Pat’s railroad dilema

I had the below email in from Pat.

And it’s something I’m sure we have all mulled over at some time.

So I thought I’d put it ‘to the collective’ and see what wisdom we can pull out of the ether…

Just post your thoughts below!

If you read the comments so far, you’ll see a common thread. And it’s good advice.

“I really enjoy your e-mails and many of the wonderful attachments as they are very informative and answer many of the questions I have as I return to this hobby.

I owned a hobby shop twenty five years ago but that venture did not go well in a town too small to support it and with the advent of the internet, that was sort of the final straw so to speak.

In those years since, this hobby has changed and modernized to where I feel I am really too far behind to make a correct decision on what to do next.

As I approach retirement, which is four years away, I am looking at getting back into the hobby and have spent many hours “window” shopping in my Walthers catalog and have a building list that is $2,700 long.

That was based on a layout that was five by fifteen feet.

I was under the impression that I needed to determine my industries, locate them on the layout and then lay track based in the corresponding need of the industry (one track, two tracks, or multiple tracks placed so far apart and so on.) Now I have been told that I need to lay the track then place the buildings. I am now just more confused.

Then, in reading some articles, it was suggested that a modular layout was the best to have and in some respects that does sound practical.

So what I am asking, is what is your opinion on how I should proceed. Industries first or tracks? Large layout or a modular one? Any thought and comments are welcome.


Not that I’m biased or anything, but you could do a lot worse than starting here

Anyhow, post your thoughts below and let’s see what we can do for Pat – and the rest of us!

Now on to Steve in Oz:

“Hi Al,

In Dave’s recent video, he talked about cork underlay, and that he cuts a ‘nick’ on the inside of the cork when going around bends.

Here is how I do it.

When I come to a curve, I cut the cork down the middle (for the length of the curve). This allows me to install each piece of cork from each side of the track.

This makes the cork very flexible and plyable.

The first pic is a straight section.

The second is the curve.

Alternatively, ‘N’ scale cork is about the correct width for doing this. So its up to you as to which method to use.


Steve (Sydney)”

n scale track cork

n scale track cork

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming – I’ve never known it so quiet.

And please post if you can help Pat. As you’ll read there is some sensible advice.



PS And if you’re just looking for layout examples, here’s some HO train layouts

219 Responses to Pat’s railroad dilema

  1. mike says:

    Tip to cut down cost by about about $500: don’t buy from Whalters, they buy brands like life like and such and put the price up by half for re sale! You should get the name of the company each product is from and buy direct from them. Also as you probably know, buying in bulk cuts down on cost a good amount also 😉

  2. i would go for industries first then your tracks so you know what space you need as to the layout then large but modular for ease of moving if needed

  3. Mike says:

    Hi Al and Pat. I reckon track before anything. Scenery buildings, anything.
    Draw a good track plan, laYy and ballast it and make sure it all works before doing anything else.
    Good luck Pat and enjoy your railway and retirement!

  4. Jim says:

    I don’t think I could lay track very accurately if the buildings were in the way. I traced the bases of each building onto paper and placed these on the layout with rubber cement. This enabled me to have a clear area for track laying with full knowledge of what would be where when finished. I am now at the point of putting the buildings in their proper locations.

  5. Pops says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s whatever you want.

    In my humble opinion, it would depend on the buildings. If you have something you definitely want to include, plan the layout around it. If you don’t have any must-haves, then I would lay out the tracks first and add structures where ever they seem logical.

    On my layout, the only must-have I had was the passenger station, so I planned the track layout with that in mind. Rest of the structures came after.


  6. David says:

    Hi Pat,

    I am retired and just starting my layout. It is 4′ wide x 22′ and then 90s to 4′ x 12′. I thought about doing buildings and mountains first. But am going to lay track and then build around it. I had trains as a kid. Now I want to do it up big. I have 3 Grand Boys to help.

    Good Luck and Have Fun


  7. Nick Trigili says:

    First is it O gauge or HO….. My feeling is First How much time do you want to spend building it… Do you want a layout to get up and running or do you want to have a project by trying to determine what industries you want to have. I laid track to run more than one train on separate tracks,because I wanted to have trains running quickly..I then took various area of the board and built industries and various themes over the board… As I watched the trains running I got different ideas for different parts of the board..I am still adding board size as I get a brainstorm for a new theme..I find it more fun to build as you go..
    I dont want to turn my fun into a project.

  8. Michael Maass says:

    I have found that if you have a general idea of the terrain, placing buildings first, then the track works well. But, if you don’t know or really care about your buildings, lay the track first, unless you are working for realism. Me, I am laying the tracks first, then electronics, then scenery, and the last, the buildings because it works for me. I am building a “u” shaped layout that takes up most of my garage in HO scale. Good luck. Personally, I buy a little, build a little, then repeat, one section at a time. Mixes it up and keeps it interesting and fun!

  9. alan says:


  10. Barry Clay says:

    Well I would certainly say track first to iron out any problems then keep adding scenery and buildings,if you place the buildings first then there is no guarantee that the track will fit around it ? I have always laid track first and never the other way around.

  11. Jan Boen says:

    Hi Pat,

    I’ve always started with the track and then added the scenery.
    Obviously when planning you go through various iterations on paper and/or computer (I use AnyRail) and adjust accordingly.
    What I find most complicated is getting the balance right between visible and invisible tracks. I like to see my trains go and not just hear them somewhere hidden under ground or behind scenery. But also I don’t like to see them just go round in circles…
    Though choices.
    Whether modular or not I would be tempted to go modular the next time around. My current surface is 2.6m x 1.4m (8.4ft x 4.5ft) using Arnold N-gauge and is stuck in the attic.



  12. David says:

    Something that has helped me was to join a model railroad club (N scale). I was able to run trains on the club layout and find what I liked and did not like. Also the other menbers do give good advice and help if needed.

    I would plan the main lines first then see what can be added in the space left over. Do this on paper or a cad program until you find the right layout for you. Do not start too big, it will overwhelm you and then you will just want to quit working on it.

  13. Dean says:

    Gosh, where to start….think about it………in real life, what comes first – buildings or train track, roads, etc. Probably close together depending on circumstances, but I think buildings would come first. Makes for some interesting track laying, for sure! As for size, how much space will you/do you have to use? A whole basement or attic? A 10×10 room? A shelf? You can also use modules to build a large layout, plus take some to shows, if you get into that. One thing about it, the sky is the only limit here……..oh, other than your billfold, that is.

  14. Harry Kubarek says:

    I’m also getting into Model Railroading so I’m not an expert by any means but here is my opinion. The first answer to me would be tracks, however, in planning you need to know where your structures go. If you put the Industries first to me it be hard to get the track layed down without bumping into everything.

    The second answer to me depends if you unit is going to moved around or not although, modular gives the option of adding on easily if plan on expanding. My layout is on a 5’x12″ cookie-cutter style benchwork. That’s all the room I have for.

    I hope I don’t sound to stupid but I want to start contributing to comments and forums. I think its a great way to learn. I know I have a lot to learn but it’s going to be a great time!

  15. Al says:

    Since I didn’t know where to start with my layout, I thought I would not “re-invent the wheel” but I would find one that I liked in one of the many of the layout books that fit the space available. I could then make some small changes in it to fit my desires. I did make it in sections so that it could be moved if necessary.

  16. Sheila says:

    The main thing is too just enjoy. I do the track first. I anticipate industries and communities, but am more interested in watching the trains. I currently have two layouts built on a large table scale. I will very soon combine these into a combination shelf and island layout. I will be laying the track first. Enjoy

  17. Dave Metrano says:

    I had the same problem a few years ago. I lost my entire layout due to a “freak, 100 year flood”. I almost gave it up when my son suggested that I start over and build a replica of the area I grew up in (Somerville, Mass.)

    So I went to the Somerville City Hall and scoured the archives for pictures of all the buildings I knew when I was a child. I did this and
    scratch built many of the fine buildings, using photos as a guide. Now I am laying the track around these buildings as I remember them. By the way, I have completed 97 buildings over the last 10 years.

    Good luck, let me know how you make out. If you want, I’ll send you some pictures when I finally finish.

    Dave Metrano

  18. James P. Lydon says:

    Dear Al:

    My opinion is to layout the track configuration before adding structures (I.E. – buildings, industries, etc…) so you can see how your railroad design is going to look. And in another thing, you would like to start out small like a modular unit, and expand by adding other modular units as your time and budget allows. Those are the approaches that I would take. If you have any problems or questions, drop me an email.



  19. Dave says:

    In the many years that I have done layouts, I found it best to get a general idea of what you want and then start from there. I seen that the only problem with installing your layout first is that your track may not fix exactly where you want it. My opinion is to start with your track first and then go from there. And note that even with a idea in your head, you will still make some changes as you continue on. I wish you the best and hope all works out for you

  20. Vic Pompa says:


    I’m working on only my second small n scale layout and really, it’s the first successful one. I established the layout dimensions I could comfortably squeeze into the available space first. I had dreams of course of a vast railroad empire but came down to earth quickly. I already had a theme for the layout in mind. New England, small town and assorted factories and businesses in the furniture industry. I did the track plan to accommodate the theme and general areas of the layout. I planned a main street in one section, most of the factories in another, some countryside and hills in another. I didn’t plan track around specific structures because there is so much flexibility in choosing buildings, modular kits, kitbashing and building from scratch. The track plan has accommodated the general plan. I have chosen alternative structures, kitbashed or built from scratch to fit available space when necessary. It seems to be working.

  21. david says:

    i would lay the track first, you should have a rough idea how you would want the track, and look at it,and see were you can fit the shops and factoreys and roads,and all the scenery. hope you enjoy planing and creating.a very enjoyable layout. all the very best.

  22. MICK says:

    Hi Al/Pat
    I am on my second layout because i made so many mistakes on the first i am running dcc on a modular layout 16 feet by 8 feet, I found it more interesting to build and research my local area of long melford and sudbury in suffolk, Long melford has a maltings and coal yard with station and sudbury had two stations in the 1950’s The track plan was taken from the year 1925 which has been a problem trying to get everything in place as best to scale so laying the track is a must because it only takes 1 set of points coming out at the wrong angle and you have to start again and getting loco’s running properly before anything else, Something else i looked at was the contours of your countryside its easy to build up your scenery but more difficult to go lower than the trackbed about 30% of my layout is lower than the baseboard which is easy to do when biulding the base board from scratch this is where the research comes in handy taking pictures and looking at archive footage, Hope this is of some use to you plus i would like to know what other ideas come up from this.

    Best regards

  23. matthias smith says:

    I my self drew it all out on paper then I put it on the Styrofoam base buildings
    First then put down the tracks to fit my industries….Matt

  24. Tim W. says:

    I am in the planning stages of my layout too. My room is 32′ x 48′ and plan to work on it until I die. My suggestion is go on line and down load XTrakCAD 4.0.3a it is free and has a lot of bells and whistles easy to use and is very flexible. It has a lot of Walthers building foot prints already in and it is easy to draw what is not. It has a lot of different component manufactures already in. You can also run trains on it to see if you like your layout. This is what I am using.

    hope this helps

  25. Bob says:

    I am relatively new to the hobby. I started 11 months ago with my 6 year old grandson. From the reading I had done, all suggested planning ahead was crucial. I started with a 51/2 X 10 ft rectangle and this last month we decided to expand by adding a 4 X 4 ft section making it “L” shaped. Since the size of the room will dictate how big you can go (in my case I think I’m maxed out) and the size of your budget, I would concentrate on the quality of it. Detailed scenery, mountains, elevated sections of track, houses, lighting etc. modular layouts are good esp if you have to move them.
    As far as hobby shops go, it is unfortunate but they are few and far between. I put hours in online that a good hobby shop would be able to answer in seconds. This forum is a great resource as is Al’s model train resource. Good luck with your layout – with your background I am sure it will turn out great!

  26. Ken says:

    I have just returned to the hobby after ** years after finding my ‘old’ locos and track’ in the loft … as a grandad of seven who wanted to ‘play’ with the ‘train set’ I have now gone back to the hobby – this time DCC – my first thoughts were – scene (diorama) or track (trains and track) – conclusion – model railway is about trains and track not back scenes – go for what is in ‘your head’ and what space you have available – you can you pro typical – for the ‘rivet counters’ or have some fun and go with what is in your head – you are the user – not them – have fun….go for it..

  27. Thomas Meleck says:

    The easiest way to start a track plan is to decide what radius is most suitable for the type of rolling stock you want to use on your layout. Then, decide whether you want a table-style layout or an around-the-walls layout. Next is the decision regarding whether you want a point-to-point layout, or a circular one that provides for continuous running. These decisions help you decide whether you are going to model a prototypical road or a free lance one. Finally, these cumulative decisions will determine what kind of industries you will want or need on your eventual layout.

    Basically, track plan first, then decide what industries you need to accommodate on the layout.


  28. dennis rudroff says:

    I have Lionel trains so I built my track first with a general Idea of where I wanted some of the buildings.

    Im not sure what Modular is but I made a rural layout and a town layout on two different tables about 5’x8′ and put casters on the legs so I could move them wherever I wanted them to make it look like one large 8’x10′ or 5’x16′ or an 8’x13′ L shape layout.
    It was in my garage so it was easy to move them out of the way when I needed to work in the garage or to the middle of the room when I wanted to run trains.

  29. Griff says:

    Ihave been in model railways since 1952 and built more layouts than I can remember my method is to roughly draw small scenes of what I would like it to look like then lay track and then adjust it to fir and represent what I am looking for

  30. Dirk Schroeter says:

    Don’t forget to factor in the locomotives and cars you’ll be running. I had what I thought was a pretty nice layout in HO when I was a teenager, and one Christmas my parents gave me the Berkshire (2-8-4)steam engine I always wanted. Well, that locomotive couldn’t handle anything less than a 24″ radius, so all my 18″ curves were for naught. Also some long passenger cars, even if they can handle smaller radii, look ungainly on tight curves.

    I ended up redoing my entire layout with hand-laid TruScale (don’t know if they still even make that) roadbed and nickel silver rail spiked by hand with 24 – 26″ curves. It was worth it, though. I still have the layout almost 50 years later, much to my wife’s chagrin.

  31. charles bartel says:

    I am of the opinion that you should visualize the landscape that you want to run trains throug, and than layout he major track, making it one or two track based on year the model is set in, high speed runs, blcok control. That should inlcude rivers and ponds. Once that is done (and don’t lay track yet, just visualize and sketch), now you can switch hats and become an industrialist. Pick an industry, determine what resources are needed, what the surronding landscape should be. If it is a power industry that needs lots of water for cooling, it should be close to your river. Don’t have one, now is the time to add it, along with bridges, etc. So now you have an industry with power, you need raw material in, product out. Needs a spur. So just like the bib boys, you cut the main line, and add a spur, or maybe a team track. MOve to the next industry of choice, repeat above. This makes it releastic, as you may have “excavate” earh, build it up, put a branch line in, add a small yard if it warrants it (like a high produciton coal mine), etc. The fun, experience and bulding activity becomes very intense in this approach. God created the earth, railroad barrons joined cities with rr track, and the business worl built the factories that needed rai servies. We just created our own little world.

  32. John says:

    Track first! I am on my 4th layout (each time I moved before the layout was complete and the last time everything finished up in storage – for over 15 years!) but after the first each layout has been planned on graph paper and drawn to scale. In that way I have been able to determine exactly what was possible and realistic, and the limitations in the space available. Of course I started with an idea of what type of layout it would be, where the main station(s) would be, the countryside, the towns, etc. Once the trackwork was completed, I then began to add all the rest (station, platforms, hills, roads, buildings, people, etc., and more or less in that order. Good luck and enjoy.

