

    This is an amazing city layout. My N scale home layout had a small amount of this and my HO club as a limited urban skyscraper representing Chgo. Highly detail urban layouts are too few

  24. Allan J Jelinek says:

    You are one talented son of a gun.

  25. william j plmer says:

    outstanding work

  26. G. R. Broad says:

    Excellent effects, not overdone or excessively bright. A genuine piece of art!

  27. Ted Rothstein says:

    looks so real

  28. Raymond W Smith says:

    I totally agree with your view that the fun is in modelling buildings, scenes, etc. The running of the trains to me is secondary as well. I’m not so much interested in switching, manifests, etc. as I am in just letting the trains run continuously. I love architectural modelling and rendering the historical period that is my railroading focus (ca. 1855–1890). This calls for much scratch-building, which is okay with me!
    Your work is phenomenal! Thanks for posting

  29. Mr. Ron from south Mississippi says:

    I certainly agree that scenery makes a model railroad stand out. On a very large club layout, scenery can be a bit sparce to begin with, but on the typical small layout, scenery helps to avoid the bare spots. It also tends to sub judicate trains to a secondary position, placing scenery as the key element. A small layout has a simple track layout. Therefore, scenery fills in all the bare spots making trains appear more active than they really are. Think about the typical 4×8 layout. It has a limited number of possible layouts. That is where abundant scenery fills and makes the layout look busy. I’m using HO as the gauge. N gauge can have many more variations. There have been some very interesting 4×8 layouts using Lionel trains, but its the scenery that makes it work.

  30. Will in NM says:

    Amazing layout! This video gives a much better overall sense of your lovelt N-scale layout. I agree that some of the trees look too uniform and lack trunks and branches. You would only need to rework some of the trees nearest the foreground and perhaps vary the sizes and coloring a little more to achieve a more realistic appearance.

    Are the plexiglass high-rises kits or do they come assembled and painted?

  31. Duncan Macdonald says:

    Modeling in small scale is hard for us that can’t see that well anymore too. Recommend 3D printing as an alternative to making your own plaster brick walls or buying kits. Being an architect you are probably familiar with drafting software. 3D software is free (tinkercad). There are tons of free printable items on the internet. A new 3D printer costs about $350.00

  32. John says:

    What makes fred’s layout stand out to me is that the lighting is “in scale” . . . not only brightness in comparison to each but also overall. So many are otherwise. Just perfect!

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