U shaped model train layouts

Brian’s been in touch – he’s added to the U shaped model train layouts on the blog.

He’s in New York, but being a Brit, so is his fab layout:

“Hi Al,

Its been a few years since I last sent you a note about my OO (HO) model railway.

Before I tell you of my progress, I want to echo what many others say and thank you so much for your hard work in maintaining this blog. Being in the US, it always arrives by the time I wake up in the morning and it’s the first email I open every day.

I am a Brit living some 40 miles outside of New York, came here in 1990 for what I thought would be 3 years and am still here!

It’s very interesting to see what fellow modelers focus on, Brits tend to have rural and urban settings whereas Americans in general focus on mining and logging interspersed with small towns.

Despite being in the US, I decided to build my model around UK trains and scenery, which presented a challenge during covid because I was unable to travel back to the UK to buy supplies as often as I would have liked.

So, my first layout, for which I sent photos, was 8’x4’ was built on the landing of my home. This was fine till my daughter visited with her cats – I found out very quickly the model railways and cats do not mix- we called the cat Catzilla! (look through the arch in the 1st photo!)

cat on model railway

So, my plan B was to finish off the basement in which to build my next layout.

My new “man cave” is 19’ by 14’ and I painted the walls a light blue hoping it would blend in with the scenery.

Because of the stairs / door configuration, I built the train table U shaped with one leg longer than the other.

I decided to build it approx. 16 inches from the wall so I could reach all areas resulting in the table, which is 4’ wide throughout, is 11’ along the top with the left leg 14’ and the right leg just over 8’.

U shaped model train layouts

The track layout in the photo is pretty well how it has ended up. I decided to keep it all on one level but create height with the scenery etc. It took 8 months to get from Catzilla to my new train table.

I laid white 3/4-inch insulation on my board and painted it earth brown, this helped when I created my lake and canals as I was able to cut out the bits I did not want, more later.

I did not model anywhere in particular but my theme is pre diesel, so all my engines are steam and most of my model cars are from the 1960s and 1970s with a few exceptions.

I have a mixture of GWR, LMS, LNER and BR locomotives.

Here is the current layout.

U shaped model train layouts

I started by creating the upper level which starts on the left side and goes round the top with the track in the tunnel for half of this distance.

The main part of the railway is DCC but I put a tram on the upper level which is DC. It operates on a simple shuttle so I just switch it on and leave it to run.

The scenery is of a northern England town with terrace houses, church (with wedding of course) and school just like the one I attended.

U shaped model train layouts warehouse factory

U shaped model train layouts – the track plan:

U shaped model train layouts track plan

Shortly before I started to build the model, my wife and I went on a cruise which included sailing through the Panama Canal. For me, the most interesting part were the locomotives which pull the ships through the locks, so I decided I needed a canal with track up the side which would pull barges. I ended up with this-

OO scale canal layout

This line is also DC and on a simple shuttle. I have not yet worked out how to successfully have the canal barge attached to the locomotive so that is work in progress; I don’t want track down the length of the canal.

Along the side of the canal are warehouses and a brewery as well as a row of cottages. Looking for something to put at the bottom end, I chose a cricket match complete with pavilion.

I have always liked the idea of a high level viaduct (we had a 3 level one in my town before Beeching pulled it down) so that links the 2 sides of the upper level, and the tram transverses it.

Below it is a station and one of the biggest challenges of my whole layout, the funicular, links the lower level to the upper level.

It has taken 3 years and a lot of angst to get it working properly. However, now passengers can alight at the station and go to the upper level and visit the castle and town.

funicular model railway

I am particularly pleased with the castle, a Metcalfe model. I wanted something to be a focus and decided that this is ideal. It’s the most expensive structure on the layout but well worth it.

Moving round to the right leg of the layout, I have a village scene with fire station, farm, pub and park complete with boating lake and outdoor concert. And then another, smaller canal with lock and canal boats.

model railway boating lake

OO scale canal layout

model railway street

model railway farm

OO scale model railway station

As many contributors have said, a layout is never finished. However, much of the work is now complete and now I need to add more scenery etc. It’s the building rather than running trains the I enjoy the most.