  33. chris says:

    It’s your railway so just relax and enjoy; personally I’d put down cut out bases of any industry that you want and then lay your track around them. When satisfied then fix and ballast track making sure al runs smoothly, enjoy

  34. Gary Hamlet says:

    Hi Pat, I was thinking, ‘how cheeky am I?’ as I’m only a beginner myself. Never-the-less . . . . ., when I decided a year ago that I would attempt something new like building a lay-out for my grandson the first thing I thought was . . .HOW BIG could I stretch to, the missus answered that one . . .”No bigger than 2.5 x 2.5mt !!!!!” Having built the frame-work in 2 pieces where both sections would be able to be separated and still be able to be used individually , if necessary, I bolted them together, thus making a 2.5mt square with a 80cm ‘square cut-out operators area’ in the centre. “There . . .lovely”, I seemed to have loads of area to do exactly what I wanted GREAT !! . . Until I started to piece together the track. I could NEVER get the 2 ends to meet successfully, without pulling into place, which, of course, compromised one or more connections/joins. As time went on & I’d pulled out a great deal of my hair getting angrier & angrier, I thought I was going to have to compromise by following someone elses track layout plans. So I scoured the internet & found it !! ‘AnyRail4EN’ BRILLIANT – it lets you chose your size of base board, then , on-screen, you can start ‘building your layout’ it tells you the hornby track ref No. that you need to use, and because the point at which you start is a fixed point on the screen, you can’t physically pull the ends together to MAKE THEM meet. I could waffle on the delights of this program – I wont though.
    In my very humble opinion, I would think that you’re much better off getting the track layout sorted first ( but keeping in mind where you intend placing your industries ) in case you have to put a couple of “wiggles” in somewhere to make the ends meet.
    THERE . . .That’s my first ever “blog” reply, on any site. GOOD LUCK Pat
    I hope this was of some help. Warmest regards, Gary x

  35. Don Miller says:

    The best way and simplest is to lay your track down, outline it with pencil or marker. You can also use some of the free programs availabe on the internet such as, they have a rr cad program that allows you to draw your layout on a scale grid, place your buildings or industries on the grid to see how the track will run. Its always best to have the track plan first, this way you know exactly what and how much track you are going to need. The layout plan will also allow you to see where and what kinds of industries, factorys, coal and logging operations will fit in what areas. This is good for a mock up before you ever lay any track down. It will also give you a listing of what kind of track you use and how much you will need. Ive always built my layout first, then proceeded to build my factorys and industries around what I have already layed. I also agree with some of the folks on here that say dont buy from the big retailers for models, rolling stock aor locomotive stock. You can purchase a great deal of stuff through places like, even i have purchased the majority of my stock over the internet. The savings is well over 70% cheaper. The large retail merchandisers sell stuff at 125%, you can buy the same stuff through local online hobby shops for less than half of what they sell it for. If you ever look at athearns websight for locomotives, the EMD HO gauge Sd units sell for 259.00, you can buy the same things from smaller hobby shops that purchase in bulk for about half that cost. What ever you build, remember its a hobby, its something that takes time and its something you share with others to keep it alive.

  36. Swiss Chris says:

    I am just getting back into the hobby myself. I have a 16′ X 12′ shed in which I started to build a layout some 27 years ago. But I made the mistake of being too ambitious and had to give up uncompleted after 7 years work on it. I have decided to do a basic double track circuit with 1 terminus / fiddle yard and 2 stations, 1 small 1 medium. I needed to work out a modus operandi for the layout with some industries to generate freight. Then I sat down with some track plans books & anyrail 4. The shed has now been nearly cleared out as it has been used for storage for the past 19 years, and I will be starting track laying next month noting where I am going to put any industrial units (breweries factories etc). So it’s track first, buildings second.
    Whichever you decide, have fun building it.

  37. Jim says:

    Track first? Buildings first? Chicken or egg? Neither works by itself.

    I have read the arguments and so far a few people have come close
    to a reasonable answer and one person has given a possible solution.

    The answer is:- Planning.

    Decide what you want to have as your theme. What towns, industries, main line, goods line, branch lines, high speed, slow speed, get this from your mind onto paper; or better yet, as a work-in-progress on your computer, using your favorite word-processor, so that changes can easily be made without using up forests.

    Once you know what you want to do, then plan it. This is really important if both time and money are not to be wasted in rework. Planning has been suggested already, but only one responder has mentioned using software. This can be your greatest friend.

    There are some free packages about, but for a small outlay, some really good software is available. I will not advertise what I use as this is not the place. Needless to say, I am able to stretch/shrink, re-route around potential building sites, place and move around buidings until I am happy.
    Play with levels, gradients, long runs for my express trains and nice little windy single lines for my branches.

    I can then see immediately if I have clashes, too tight curves, too steep gradients and so forth before I commit myself to hours, days or weeks of rework.

    I even get a full track and scenery list with quantites, lengths, part numbers and a host of additional information out of the system. I can even allocate track into sections and also alocate tracks to purposes.

    With all this information available, I know that my time will be spent enjoying building and running my layout instead of swearing about not checking problem areas first. And enjoyment is what this hobby is all about. Yes?

    Just my 2d worth (old school if anyone remembers).


  38. Arthur says:

    I am only an armchair Model Railroader, but it seems to me that modular is the way to go.

    You get to see and enjoy the results of your efforts sooner. You learn on the first one and do a better job with each module. You can experiment with a module or two, if you desire, at a reasonable cost: $ and time.

    You won’t be committing to a HUGE amount of money at any one time.

    You can join other MRR’s in putting a large layout together from the modules you all created.

    Since I did not read any of the comments from everyone else, Mine may be redundant. If so, maybe they’ll influence your decision, when considering all the comments. AR

  39. T.Bailey says:

    I’d say go with “N” guage, then it won’t be a problem !! Rough sketches usually work for me, then you won’t make the mistake of putting everything on top of everything. There should always be purpose to whatever layout you plan. For example, you wouldnt place a docks in the high street or a chemical plant next to a row of houses.

  40. Pat Taylor says:

    Wow…what fabulous responses in such a short period of time and I have only read the first few so far and each one gives great ideas from some very experienced hobbyist. It’s like hitting the “mother lode” buried railroad treasure.
    Thank you to all for being willing to share so freely.
    Most of the building kits on my way “too large wish list” are almost all Corner Stone kits. I used Walthers to as I suggested “window shop” as I have been able to visit a few train shows and buy new kits at greatly reduced prices. I showed that list to my wife and after the “sticker shock” wore off I convinced her I could acquire them all for a lot less. Now, as long as what I buy them for is less, I fulfilled my marital obligation of full disclosure.
    I will continue to read through all these great suggestions and on the first weekend in November, there is a large show in Dayton, Ohio, just twenty five miles away. There too I hope to find more savings on kits and by then I hope to have determined if I am going the full layout or the modular route. Thanks again for all the great information.
    I will continue to read through all these gret suggestions and on the first weekend in Novemeber, there is a large show in dayton, Ohio, just twenty five miles away. There to I hope to find more savings on kits and by then I hope to have determined if I am going the full layout or the mudular route. Thanksd again for all the great information.

  41. Pat Taylor says:

    Wow…what fabulous responses in such a short period of time and I have only read the first few so far and each one gives great ideas from some very experienced hobbyist. It’s like hitting the “mother lode” buried railroad treasures.
    Thank you to all for being willing to share so freely.
    Most of the building kits on my way “too large wish list” are almost all Corner Stone kits. I used Walthers to as I suggested “window shop” as I have been able to visit a few train shows and buy new kits at greatly reduced prices. I showed that list to my wife and after the “sticker shock” wore off I convinced her I could acquire them all for a lot less. Now, as long as what I buy them for is less, I fulfilled my marital obligation of full disclosure.
    I will continue to read through all these great suggestions and on the first weekend in November, there is a large show in Dayton, Ohio, just twenty five miles away. There too I hope to find more savings on kits and by then I hope to have determined if I am going the full layout or the modular route. Thanks again for all the great information.

  42. John says:

    I have been going through a similar process for the last 12 months or so.
    My tip on reducing costs is to shop around , I use eBay and buy online from Asia and the UK.

    My layout has grown from quite a bit and whilst I laid the track first, I did spend a lot of time planning the layout ( track,scenary and buildings) before I started.
    I used scale cutouts to represent buildings and other features so I could easily see the relationship between the various components.
    So basically my three most import things are plan, plan plan.
    Its still an ongoing project as I am now changing to DCC .
    So have fun

  43. Johnstuf says:

    I am working on an N gauge layout, 3 feet by 5 feet that I call the D,B & C. Rail Lines. (Dazed, Bewildered & Confused) I am a firm believer in track first. My problem (?) is that I do not plan. I put down track and turnouts and once I get a section or a loop I will run something and then add more track and turnouts, ramp to second level, then cork road bed. (catch as catch can) I never seem to get to scenery, however I do build some structures such as the Union City Roundhouse (6 stall) and turntable In order to install them, I will need to go to at least a second, possibly a third level.
    I keep re-doing areas. Perhaps one day I will finalize the trackage. At one point with a small second level I did have a 56′ continuous run if the turnouts were set properly. At that time, I had 12 blocks and 13 turnouts with a dual transformer. My main point is to enjoy the hobby, you do not have to treat it as something that must get done right now in a certain way. Relax and have fun. If any one would like to see some pictures, let me know and I will try to provide them.

  44. Jim says:

    Hi Pat,

    I am coming at this from a computer system design approach that can be related to anything including model railroading. My initial thoughts include more questions than answers but let’s begin there.

    Your statement “That was based on a layout that was five by fifteen feet.” implies that you have a picture of the finished product and want to build it. However, the next phrase “I needed to determine my industries” says you are still pondering the content. On the other hand, “have a building list that is $2,700 long.” leads me to think you have chosen the contents but not how they fit together. The ” I need to lay the track then place the buildings” seems to be referring to the sequence of events in the construction. Modularity vs. large layout is part of the “how” after the “what” is determined.

    A tea bag comment I once read was “It is easier to do things when you know what you are trying to do”. My personal mantra is “Rushing is the fastest way to waste time”.

    The first thing to do is to decide what you want the big picture to look like. Defining objectives will to some degree dictate where things need to be and their relationship to other things. By that I mean if there is bridge over a river they will be perpendicular to each other plus or minus a few degrees. You could build a bridge on top of a river to get free real estate and a smaller footprint, whether or not you would is another matter.

    As you already stated the relationship between buildings and tracks or sidings needs to be determined in the design phase. This might include dedicated sidings that branch off a shared siding and include one-way or two-way traffic to the main line.

    From there you can partition the layout logically and physically depending on the build approach. A modular build, if nothing else, will provide more instant gratification as it can be several instances of start to finish sub sections. Sometimes the longer you do a task the less you like it and the quality suffers. I think that doing all phases of one module sets a standard for the others and makes the mundane parts more palatable, but that’s just me.

    If that is not important you can still do all starts then all intermediates then all finishes. Wiring a modular design will take more planning to move electricity across all modules with connectors at each joint. This will likely include short jumpers to cross modules that don’t even need electricity but need to move it from A to B to C to power D.

    Track alignment between modules means temporary joining and disconnecting modules as the build progresses. Not an issue but something to consider along with track section length and module dimensions. For example you do not want 48″ track sections and 36″ modules. A 5 by 15 layout could be done with 5 (3 x 5) modules which means you can reach anywhere within a module during construction. A large layout suggests that building from the center out is a good approach. Repairs and modifications are major concerns with any layout and should not be discounted at design time.

    As I close on this the theme I keep seeing is the same as computer system design. Modularity is easier to create, modify and maintain but it takes more up front planning. If you dislike planning you may not like model railroading in the first place or just think you do.

    Happy railroading,

  45. paul starr says:

    without doubt lay the track first.Then ensure the integrity mechanically and
    electrically.then buildings and scenery after.

  46. Ed Albritton says:

    I’m 64 years old and a novice at this hobby. I have been working on my HO layout since Mar of 2011. I have a 6′ X 14″ table.
    I layed the tracks first, two mountains next and then my buildings, streets, fences,trees,power poles etc. I have four trains that run at the same time…different traCKS AND RUNNING SMOOTH.
    I have three,(3) outside tracks around the table for main lines, the inside of the table has a figure 8 with two town spurs and a two track train yard. I don’t see why you can’t lay the tracks first, I did and the layout is lifelike. Everyone that see’s it thinks I am experienced in the hobby. Do what you think should be done first, I had no help and my layout turned out great.
    Ed Albritton of Grand Bay Alabama.

  47. giacomo says:

    i would lay the track first then do the buildings, i found it easier to lay the railroad first at least that way you can place the buildings where you want them,i have built hills and tunnels and bridges around my track and i work in ho and oo gauge.

  48. John says:

    Planning is the best way to start. Do you want a switching layout or a main line layout with a few industries. I feel that you can’t lay track or buildings alone. The best way I have found is to take the foot print of the buildings you have to have and make a cardboard template of them. Then take your switches and track and tack them into place. That way you can adjust either one before any final decisions are made. Once you have everything positioned the way you want, lay down the main line so you can run trains. That way you can add the sidings as time allows. This also gives a feeling as to how the layout is going to run. Don’t forget to consider your minimum radius so your engines and rolling stock work and look good. Good luck.

  49. Justin Dancing Hawk says:

    I agree with Jim ( ABOVE) ! His plan seems to make the most sense, at least to me! If you have your bldgs. & trace them out on paper & then place them where you want them, you will be able to set out your track plan & have it all make sense & function well for you !
    So far as going modular is concerned, . . . I’d highly recommend it! I’ve built a couple LARGE railroads & have been heart broken to see all my work go to waste before the whole thing was finished, because I had to move! If I’d have been wise enough to have built them in a modular format, I’d even still have them! ( I built my 1st one in 1987 !) .
    Best Wishes ! Sincerely, Justin Dancing Hawk – Dancing Hawk Ridge/ Coffee Valley RR . ( I also bld. in FORCED PERSPECTIVE using multiple scales & that is tremendous fun! Duplicate your trains in each scale & when one goes into a tunnel, it can emerge in the next scale! It’s delightful! )

  50. Dennis says:


    You say you have done your homework. The first thing to do is choose an era. The most popular era seems to be the steam to diesel transition. What era do you want to model? The consideration would be scale. How are you eyes? The smaller scales get harder to work with if your eyesight is changing. Of course in a smaller scale that could mean less detail that you would have to deal with. The next thing to consider is do you want mainline operations, branchline or even an old narrow guage line? Once you have determined that then consider what industries your railroad would service. The base your structures on era and the industry you want to service. Make up a story for the existence of your railroad. Then decide where is your railroad? This could change the type of structures you have. A simple example would be the southwest. You would find more adobe style structure there versus the brick and block structure of the east coast. If you can narrow down the era, the type of railroad, scale and the region you can end up saving yourself a lot of money.


  51. Dave says:

    In the last year or two, I’ve been working on a “Europen” railroad, almost all with Marklin track, locos, and cars. It’s rather “dense-packed”, sitting on a 4’x6′ table with a small extention on the front. Era, about 1925-1945.

    While I’ve built various structures, and am continually working on landscaping, I “free-lanced” the track design first, and made sure that the track was secure and able to run the trains smoothly.

    I would advise two things. One, select an “era”, and, two, big is not necessarily better. And, finally, it doesn’t have to be “perfect”, as long as YOU enjoy it.

  52. Dave says:

    I would agree with my fellow modelers that a modular approach might be a good way to start. I, unfortunately, don’t have that luxury, living in a small mid-western town, and doing AC 3-rail.

    Good luck!

  53. Bob N says:

    You can do it either way. however, I think to start your basic layout i would start with the track. Then as you expand your city, industrial, and outlying areas, you might want to set them and then work your track to accomidate the need. modular is a great way to build but it is some what set in design and I like to build with my own layout. But, that is your decision. I also think Jim is right – planning is critical.

  54. Randy Wilson says:

    Go get the book “Trackplanning for Realistic Operation” – this has been my go to book for many years – I think mine is the third or fourth editon – It was published just as N scale was becoming popular. John Armstrong talks about how the real rrs do things and how to make it work in model form. Most of the layouts in my book are either large walk-ins in one of several alphabetical shapes – G, J etc. He also took some older table top plans (4×8 etc) and modifed them for better operations. I have not looked at the newer editions – but presume that there is more on N scale as well as some modular ideas.

    Other things to consider is are you going to operate the layout by yourself or do you plan on having others to help you? Sometimes a smaller layout for one or two can be satisfying even if you just run em around.

  55. Michael In Mead says:

    A short story…

    When J.J. Hill built the Great Northern across the northern tier of the U.S. in the late 1880s, he pretty much avoided populated areas, especially in Washington Territory. He certainly avoided any place that the Northern Pacific had claimed. The city of Yakima begged him to runs his rail through their town enroute to Seattle. He opted otherwise and built a depot in a new town called North Yakima. When the town fathers saw the railroad passing just a couple of miles north of their fair burg, they picked up all the buildings in Yakima and moved them to North Yakima. Since then the town has been renamed Yakima. Lesson learned…when the railroad barons built their empires, they laid the track first and then built the depots and towns. True story.

