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Helpful Tools for Planning Your Perfect Layout

One of the keys to success in creating your perfect layout  –  the one you always dreamed of owning, is knowing exactly what you want… or more importantly, what aspects of the hobby give you the most pleasure.

Is it building magnificently realistic scenery, planning and laying track, or managing realistic train operations? Given the choice; would you prefer more yard switching, or mainline operations? There is no right or wrong answer  –  we all look for different things.

For most layouts you can’t really treat each of the above in isolation. To a certain extent they interrelate, and the emphasis you place on one aspect of your layout will potentially affect what happens to another aspect of your layout.

It is a case of knowing what YOU want, and what YOU enjoy most, and then deciding the “Relative Emphasis” you’ll place on each aspect of your railroad.  After all most of us have limited space available, so prioritizing each aspect of the layout is a necessary part of the hobby.

For example; if you like a lot of track work, then you might need to limit the space allocated to scenic features like rolling farmland, or maybe a harbor scene, or mountain range.

Here’s where these two sliding cursor drawings will come in handy to help define and clarify your ideas.

How to Use These Charts to Create a Better Layout

Lomodel railroad chartoking at the first drawing (the blue one), imagine you could move the cursor to the left or right. Moving the cursor to the left would place more emphasis on having more scenic realism on your layout; and moving the cursor to the right towards the track / operation end will potentially be at the detriment of scenic realism. On your perfect layout, where would you place the imaginary cursor  –  at number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or maybe at number 10?

model railroad question

Similarly, on the orange drawing, imagine you could move the cursor to the left meaning your ideal layout would include more switching operations; or you could move the cursor to the right indicating you would prefer more mainline running. The imaginary sliding cursor won’t actually move, but it will help you get your operating balance right.

model trains chartThis is a great exercise to help clarify the mind, and decide which direction you want your layout to take.

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3 Responses to Helpful Tools for Planning Your Perfect Layout

  • Dansays:

    3 green 7 orange, I prefer a better looking operation with a bit less switching to allow full automation. The fun for me is building the models and scenery and watching them run.

  • Don Jenningssays:

    Nice too. But Is the arrow a split arrow? I say that because to the right side usually means more and to the left side means less. SO IF YOU WANT MORE SCENIC REALISM you move it to the left with lower numbers???? Maybe change the numbers on the scale to have the ONES in the middle and the FIVES at the end might be better. This is just a thought. Don J

  • Bert Masksays:

    I need more track layout designs to consider for O Scale and for HO Scale. I’m building two layouts

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It’s YOUR Railroad!

Your rolling stock and locomotives might actually be the center of attention on your layout, but the scenic features that surround and envelop your layout is what's likely to make your train setup stand proud of the rest. Your selection of scenery and structures will add an element of customization that will make your railroad truly unique.



Scenery, structures, and fine detailing is a fundamental aspect of any good model railroad, particularly if it is intended to replicate a true-to-life railroading scene. How realistic or authentic you make your railroad is entirely up to you... and you alone.

Some enthusiasts like to replicate every tiny detail so as to accurately depict, in every aspect, a miniaturized version of a real life scene.

Others in this hobby adopt a more "free-style" approach and choose to mix and match accessories and features they personally prefer. Even though the purist will possibly be unimpressed with unrealistic or out of context elements, it is YOUR railroad layout so you can make it anything you personally want!

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