Common model railroad mistakes

Common model railroad mistakes – Michael seems to have made them all, just like the rest of us.

The difference is, he’s been kind enough to document them.

And he really has started from scratch again, as many of you do.

His last post, which is called ‘Two years of trail and error’, is here.

It’s worth revisiting it to get a feel of what Michael is doing.

He really is chopping out the bits that he didn’t like – common railroad mistakes we all make:

“Alastair –

I thought I would share a major course correction I am working for my railroad. I played with that configuration for quite a while. I learned a lot, including what I did not like.

I decided there were some significant weaknesses with the old design. That design was basically two large irregular ovals one above the other connected by an incline. The design lacked a coherent “operational story”, in other words, the railroad did not have a clearly defined job to perform.

Also the design was an island design in the middle of a large room otherwise used for storage. I decided the room itself was poorly utilized and there would be no way for me to achieve the “Wow! factor” I was really looking for.

So this past summer I tore it all down; removed all the ugly and junky storage; I had the walls and floors finished and greatly improved the lighting.

While the room was being reworked I designed a brand new around the walls and peninsula design for the railroad.

The pictures I am sharing today are of the as-built design on new benchwork before any paint, scenery or structures goes on the layout.

As a reminder, the sole purpose of this railroad is to run my fifty to sixty year old vintage Lionel O-gauge equipment. (HO is not an option!)

The new design preserves all of my original layout goals, but without the common model railroad mistakes.

There are several improvements with this layout:

Much larger footprint;
* old design was 11 x 27 feet, ~300 sq. ft.
* new design is 17.5 x 38.5 feet, ~670 sq. ft.
* Interestingly, the total amount of track is almost the same: just over three scale miles.

The uninterrupted main line is more than a half scale mile longer.

All reverse loops are removed; reverse loops on 3-rail O-gauge aren’t an electrical problem but they do take up a lot of space and can be hard to reach in some areas; they are not particularly prototypical.

Turning trains is accomplished by using a wye.

The incline is removed. This track didn’t get used much and became a source of irritation. The new design is flat all around. I will obtain the appearance of grades using scenery and forced perspective. Additionally, having a grade is not operationally important in this case.

Simplified wiring.

Larger more sweeping curves; longer straight sections.

Can reach all track easily.

Better designed aisles; The narrowest pinch point is 21 inches wide, and there are many areas where the aisle width is greater than 36 inches. So there is plenty of room to walk around. The interior main aisle is accessed using a very simple lift-out bridge.

Benchwork is about 7” higher than before.

The biggest improvement is in the operational story.

This railroad is very loosely based on the Colorado and Wyoming Southern Division.

The Southern Division carried coal from the mine at Primero, to the coke ovens at Segundo, and then onward to the Colorado Fuel and Iron steel mill at Trinidad. There were interchanges at Jansen and Trinidad with the Colorado & Southern, AT&SF, and Rio Grande railroads.

The new design includes areas on the track for Primero, Segundo, and Jansen and provides for interchange traffic using the two staging tracks labeled Trinidad. With this design the railroad has a clearly defined job moving coal, coke, steel and other products between the different locations.

I’ve worked out a good deal of operational detail (at least on paper).

The overall plan and room outline drawn in SCARM

common model railroad mistakes with track plan

View of Trinidad and lift-out bridge

common model railroad mistakes lift out bridge

View of Jansen

common model railroad mistakes door access

View of wye at Primero

common model railroad mistakes tight curves

View of train room from Janson

common model railroad mistakes improves track plan

View of train room from Quarry spur

laying track



Now on to Lawrence:


My O scale train layout is still in progress.

Delay has been due to

1) covid problems

2) working on train puzzles and crosstitch

3) leather holster generation.

There is title pages, a number of pictures, and then video of trains moving.

Thanks for all that you have done for all of us that receive your daily emails. You are surely appreciated.


Lawrence, Madison Virginia”

A big thanks to Mike and Lawrence.

I do enjoy seeing all your updates, corrections and ideas.

That’s all for today folks!

Please do keep ’em coming.

Don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide is here. Is today going to be the day you make your start?



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

11 Responses to Common model railroad mistakes

  1. jack masarie says:

    Keep those “O scales” coming.
    Shlack in NC

  2. Rambo says:

    very nice are there a lot of blocks in your layout?

  3. Bill Holt says:

    Long live “O” scale !!

  4. William Orton says:

    That’s some redesign! I saw the 2″ foam insulation used on table top. I wanted to use that but too hard to get in Eastern NC. I look forward to seeing how you use backgrounds to achieve the look of grades. That is next on my project and I appreciate your experience and expertise. Great progress.

  5. Marklin ed says:

    Like your comments on your layout, Mike that’s a wonderful layout, lot of work ahead of you.

  6. Erick says:

    I like it. Keep up the good work.

  7. Michael says:

    Nice layout..Great job

  8. Bill Butler says:

    Lawrence, do I see one or two Big Boys?

  9. Scott Johnson says:

    Nice to see a couple of O scale layouts this morning. Keep up the good work, gents!

  10. Mark T. Pianka says:

    Mike keep the photos coming!! Looks good, Lawrence nice video and layout, send more pictures when completed! You guys need to join OGR Forum, You will enjoy!
    God Speed!

  11. john McGimpsey says:

    good to see the O guage , as I have that too and trying to get my layout put together again, look forward to seeing the finished project and how to use the grading potential, thanks for sharing

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