  56. Herb A says:

    I have worked with HO and N gauges. Either way, I have tried to lay track first. Here’s why: In the real world an industry would generally be created in a location where it was convenient (railroads, roads, water,etc. If rail was required, it would be brought to the industry. On a model layout we are working on a smaller scale, and laying the track after an industry was located simply might be impossible. I agree with those who say good planning (or a CAD program, or some sketches) would be in order. In other words, get an idea of what you want to place on the layout, then lay the track, followed by placement of buildings and features as close to your plan or sketch. Also, scenery such as hills or mountains (think of a mine, perhaps) might dictate where a track could be laid.

  57. Michael In Mead says:

    Another true story…

    A feeder line was build between Spokane, Washington, and Colville, Washington that extended into the northern part of Washington Territory and connecting with the Great Northern Railroad in Spokane, Washington. The railroad was called the Spokane Falls and Northern Railway. The accountant for the SF&NRR decided that it was too expensive to removed the great Ponderosa pines and other trees from the proposed road bed. It was cheaper to build the road bed around the trees. The SF&NRR became known as the crookedest railroad in the west. Again, the emphasis was laying track and not building towns. (You know – if you build it, they will come.) The Great Northern bought the short line later on and started to straighten out the rail bed. But the same thing applies – lay the track and then build the towns. Another true story.

  58. ROBERT says:

    Pat Sir,

    Wish I could help. larger is the only answer and i am sure the day will come, you had made it even bigger. why make one to say carry around, if you attend or participate, make one that breaks down, yet much harder. wooden frames, using plywood as your top, all built with screws, nails move around. solid/sturdy is the key, hard to build a house without a strong foundation. then a cover of industrial foam 1/2 inch that comes in 4 by 8 sheets, making sure to take off the thin layer of plastic that covers the foam, both sides, wood glue will work perfect to hold down, making sure the ends/corners are well glued, dont water down and as you lay, say giggles to smear the glue. keeping your eyes at everything to make sure all is flat/level. i myself, would use bricks after the foam is down to secure all is tight and flat before the glue dries, something to hold in place, as it dries.

    then the real fun begins. the dream you have is yours, open head and let flow. you put you plans on the table in sections. industry, housings, township, your businesses all in sections not glued but able to move a few inches here and there. you have the sections with the buildings in their place/sections, go drink a cup of coffee and forget the layout for an hour or so…stand on a chair, a ladder and look it over…keeping in mind as you look, you may want to add items later. WHY SECTIONS…your electric wires being is sections allows you to find something that is not working, while the other sections are…working.

    start the track and have the switches in place. take your time here, everything needs to be tight and level. adjust the structures and go stand on the ladder/chair and do nothing but think…more around while looking down and get what you want by your dream. MARK/OUTLINE THE TRACK AND now comes the best part…make the dream burst…mountains, tunnels, trusses, airport, lakes,/pond,amusement park, roads…what have we not thought about? the backdrop, painting your walls say a light blue with clouds, big white puffy clouds, stormy gray, an airplane, birds…even a line/track at a different height…open head let your wonderful train come alive as i am doing now…

    now that the backdrop is the way you want it, put the structures back in place and the track…find your marks make SURE all is tight with connections and then YOU AND ONLY YOU screw the track down. you want to be the one does all the screwings because you need everything about the same tightness. i would barely indent the tracks into the foam, you would know how the first-2nd-3rd screws went in and making them all the same…TIGHTNESS. IF..IF you have a mountain, you may need access to the inside from a hole UNDER the table…THIS IS WHERE AS YOUR BUILDING THE TABLE MAY NEED TO PLAN THIS AREA ABOUT FIRST BEFORE ALL FOAM IS GLUED. remember to try to have a hole thats all covered from the outside yet from underneath, being able to at least get head and a stretched arm out to get what has come off the track. i would always remember not to cut the plywood real close to the track, if a derail, could hit the floor…BUT…BUILDING THE MOUNTAIN WITH THE SAME KIND OF FOAM, IN LAYERS GOING UP, EVERY LAYER PUSHING YOUR HIGHEST/BIGGEST TRAIN TO MAKE SURE NOTHING COMES CLOSE TO HITTING AND FOR SURE…MAKING THE TRACK TIGHT…

    hope this helps…great great luck.

  59. Ian Rawlins says:

    Railways, no matter where they are were laid for one reason only, to serve industry, getting goods from where they were to where they were required. Passengers really only came as an afterthought. So the starting point for any model has to be ‘What industry is it going to serve’ Quarries, mines etc. require different track layout to steel plants, meat packers and such like. Similarly a dock would require warehouses, and docking for the ships. So plan your industry’s first then work out their traffic requirements. That will determine what track, sidings etc they need. Then you can work out the rest of the layout, access to the main line etc and weather single or double track. also weather you need a station for passengers. Of course, railways grew, as ours nearly always do as well. so start with your basic layout but allow for points, (Switches as you Yanks call them) to come off to allow access to extra baseboards or modules. At one time My grandson had a layout in his room and mine was in another, by making a narrow board that was removable we were able to sent trains from one room to another. Lastly think about what era you are modeling, Steam era had in general more spread, (more unused space around.) whereas modern Diesel era is in general more cramped as unused space has been developed. Best of luck with whatever you decide.

  60. Ralph says:

    Well what can I contribute that would be different?
    I can only agree that you need to have a clear idea of your main aim.

    I have built several layouts of varying size and complexity and was quite happy with each one at the time and for the purpose it was built.

    First the space available must accommodate the minimum radius curve that your biggest locomotive can negotiate without de-railing.

    Next there needs to be enough running room to climb at lest 80mm (HO scale) without the wheels slipping or having trains so short they look ridiculous.
    So for me it is always track first in and running without problems, then control and signalling.

    My central theme is a mainline through station with the rest of the layout being “other places”.

    The scenery usually plans itself, for example a curve would imply the slope of a hill or a lake to be avoided. A station building would require a town and road vehicles.

    The only rule is just enjoy yourself.

  61. Glen godden says:

    I worked on the CNR as a fireman/engineer out of SARNIA, Ont. after the war for a few years. I moved west and retired a few years ago and planned on building a model layout of the Sarnia terminal as I remember it in the 40`s and 50`s. It was all steam and electric. I am building it in N scale and have all of the track layed and am in the process of wiring up the switches and the power drops. my layout is 15 ft long by 4 ft wide built in a u shape with 6ft legs on the u by 3ft one side and 2ft on other. I have the ST. Claire river on one end and the farm land s on the opposite end. I pondered over how best to approach this project and decided that laying out the track first was the only way it could be done in order to show all of the railroad facilities.I will soon have it to a condition that I can include a picture of the layout without the buildings. I suggest you start with the tracks first.

  62. Alan Warner says:

    I was in the same position some years ago. I knew I was going to retire in about 2 yrs time so I decided to get back into the hobby again. I had a good collection of Meccano Hornby Dublo which had sat in boxes for forty years. What I did was, every week, I would buy one new kit of Dapol, Airfix, Peco, Hornby etc and spend the evenings making and painting them. ( I hate TV). I wound up with 50+ models. When I finally retired I had the buildings and loads of rolling stock and engines. I knew the size of the room I had so in order to fit everything in I went to the local wallpaper store and purchased 4 rolls of wallpaper. I tacked them down and laid out the models as I wanted them and then drew in the trackwork. I ended up using 8 rolls and 3 months of time. However everyting fitted into place. I felt the secret was to use Peco flexible track and nothing larger than 18″ curves. I am a tank engine man but my 2 Pacifics and one Beyer Garrett have no trouble negotiating the track. Another advantage of the wallpaper method is that you have a 100% representation showing where your blocks start and finish and where the wiring goes. (A gret boon in times of engines going on strike) Also it rolls up and is easy to store. I use automotive pin striping tape on my control panel. A different colour for the 3 controllers I have. I make my scenery by using a wood outline covered in flywire (readily available in Oz). I then use Cornice Adhesive to make a hard shell. I mix into the powder Cement or Grouting colours and then fine tune the finish with kids poster paints. The plasters readily absorbs the colouring. Tip don’t use casting plaster, its very cheap, but it dries too quickly and is impossible to work.
    Oh blessed is he who modeleth the railways!

  63. Douglas Anderson says:


    The answer to you dilemma is fairly simple; what do you hope to do with the layout. If you want to run a train and still have a small switching yard then I would consider laying the main oval first, followed by locating the various industries and then putting in the track. If, however, you simply want to explore switching I would consider drawing a track plan first, then modify it slightly for the various industries that you will site.

    In the former case, the reason I would suggest laying the main oval first is that it then allows you to consider some scenic options followed by then dictating the space available for switching. In the latter, it will be the switching that determines how much space you need.

    In the latter case I can suggest basing the track-plan on an article in the October 1976 issue of Model Railroader by John Allen. The layout is the Timesaver. This has proved to offer various switching problems and can be modified by yourself to fill your goals as building a variety of industries.


  64. Guy Thompson says:


    Here’s my 2c on a few of the issues you raised…

    Modular vs. One Big Layout

    I’m a fan of modular, for one reason – I’m a beginner (at railroads, anyway) and I found that starting small meant two things : one, I could complete something, and two, a few small somethings put together make for a layout that I could operate whilst working on something bigger.

    The danger, it seemed to me, was that I’d never have anything to operate if all I was doing was building…

    …which is why many people, I guess, advocate putting down track, and testing it first 😉

    One small issue with modular layouts is that you are more or less limiting yourself to electronic point switching. It’s possible to have WIT (wire in tube) point control, but it’ll mean having a control panel on each module, which might not be convenient.

    Planning vs. Laying Track

    When it comes to planning, you’re going to fiddle around with whatever you lay out. Whether you research, and then lay track, and add buildings, or add buildings, lay track around it, and then research, and realize it’s all wrong anyway and start over!

    (Again, modular is good because it lets you make little mistakes that are easily corrected!)

    So, however you start out, it’ll change; you just have to know when to stop fiddling and start building. At that point, get the track down, one piece at a time, and once you’ve done that, you’re committed!

    Analog (DC) vs. DCC (Digital)

    Just because you didn’t mention it – I will! I’m clearly in the ‘DCC is great’ camp, because it lets you run multiple locos, at once, easily, and doesn’t require that you think about segmenting the track at the design stage.

    If you do choose analog, then you’ll need to think about which trains will be where on the layout (or modules) at a specific time, in relation to other trains.

    DCC also makes point control a bit easier, but in my opinion, it’s just as valid to have WIT point control mixed with DCC loco control.

    Final point, I promise, about modules – you can play with all these things more easily if you start small. Fox example, I tend to have one small module ‘on the go’ that I use for programming locos, testing new point control mechanisms, and auto-uncouplers, before I try them on something that will become part of ‘the layout’.

    Hope these bits of experience from an absolute beginner help you out!


  65. Robin says:

    Hi All

    Thought i would put my two-pence worth in, i think track first, especially if you are fitting point motors or signalling, then buildings and scenery. You can always cover the track when doing scenery, if the track does not work, you really don’t have a layout. As regards permanent or modular, my layout is 2ft x 22ft and was meant to be permanent but i am now wanting to sell it and it is difficult to transport and takes up one side of the garage. Think long and hard and go for what you feel comfortable doing, sometimes its just a case of jumping in and dealing with the obsticles as you meet them. Anyone want to buy a layout?

  66. John T UK says:

    Hi Pat, In my opinion, I’d roughly plan the industrial areas then just put some track around it, shifting and trying various positions until youre happy. Im in the process of builidng a modular N gauge layout, starting with the sidings and working yard areas. I will then build the town, country and eventually the high speed links.
    Best of luck mate.
    John in the UK

  67. I made that mistake of buildings,first,when it came to track,I could not get the trains to run ,I broke everything up and started with the track,first,
    got the trains to run well,and now I can take my time with buildings.

  68. Andrew says:

    you dont say what gauge you are using O gauge OO gauge or N gauge at 15x 5 I think it too small for O gauge so I will say either N gauge or OO gauge I would suggest that if you want a detailed layout on that size 15×5 I would tend to use N gauge as you can have multiple tracks etc and the locos and rolling stock will go round the bends more easily.

    Also make sure you have access in the middle of layout nothing more frustrating if a loco derails and you cant reach it, only with a long stick.

    Now to say track or buildings well I would lay the track first as it was done when railways were first built in the 1800s then apply the buildings to surround the track etc easier to do that as if you lay track ballast for a realistic look much easier when laying track first.

    I hope this helps also if you are looking to buy locos and rolling stock there are some great deals on E Bay just have to search on internet I hope this helps good luck in your project

  69. Roy Richardson says:

    Pat, first decide on scale HO or N. Next prepare a plan, as it’s industry you are thinking off, what type, view ideas from Google images. Not too many on layout. I am laying my track on cork. Much has been said above, so I wont repeat. Take photos as you proceed, you will then have a log of progress. Use the internet for buying your track, buildings etc, much more cost effective than buying from one source.

  70. Adam b says:

    i am in the proses of converting my OO british layout that is in the loft of my dads office in to a modular layout as well as making a N gauge modular layout in a city i dont have a basement or a larger loft to use so i am going to store it in the loft space i have and get it out in to the garden (yard for americans) so i can run it

  71. kevin j says:

    I have found it best for me to lay the main line first, get all of your curves right and running well. then I lay out “buildings”. ( I use boxes and such to represent the size and shape of the buildings I plan to use, this way is easier to move around without damage to the actual buildings) then I lay all of the track and sidings needed for the buildings to make things work well. I try to get as much switching into a lay out as possible and find that it tends to come to me as I am laying rather than trying to plan out on paper. when you say 5×15 I hope you can walk all the way around it bevause 5 feet is too far to reach across. If against a wall I would not recomend more than 30inches wide or the forground can be damaged when trying to reach the back.

  72. Barry Palmer says:

    I built a complete layout for my Grandson last year that was published on Al’s newsletter. I planned the track in conjunction with the buildings because to know that they fit together. I removed the buildings when I finally laid the track and the repositioned them as planned. That method has worked well for me.
    I’m about to start on my own new layout soon . I’m almost done with the design. It’s an “L” shape with a 20 ft and an 8 ft leg and a double track helix at each end. The lower level will not be decorated with scenery, it is only for staging (10) complete trains. I’m using HO Code 100 Atlas track, Shinohara turnouts, single crossovers, double crossovers, 3-ways, and Y’s controlled with (27) Tortoise switch motors. It will be DCC with an old MRC Command 2000 system as I have (3) base units and (15) locomotives with decoders without sound and another (50+) DC only already from years ago. Someday I might update to a newer DCC system but right now it’s not in the budget. I have also (2) MRC sound systems with realistic sounds but there not on-board the locomotives themselves. I designed with the helixes to give the train some invisible time before it comes out of the tunnel on the opposite end of the layout to add realism. I will send Al progress pictures as I did on the last one. This one will take much longer to build as it is much more complicated.


  73. Gordon F says:

    In real life, in the UK at least, when the railways were first laid down in the 19 Century,, buildings were cleared to make room for the track. Since then, this still seems to be the policy for new track and it is unheard of for track to be moved to accomodate a building. For a model railway, the same policy for me is probably best as track geometry can sometimes be fiendishly difficult and there are often limitations to what the suppliers of track can offer so its buildings and other features after track. But,,, it is only a hobby !!

  74. jim says:

    my personal experience is start with the track it never goes as planned and is changed many times. And as far as buying the material auctions and ebay can save you hundreds if not thousands.

  75. Hakim Sharif says:

    Hi Pat,
    Though I built a layout years ago, I still consider myself a beginner and in the process of learning as I go, therefore I don’t consider myself qualified to offer you advice. However, there has been an enormous amount of marvelous information and ideas expressed by some undoubtedly qualified veteran builders, so I’ll just share my present journey. My layout is currently (L) shaped, 10ft long 6ft wide by 11ft long 6ft wide. The layout is in the shape of a super pretzel and is HO scale with 24in radious curves in the original design but I had problems effecting the two ninty and two thirty degree crosses and I found that flexible track worked perfectly. Laying my track first allowed me the opportunity to work out all the kinks with every aspect of the track. After completing my track, I focused on the available space I have left and decided what type of scenery I wanted to have. That decision caused me to build most of my main roads while sprinkling in a structure or two and adding hills and other ideas as I go along. I’m having a great time feeling like a little kid but at the same time feeling like a construction engineer whose bringing a real live likeness to a hobby that I truly love. I buy from train shows but mostly, from my local hobby shops. Since I’m pretty handy with my hands, I also make quite a few of my buildings, structures,ect. Good Luck and most of all, ENJOY!!!!!

