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Getting Stated in Model Railroading

Steve is starting off in the hobby and would like some words of wisdom from those with plenty of experience in the hobby:

“I am new to model railways having last used one when I was much younger (now 64) …  an RC model aircraft flyer/builder of a number of years who wants to come in out of the cold.

I have an available layout space of 1.7mx0.53m plus a side section of another 2.4mx0.3m. From what I have already read and been advised it would seem that unless I want a basic A-B layout I should really be considering N gauge and not OO ?

I have been reading as much information as I can …. I think I would like to go with DCC system but have no idea which one. A relative has the E-Z one from Graham Farish and he seems quite happy with that. but there seems to be  lot out there. There are a large range of track and  locomotive manufactures out there .. any comments on which to avoid … or go for.

Basically my initial thoughts would be to buy a ‘set’ which has the controller with it (and hopefully instructions) to start me off – I am hoping to only use trains etc that would have been around in my youth i.e. 1955-65 say.

So this is really a call for help and advice on which suppliers of track and trains to go for (and avoid) plus any other pointers you think are important BEFORE I start. Many thanks for reading.”

6 Responses to Getting Stated in Model Railroading

  • Dalesays:

    I’m just a few years older than you and have started an N scale layout. I, too, chose N scale simply because I don’t have room for anything larger. I decided on the NCE ProCAB starter set which contains everything you need for a small layout. Keep in mind that just about any decoder will work with just about any DCC system since most of them follow the established NMRA standards. Look for locomotives labelled “DCC on board” or “DCC ready”. On board means they have the DCC decoder already; DCC ready means the controller board is set up to accept a decoder.

    One piece of advice; unless your eyes are better than mine get yourself an illuminated, magnifying visor. N scale is pretty small.

    Have fun.

  • james penglasesays:

    From your description of the area you have to work with, N scale is the way to go. Today there are a lots of N scale locomotives, cars, structures and track available. So there you are very much in luck. I do not know which country you are in, but if in the US or Canada. The following sites and companies have a large quantity of N scale trains, track, accessories and scenery,
    walthers.com toytrainheaven.com trainworld.com factorydirecttrains.com hobbylink.com
    Always look for specials and items on sale. It can save you a lot. Good luck.

  • Randall Styxsays:


    Choosing a scale will depend mainly on two things: 1) How much you want your model railroad to do, and 2) How much space you have available.

    If you envision a model railroad with one or more continuous loops, even N Gauge track (used commonly for scales from 1:148 to 1:160, but most commonly for 1:160) is going to be a challenge on the space parameters you have given. Z Gauge track with 1:220 scale and the relatively new T Gauge track (most associated with a scale of 1:450) would give you better layout design options. The problem with T Gauge and 1:450 is that there’s not much available and it’s really really small for aging eyes, and even Z Gauge is far less available than N Gauge. These smaller scales/gauges are also generally more expensive.

    On the other hand, a “point-to-point” layout or a commercial switching layout with N Gauge, HO/OO, or even S and O Gauge track (commonly used in scales of 1:87/1:76, 1:64, and 1:48) can give you a very nice model railroad in the space you have. You wouldn’t be able to let your train(s) run continuously ad infinitum but you could have very realistic operating sessions.

    Another factor is how detailed you want your models to be. Super fine detailing is going to be easier in larger scales. Do you have an architect in you that would love to spend more time on modeling structures, or a geographer that would love to model scenery, or an aspiring engineer or yard master that would like to spend the most time on train operation? Even if you’re not as interested in super fine detailing, a larger scale will enable you to build up your layout more quickly because the buildings cover more real estate.

    If you lean toward “scratch building” you could easily go with almost any scale and track gauge, but if you’re more limited to what’s available on the commercial market, then you would be wise to choose a scale and gauge that corresponds to what is most available to you in your part of the world. In the USA, HO Gauge track and 1:87 scale models (rolling stock and structures) are the most common. N Gauge track and 1:160 scale models run a fairly close second. Both are so available that either is a very good option for one just starting out. If in your country OO Gauge track with 1:76 scale models is more available than HO, then that would be a viable option. (My understanding is that “OO Gauge” track and “HO Gauge” track are now manufactured at exactly the same gauge – distance between the rails – but it still works for 1:76 scale models even though it’s slightly under sized.)

    No one else can make the decision for you. But evaluate what you would like your model railroad to be. Go to the library and check out back issues of model railroad magazines or subscribe yourself. Examine especially layouts that take up little space and see what strikes your fancy. Go to a few model railroad shows. Check to see if there are any model railroad clubs in your area. You might want to adjust your dimensions a bit and build a portable module that can be joined to others at joint events with other modelers. There’s really no right or wrong way to design a layout, Build what you anticipate you will most enjoy.

  • Michael Flanagansays:

    G’day Steve
    It seems like you’re in the same boat as me, so to speak. Being 75, I’m coming back to model railroads after some 50 years.WOW WOW what a change. Before it was Hornby 00 and DC control. Now it’s DCC control and what an improvement. I have gone with N gauge, basically for space reasons and am struggling thru the various options.
    You have some fantastic advice above. GO WITH IT. DO buy a starter set, complete with controller and plsay with that. Get the hang of it and then slowly branch out.
    I, for some reason which escapes me, went with KATO. They have progressively more complex rail sets, initially with controller. I bought an engine and a few wagons off the ebay.
    I am still in the playing about mode and have only just purchased my next step into the WOW world.
    So I am glad I am not the only “oldie” who is coming back to model railroads
    Good luck mate

    • SKIPsays:

      I have digitrax I like but its hard to work with, it was given to me for almost nothing, I would go NCE its a lot more user friendly but it doesn’t come with a set of trains. you could go with BAUCHANN IT WILL STILL COST ABOUT $ 400.00. I HAVE N SCALE I LOVE IT BEING 64 I NEED A HEAD SET WITH LT. I HAVE 4 ENGINES DCC AND 5 ENGINS DC.

  • Graemesays:

    Hi Steve , I would recommend N.C.E powercab for your DCC Controller it’s user friendly and kicks butt over the Bachman rubbish. As regarding locomotives Unless your modelling English Railway where the majority of locomotives are made by Graham Farrish or Dapol at the affordable end, I would recommend Kato as the way to go. I model both N scale and OO scale with the preference going to N scale as you can design a good diorama in a much smaller space. I wouldn’t buy a train set to start with as most are cheap and nasty. Buy quality over quantity or take the chance to become disheartened very quickly with the hobby. Go to your local hobby shop and find out where the local clubs are. Then go and see what’s available and pick their brains, most hobbiests will help you out with advice.So you can avoid most of the pitfalls of the hobby and believe me there are a few.So to sum it up before you shell out any cash decide what you want to model I.e English countryside,American themes or the Swiss alps you just need lmagination but it has to be fun or don’t do it.

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