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102 Realistic Track Plans


Back by popular demand! 

102 Realistic Track Plans organizes more than 100 of the magazine’s best layout designs into one spectacular collection. It showcases easy-to-use plans in a variety of scales, shapes, and sizes — from very small and compact, to medium and large layouts that fit in rec rooms and basements.

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Introduction to track planning

One of the most fascinating parts of model railroading is designing a layout. You can build a fine model railroad by following a plan out of a magazine like this one, but to get the system you really want you'll probably need to make changes or additions.

Very small layouts

Not every model railroader has a basement. Not everyone can spare a bedroom or is willing to give up parking in the garage to make room for trains. These space-challenged modelers don't have to remain armchair hobbyists, though. Almost everyone can find room for one of the railroads in this chapter.

Curves, turnouts, and track centers

Among the first choices you'll need to make in designing or selecting a track plan are the sharpness of the curves and the angle and length of the turnouts (track switches). Curves are define by radius and turnouts by the number of the frog. Or you can decide on what will be the longest cars and engines you want to run. You pretty much end up in the same place either way because your rolling stock will require a certain minimum radius and corresponding frog size to operate reliably. In fact, your trains will look even better on curves and turnouts larger than the minimums they need.

4x8s and a little more

The traditional beginner model railroad is a layout built on a 4 x 8 foot sheet of plywood. The easiest explanation for this is that plywood, as well as foam insulation board, is sold in those dimensions. One can simply buy a sheet of 3/4" plywood, set it on saw horses or an old table, and run trains.

Sketching by the squares

It's fun to sketch layout concepts as they occur to you, but it takes a lot of time to try a new thought in a scale drawing. Fortunately there's a faster way to see if your great idea will fit. John Armstrong, the dean of layout designers, invented a method of controlled doodling that can be used to quickly test track planning ideas. It's called sketching by the squares.

Layout schematics

Most of us start out in model railroading with one of the most basic layout schematics, an oval or continuous loop. That's a great place to start, but it's not much like a real railroad. A railroad is a business, and outside of amusement parks and some subway lines, there's not much money to be made by running trains around in circles.

Drawing curves and turnouts accurately

The essence of drawing an accurate track plan is being careful and correct with curves and turnouts. There are a couple of basic techniques to master and a shortcut to help with the most repetitive tasks. Think of these skills as foundations to support your imagination, and you'll be able to both enjoy the fun of track planning and trust the practicality of your work.

Compact layouts

Many modelers will find a layout the size of the ones in this chapter to be just right: small enough to build and manage alone, large enough to landscape and operate realistically, but not so big it takes over the house.

Figuring grades and clearances

Even as you draw in two dimensions you can start thinking of your model railroad as three-dimensional. To have a track cross above another track or over itself, you need to plan a reasonable grade. Or you can build grades for scenic and operating reasons. In the hilly or mountainous country so popular with modelers, trains have to operate up and down grades. You may even want a grade steep enough to require helper or pusher engines.

Structures, scenery, and aisles

There's more to a model railroad than just the track, and typically you'll want a track plan to indicate the locations of at least the most important structures and scenic features. There also has to be room for people to build and enjoy the layout, or the plan won't be much use. It's easy to account for all this as you're designing a layout — just leave room for other things besides track.

Medium layouts

The modeler lucky enough to have more than a bedroom for his railroad has some choices to make.

Now that space is that space is not as much of a constraint, the issue becomes what to do with that space. Fill it with enough main line to enable long runs and trains of prototypical length? Build a big yard or add a bunch of industries for lots of switching action? Stretch out the track between cities to make room for more scenery?

Sectional layouts

A friend of mine was hosting an operating session, and as we were about to get started he apologized to the group. "Sorry, but this layout is only temporary," he said. Someone else pointed out that all model railroads are temporary, it's just that some are around longer than others. If you know you'll have to relocate in the future, or even if you just want to be prepared for that possibility, you can build your layout in sections that you can dismantle, move, and reassemble.

How to convert track plan scales

Whatever modeling scale you use, chances are you'll find that a track plan for some other scale appeals to you. Just because you model in "X" scale doesn't mean you have to automatically ignore plans drawn for "W" or "Y." With some simple arithmetic and a little understanding of layout design you can quickly tel how much bigger or smaller a given layout will be in the scale you use.

Layouts for large spaces

Got the room to think big? Though smaller plans have lots of advantages, some people find that they have the space to build a big model railroad. In this case, you may have part of a rec room or most of a basement you can work in, or you may have a garage or an outbuilding (such as a barn) at your disposal.

...and one more

An HO plan for non-traditional spaces


Freight yard design and operation.

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