  76. Chris says:

    To the person who says about walthers they do there own structers corner stone they are a excellent brand I buy them as I find there detailing good. I find building around the structures the easy way then you can move it about and I always loosley laythe track around and adjust both the buildings and track untill you have it right do a bit at a time you will find it works and i suggest you do not put any ballast down untill you have tested for smooth running once this is done i then plan to put in any isolations on any of the siddings good luck

  77. Frank Robba says:

    Hi there
    Whatever you decide enjoy! My thoughts:
    1 Track
    2 landscape, tunnel(s); crossing(s) and bridges/piers
    3 Primary wiring (supply) then buldings.
    From a presentation point of view I find greater flexibility (and far less problems!) placing buildings once track is actually in place as it assists with access roads; etc
    I hope this helps and kind regards

  78. keith says:

    Hi Pat You have to lay the track first ,you will not be able to pin it down or do any soldering or repairs properly if you have scenery or buildings in the way. You have to test run most of your stock for smooth running, especially over crossings/switches etc. I have built a few layouts, and my last one I planned and thought about for quite some time and it has turned out a much better layout than my previous attempts. So plan ahead. Unless your planning on moving your layout around I would not go with a modular baseboard , its time consuming putting it together every time and items can get broke. Best of luck with your layout and enjoy. Keith

  79. Ted Makarius says:

    You first must decide if you are modeling for operations, or to be on the cover of a magazine. If you are modeling for operations, spend a year or two
    playing with track plans. Once that is decided, you can kitbash buildings
    to fit your space.
    This will spread out the costs over a long period of time, and many of the
    structures will be unique to your railroad.
    This is obviously not the way things are done in the real world , but if we
    wanted to be in the real world we wouldn’t model railroaders.

  80. jack mcginnis says:

    first is a pencil plan to include everything. A scetch is good enough.
    second is a track plan that fits the first. just a plan.
    third is a buildings plan to include landscape, mountains, waterways, etc. around the tracks.
    4th build the track
    5th fill in streets then buildings.

  81. Dennis says:


    I am going to make a couple more comments here. Some of us build mock ups of the structures we want out of card stock or cardboard. There is no detail, just blank walls and maybe a roof. The mock up represents the actual foot print of the structure we plan to build in the future. I have seen spray cans representing silos. Peanut cans representing oil tanks. Sometimes we write on the mock ups with a black marker. Other times we mark a small card place holder labeled with the type of business or name of the business we want. This way you can use the mock ups when laying track to determine clearances such as when planning out a town. It will help you to determine what fits and what won’t fit. It can also help you to determine the flow of the track through that area of the layout. Another advantage of mock ups is that you can resize a mockup to be larger or smaller with a hobby knife and some tape. This way you don’t damage your prize scratch-built structures loaded with details while planning and you don’t spend days building a great structure only to discover it just doesn’t fit no matter how you set it on the layout. It can be a real pain to realize the loading doors are on the wrong side of the building and getting track over to that side means bending the track into an unrealistic curve to get there. Always remember that the main idea of this hobby is to have fun! It is your railroad. You can copy a prototype or you can make up your own railroad. You should be happy and enjoying the hobby. Don’t take on too much! I have noticed lately modelers are getting away from the spagetti bowl layouts and discovering that less is actually more.

  82. Alex says:

    Hey Pat and all,

    I’m rather new to this hobby, but in my experience and opinion, plan around your buildings, in particular industries, but build the track first. I’ve got a whole room to myself (3.5m-5.5m) and I’m trying to plan my perfect layout in there, so far I’m stuck, I love passenger trains and freight trains. If anyone has any tips that’d be great, but for you Pat, I’d suggest getting back into the hobby with a small oval like layout, fully finished (that you can sell) before starting a major project, and I prefer building it all on the one thing, but in modules (kind of a mix of both ideas) Hope that helps


  83. Virnig says:

    I have found over the years that building a permanent layout can be limiting. That is especially apparent if you decide to move to new lodgings. You can take the modullar layout with you. With a modullar layout, you can change a module or add on to your modules in the future if you get tired of your current setup. Plan each module carefully with track layout and scenery. Always lay your roadbed and track first. Buildings can be adjusted to fit the track but track cannot be adjusted. You want to have smooth operating track BEFORE doing any scenery.

  84. Rob Rutler says:

    Experienced Lionel, moved to H0 then to N. Back to H0 then 0-Scale. I gave all up until 10 years ago. Now I have found S. The perfect size for tired eyes. There are drawbacks, but, it all comes down to enjoyment and personal satisfaction. Deep pockets help, as does good health. Experiment with two concepts: First. Place a minimul radius loop of your scale of choice and run a train around and around for as many hours as you can. Keep the loop as a test track. Second. build a linear “domino” like David Barrow’s Cat Mountain & Santa Fe. If you can actually build it, with just track, no scenery, no buildings, and it works electrically, then start the next “domino” and work your plan into any shape you can imagine. The creation of return loops at either end, or even stacked loops will keep you busy for decades to come.

  85. Matthew says:

    I would say work out a theme and what buildings you want then plan your track so your buildings will fit and look good. Once this is done you can lay your track and ballast/decorate (with grass e.c.t.) it how you want without and buildings getting in the way.

  86. paul says:

    I think it depends on wether you want to be able to run trAins on the layout during the building process. It would kill me to have to wait tell I was almost done to drive my trains. But I’m just an old kid.

  87. Brian Parkhurst says:

    Planning is surely the key. As a novice, I am learning much from those who have already built carefully planned and proven layouts. I then prepared my own ambition plan and asked a designer for a suggested price to draw it to N scale and include the necessary streets, number of turnouts, etc. Politely, he told me my plan was too ambitious, too optimistic, and unrealistic. My new layout now focuses on one primary industry instead of four, provides for aisles instead of moveable modules, copies more closely the work of others’ successful layouts, will be built in stages, and employes or will use mostly recycled, used, handmade or discounted material, parts, and equipment. As you, my early estimate of close to $3,000USD start up costs was out of reach on a fixed retirement budget, so I have substituted time and the experience of many others.

  88. Ed Doub says:

    A good starting point is to decide what sort of railroad you wish to model.
    The design decisions become more focused if you have an idea of what sort of railroad you will be modeling – double track vs. single, heavy passenger operations vs mostly freight, main line vs branch line, etc. Also the era will have a big influence. Modern freight cars require as large a curve as heavy-weight passenger cars, earlier era will fit smaller curves.
    I lean towards modular construction for the benchwork. If it is ever necessary to move the layout it won’t require complete destruction, just unbolt the sections after cutting through the scenery and trackwork.
    As far as track or buildings first, put in your major “physical plant” as in main line and yard and service facilities first and then start placing your industries . After you have the industries tentatively located you can lay the track and make any required adjustments more easily.

  89. Dr Vaibhav says:

    Use a program called SCARM. It is available free on the internet . Once you get the hang of it it’s very easy to use and gives measurments in inches or cm. Also you can adjust height. Once you get your layout you will be able to see roughly how much space is available for your buildings and you can adjust the track accordingly. I am in India and am using the above program to build my own OO gauge hornby based model although most people would call it train set.

  90. Dennis says:

    Agree with Dr Vaibhav, use SCARM,(Simple Computer Aided Railway Modeler), its completely free and allows you to layout your track and buildings without having to move all the pieces around, you can create baseboards in the program to simulate the building footprints and see if it will fit with your theorized trackplan, this helps to narrow down your shopping list to what will fit with the tracks you want to lay.

    Also, dont be afraid to use other sources for materials then model railroad manufacturer bought. A friend of mine has an absolutely huge basement layout and all of the buildings are printed papercraft and look great, but cost about a quarter of the plastic ones from walthers and similar.

  91. Ken B. says:

    Track.Track. Track.
    Always do track first. Buildings after. In the basement of my old Gilbertville, Ma. apartment I ‘recreated John Allen’s Gorre and Daphetid Railroad in N scale. It sounds impossible but I got the track laid and was set to do mountain scenery and buildings when my wife decided we needed to move. I almost let her but I gave up that beautiful structure and moved to a different town. I’m beginning another apartment size N scale project but it’s all on computer right now and I’m browsing thru videos of other N scales to see what I like and don’t like.
    My vote is ‘track first’.

  92. Roy H. says:

    Rather than starting with industries or track, I suggest starting with good track-planning software. You can lay out your room and any interferences, then prepare a track plan and/or industries, communities, etc. You can pre-select your track and switches from a library. If you think an industry will fit, try it to see how the trackage works around it.
    I prefer to lay out main line(s) and grades first so I know the track works in terms of minimum radius and maximum grade. Then I can see where everything else can fit. The program should enable terrain with rock cuts and tunnels, buildings, trees, etc. I use 3rd Plan-it which lets me see the complete design in operation before commiting materials.
    I agree with those who suggest modular, so it can be moved when (not if) necessary. Modular can also be transported to shows where you can connect into a big system with other modelers.

  93. Anton Bruce says:

    Another great way to cut down costs….garage sales and Ebay. Sure, there’s a quantity of “fecal matter”, but there’s going to be a few diamonds in the piles of poop.


  94. Joe D. says:

    I am just getting into the hobby, as a number of folks are. It started with a purchase for my 7 yr. old grandson of an “N” Scale train set. in August of this year. I have been using the XTrackCAD program to design the layout; have been going to local train shows to purchase some things. I have a p;an for an L shape layout. I haven’t purchased a train yet and my wife has been asking me if I’m really going to do this or not. I’m having an enormous amount of fun just doing a design. I will be building my benchwork soon and then will lay the track. I may not even have any buuildings but I’m going to have fun!!!!!!!!

  95. Laura E. says:

    I have started a number of layouts over the last 35 years and have finally dismantled my last “great” layout in order to settle for something more manageable in size that will retain my primary modeling interest over time. I think the first question every model railroader needs to ask is, “Am I in this for the the operation or the scenery?” When I look at all the kits I have collected over the years, I can say with certainty that it’s the theatricality of the scenery that really interests me–water features, docks, boats, stations, bridges, and buildings, along with a quality backdrop and tons of flora and fauna. Yes, I want more than a single track running through my layout, because I want it to be fun to operate, too, but for the first time, I am not going to worry about continuously running trains. I’ll have a great little point-to-point design, now, that will allow me to focus on the scenery. I know my space limitations, I know which scenes I really want to create, and I’m planning an operation that will allow me to create the fantasy world of my vision. I’m building from the bottom up a modular layout that can be dismantled and moved, so my first concern has to be how the bench work can facilitate such a move. After that, I’m concerned about track layout and wiring. I won’t start any scenery until those are completed, but I will ALWAYS have each special scene in mind–and marked on the layout–as I go, so I don’t miss the opportunity to use a bridge, building, or dock I want to include.

  96. Dave says:

    Build it the way you are accustomed to building it…. there is alot to be said for old school ethics and reliability. As far as cost goes… i usually go to the area train shows and get great deals on used track and occasionally used buildings that can be retrofitted or modified to fit what you are looking for. I also love to scratch build. Everywhere i go i carry a camera with me so that when i see a building i like and think would go great on a model railroad i shoot pictures from as many angles as i can and duplicate it when i get home or are ready for that particular structure. The big thing i like about this hobby is you can make it as expensive or cheap as you want it to be and it can fit just about anyones pocketbook if you stop and think. Try the internet in sources like Craigslist or Freecycle, i have found fantastic deals on many items there as well. if you are computer savy there are numerous types of track layout software available but i prefer to just fly by the seat of my pants sort of thing. A bit of imagination and a good eye for laying the track straight, i get a completely different type of satisfaction when it is completed and it is 100% mine. I will start with laying out the track on the floor and getting the feel for what i want to do, this way i also know how i will build it for transportability and it also gives me the opportunity to see how much material i will need for the table. Make a sketch, start construction and determine the elevations you want. Buildings, waterways, rock structures/ faces, wilderness to me that is all creativity that happens as the process is constructed. If i plan on certain structures or landscaping before i build and it does not come out the way i envisioned it then i am not completly satisfied with my finished project and it kind of takes the fun out of it. Good luck and hope what i said helps in some small way. As for me, my next adventure will start when my sont gets a bit older and is ready for a layout, until then i will continue to just build the “G” scale buildings and the occasional “HO,N” guage buildings from scratch

  97. John N says:

    Before adding my two cents, I read a number of the previous comments. All are valid. But everyone, or nearly everyone, chose one or the other as the primary consideration. I would suggest that they go hand in hand and must be considered together at the same time. This is, after all, your concept. What type of operation are you modeling? Which era? Which region, or country? Rural, urban or both? After answering those questions I think you will find that an idea for both scenery (including structures) and track location/spacing will have formed. Track and structures have real world restrictions. Track restrictions include turnout requirements, including cross-overs, radius requirements, minimum track separation requirements, and slope restrictions. Structure restrictions include not only width and depth, but also use restrictions to mimic the real world. After a conceptual layout has been drawn up, both track location and structure/scenery location will undoubtedly require some adjustment so they fit together. So, good luck Pat.

  98. bryan says:

    first decide on what you want to do for example country side , townwn and country ,town and industry or amixture of them then get your self some track templates and start designing your lay out, i do my designing on rolls of wall paper lining that way it`s easy to see where you are going and easy to make any adjustments rather then doing it on the base board and having to rub it all out again to accomadate the alterations

  99. Tom Pollock says:

    Decide if this is a “fantasy” layout or if it will model a particular real-life rail line. If it is to be a fantasy, it really won’t matter weather track of buildings come first. But you will have to draw out the plan on the table to be certain every thing you want to include will fit. The plan is the master guide,

    If this is to model a real life plan, you will still need to map it out on the table to ensure fit. You also need to do your homework to learn what what entities the master plan will or should include. Draw, erase and redraw until the plan fits your fancy. If you have done your homework, then lay the track first and guarantee the integrity of the track, smooth running, no derailments, etc. Topography comes next, mts, lakes, rivers and so forth. Then lay the structures followeed by the infrastructure. The track wiring follows the track, infrastructure follows the buildings. This is how a town /community is actually put together, and if you don’t want to tear up your layout over and over, get your master plan worked out on paper or a computer layout plan and draw it on your table. This makes it sound like a lot more work than it really is. Planning you layout is a lot of fun, or should be, and as a major element to your actual project, the visual and tactile results will bring a sense of completion and satisfaction that will be worth every agonizing moment you spent. Above all, have fun doing it.
    Coyote Ridge Short Rail System – Tom Pollock

  100. Pat Gorman says:

    From one Pat to another,

    I have to agree with Mr. Pollock that the first decision is to decide if real (prototype) or fictitious. If real, get a book(s) on your road and decide how much of it or what part of it you can or want to tackle. I model the Lehigh Valley RR which went from Buffalo/Niagara Falls on the West end to the waters edge at New York/New Jersey. I have had several layouts and have modeled various sections of the actual RR as space would permit. Using RR maps, I would include actual cities/towns as space would permit with what is known as selective compression. A town could be nothing more than a sign post to an actual structure from a particular town or area.
    After selecting your road, if real, then your operation comes into play. Carrying traffic particular to your road will drive your industries and choices of buildings. My road (LV) in early years carried coal as its primary product but as coal demands lessened, the traffic shifted to piggyback (Trailer on Flat car or TOFC) service. I loved switching service so my last layout included the car float operations at New York and Jersey City! I also modeled the main yard at Sayre Pa.
    I guess to sum this up, you have some decisions to make and the answer to those decisions will help you answer some of your other questions. I think what you will come up with with be an idea for a track plan which you will want to lay temporally, run for awhile to get a feel of the operating aspects and if satisfied, than start to add your scenery and enjoy every step of a railroad that will NEVER really be finished!

  101. Richard says:

    Well after reading all the above it should give you a pretty good idea. Lay it out on paper, drafting paper with layers, one for track, one for buildings & so on. I would make it modular sectional, the whole thing. You never know when times and circumstances may have you changing sites. If you can set it up so you can do it in thirds or quarters or half if that is all that is possible.

  102. Dan R says:

    I am new to the hobby and want to keep it inexpensive and simple. I made the table, (4×8), set track and in the process of using print your scenery from Alastair Lee. Because I am new I have decided to make everything modular thereby allowing mistakes without major disasters. If I make a mistake I can always do it over until I am satisfied with the end product.

