How to build a model train layout

Today’s missive starts with more wise words from Hall of Fame member, Mark, on How to build a model train layout:

“Hi Al. Just came out of a round table discussion on why model railroaders sometimes lose interest during construction of their layout.

One of the major attractions is the many varied facets of our hobby. i.e. layout construction, track laying, scenery, model building, operations.. and the list goes on.

The problem arises when too much of our valuable time is spent on just ONE facet and we become “burnt out” on the entire project.

This can be overcome by scheduling completely “different” and varied projects that can be married into the grand scheme at a later date.

For instance, you can build a small scenic diorama on the dining room table in an evening, and at the correct time incorporate the finished project on the layout for instant gratification.

Attached is quick photo of just such a project that was done over a year ago and was recently installed in the Rock Canyon area on the Sweetwater & Thunder Mt RR.

It then gave me inspiration to ballast to bare track, operationally run some trains by the area, dream of how fun it would be actually be “in the scene” and ….the beat goes on!

Always remember, the “joy is in the journey” not the finished product, that’s how to build a model train layout.

Keep your rails shiny!


How to build a model train layout

A big thanks to Mark for sharing how to build a model train layout the simple way – makes complete sense to me. Over the years I have seen hundreds of unfinished layouts that have to be pulled apart with house moves and life changes.

Now on to Jim:

“Hello Al

This is a crossing for a “Cane Train” where it crosses the main line. It is a rail draw bridge of sorts. I have never seen anything like it before. Obviously ( and you can see in the link to the video) the Cane Train is a narrow gauge line. But it is very interesting. Thought you might enjoy it.


South of Rockhampton, the QR line is electrified and higher speeds are permitted than further north. In order to increase track speeds for the “tilt trains”, this drawbridge arrangement was devised so there is no break in the running rails for QR. All signals are color light.


That’s all for today folks. A big thanks to Mark for showing us how to build a model train layout without the soul crushing to-do-list that usually comes after the laying the track, and to Jim too.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

model train answers

36 Responses to How to build a model train layout

  1. Joe says:

    Awesome!. Did your surgery involve a hobbyist’s heart transplant?
    Nice work!

  2. Brian Messenger says:

    John, I am very impressed with the vehicle movements as well as the boat moving around the lake. Just adds a touch of realism to your layout. Well done. Brian – Knysna South Africa.

  3. Brian Staples says:

    This layout is very impressive. Fantastic job John. Would love to see more as you get closer to completion.

  4. NJ Mark says:

    I love all of the videos and photos. Truly inspiring. I must comment that model railroading is a hobby and a hobby MUST be fun and enjoyable. If you begin to feel overwhelmed or over worked, take some time away and get some fresh air. When you return, your “work” will become fun again. NJ Mark

  5. Chuck Copeland says:

    How does he make the trucks drive down the road. It even goes over rr tracks??????? HA Dam good!!!!! Chuck

  6. Frederick Smith says:

    The crossing reminds me of the road crossings for the former Listowell and Ballybunion RR in Ireland(?). It was a monorail and a drawbridge arraignment (for the road) was necessary for the road to cross the track. I believe there is an old Pathe newsreel on Youtube.

  7. Bruce Young says:

    Amazed by the trucks distance and route. How did you do that?

  8. Ralph says:

    I truly enjoy seeing how the trucks run on the road. I would sure like to know how it is done. Great job on the layout!

  9. Great movie on this, like the truck on the road. I got lots of trains and cars & trucks and this is giving me more ideas on my layout, thank you.

  10. Christopher Allworth says:

    Completely unbelievable!!
    Truly inspiring!

  11. Gary Rund says:

    Very impressive, where did you get the streets and trucks?

  12. Steve Hudacko says:

    Love the trucks and what to know more about how they work. You did a lot in a short time
    I know when I start to get tired of working on the RR it usually is because something isn’t working out the way I want it too. I will jump to something simple that doesn’t tax the old brain. After a while and some thought I will go back to the problem area. This could go on 3 or 4 times until I am happy with the results. I am not on a schedule so why stress out over some small areas. Part of the fun is the challenge.
    Steve from Toms River

  13. Robert Bouskill says:

    Wow. I need to know how you get the trucks to run down the road. Exceptionally fantastic! Great looking layout. Canadian eh!

  14. Mark Gotham says:

    With the JBF Video, What is used to move the Freight trucks ?? TYI

  15. Dan Marso says:

    Very impressed, how did you get the trucks to travel on the road???

    Danny Marso, Rhode Island

  16. Pete Evangel says:

    John: Love the trucks moving about the layout. How did you do it? Please please put together a how how video!!! You lots of stuff going on, make me want to stay and watch as much as possible.

    Mark: I think you’re on to something. I like the idea of doing stuff in smaller stages. Helps to see progress.

    Pete-Rainy Silicon Valley

  17. Larry Kuenning says:

    Everyone asks about the trucks, but how does the boat work? (Maybe the same way — but what is it?)