Sorry I have not worked out how to video yet, that may come soon.

Happy modeling,


A huge big thank you to Brian for adding to the U shaped model train layouts.

For me, it’s the personal touches that make a layout, and Brian’s is packed full of them: Loved the small diesel pulling canal boats, and the funicular railway too.

That’s all for today folks. Please do keep ’em coming though, it’s still ghostly quiet this end.

And if today is the day you poke boredom in the eye and join in the fun, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

26 Responses to U shaped model train layouts

  1. robert dale tiemann says:

    nice i should redo mine, kinda like this, maybe a double decker.

  2. Brian Messenger says:

    Brian (USA) you have built a very nice sized layout and well detailed so far.
    Thanks for showing us. Keep up the excellent work.
    Ditto for Al.
    Brian – the HOn3 guy in Knysna RSA 🇿🇦

  3. Tonh Cooper says:

    One word – Wow. What a fantastic and varied layout. Love it!

  4. Colin edinburgh says:

    Brian. A nice layout. I particularly like your interpretation of the Panama Canal. It is a triumph of taking a theme and adapting it and brining it in to your vision. Outstanding idea.
    Well done

  5. Richard. Smyth says:

    What a great layout. A nice original design with different levels of scenery. Having the main track on level ground solves a lot of running problems.My you must have put many hours into building those kits. As a fellow Brit I know that the British favour card kits whereas in the US plastic building’s are the norm.Brisn if you ever visit Chicago we have the Brlitish Train Society here. We show our modular layout about once a year

  6. Brian Rockey says:

    Good work Brian – it’s looking great!
    Definitely need to keep that pesky cat out of the basement – LOL.
    Best to all.
    Brian, Wokingham, UK

  7. Herman Crauwels says:

    Great layout and good scenery !
    Herman C.

  8. David Howarth says:

    Nice work Brian …

  9. Don R - Florida, USA says:

    Brian, one of the best space utilizations I have seen on a layout. You have a little bit of everything going on, and it still is not crowded looking. Great ideas with a trolley, funicular system, canals with barges and canal boat, and a beautiful viaduct. Yet still keeping the main railroad simple on the base level. Love it!

  10. Stephen Hill says:

    Wow, remarkable, outstanding even … that is a superb layout indeed . Extreme detail and very neatly done.
    Would be funny if you had a pet cemetery for dead cats only . Seriously though that is an amazing piece of work , true talent .

  11. Thomas Strangeway says:

    Awesome layout Brian. For the barges to be towed maybe try lego wheels hidden under them so a track would not be needed. It’s looking good keep going.

  12. Marklin ed. says:

    Well Brian you need to add some small details like cargo and freight and more people etc. This will give you something to do. It’s never finish. Think of. Dangerous Dave he’s alway changing his layout. GREAT GREAT LAYOUT.

  13. George Zaky says:

    What a Smashing layout. I am so amazed how artists like you plan and execute. Thank you so much for the time & effort to exhibit your wonderful handiwork.
    Funicular- had to look that one up- brilliant, cricket field, concert field. canals, great buildings- WOW.
    Big Al- A stunner it is. Thanks again.

  14. John Hauser says:

    Nicely done, the English theme adds a classical theme and landscape.
    John Hauser, NY

  15. M says:

    I like the urban setting very much, but I don’t think that I can afford to build it. With some extra time and exercise, I can find most of what I need for a rural train scene for free. Buildings, roads and all of the little things that go into an urban setting can be very expensive. My budget for trains is necessarily small.

  16. Bill in Virginia says:

    That is a nice layout! You’ve put time and love into creating your world 👍🏼

  17. Terry Miller says:

    For the canal boat–you might consider cutting a small slot along the entire side of the canal as low as possible and fastening a piece of wire to the center of the boat near or below water level. Put a small washer on the wire both in front and behind the slot to keep it in position. The wire would then move in the slot as the boat was pulled by the engine.
    To attach the engine to the boat use a piece of guitar string from the engine to the bow of the boat.
    theoretically the engine pulls the boat forward, the mid-center wire acts as a guide in the slot and it should move fine. I’m not sure how you would get it to go backwards for repositioning the boat.