  103. Ed Clark says:

    First I would select an era of RR history, then imagine your favorite place to live. Mountains are good as they add a lot of dimension to a 2D layout. They give reason for lumber and mining industries. Tunnels allow you to hide stuff and will help to mask circle tracks. Being able to run several circuits at the same time was a priority for me. Having reversing loops adds to the complexities and fun after it’s built. Of course you need a place/yard to store the rolling stock, place to park the engines and decorate in RR yard style. Being able to create several towns & hamlets allows you to have more RR stations & people friendly buildings. I bought more than hlaf of the buildings early so that i could visualize the finer points of landscaping. Finally I used a sheet of Lauan 1/4″ plywood and cut out the track patterns for the best possible roadbed where ever the track was raised, this also makes making mountains from screen wire & plaster easier. Take your time, get the tracks all working first, set the buildings around as you go – have fun.

  104. Mike C says:

    I would go with planning the locations of the industries first, then plan trackage accordingly; that way you know how many switches, etc. that you will need when you create your shopping list. BNTW, I am building a 9′ x 11′ layout and I need $1,250 in turnouts alone, so I feel your pain.

  105. Randy S. says:

    First of all, you said the size was 5 x 15. If you are having it set up so you can get around it on all sides, not one side up against a wall, and depending if it sis HO or N gauge, will make a difference. N gauge will give you more items on that size of layout and with HO which I have , you could split the width of the table length wise with a scenery wall and have the industrial on e one side and the town on the other and when you split the length it can be at an angle, wavey 2 ft on one side and 3 ft on the other. My layout is 12 x 19 with a span bridge 4 FT. long from one part to another with a center opening, but you to duck under the span to get there. but by getting an idea where you want the buildings to on the layout before you lay the track then lay the track, it is the buildings and scenery that make the layout look good. and as long as you can get all around it, it is easier to clean track or make repairs. and if you have any mountains, make them out of styro-foam and not glued down so you can clean track or if you have a derailment you can get at it.

  106. Randy S. says:

    First of all, you said the size was 5 x 15. If you are having it set up so you can get around it on all sides, not one side up against a wall, and depending if it size, HO or N gauge, will make a difference. N gauge will give you more items on that size of layout and with HO which I have , you could split the width of the table length wise with a scenery wall and have the industrial on e one side and the town on the other and when you split the length it can be at an angle, wavey 2 ft on one side and 3 ft on the other. My layout is 12 x 19 with a span bridge 4 FT. long from one part to another with a center opening, but you to duck under the span to get there. but by getting an idea where you want the buildings to on the layout before you lay the track then lay the track, it is the buildings and scenery that make the layout look good. and as long as you can get all around it, it is easier to clean track or make repairs. and if you have any mountains, make them out of styro-foam and not glued down so you can clean track or if you have a derailment you can get at it.

  107. Matthew says:

    I didnt nail anything down I laid the track only to get an idea then I placed buildings and such then moved everything around to get a fit I liked then I drew the pattern on the board and named everything and bam I had it set up to start.

  108. Joe Wallach says:

    I am also a rookie; got started when my son and daughter-in-law bought me a train set for Xmas. It is a Bachmann with E-Z track.

    The E-Z track is fantastic, but is more expensive than conventional track. It lets one get started fairly quickly without a permanent setup. According to what I read, though, it seems wise to decide how the RR layout should go then arrange the buildings and so forth.

    I am still in the “deciding” state. Matthew’s comment just before mine seems to sum things up nicely. Good luck.

  109. George Kuhn says:

    In the old days cities erupted after the railroad laid down their tracks, why change now??

  110. Lee Barry CEO LZPMRR says:

    I worked at a place call Bryant’s Sheetmetal Company,Inc. near Abingdon,Va. I was a sheetmetal mechanic/fabricator installer for nigh near 40-45 years. In the “Production Office” was a sign that read “If There’s A Harder Way, We’ll Find It”. I always added to that “Even Tho It Has Wheels I Still Carry It”. I’ve always tried to remember those two statements no matter what I tried to do, whether it be in sheetmetal/HVAC, model railroading, working on the car. I think Jim had probably the best advice and that was to cut out pieces of paper the size of the buildings you are going to use, PLANNING is the name of the game. Also make a track plan and see how it all fits in. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, we all out here in fantasy land have done it. I know a man in Santee,Ca, a Jim O’Connell who built my Z scale layout, you can see it on Z Central Station look for LZPMRR, rebuilt his several times before he “got it right” to suit himself. There is no perfect layout. Anyone who sees it in person can pick it apart, I can come to where you live and I’d guarantee I can pick your HVAC system apart. I find myself since retiring in 2009 looking at the HVAC systems every where I go and wondering to myself, “why in the hell did they do that”. The same at the little 2 bedroom house I rent here in Bristol,Va. We have been here going on 3 years, I’ll sign the 4th lease come August 1 and I wonder why the owners of the house did not put in a higher rated condenser/air handler than a 7.5-8.0 that they got. My answer is the cost. If it was my house I would have opted for the highest SEER rating available. The higher the SEER the less the operational costs are. Good luck on your layout and be sure to show us pictures of how it is coming along. The answer is LOGISTICS!!!

  111. Birdman says:

    I would do the track 1st,so you can ad sideings or branch lines where ever you want.The sooner you can run a train or to the more fun it is.And this is the only place that you can have your own world the way you want it,so I would keep it fun for you,it does not matter what anybody else thinks!This is your train world!

  112. Dale says:

    After almost 7 years of planning, I’m about to build my layout (72 year old recently retired) My last layout was 40+ years ago, so I’m a beginner. I use Empire Express software to “fiddle”. Then I found some large pieces of cardboard and, using the grid from the computer plan, transfer the plan, full size to the cardboard. Now I have a place to maneuver the buildings, etc. I’m mixing ‘must haves’ buildings of a small rural junction with a (historic) wonderful amount of railroad structures, facilities, etc. that I’m treating as my starting point. The rest of the layout will be freelance to create the maximum amount of mainline as well as provide opportunity for a variety of companies/RR customers along the way. I’m fortunate to have a 23’x14′ room w/o obstructions to work with, which is certainly something that has to be considered.

  113. Randall Nauschutz says:

    I would go with first having a general idea of the track layout that I would like to have. This would include approximate space for basic structures (station, goods shed, etc). Any additional buildings and structures would be added afterwards and the track layout adjusted accordingly.

    When you plan your station or whatever you always think that ‘this is what I want’ but when you speak to friends or do some reading, ideas always change and you start thing ‘what if’. Long term layouts will always be improved with time.

    I would go with modular – a basic operation structure that can operate on its own. Good if space if limited. Now an then when you can encroach on the rest of the house, you can add the additional pieces to extend the run and variety. With modular you can possibly even have friends add their bits to the layout.

  114. Randall Nauschutz says:

    I live here in South Africa where model railways is not very big at all. The South African scene is also hardly catered for so I go for a mixture of British and European. I separate the two from each other due to the different practices and layout types.

    Yes it all goes around planning and personally I do not feel that there is no wrong answer. I have also found that once I have the tracks laid (no buildings yet) and I start running the trains, everything changes. You soon find that ‘if I make a change here or there’ and ‘why did I include those points there as they are not being used’ the layout starts to change. Even in reality you see business opening and closing, sidings being built and closed. I think this is what makes the hobby such fun. It is never ending and always changing. Looking at prototypes, there is so much to learn and copy (with a bit of license of course).

    Just one question – is this mostly an American site or what? Not that it makes a differences as we are all there for the hobby.

  115. Jason says:

    Lay your buildings out roughly where u want them and draw where you would like your track too run. Then draw how you’d like the scenery. When your happy, lay your track, build your scenery and add the buildings and detail!!!

  116. Ray Little says:

    Holy Cow!!!! If you read all of the above, you will be more confused than you already are.
    Sit down with a tablet and pencil. Think about what YOU want to do. Think about what scale you want, what kind of business YOU want to model, and freelance it. Don’t make a job out of it or you may as well not retire. Play it by ear. Buy trains and buildings that suit YOU. Start drawing on the tablet to see how your thoughts look on paper. Lay some track, install a couple of buildings. Do it a little at a time. Don’t be afraid to rip out some thing you are not happy with. I think it’s more satisfying that way, and you do not get bored with laying all the track at the same time, doing all the scenery at once can be a real drudge. It does not have to be done in a certain way, just so long as you enjoy the trip.

  117. Roger Miller says:

    I can only tell you how I plan to go about building my own layout. I’m at the point now where I’ll have to start some serious thinking. First off I plan to build 1:1 scale templates of various track sections, points et cetera. Then I’ll print them out in black and white with model numbers on them. Geometry can be had for each section from “one” piece only or from manufacturers data sheets. You can print as many templates as you need. The only cost will be the templates. Then you can buy a sheet or sheets of the cheapest press board or ply wood available and cut them into the final shape of your layout. If you’re good with your drafting or drawing application, you can even scale down the templates to something on the order of 1/4 :1 which will save on planning costs. Same goes for the overall layout too. Then do the same for your buildings, out-buildings, depot et cetera’s foot prints in the same scale. I plan on laying out my track first until I have it looking right. Then placing my buildings and following that, I’ll start sketching in the geography around it until I’m satisfied with the entire construct. At this point I’ll have the layout, the required track sections or linear measurements, curve radii, points and the like. The types and sizes of architectural elements I need to build or buy and landscaping elements I need to build and buy. All in a list that can be used as a check off for purchasing and building until I’m home free (well, not free — but you get it). I like seeing things in as close to 1:1 proportion and perspective as I can before I commit so I can get a really good “feel” for the finished project. I realize there are computer programs out there for track layout schematics but I’m not sure they include architectural and landscape elements. For building the templates for those elements I suggest you study some architectural drawing textbooks to get the hang of it. You can even go so far as to make simple 3 dimensional stick or wire mandrels in scale to get a sense of proportion in 3d if you wish. Sounds like a bunch of work, but if you want to know how to layout a layout, then absent an outrageously expensive computer application (if one of this complexity exists) then this old school method can’t be beat.

  118. Jay Nadkarni says:

    Pat/Al: I started my Super O gage set up 16 years on-off with laying off track. Now I realized that I should have started both tracks and scenery togother.Ttracks and Accessories should go hand in hand.This allows the placing of tracks and accessories properly with variable placement of the items. Plan drawings help but actual items give better feel. Also consult Al’s entries, there is lot of information just for taking. Best luck Pat. Jay Nadkarni.

  119. charles h says:

    I have found Walters to be high on price. I have built most of my big industries from scratch. you can buy sheet styrene and then build any size you want to fit. you can add more doors if needed also. I put track down then added track to places where I needed, like siding. like another person said I got names of companies and ordered from them. save money. scan ebay and you can get some ideas and names .

  120. Larry Ketron says:

    First, download a free program to lay out your design. Without a proper plan neither buildings or track will work easily together. Once you have a plan, then lay the track and you’ll have room for any and all buildings that you have in your plans.

  121. Mark W says:

    Being new to this myself I would like to give a suggestion. First get a mental picture of what you want in the layout. Second, most newspaper printers have end of rolls that are very cheap. Using these cover your layout table. Then sketch out your vision, with. Factories in their areas, houses and businesses etc so you will know track placements. Kind of like drawing out your blueprint but on 1 large sheet. Then you can build from either area until complete. This way you may adapt as you go should you see something new you w ant to add. This also lets you build one track system and have room to play and build as you go. Have fun. I am working on a room surround track on a floating shelf, 7 ft off the ground, 94 ft of running track. Part is 6 inch wide and part is 10 inch wide shelving. Full backgrounds, tunnels, bridges, corners each have different seasonal scenery

  122. Thomas M says:

    I am currently designing a variety of modules of different sizes ( 4×4, 2×4, 1×2, and possibly 2×8 feet) for a group of modellers that will interlock with each other. I am testing use of 1×6 outer edge with 1×4 inner bracing on a 1×2 hatch with 1 inch holes in the outer edges that with line the modules up exactly so the track connecters are not necessary between modules. I am using 1 in dia. steel pipe nipples end caps or doweling notched to hold them in and small clamps to ensure a tight fit. alternately using the same the same material that covers a hollow core door in an egg crate design with 3/4 inch ends with same idea of the 1 inch holes for connection. This last method is used by a club in Wilmington North Carolina. Both models will have removable or folding legs to a finished hight of 42 inches.

  123. Ron says:

    My interest in model railways returned after retrial and lower physical ability and I find it very satisfying to think back to childhood, working in the railway and recreating things long forgotten. Like any hobby, it’s as expensive as you wish and it’s nice to try ideas and find some pitfalls.

    My view is that you decide on layout size, theme, etc and pretty much stick to these with only minor amendments. To me, it’s a hobby, a personal interest and for my own satisfaction. I’m not a competitive person so I’m happy to spend hours developing my plans. The hobby is pretty much the same as when I was at school and whay Im doing suits me.

    If any readers get through the long list of comments and sees mine, I hope they understand my views and firm up on their own plans.

  124. John C. says:


    Read your question and skimmed some replies. I’m on my third modular layout and I’m using flush doors topped with sheet insulation for the second time.

    Suggestion #1: 5′ is too wide unless you’re able to work from both sides of the layout. My doors are max 36″ wide, by 80″. Easy to reach in and easy to unlock and carry.

    Suggestion #2. Draw, draw, draw before you just start willy-nilly. Then place your building footprints on the actual layout and determine the final locations. Then see if your track plan will work.

    Suggestion #3: Stay away from vendors whose corporate flag is the skull and crossbones. There are plenty of web vendors for everything you need at very reasonable prices. The big kids are bullies. And they suck at n Scale.

    Suggestion #4: Relax and have fun. Your survival doesn’t depend on a race to the finish and you will be making changes and adjustments for as long as you can stand upright without help.

    Good luck!!

    John in The Woodlands, Texas

  125. Keith bROWN says:

    I have just got back into the hobby and buying loco’s and carriages from ebay
    first of all I have decided to lay the track then the buildings so I can work out where I would like them to go on the layout I have a lot of work to do as my layout will be L shaped with tunnels and a village in the middle
    it will take time to build but will be worth it in the end

  126. Bob Bouskill says:

    I started this hobby in the nineteen fifties and at that time George Varney wrote on all his materiel that model railroading is fun. I have questioned that ever since. Sometimes visiting model railroad shows if you interface with members arguments easily develop as to what is right to be done. There is no right answer but unless what you are doing really is fun, why are you doing it. I have no room so I set out to get a complete collection of steam engines. Then I built a roundhouse to house them. My trains generally do not run the way I want so I am asking myself, what am I doing? Figure out what is fun, then just do that. No one else matters.

  127. Dave Tino says:

    Pat, I am with you on the hobby and retiring in 4 years. I have put a nice collection together using ebay and craigslist and I’ve only spent about 300 that’s over 100 stock and loco’s and buildings!. I like drawing on the board with pencil and eyeballing what I want, it is easy to redraw if you don’t see what you like. Good Luck.

  128. Jackson Harding says:

    Pat, the answer is both are correct. This is a matter of separating layout planning from layout construction. First plan everything, work out what industries you want to have on your layout. Then roughly work out where to place each one, taking into account things like view blocks from adjacent scenes, radius of curves and your ability to reach the tracks that will serve these industries if you have a derailment. Some modellers even make full size rough card mock ups of the buildings out of cheap card (I use card from things like cereal boxes, easy to do and free!) to see how they will look.

    Once you have done this draw out the track plan to suit. You might need to fine tune a bit. Once you have done this mark out the building locations and then clear the decks and lay the track. The track then suits the buildings and the buildings suit the tracks. It is often far better to lay the track with nothing else on the layout, test it, get it right, ballast it, test it again, get it just right, then paint and weather it to you own desired standard (anything from nothing to picking out each and every chair in a rust colour – you choose it’s your railway), and then make a start on the buildings. A couple of strips of masking tape can be used to protect your track while you do this. It is wise to check clearance of your longest cars in each location to ensure you have clearance, you might need to tweak the building locations just a bit.

    Plan, plan, and plan some more. You can make a great railway making it up as you go along but you are far more likely to get a great result if you plan it first.

    As for modular or large the answer is up to you. How much space do you have and more importantly how much time do you have? A module can be completed as a stand along project and then move on to the next bit. A large layout can run trains once the track is down. The trap here is you keep running trains and don’t build more of the layout.

  129. john slade says:

    hi Al and Pat.

    Yes its true our hobby has change. I stick to what works for me, i,ve always planned it first then built the track first. I am planning building a layout using free standing tables that can be joined together.

  130. Jon schneider says:

    I too am retired and just starting a layout. For the past few years I’ve been purchasing engines, cars, scenery material and building structures. I always had a good idea of what I wanted on a layout so I bought structures that would fit in and of course fit in my era.
    Right now I’m doing a scale drawing of the layout and placing industries on the drawing. I have a hard time with CAD so I’m doing it all with rulers etc.
    A good eraser is a must and I laid out the room and table size, then took it to a copier store to get a few copies made since the drawing is 1-1/2″ scale.
    You can use the walthers catalog to copy turnouts & crossovers etc and also the footprints of various structures. My layout will hopefully end up a tri-level 11×19′ with a helix…..time will tell.