    Larry in Maine

  18. Larry Kuenning says:

    Oh, I see: the key is “Faller car” in the video title. Googling that brings up sources that explain it.

    (Could this system possibly be made to work for anything as small as an HO scale canoe on a lake?)

    Larry in Maine

  19. Don Garner says:

    That’s one helluva leap from a “round the tree” train circle. Amazing, imaginative and great job.

  20. charlie says:

    One great layout.The running of the trucks is wild.Great job all around. Hope to see more.

  21. John Pearce says:

    Great video! Hope you disclose how to animate the boat and trucks. Fantastic!
    John in Tennessee

  22. Dennis says:

    The motorised Faller road system is available for HO/OO gauge and you can even get a limited selection of smaller N scale items. I am looking into a different solution which I think looks even better called “Magnorail”. I prefer it to the Faller because you can use your own vehicles as the system is a moving belt with magnets driving the cars. Google it and you will be amazed especially at the HO/OO gauge cyclist. It is available in Europe but I can imagine them supplying to the States.

  23. Thomas Meleck says:

    Terrific layout. There’s a lot going on there. Those trucks are truly amazing. Thank you for sharing. I’d like to learn more about those Faller cars. I’d like to see them available in the US.

  24. Howie says:

    I love the truck movement, please tell me how to do that, very impressive.

  25. Darrel Green says:

    Hey Al, what you do is spectacular. I have incorporated many of the tips in my current layout. I am working on me third HO scale layout. Turning 54 in two days and feeling young. My first layout was a huge attempt at a 6 X 10 with no skills in the early 90’s, trashed. My second attempt was after Woodland Sciences came out. That was a 6 X 8 and sold before I could add track. Buyer loved the foam ideal. My current layout is a 5.5 X 8 X 2 figure 8 helix, you might say. I would love to send some pictures.
    To comment of the Faller products. I saw the vehicle system and looked it up. Each vehicle is battery operated with rotating front axles. Attached blow the front axle is a lead rod with a magnet attached. the magnet follows a wire just under the street. I’m not real sure about John’s as it looked like he started his up all at once to run together. Very nice! As to “Burn-Out” I agree with Steve of Tom Rivers, I run into many emotions as I do not have a track plan.
    It started from a dream. Rather than get frustrated, I move on to something else. I’ll make something needed rather than buy it retail like scenery, tools or glue track, color foam, anything. Experience has taught me to take my time and never look forward to completing it! I was so bored when I sold the last one. I really missed those “frustrations” and realized that, that was the true fun. All issues are fixable and renders a sense of pride and personal accomplishment.
    Darrel in Pomona

  26. KR says:

    Steve from Tom’s River,

    Would that be Toms River, NJ?

    KR (from Howell)

  27. Thanks everyone for your comments! The Trucks and boat are from Faller. There is a small wire imbedded in the road (and lake), and the vehicles have a magnet attached to the steering that follows the wires. Under the layout are some electromagnets which handle stopping, parking, turning. The lake has a spiral which eventually leads back to the start.

    John F.

  28. Ross Johnston says:

    Great video and I was enthralled with your moving trucks. Liked your layout plan too.
    Also regarding the cane train drawbridge. It is a rare sight as, coming from South Australia, these tracks are about 2500kms away. Most times they have direct crossings but I haven’t been that way for over 8 years so things might have changed. Cheers Rossco

  29. John F. for you to just go down in your basement & create what shows in your video is nothing less than fantastic!!!

  30. Cary Price says:

    I can certainly relate to Mark’s comments in the first part of this article. I’ve been working on an outdoor layout for about 7 years. It’s really two hobbies. In the summer I’m out working in the dirt, in the winter I make building vehicles, people, train cars etc…. Now is a good example. I’ve been working on the outdoor portion all summer and feeling a bit burnt out. Looking forward to “winterizing” my layout and turning my attention to some new indoor projects. I’m sure come spring I’ll be ready to break the shovel back out and play in the dirt again. Project variety and just being able to step away from it for a while are important if you want a long term hobby. Cary in KY

  31. Warren Ferguson says:

    Hello, Al, For reasons unknown to me, I didn’t receive the video. I got two still pics only. Anybody have an idea as to why?


  32. Steve Barrett says:

    Same for me, Warren. The majority of the comments refer to things which are not in the post I received. I imagine there is a link missing for some of us…?

    Lincs, UK

  33. Dan Hulitt says:

    With all these comments I have to find the link. I am a former South Jersey guy, so Tom’s Rivet is definitely Jersey.

  34. Kimmit Renken says:

    I didn’t get the video either. It sounds very interesting and I’d love to see it!

  35. Erick says:

    Good workmanship.

  36. Bill W says:

    Joining the chorus of those voices who did not find a link to the video. It sure “sounds” like a good one.
    Bill in upstate NY

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