Heritage Model Trains Article

Model Train Design Focus


There is a variety of software available to aid railway modelers in creating and operating their layouts. If you design, build, or operate a model railroad, or if you ever thought about doing so – or you just plain like to run trains along a track since your first experience… this is for you!


Running trains couldn’t be easier today because new software is fully granddad-approved and designed for people who like trains even more than computers.


Modelers enjoy visiting and running model railroads – but they like them to be realistic in appearance and operated in a realistic manner. To accomplish this, the model has to echo the real thing – cars moving for the purpose of freight transfer, and passenger travel.


But you will never start operations if you spend all your time planning with the fear of making a mistake. The best way is to start with a simple plan that works for the space you have and then add details and enhancements over time. You will become perfect only with practice and refinement.



Small layouts typically have one main feature. That feature could be a train terminal, or maybe an industrial complex. A medium sized layout may have two or three main features, but work best if they are closely related. Large layouts have many, including unrelated main features; a park, a train station, a church with parking lot, and a shopping center.


For a simple oval layout, the addition of a scenic divider of some sort down the middle results an immediate benefit: each town scene will have the “feel” of the train going somewhere in the “distance” – between the two towns.


You can also acquire “distance” with railroad height – this effects visibility and offers a “birds-eye” overall view. Good operator visibility means you need to avoid long, long tunnels. It is most reassuring to operators if they can see some part of their train at all times. A good rule of thumb is that as the caboose disappears into the tunnel, the engine of that train should be emerging from the other end.


Medium and large size layouts allow the construction of a true point-to-point scheme. The first design concept uses a significant yard at each end of the line. Unless your focus is yards or terminals, care needs to be taken that these features don’t eat most of the layout room-space and budget.


If your primary interest is in terminals, it is usually best to make one large one and let the rest of the layout act as “staging” for the arrivals and departures. Most modelers will find it best in terms of cost, to feed only one major terminal on their layout. This is also an application of one of the “principles” of model trains – don’t do the same thing twice.


So now, let’s get started.


All Aboard…..



Esther Smith, author

Heritage Model Trains