  131. Tim says:

    I would do track first as it is important to make sure your track layout and geometry is spot on and that your trains will run without any issues, once you have the track how you want it. It will then be easier to fit various industries to your layout as you will be able to see were the each industry is best suited

  132. Frank says:

    I”m sorry I haven’t read all the replies, so I’ll put in my two cents. First get some ideas from published plans, that others had had success with. Finalize your instincts and then get some paper track planners (they are available from Atlas or Peco, for free) or photocopy some track on a photocopy machine. These paper cutouts can be arranged on your layout space. As to the buildings the Walthers catalog will give you dimensions so make cardboard mockups out of cheap cardboard (Cereal packets are great). These you can use to see if the building will fit. Although I use plastic building kits, like Walthers I also douwnload printed paper buildings, like you’ll find on this website and at Superscenes and other places. That can reduce your cost for buildings greatly. And you don’t have to paint them either. Frank.

  133. Dougan says:

    I to am also new to the model train scene. I had some stores and buildings I got at a garage sale. Put those down first then laid track. Did not look right.I was either to close to the building or I was to far away from the building. I have 2: 4 X 8 sheets of plywood for my base 8 X 16 foot layout and still had a hard time. I guess what I am saying is lay the track first.Then build around it. I think the train and the track came before the Town and the horse in history.:):)

  134. Nick says:

    Hey everyone!
    I am starting an O gauge layout, and here is my process of starting up.

    What I have done, and granted I am new to the hobby, would be to draw a track plan. It is crucial. I use .25″ by .25″ graph paper which scaled up would be 4″ by 4″, but of course your train and paper scale could vary. Next, I put that onto a computer program called XTrackCAD. The software is easy to download, use and is completely free of viruses/bugs and is free to use.

    Secondly what I would do, is lay the benchwork, and the track. Then temporarily secure the track and run your trains along EVERY possible route to make sure it works. Forwards, backwards Next I would go along and permanently secure the track, and lay your rocks and scenery and all that.

    Keep in mind that while I do not have much experience in the hobby, I have spent an innumerable amount of time researching. I advise everyone getting in to the hobby do the same.

    Best wishes to everyone,

  135. Dave Ober says:

    In the 50 years that I have modeled, I always lay the track first but plan my industries and town as I go along. After the track is laid, the town and the trees and a mountain are planned and built. Any additional scenery and landscaping follow along with lighting of the buildings. I stress that you keep your track clean at all times.
    Good luck,

  136. dewaine says:

    it looks like great fun , always like model railroad great .

  137. Thomas says:

    Pat, I don’t know what gauge you are using, But the first thing I would suggest is to do any rivers or water that bridges are going over. If you don’t detail this first you will have problems with it later. I would also suggest just tacking down your roadbed, and make sure your track will follow it, but don’t put it down totally just tack it. At this time I would place building and adjust as needed. It may take a little longer, but if you put roadbed and track down, then find you need to move an inch or 2, you have to tear it up. It is like the carpenters creed. Measure twice cut once. There is no reason to be in a hurry.

  138. Rick says:

    How can you or do you manage to afford the over all expense of doing this hobby. I must have a small mind, with bigger dreams. Waaaaa!

  139. Darren Bray says:

    Hi Pat im about at the same point as u so im waiting for the outcome of this pole lol

  140. Kelly says:

    Definitely go modular! Try to size your layout to fit in standard sized rooms. I.e. 11′ x 12′. This approach has served me well as I have moved a time or two…you may also desire to move in retirement.

  141. John Reynolds says:

    My personal preference is to a “semi-modular” design.
    When you build in sections you can develop skills and you do not feel as bad about getting rid of ideas that do not work.
    Also, you can complete a scene before moving on to the next… Psychologically, you see and feel like you are making progress, things do not overwhelm as easily.
    Working in modules, you have something you can operate and enjoy while you are moving to the next section.
    Plan first… Know what your goal is and your vision is.
    Track usually proceeds buildings but then I have not built a kit according to the instructions in years (lol).

  142. Warren says:

    I,m no expert as in the process of building a 4×8 ho layout after years of being out of the hobby . Everything has changed drasticly . My piece of advice is to use the walthers catalog as what its entended for a resource book . I have found that they are quite expensive and 99 percent of the time I can find it much cheaper elsewhere . Try hobbylinc for one prices reasonable .

  143. Dave says:

    I’m a carpenter of 45 years and in that time one thing I’ve learned, get a pencil and paper, do a rough draft, then start to finalize your design based on what you would like. I did’nt read all of these posts so I don’t know if anybody mentioned all the CAD programs that are out there for free. I have found these to be real time savers, as you can layout track, buildings, hills, elevated track, etc. to exacting numbers. and let you see what the final design would might look like. This will give you a better idea whether or not to go “modular” or a “layout” also.

  144. William says:

    Well, having read a lot of the other replys, it would seem that we all go at it differently. It all comes down to “What area am I modeling and what era?” Steam? Steam to diesel? or more modern? Each has its good points and bad points. Some steam engines are rather expensive, but so are some diesels. Do I want mountains, hills or flat land. Maybe a river goes through it. (Kinda sounds like a movie title.) Or a combination of all these. It really comes down to your wish list you already have made. What industries, where in town are they, and how busy are they. Do I want contiuous running, or point to point.
    Doing a modular layout gives you the chance to build something without it getting too expensive and lets you try out different modeling skills. it also gives you a chance to see what you like more, building scenery or modeling buildings.
    Don’t be afraid to attempt it all, just find what works for you and have fun doing that. Nobody entered this hobby already knowing everything about it, it wouldn’t be fun then.

  145. Stephan Brown says:

    All journeys begin with the first step. If you blindfold a man and ask him to walk a straight line, he will walk in counter clock wise circle if he is right handed, and in clockwise circles if he is left handed.
    What does this have to do with building a train layout. Well, everything.

    If you want a scaled layout, you must layout in scale. If you want an art layout (which can be in scale) then you must “sketch in” your layout and work with your sketch.

    A tip here: go to “Google Earth” and look for you layout. Even Google Maps might help. Subtle difference in the layout may never be detected. You probably seen that huge scaled German Layout. Hundreds of people spending thousands of hours…. what a hobby killer (I have been told that they have a special crew that checks everything done to scale!.)

    All the things I have read, all indicate that you can create a budget, but you will always run over. The size of the layout you mention, requires at least three people; A bookkeeper, a technician, and a modeler. I know in small(er) layouts, the doer is all three.

    I would like to have an area that large to do my ideal layout, but realistically I don’t think I could push the hours, or the physical dexterity to accomplish that task. I like to stick to N Gage, and push the envelope on a 4 x 4 or 4 x 6 envelope with multi-levels and multi-challenges.

    With all that landscape, I see the hardware wiping out you budget. But I can tell you this, unless you prepared to sit in front of a computer with a spreadsheet… controlling your finances. Dam the torpedoes, full speed ahead, as they say nothing ever got done sitting around.

  146. malcolm says:

    All of my layout was built track first, that way you can get any problems ironed out before you start work on buildings and scenery, All of my buildings and scenery items, ( trees, bushes, grasses, ) were bought from e-bay, not a high street seller, just be sure of what your buying first,
    best regards,

  147. Tony says:

    I always start by measuring my buildings. Then I draw my track plan to scale on some graph paper. Then once I have it all worked out I build my bench work and lay a piece of plywood on it. Then I draw out my track plan on the plywood full size. And test fit all of my buildings. The next thing I do is layout my main line, set my buildings in place and run some very odd trains. Usually my lightest weight caboose, a 12 axle flat car, a paasenfer car, an 85 foot box car, and my wrecking crane pulled by a gg1, a big boy and a dd40. That pretty well covers my clearence concerns. The next thing I do is go through with my rotary tool and cut in my turnouts. I feel that it does not matter how beautiful the scenery if I cannot run trains through it. Now as for bench work. I build my benchwork as individual tables small enough to fit through the door. Then bolt them together and lay track. That way if I ever have to move it I can cut the track and the wires pull the tables apart and move it. That is not to hard to patch back together. But, then again I am an engineer so, I am probably crazy!!!

  148. Randall says:

    Wow, there are a lot of good answers to this question. I have been plagued by this question also. We all are going to die. Perhaps one of the only ways our “work of art” will survive us is if a well deserving relative or friend can disassemble our layout and reassemble it at its new home. Countless works are cut up and sold off for literally pennies on the dollar. I plan on a modular layout considering #1 terrain #2 locations of industry/housing/roads and track based on that. We are have seen layouts that made no sense with a huge mountain popping up out of nowhere or inclines tunnels and bridges that serve no purpose. As in real life there needs to be evadence of excavation through hills for the right of way, roads or towns. It would be easier of corse to model a desert terain, however deserts are not flat either.
    Thank you, hope this helps a little.

  149. Eric 7 says:

    Take a tip from an amateur, lay track how it fits your board best, try it out thoroughly before anything else, have an idea of how you want the scenery to look. Having a small 6*5 N Gauge layout I always liked different levels so for my latest attempt purchased a helix and have managed to make mine three levels, which actually runs great without problems. You will always have to adjust your scenery ideas to suit the final track.
    I cover quite a lot of the shall we say uninteresting track with removable boards that can be lifted away if there is a problem below and give a good base for town or other scenery on, best if you don’t hide your points.
    Being retired myself I can recommend the therapy that model rail brings.
    Good Luck

  150. John says:

    I am new to it as well. Going to start building in the summer. I have a 16 foot long by 4 feet wide. It is going to be ho scale. With that long of a table I am going to lay the track first off. You may be able to modify buildings to fit around track. Cutting them in half and such if they’re on a wall or close to one.

  151. John A says:

    I enjoy all the posts that come my way. I too recently retired, and am contemplating how and where in my home to set up the N gage equipment I inherited. Your decisions will obviously be dictated by the gage you are planning for and the amount of real estate you are willing to dedicate to your project. A recent email I received suggested starting small and growing your system. This would suggest a Modular growth plan. I have no idea whether I am going to do track or background first. The choices made of course will depend on the degree of detail in both aspects. You will undoubtedly find both getting in the way of each other at some point. Someone years ago told me about the 5 Ps’. Proper Planning prevents poor performance. Best wishes and good luck.

  152. Rod Mackay says:

    Don’t forget you can make up any building kits you particularly fancy but not fix them down. You can also mock up structures you might fancy out of cardboard just as rough shapes and sizes to see what fits and what looks right, but it all stays loose until you then work out your track plan – getting the tracklaying right is critical: no tight kinks on curves, no sharp curves approaching turnouts, and check it all runs OK before you scenify round it.

    Modular layouts are great fun if you really want to take some out to link up with other modellers’ modules in mall shows etc., but meeting the arbitrary standards for where tracks cross module ends etc would be a nuisance if you aren’t planning to do so. Making a layout in easily dismantleable sections still makes sense though – you never know when you might have to move house.

  153. steve says:

    I’m in the process of building an 8′ x 16′ O gauge layout and my advice would be to:
    1) make your list of Must Have & would like to have
    2) decide on how many trains you want to run & what types
    3) make a general paper sketch of your layout & industries, buildings, etc
    4) lay out your track based on your sketch
    5) use old wine boxes & shoe boxes. tape pictures to them and start putting them in place
    6) take lots of pictures
    7) finalize where everything goes, pull it all up & the place it down for real
    Sounds like alot of work, but it provides alot of flexibility, and will help avoid mistakes…like proper clearances, proportions, elevations, etc

  154. Warren says:

    Modular is great if you plan on moving it around in the future but if you are going to retire and stay put like I did then I would figure my room, Build my base and put the rest on scale paper. Figure you buildings and track. Lakes, tunnels hills and/or mountains and transfer everything to the layout in pencil.
    This way you know exactly what’s what.

    As far as track first or buildings first, that is up to your preference. You can sit the buildings in place without securing them. That way you could adjust them and move them out of the way while laying track. I try to keep in mind that with buildings and scenery one inch to the left or right can make a world of difference. These things I learned through building many, many dioramas. I and am still in the design stage on my train layout.

  155. Joseph says:

    I browsed several books/magazines for which track plan I wanted to use and settled for one in Linn Wescott’s 101 Track Plans. It’s the Philadelphia-Reading layout and is quite the ‘bowl of spaghetti’. I’m at the point now where the track work is complete and everything runs perfectly. I’m ready to start the landscaping process this summer as soon as school’s out. (I’m a teacher.)

    It’s a plan that I built over 25 years ago but had to take apart due to circumstances. Each of the plans in that book show you where you can place industries etc. They are suggestions, of course, but do work if it appeals to you.

    For the record, I’m doing this in N scale and my bench work is about 14 feet by 5 feet which provides plenty of space for all that trackwork.

  156. george says:

    Track first since you need to test it and possibly move pieces if needed. However prior to that, have an idea of what scene you want. I recently did a county scene as I wanted to keep cost down (did not need a lot of buildings) and I like to do scenery. I did not go with an era per se, just decided what would look realistic.
    You need to figure out what scale you are going to use. I am using N scale for the lack of space. HO has more detail but needs a larger space too. How much sound and flashers do you want. Flashers in train crossing and lite up buildings. Other than laying the track temporary first, I don’t really think there is a correct or wrong way as this is suppose to be a hobby, thus the ability of changing things to ones personal likings.
    Have fun and jump in, enjoy don’t worry about mistakes as even the most knowledgeable ones still makes mistakes. In our case, we don’t have a boss and a board of directors breathing down our necks nor do we have to worry about County, State and Federal laws. 🙂

    On another note, looking over the various postings this one goes into my save file as there are several sites I want to go to later.

  157. bob slusser says:

    Go back to the basics, when I started in HOn3 in the early 60s, we built almost everything. The thing you will have is time. Start a module, say 6′ x 2′, hand lay the track, build your own turnouts. Use DC for now. Almost any structure can be built of cardboard, paint your backdrops. Complete temporary buildings and update them as funds are available. Next year start the adjoining module, and so on. Review old magazines, you can build nice control systems for pennies on the dollar or local currency.

  158. Ken Hecker says:

    Al. I’d think about what kind of look you want, namely whether you want beautiful landscapes and levels (15′ should give you a chance to go up and over, and down at least once). Are you a guy who wants to spend his time switching and following real-life scenarios, or just want some great rolling stock, with sounds and realistic action?

    I paid something like $50 for a program called AnyRail, which allows me to choose from scales and gauges, and makes of track. I’d already pretty much designed my 4×8 layout in On30 using Bachmann E-Z Track (HO), but plugged the thing into the program, and it gave me all kinds of ideas. Turns out I wanted an Engine House and turntable, and everything now revolves (pun intended) around that. Right now I’m designing a trestle to go over the pond out back of the Engine House. I’ll end up banished (by my wife) to the workshop out back, which has been through two larger failed layouts. This time I have a Bachmann On30 Shay with Tsunami sound that runs on the new track. Also a Bachmann RailBus, Porter 0-4-2T, and a Goose. I’m not going to run by time tables, but I am going to add to this thing. Hopefully signals and indexing of the turntable.

  159. You have been given so many wonderful ideas on the do’s and don’ts.

    All I want to add is since this is YOUR hobby-do as your $$$ will let you with a plan that you will continue to enjoy yourself and be proud to show your modelling & operating skills.

    With track you have set costs-with buildings you determine what you want and costs. Lead with your track configuaration and all else will be fitted in place cheaper than the moving of track. With feeder wires and ballast to the tracks- be it DC or DCC a change is costly.

    Many of your buildings can be purchased already made at a trainshow-buying them to be made by you is more fun as you can fit them in as needed.

    Mostly just ENJOY what you will-the way you like it-it’s YOUR choice ALONE.

    Happy railroading.

    Harold Jr.

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  161. Alan Cheadle says:

    Hi. I’d definitely start with a track plan, full size if poss. You can also decide at the planning stage as to where any buildings etc will be positioned. Lay the track, install wiring and switches etc and run some trains. Buildings can be positioned as you go along.

  162. John P. Picur says:

    In answer to our direction question, NIETHER.