    Terry/Idaho USA

  18. John Reynolds says:

    Fantastic and inspirational.
    Job well done.

  19. Alan C says:

    Lovely layout, Brian. There is an almost uncanny similarity between your story and mine. I am another Englishman and I live about 20 miles outside New York. I came to the US in the 50’s, intending to stay about three years – but I am still lingering here! My interst in railways dates back to the 30s when I had Hornby 0-gauge trains on a table, that my father built, running around the walls of a spare room. Just before the war, I got inspired by the books on Scale Railway Modelling by Edward Beale but I did not get a chance to start a model until I came to the US. At first, I made a rather half-hearted attempt with some American reefers and a Mantua engine but this was disbanded when, in the 60s, I discovered that 00-guage trains in the UK were beginning to look quite realistic. Like you, I started building a model railway in the basement of our house but then decided I needed to finish off the basement first. Then, in my later years I really got down to building a railway – in a space somewhat similar to yours, 19ft by 16ft.It is a totally British layout, attempting to capture, not too strictly, the atmosphere of where I grew up, in Southern England (SR territory) And I am now completing a Metcalfe castle! I loved your cricket match – I bet they must score a lot of 4s and 6s!

  20. Jim AZ says:

    Nicely done. You’ve created several interesting, unique and highly detailed scenes with this layout. Great work and thanks for sharing.

    Jim AZ

  21. Mike Balog says:

    Hi Brian: Nice well thought out layout. Liked the fact you have a two tier system, DCC on the main lower level and DC on the upper level. And that Canal Boat System is nicely displayed. Do you have any locks in the Canal? Another Comentor suggested having a Piano Wire attached to the small industrial locomotive on the track above the canal attached to the Bow of the Boat. Perhaps you can do a slip type connection with an Eye Hook on each end of the boat. The engine could have a solid wire pre-bent to couple with the front as well so you can reverse the locomotive to drag the boat back towards to Tunnel… Just a thought. From Mike in New Hampshire, USA.

  22. Joe Dascola says:

    Hi Brian,
    Wonderful layout with great detail. It is a lot of work, especially when you cannot readily acquire OO gauges and UK accessories. I know, I lived in Surrey, England for 4 years and had a layout there. Moved back to Tampa, FL and now using all my Hornby Mallard, Peco track/points and all coaches, LIMA, Dapol, Wrenn, Tri-ang, etc. Converted from DC to DCC a couple of years ago. I too have a cricket field with players.
    My best, Joe Dascola

  23. Rocco Maley says:

    Hi Brian, I love the layout. Something like this would just fit in the space I have for a layout. I live about 35 miles from New York City. I am an original New yorker. Came out to jersey after my hitch in the service in 1967. I live in northern NJ in a town called Haskell, About 12 miles north of Paterson New Jersey. Where are you living? I am interested in copying your layout, That is If you don’t mind. You can get my e-mail address from al. Just show him a copy of this reply. He has my permission. Tale care. Great layout. Rocco from Haskell N.J.

  24. Tom Bridgett says:

    I can only repeat what Tonh Cooper says:
    at 6:58 am

    One word – Wow. What a fantastic and varied layout. Love it!

  25. Hugo Budzien says:

    Canal boats on wheels with non-marking tires.
    Stand offs with small rollers that look like bumpers on side of boat
    Out of sight return loop but I don’t know how to jump loco over boat
    Boats could be disguise for a Faller road system.
    The Faller boat could loop out of sight and the loco just shuttle back and forth and match up before coming out of the tunnel.
    You computer guys could figure that out.

  26. Bill Donovan says:

    What is the brand for the bench work. I just got a box of it at an auction, but would like to find a manual or instructions how to use it.

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