    1. First, you have to decide your priorities. There is no better way to start than with John Armstrong’s famous “Givens and Druthers.” The first refers mainly to the space available and its limitations, including avoiding doorways, windows, appliances, etc. that are going to affect the plan. The second refers to your priorities in operation. How important is switching vs. mainline running? Do you want to run passenger trains, which means you will need broader curves? Slow speed freight, branch line, industrial or mountain operations make tighter curves more logical and easier to hide. What type of industries do you want — do you plan to replicate part of one large industrial system within the layout (iron and coal to steel mill, for example) or small-town style warehouses, team tracks, etc.
    2. If you have access to one of John Armstrong’s track planning books, read it. Carefully. He remains the reigning master of how to get what you want.
    3. Get a sketch pad and pencil, sit down and start intelligent doodling . Armstrong’s “by the squares” system remains the best.
    4. Your final sketches should give you an idea where you want your structures and facilities. Regardless of your scale, you want to get the footprint of each item to work it accurately in your final draughts. Most respected manufacturers provide that in their advertising.
    5. Draw the final plan carefully to the largest scale possible. There are many computer programs available for drawing layouts. Many of them are preloaded with most of the “big name” commercially made structures. If you plan to use commerical track, these programs also are programmed with the track geometry of a particular manufacturer’s specialwork. I am not RECOMMENDING one of these programs — I much prefer pencil, T-square and large planning sheet, myself. It’s much cheaper and allows you to be more personal. It also allows you to pre-plan alterations to any commercial structure kits.
    – Always include a detailed plan of your scenery in the final plan. The topography has to look just as realistic as you want the railway to look. Too many retaining walls and fake tunnels detract from a layout. Tunnels are usually best replaced by a different form of view block except in steeply mountainous country.
    – Always remember the final plan on paper will likely be a little too cramped for good operation and logical appearance. We tend to do that with plans because we want to put in so much. Give yourself plenty of leeway, including a few small empty spaces that you can use to adjust the layout. These are also handy when you discover something else you want on the layout as you are going along.

    Order of Construction: Is up to you, but by far the most reliable layouts ensure the substructure and track is thoroughly tested before the scenic treatment is applied. There is no reason you can’t build some kits on the workbench (kitchen table) for installation where their time has come for placement on the layout.

    MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER: THE TRACK HAS TO BE ABSOLUTELY AS WELL ALIGNED, AS PERFECTLY MADE AS YOU CAN POSSIBLY MAKE IT. Nothing spoils enjoyment of a layout, simple or complex, than unreliable track. You should be able to back trains through facing points at track speed without derailment. There should be no unwanted string-lining of longer trains because of curve misalignment. Everything depends on the quality of the track, and the solidity of its base.

    What you want to build, how you want to build it is up to you. Your thought of building it modular is good. More important is to make it as easily moveable as possible should, for some reason, you need to do so. Module techniques apply here.

    For someone approaching retirement, I strongly recommend an around the walls arrangement possibly with a peninsula or two (if they will fit). Avoid those nasty “duck unders” that get so hard on the back and knees when you reach 60. Besides, you get far more railroad around the walls than you can in an island in the middle of the room.

  163. Paul, Brisbane. Australia. says:

    What great responses! All I can add is that I start with a real life scene, town or city that I like and work to replicate it as closely as I can. The main issue fro me has always been space. Sure I love Union Station in LA and all the track that leads in there and the setting it sits in. BUT can I model it in my garage? You just have to compromise. In short, like many others, I lay track first and then ‘rework’ the real world to fit.
    Paul, Brisbane, Australia

  164. Dale says:

    We all want “more” and/or “as much as possible”, so price becomes all important. Please think ahead. The more I buy from the internet, the harder it is for my local hobby shop to stay open. Then, when I’m in the middle of a project, and I need something to finish, surprise, surprise, the local hobby shop has closed and I have to wait for an internet order to arrive. So, my “modeling week-end” becomes shortened, and the hope of completing the project waits for whenever I can plan some free time to finish. We, the consumers are in control. Choose wisely. (No, I do not own/operate a hobby shop. I’m blessed with an excellent one 12 miles away, and I’d hate to see it closed)

  165. Carl says:

    I have been working on layouts in my head and I have built a 12′ by 16′ building and I know what I want to accomplish so I am building the benches to fit the layout in my head. I will start with the track layout first and then the buildings. I know I have way too many buildings so I will have to pick and choose. In my head their will be double tracks, that will be 14′ x 3′ one side with a 5′ turn around the back will be 10′ by 3′ then the other side will be 6′ x 3′ with a 4′ turn around all will be connected I’m starting out with a city that is going to have a Spring scene going into a Summer then Fall and finally into a Winter scene. Now if I can just accomplish all this when I get started, I do know that the track layout will have to be the first thing I do then the building and then the mountains. Now this being my first layout things might change my plans. I have read and watched tons of books and Videos.
    That being said anyone have any ideas on this venture please feel free to email me.

  166. Joe says:

    Having loved and outgrowing my 4′ x 8′ HO scale layout from my childhood I still have a deep respect for the hobby and some 60 years later was still dreaming of the garage size layout for which I yearned.
    The old adages of “Know thyself” and “Opportunity is knocking” came together last year and with a “now or never” response, that quickly shrank my yearning to a 10″ x 10″ HO scale diorama.
    Fortunately, I found that a complete vision of a moment in my past could be constructed within that perimeter. It turned out that all of my modeling skills plus many new ones were required, Without the operational railroad the sky was the limit on being extravagant in recreating detailed reality.
    Also I kept my garage, had a wonderful 3 months of concentrated design and construction, completed a vision that sets on a small tabletop, and met my objective of building a dream with the span of my focusing ability.
    About your Chicken or Egg first dilemma, I am fairly certain that the best suggestion was the “Simultaneous laying of tracks with paper footprints of your buildings and landscaping.” These footprints will not be in the way while you get your railroad to function properly. And once you do you might want to change things around a little. Those pieces of paper or card stock can be moved around so much more easily than trees, buildings, mountains and bridges.
    I’m on to other things, but wish you all the joy and happiness that a great hobby can provide.

  167. Bill says:

    I’m just starting again after many years also.And as many other have said I’m going for the track side planning first but mainly because you have certain limits forced on you by the type of trains you are going to run. If you have a bigger engine and rolling stock then you have limits such as minimum radius to contend with such as the Acela that need 22″ radius minimum. If like me you HAVE to have a turntable and roundhouse then that takes up a certain amount of room. If you go multiple level then you want to look at a helix. You can have an idea of the buildings and industries you want to have and can think about where you might put them as your track plan develops. There is usually a bit of wiggle room in putting up a building but the track usually goes where it has to go. There’s LOTS of new stuff to play with. I had decided on DCC, and ordered NCE to get started. I didn’t any more than get that when I found out about RailPro. Now I’ve ordered that one too. I’ll see which one I like the best or I may use them both, toys is toys and I plan to have a BIT of fun one way or the other. Hope you do too.
    Good luck with whatever you decide to do, and if it isn’t working then stop, backup, and start again,

  168. JOHN says:

    How about laying mainline first, followed by large scenery base, then do business or industry footprint, go back and d the service tracks and wiring followed by actual buildings. Then go about actual finish work.

  169. Michael says:

    Well, its NOT a job! Tracks first or Buildings first? NO NO.
    Sit back with your favorite adult beverage, and close your eyes, and see your trains running! Are they going in circles? Are they running in LONG straight lines? Or are you backing up and picking up and/or dropping off cars? Visualize your track plan/layout in your HEAD first! This is suppose to be fun, RIGHT? So now you have a rough layout in your head, go the the cad software route or go to the local hobby shop with your layout sketch, buy your track, go home and LAY it out! NOW RUN SOME TRAINS! Something you don’t like?, now is the time to change it! Remember, this is FUN time! After the track is “nailed” down, install your electrics, then your landscaping, and now add your buildings. (Buildings, you can ALWAYS adjust their size to fit the SPACE!) OH, did I mention, its time to run some trains! So, as your skills grown, maybe set some goals, like, SmallVille completed, then the Forrest, then the roundhouse, so you can see your SUCCESSFUL progression! Well, have you run some trains yet?????

  170. Terry says:

    I took the approach that the real railroads often were placed at the edge of an existing town, and the town then grew towards them until the railway station became one of the focal points, and the goods and shunting yards remained at the edge of town.
    I also wanted to have a free-running circuit (double loop) with some side track features, so the track layout became more critical than the scenery.
    So I made some decisions about zones (on a 6ft x4ft N-Gauge layout).without doing any buildings or landscapes. This gave me a town area, an industrial area, some hills (which determined the location of tunnels), agricultural area, a main station, a small goods station on a dead end line (in the hills), a goods/shunting yard, and engine sheds. I also laid out a couple of extra sets of points (turnouts) to allow train access to the industrial zone.
    Having made those decisions, I laid the main double loop track, with branch lines and shunting yard, and a bypass line adjacent to the main station, as well as the extra points. When all of that was operational, and working properly, I started the location of buildings, roads, landscape, etc.
    It worked well for me.
    My baseboard is chipboard on wooden frame. My hills were carved by hand from a surfboard blank (green rigid polystyrene foam) glued to the baseboard, which came up well with minimal carving, sanding and painting, grassing and trees.
    Good luck with yours!

  171. Kevin Jensen says:

    You have received too many responses to even read, so I will make it short. This I your layout. Do it your way. Modular is good if you plan to use it away from where you set it up, but can be troublesome. Bottom line again is to make this YOURS.

  172. Alvin Follows says:

    Hi I am just getting into Railway Modelling and was advised to sort the track out first which is easier said than done when you don’t really know what layout you wont. However I have found a free program called SCARM which allows you to create layouts to your hearts content you can save what you have done and go back to it as you wish, also it has a list of manufactures ie Peco, Bachmann etc with their track in different gauges N, OO, etc so its very flexable. I am on about my 5th attempt and still changing things. Just thought this might be helpful. Alvin

  173. Danielle says:

    Definitely the track in my opinion. I laid the track then built mountain with tunnel and did the electrical. after that it was whatever I thought of. I had a dual control and built two sets of tracks (HO) that could be run independently or together. Hope this helps.

  174. Robert Bouskill says:

    I went back to school when I was in my early forties but never ever found a job after that so I guess I am retired. I am 69 now and have been fooling with trains my whole life. I looked at a hobby shop but figured it would not work. my dilemma is that I do not have enough room for my trains. I have a figure eight loop against the wall with two mainlines sided by side. the only room for buildings in inside the thirty inch radius circles at the ends and that is not enough room for a town. the tracks are against the wall so scenery suffers. I would build my scenery and then figure where the tracks would go. Good luck and I think you were very smart to ask but you still will have to figure out what you want. I need to build a new house with a tall attic with a staircase coming up in the middle, but god only knows if that could happen.

  175. Lindsay says:

    Well it is really sort of “Chicken or The egg” did coming of Rail create industrial opportunities or did Industry attract Rail as an matter of Transport?
    I suppose the period you are hoping to create with your layout will decide. Modern day will mean an extension of current tracks.Anything Pre 1940’s well the option is yours. My next layout will be Steam age when there was “Spare Land” available.
    But if you are staying modern well Council Approval will be required hahaha

  176. Michael Staples says:

    I am building an 8′ x 4′ OO layout. Have done the baseboard and laid out the track. Even at such an early stage, I made all sorts of errors with my plans and laying out the track with the correct radius of curves, plus making sure the points did not lie above a supporting strut (to enable easy motor fitting) caused all sorts of changes. So in my experience it must be track first.

  177. James Newton says:

    When I was eight years old, I completed an O-gauge 30″ layout, then gave it up. Where it is now, I do not know.
    However, I’ve been collecting engines, box cars, passenger cars, tracks, turnouts, etc., for years.
    I recently had hip-replacement surgery, am 73 years young and plan to start again.
    I’ll put one engine, 3 pieces of HO track, a passenger car and one building on a 4×8 piece of wood. I’ll start here. Imagination next.
    Wish me luck!

  178. Tony Balano says:

    If you have the room I suggest having a layout that you can modify as needed. but if you only want the set up for short times, or moveable then Modules would be the best. Make the tops out of one to one and a half inch foam sheets for light weight..

  179. Larry says:

    I have always done the track first and placed buildings, towns, and accessories. Doing a basic scale drawing of a layout first is a good way to start. In my latest layout I went to a dual level to increase my area. (I had to do this because I needed cabinet storage below.) I made a “U” shaped layout and actually increase my train area. I made dual ramps to the upper level in the back areas next to the walls. I have “S” gauge and it works great.

  180. Leslie says:

    I am just getting back into the hobby an have come up with a broad brush approach.
    I want a main line station a branch line and a marshalling / fiddle yard. To that end I am working on track first. This gives me something up and running to keep my enthusiasm going and I can add scenery and buildings over time.
    However you decide to go good luck and enjoy.

  181. Ernie Stammers says:

    Hi All
    For me Personally go with your gut instinct, get a decent track plan on paper, lay it out on your base board, (drawings that is) loads of A4 sheets of cheap copy paper.
    decide what your buildings are, I buy mine from Trainworld in the USA I live in the UK and use O scale Lionel trains and a few Scenic world buildings, look on Ebay, go to your local builders and see what scraps of insulation foam you can scrounge, go to the pound shops and buy paint and brushes. work out what electrics you need, if building modular it may work out expensive, build your base and put rollers on the feet to maneuver it away from any walls to make doing backdrops easier. buy sound modules from ITT products in CA. just to make your layout interesting, I have modified several coaches Lionel, bought from ebay. Check out my Youtube “Ernie Stammers”

    Have fun


  182. Steve Aldus says:

    I think a lot of people are doing it the wrong way. I’ve scrapped my layout and building a new one, using what I’ve learnt over the last few wears. I think you have to design it all as one – in other words, track ,buildings, farm,village, hills etc. That way it looks “right”. But run trains through every piece of track before you lay ballast.

  183. Harvey says:

    Most definitely you need a plan of what you want to include. You may want an industry that requires rail service.. Laying the track first, and having to make changes to the track later doesn’t make sense to me.. How do I know all about his….Of Course I made the mistakes (Plural) and from these mistakes I gained experience. You will also have gained much experience by the time you complete your layout..
    Here is one of my mistakes….slightly off this topic but I think you can have a chuckle at my experience. I use Rotary Switch controls for controlling my turn outs. I have one control with 18 positions. That means I have 36 wires going down under my control panel. I needed an extra hole to run other wires through my cross members right next to this set of 36 wires. Now these 36 wires were all hooked up and working As I carefully drilled my hole about an inch away from these wires, somehow my drill bit caught the wires and wrapped all 36 wires around my drill, pulling them into pieces. The only way to fix these was to take the control out and replace all 36 wires, then re-install and hook them back up to my terminal strips. Good thing I don’t swear, cause the air would have been blue for quite some time. So now as I look back I know I can speak with authority on this one subject..
    Have fun building your layout.

  184. Jerry Schneider says:

    I am new to layout myself. I’m 72, retired and just building the board, 4 x 8 with an “L” shape attached (2 ft wide “L”shape) at 3 inches higher. Just seems to me it would be a lot easier moving buildings than to tear up track after installed..
    So, i’m putting in the track first but considering where I will want buildings.

    I have collected H O items for 20 years and now just getting started to set up my railroad. Wish I knew how to send a pic.of my plywood layout so far.
    Happy building,

  185. Gus says:

    Please, please, don’t make the mistake of not having a plan. Put your ideas on paper and develop your track plan accordingly. It is easier to erase a track section and rework it than having to tear up a section of trackage that you don’t like and relay it. It will cost you time and $$$.

    Let’s keep the hobby going!!!

    “A short pencil is better than a short memory”

  186. David cameron says:

    Regarding the layout dilema in tonights email.

    I am in a similar circumstance having just taken up railroads as a hobby again having left it in the 60s a a kid.

    I thought long and hard about how to proceed with a modular marklin set and finaly decided i needed to express my own mind in the laout and spent a small fortune on ebay buying up m track. My choice layout first folowing the general principkes of track layout then buildings ect second followed by the scenery in between.

  187. Guy de Val says:

    I would definitely go for modular, start by make a good plan on paper at 1/10th of the actual size, be accurate … Start with the drawing track, stations, houses and then industries, etc. Once that is done begin with your layout, by drawing everything on your baseboards in the actual size … When that is done i suggest you make one module a the time, don’t try to do everything at once, it’s frustrating and somewhat discouraging. Start by laying your tracks, ballasting and the electrics ;;; But before you start work out what system you’re going to use : AC or DC or DCC … I have chosen DCC (Lenz, Roco, etc.) because it simplifies wiring so very much … Only when you are satisfied that everything works well, you start with the scenery … Keep everything simple and uncomplicated, that saves you from lots of incidents/trouble in the future … Also make a good, clear “blueprint” of your layout so that in case of problems you can easily find where everything is connected electrically … I wish you succes and have fun !


  188. Butch Ouellette says:

    I’ve have built 3 layouts, S gauge, American Flyer in my younger teens. 1 HO gauge in my forties and 1 large complex HO gauge layout in my fifties. That one never got beyond the bench work and some track. Too big!. I am now retired and staring a new HO layout smaller and more manageable.
    Track layout and buildings go hand in hand whether its houses, train stations or industry. Planning scenic features also need to be considered. Bridges, rivers, tunnels and possible up and down track grades. This all has to fit into your allotted space and bench work. After you consider the features above, lay the track first and test run the trains. Then add the buildings and scenery.

  189. M L says:

    Hey Pat, Sounds like a great challenge/decision. I have had several layouts over the years and presently do not one but have had large Lionel layouts with tube track running multiple lash-ups and mutli-lines running simutaneously, medium sized HO and several N scale. Heck one time I bought a 2′ x 4′ complete layout at a train show for $70.00. Everyone in the hobby enjoys different aspects of the building process. Do what you enjoy the most. Depending on what you decide to model, structures, scenery, junctions etc.. will be driven by whether you model after a specific RR timeframe timetable and again etc…If you like the details of scenery then focus on that. Some people are technical minded and like to hand lay code specific rails. Some like to build buildings. For quite some time I had trains running on bare plywood and was just happy to run trains and listen to the wheels clicky-clack over the rails. Have fun enjoy and do what makes you happy and brings value to your leisure time.
    One of the best inspirations for model railroading is David Barrow’s Cat Mtn & Santa Fe. His benchwork is probably one the finest out there. Attend some train shows to get ideas and talk to the module folks. I have had 1/2 plywood over 2X4’s -14×22′ and I have had nscale modules and even layouts on used doors. Whatever tickles your fancy. Cheers! ML

  190. Larry says:

    First of all, welcome to the greatest hobby in the world-your world. You need to think of what you are going to model; somewhere specific or make believe. Either way put your track down and make sure everything works with the track that is down, especially the type of locos and cars that you are using on the different radius curves that are available. Make sure all the wiring is correct and the trains actually make it around your layout. You can place building wherever you want , take them away after the track is down and then do a section at a time complete with scenery and such. If you put track down after buildings, you are probably going to ruin some buildings and scenery trying to get the track right. Good luck and let us see some pics as you are going along your journey.

  191. Kevin says:

    Hi Pat and Al,
    I am also looking at starting a new layout after having my Marklin gear packed away for about 40 years.
    The way I am doing it which I think is the most logical, is to use a track planning programme like SCARM. First decide on the baseboard, place your tracks and go from there. I have created many many layouts with SCARM from using Marklin track plan books to various layouts on the net. I have come up with my perfect layout and now starting with the practical build.
    All the very best,

  192. Art Ellis says:

    Track first!!! I am retired Ihave been through this. Sketch a track plan you would like. Lay a bit of track. Add power. Run a train.. add more track. run train on it. As you add track you may add some buildings. Some parts can be finished but others are always incomplete. Modular is fun but not essential. ..

  193. Laing says:

    Lots of opinions:
    1 Do you want a switching RR or like me just watch them run.
    2 Draw it then re draw it, all to scale, with scenery and buildings in mind
    3 Law the track and make it work flawlessly
    4 Let your imagination run wild

  194. Hugo Budzien says:

    One easy out would be to get into 7-1/2″ (7-1/4″ to the Limeys amongst us) gauge and let God do your scenery. Besides, once you ride the foot plate, table top RR just ain’t the thing anymore.Bud

  195. Lisa Ridley says:

    Wow!! Tons of great feedback … I am new to this hobby and have made some costley mistakes. In the research I have done is the best way to go is modules. Have a basic idea to start then add to it. Make your railroad a working one, rail yard , town , country side …..what ever ! Build some scene you desire and be able to add to it. You may want to do the track first to be sure it works well. I made the mistakes of having too many ” tight curves” or inclines too difficult for a real train. Do some research on the train and what type of layout that goes with the time the train was built… Mountain pass or a long hauler. You can plan for multiple tracks by leaving enough to expand… Look on thr internet for modules systems. Hope this helps


  196. Paul Scott says:

    The most important thing is to have an initial plan that shows the track and the major industries. Once you are happy with the plan, lay the track and then add the industries. This can be done in sections for a large layout, so that the layout can evolve in a short period of time, with something available to run before the large layout is complete. This is like a “modular layout” without specific modules.

  197. Allan says:

    This might sound crazy but using Bachmann Easy track you can keep re-arranging until you get it right. You could do one section at a time that way and than go over it with more permanent track it you want, and than go on to the next section. When I do my permanent layout I will set up on portion at a time that way. Allan

  198. Lu says:

    Hi Pat,
    We decided to do an HO layout after having a train go around our Christmas tree and seeing how much the grand kids loved it. My husband and I purchased a Bachman with easy track. We took the train to our bonus room after the tree was taken down. Then we started purchasing more easy track until we know what design was good for what we wanted our layout to mirror. Our layout will be flex track so we sold the easy track on eBay and made back the money we spent. Then bought the items we needed to build the base. Also we started purchasing structures for the layout as well as doing kit bashing to build exact replicas of buildings we wanted to replicate. So we would suggest that you want you want to do with your layout and measure it all out then you can draw the buildings and bridges on the layout drawing. The structures can be worked on or at least started before the base is finished. Thanks and enjoy, LuAnne and John

  199. Ralph Jones says:

    Hi, Pat. I am 66 and have had some of the same problems you are facing, not to mention a lot of conflicting advice. I started several smaller models over the years, only to find I could not build what I had envisioned, nor could I run large locos or long cars, so I used all of my available space and built 13′ X 8′ layout with a 2′ X 7′ cutout in the center. That way I get long runs, gradual curves, and no more than 3′ to reach over, which is handy for us old buzzards. I also rely heavily on E-Bay, especially items with free shipping. I made cardboard footprints of large buildings, and layed track first. That way I could make adjustments without tearing things out. Good luck, Ralph

  200. Yale S. says:

    My dilema is much like Pat’s except I had recently retired, had a small n scale layout and we decided to move. I wanted to rebuild at the new location. My original layout evolved in sections and that presented a lot of problems. So I stripped the buildings, some landscape sections and started fresh. I have a 4′ x 12′ structure. It is in effect a blank canvas. Once I figured out where I would put landscape sections I started layout the buildings – residential, commercial and industrial. My thought is that I can figure out how they relate to each other. Then I will layout the track to get from point A to B etc. I can fine tune building locations and track and not be locked into anything until I am satisfied with how it all works together. This approach is also helping me think through the wiring and power needs. Hope this helps.

  201. Thomas Saddler says:

    I have started both ways but depending on the track I used. If your using fixed lengths and set curves, you might consider track first with some idea of where you want your industries. If you’ll be using flex-track or laying your own ties and rails, build your industry and then place the track.

    You can always use a combination of both and expand your skills and layout at the same time.

  202. Anthony P Cassone Jr says:

    It’s best to start with a 3D mock up of the layout in small sections. Using buildings and track.This way you are able to see what works you can adjust as needed. On a large lay out this could take some time but you can see what it will look like and build as you go. It also helps to have an idea in mind of what you want. Good luck.

  203. Ken says:

    Hi Pat I am in the same boat as you are so I downloaded a program called Atlas track planning & Xtrkcad 4.0.3 both are free and it may help you

  204. Lew Phelps says:

    I’m in much the same situation that Pat faces, wanting to build a new layout from scratch. In my situation, I have a fairly large space available in a basement, but constraints around how much of the space I occupy. The layout will be HO gauge. I chose HO rather than N because at my age (72) it’s getting a little difficult to manipulate objects at N scale size.

    My approach was to design and build a baseboard first — U shaped, 13 feet across the long dimension with the “legs” being 5 feet wide and the middle section 4 feet wide. One leg is 9 feet long and the other 7.5 feet. The whole assembly is built on a single integrated frame with casters on the legs so that it can be moved within the larger basement space as necessary. The overall weight of materials for the baseboard is about 500 pounds, but it rolls easily, thanks to the use of 8 casters that were designed for use with heavy woodworking equipment.

    The U shaped baseboard maximizes the total square footage that I have available for the layout, while still allowing me the ability to reach any point on the layout without standing on my head (30″ max reach, and most track will be routed to be no more than 24″ from some access point.)

    I am currently designing the layout using software (Empire Expess on the Mac, in my case.) I looked at a number of published layout configurations, and have adopted one as a starting point for my own system. I laid out the track first, but keeping in mind the need to place industrial facilities (e.g. coal mine, power plant), as well as other non-railroad components of the overall scene.

    I wanted a layout that simulates a much longer main line track than is possible unless you are starting with an area the size of a football field, so I am working with a main line design that makes multiple passes back and forth around the overall U shape without repeating itself, and with reversing loops, such that a train can make 8 complete trips around the overall space before it repeats itself — and that’s without throwing a single switch to bring multiple additional permutations into play.

    Such a layout requires multiple levels of track, which in turn places certain demands on the “terrain” design — you need mountains to provide the rationale for multiple track levels. So I am designing the terrain and scenery “around” the track layout.

    I find that as I do each iteration of the track design, I learn more about the interplay of track, terrain, structures, etc., and I end up making adjustments to the layout accordingly.

    I have also found it very useful to build a 3D mockup of the track plan at 1/10 scale using stiff paper or thin cardboard to represent the track being laid. I print the trac plan out on the stiff paper and then cut out thin strips for each run of track, elevating the track as needed with little cardboard “pillars.”

    In sum, at the planning stages I am trying to integrate all aspects of the final layout diorama.

    When I actually start building in a few weeks, I intend to lay the track first — and get it very “right” — before moving on to ballast, terrain, and “infrastructure” such as roads and highway bridges, and then I will add buildings, trees, vehicles, people, etc. as time and money allow. This seems like a rational way to approach the challenge.

    I concur with your numerous contributors that a detailed plan is vital for success.


  205. Patrick niedermayer says:

    I put both down about the same time that way u can adjust everything to fit with everything just figure out witch buildings and industrial u want that way everything fits and just do minor adjustments as u go

  206. Philip says:

    You do not say if you have purchased the rolling stock, and indeed loco’s and what era your going for.

    The club I belong to the largest in the. UK, we invented and only use Modular, this way we can change boards, not scrap the boards, so inter changeable is ideal.

    On a personal note, I would lay the track first, do not fix it, then as you stand back and view your work, you will want to change this, change that, add crossings etc.
    Only then do you add your buildings, and whilst you have an idea of what you want and it’s cost, that could be greatly reduced by track laying first.
    When you are happy with your track layout, you can then pin it.


  207. Ismail Farid says:

    Hi Pat,
    I’m new to railroading, unlike you, I’m not near retirement yet, but I tell my wife that this is my mid life crisis. Can’t afford a Harley……
    I’m starting with modules too. For starters, I am laying out the tracks and I use 2″ insulation foam boards for my base. Good luck and send pictures as you progress.

  208. Arthur Ellis says:

    Get Started!! Build a table. Lay some track. Put a work train on it. Start running. The rest will happen. .

  209. John Olson says:

    I am returning to HO after a 20 year hiatus during which I was very active as a 1/4 scale RC model airplane hobbyist. I have participated in model aircraft and model railroading for almost 50 years (yes, I’m really old). One thing that sticks out over the years is that the hobby business has a very high turnover rate. A kit, part, or related product can have a very short half-life, meaning that by the time you decide to buy it, it is no longer available (except perhaps from savvy “pack rats” who later charge high collectors prices). Structures can be purchased and held for a time until you decide to build one and locate a place on your layout to install it.
    I think good, trouble free track work is essential to have an enjoyable layout. Industries, etc. can be added at any time, but troublesome track work should be corrected before the scenery and buildings are installed. Not that you can’t build structure kits ahead of time for future placement..
    That’s just one opinion which, as we know, comes in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes, and any one just as valuable as any other.
    Good luck with your new layout..

  210. Rene Vanderneut says:

    Wow what answers to your question. All of them good. I belong to a railroad club.
    We are still finishing up a travelling layout (12’x6′ modular)that we take to train shows.

    We laid all the track first after drawing up the track plan. On the plan space was allowed for various buildings.

    Our main layout is also modular .

  211. Frank Mucciolo says:

    Treat it like you are really there, your the railroad owner and you need to build as to your demands, so what came first was the train and than the track the train needed to travel on to bring the material to build these buildings, so Pat, you need to lay track before anything else, you can erect buildings as you go, this is how I did with my layout and it worked great.

  212. Julian Holmes says:

    My decision order;

    what gauge? – N, OO, O – each determines the size and cost!

    decide what era you want to model. or go free-for-all

    modular – the reason is you can expand / contract / add as you wish – I use location pins and bolts to secure the bases for correct alignment, and either short track points, or micro-cuts between the boards

    rough out what you want it to look like in your head, then on paper, then on the base board(s)

    Paint the base a mucky brown – then you can change most things if you need without taking large track & point work up

    I’d loose-lay track first, then rough outline of buildings, bridges, hills, rivers, etc. Then look at what track you really need. Test, test and re-test the track and electrics – BEFORE you ballast!

    build up scenery – use all the tricks of waste management for this and recycle as much as possible! it makes it very cheap.

    let your imagination run away – be creative, and never let anyone say you can’t.

  213. John says:

    Work out a workable drawing with the indrustries you want, then draw the track plan that fits your size of your layout. Plans of your layout and lay track what you like.

  214. Brad says:

    My thoughts are decide which building represents what you are trying to achieve.If it’s a passenger line,then I place my station first(do not glue it down,merely place it.Or if it’s an industrial line,then whatever the main theme is(ore,lumber mills,freight station etc).After I set the main building theme in place,I would then lay my track from that starting point.As you lay the track you can get an idea of where future buildings would go and if they fit .My experience is track plans need adjusted on the fly,therefore I would get that accomplished around my main theme building first,get the bugs out and get the siding wiring done.Once track issues are fixed,adding other structures is easy as you run the train around the track laid out,Doing this means you can “play with your trains” whilst you figure out where the other structures go

  215. john thorogood says:

    I live in Nebraska and as such I believe in building the track first as was done with the transcontinental railroad. The towns, cities, factories and grain co-ops came later. When laying my garden G scale track I made sure I had long stretches of straight track. This way I could build small towns and as time went by enlarge the town or turn it into a ghost town. I enjoy in running my trains and then visualizing a development along the right of way. My period is late fifties early sixties so I can run stream and diesel together. A business that came to being is in Valley Nebraska called Valmont. It is a center pivot irrigation factory located next to the UP main line. This is an example of growth along a main lines right of way. I treat my railroad the same way. No need to build it up right away. Run your trains and add as you get ideas.
    Hope this is helpful.
    John T

  216. hy pat and all. You will be modeling so whats first, planning. Go look at other layouts, use the web to view what others have done. Decide if you want a recent or older time period. Choose a scale to fit your work space. Then decide if you want buildings, operation, or scenery in what balance. Do you want passenger or freight. What industries call to you. Are you good with electricity. Do you know what an LED is? Do you want people or vehicles. Now sit down and sketch out your layout for all, track controls, storage,, industries, scenes, scenery,. Plan a timetable based on your finances and go to it. good luck

  217. jim kellogg says:

    have a general plan for buildings and scenery then lay track because the track has some fixed constraints but buildings you can fudge to fit

  218. Antony says:

    Hi Pat,

    The general consensus seems to be in favour of track first then scenery and basically I would agree.

    My approach would be if placing the layout next to a wall step 1 is paint the sky. Then decide what industries you want and roughly where. Make footprint plans of any buildings and get an idea of where they will be. Then lay the track and get it working. Test with locomotives and by shunting with wagons. Then place the buildings and finally fill in the scenery. If building a modular layout make the in roads and out roads in the same place. e.g. if you have double tracks at 6 and 9 inches from the side, make it the same on each board so that you can change them about at will if you want to. This does mean making sure the fixings and any locating pegs are also in the same place on each board but a little careful marking out should take care of that.

    Whatever approach you take I wish you the best of luck and many happy years of modelling. One request, just let Al show us your progress.


  219. Dave Anders says:

    I have learned through experience that smooth operation on any layout is first priority. As such, I always lay my track first and test the operation to avoid any impediments or derailing engines and cars.

    This is not to say that I don’t have an idea/plan for buildings and scenery, but I build to compliment good operation of my trains, then I adjust building and scenery, accordingly.

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