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Ideas for Small 55 Inch x 23 Inch Layout

Matt from NSW in Australia has this question for those in the know:

“I live in an apartment (I think you call it a condo in the states) and haven’t got a lot of space for an HO layout. I want HO not N scale because I like the larger train size. Don’t fall off your chair but the surface I have to work with is only 55″ x 23″. I know that’s not a lot of room to play with and know I will need to stick to small switcher engines and the like. My preference is for continuous running with possibly a distorted oval design with possibly 10″ turns? Not really sure what will work best.

I would appreciate any ideas for types of layout and rolling stock etc.? Haven’t started yet so am open to suggestions. Thanks a million and thanks for publishing my question!”

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29 Responses to Ideas for Small 55 Inch x 23 Inch Layout

  • Bob Leesays:

    Hi Matt…. Check out the work of Lance Mindheim… he has written several books that would give you a fine layout to enjoy. Check on Amazon…

  • Reidsays:

    Just an idea but not sure if that will work for you or not. Try to have some layers or shelf above main layer or under table.

  • Francosays:

    I understand you like to larger scale, I do too. However, sometimes you need to compromise. I wanted to model HO, but my space limits just did not allow. I did two thing; one I model N scale at home and joined a RR club for HO operation. I don’t think you will get the enjoyment the hobby has to offer in HO in such a small limited area.

    Good luck to you

    • phil johnsonsays:

      I have to agree with the above comments. 15″ rad. curve will require32-34″ wide top. 15″ curve is about the sharpest a HO 4 axle engine will go around. suggest looking at a switching layout. good luck

  • Mark Shelleysays:

    try this website. It specializes in micro layouts for small spaces. Many could be scaled up to your size baseboard. carendt.com. Also a gentleman by the name of Iain Rice has published a book on small layouts that may have some use to you. Maybe you could also try several small modules that can be assembled for an operating session and stored on shelves or under the bed when not in use.
    Good luck

    • John Byerssays:

      I agree with Mark. If you want HO but also want continuous running, I think some add on modules will be necessary. You could build a completely modular layout, or, you could build a well sceniced & detailed switching layout and have a couple of small add ons that looped the track around you and back to the other end of the layout for continuous running.

      Another possibility would be a fold down layout (like the kind of desk called a secretary). Or suspending a layout from the ceiling. All these suggestions assume that there would be room in the room to do this.

  • W Rusty Lanesays:

    You might want to think of going upwards to enhance your layout. I know this will lead to grades, etc., but I think if you plan it all out you will be amazed at what you can come up with. You might want to look at a few videos to give you some ideas you may want to incorporate into your layout. I get the best ideas from watching others build a layout. Just my 2 cents worth. Happy railroading!

  • Montysays:

    This would be a nice size for an N scale set-up

  • Yoncesays:

    Hey Matt, do a search for “Mike’s small track plans”. You may find an idea that suites you.

    I model N Scale – the 23” scare me. You may consider modeling an industrial spur with a switcher running at slow speed. Perhaps a pseudo end-to-end design with at least one runaround may be interesting. Just have some fun with it. Yonce

  • Gopal Dagasays:

    Hello Matt & Good morning,
    With space constraints, one should not be adamant for larger scale. For your space, I think N scale is best choice. Do not get carried away that smaller scale will not allow you enough fun. Certainly it will !
    Just check out my N scale layout size: 170cms x 70cms. It is available on YouTube. Link: Train outlay Gopal Daga. Lot of landscape and tarrain with water body, station, road, buildings, street light and many more are very suitably installed. Two trains run simultaneously. What more you are looking at?
    Try this, you will not regret. Happy Railroading.

  • Andrew Skillingsays:

    Hi Matt
    Try 009 scale runs on N scale track with 00 or HO locos

  • Tom roisesays:

    Great suggestions from others. Stick with switchers and no more than 40’ cars. You will be very busy. You could model elevator shelf to offer flexibility with interchange traffic. Plenty of room for multiple industries. Many cars can be used if you stick to shorter cars.

  • steven neelysays:

    consider going with HON , an HO scale train running on N scale track , Look for ” Mini Trains ”
    if your in to building your own engines from Kits there’s a number of kits available that fit on to Kato drives . these would have no problem doing a 9 inch radius .

  • don kaduncsays:

    If you can increase to 26 ” , there are hundreds of HO layouts that would fit your N scale.

  • Russell Yimsays:

    How about modeling a small town trolley or interurban line?

  • TheoCsays:

    I too have a space issue and opted for something that takes little spaces and gives me hours of creative enjoyment. I upgraded my desktop computer and bought N3V’s TANE which I have just upgraded and also supplemented with Traonz17.

  • Jaysays:

    I actually did a similar thing (that small of an HO layout) years ago. I used real sharp turns, a four wheel loco, and short (ore) cars. It did work. It was only a loop, but the use of short equipment allowed it to work. You can increase the length of running distance of the layout if you have several loops of track, where one crosses over the other, and one is elevated. You will have to use all flex track to achieve the radius you’ll need, but it should work.

  • Tim Morloksays:

    I don’t know the floor plan of your apt, but have you considered a shelf layout that is between 8 and 20 inches wide around the walls of a room w/ removable sections or gated bridges where you need accesses. I am in the process of designing part of my HO scale layout that has a continuous run around my train room. It starts at 65″ and raises to a 72″ high bridge across the doorway. I am lucky to have a 17′ X 15.5′ room which I built into back third of our garage so that I can also have a lower level modified dog bone at about a 36″ height. There are several good CAD programs that can help you test a design for your layout before you build. Good luck with your planing.

  • Joe Tillmansays:

    Matt: I know your predicament well. A couple of questions you would need to consider:

    1. Do you want continuous run?

    2. What type of equipment do you want to operate?

    If you “tilt” a small loop in your 55″ x 23″ space, you can end up making 12-15″ radii curves fit, albeit a bit close to the edge due to simple geometry. The diagonal of a 23″ by 23″ square is 32.5″, not 23″! Use flex track and curved turnouts and you will be surprised what you might be able to achieve.

    The late Linn Westcott claimed that 12″ was about the minimum radius for HO scale, aside from traction layouts, and he was probably close to correct. Small shunting locos will run fine on such curves so long as you maintain prototypical speeds.

    If you are wanting to run US prototypes, SW7s, GE 44 & 70 tonners, and 0-4-0 and 0-6-0s will be fine. Find an old Athearn Lil’ Monster 0-4-2 on E-bay and you can have a nice stable of small locos and some find operation on a small loop.

    If you want to run longer locos, a switching layout will likely be in order.

    I am building a layout where I had to “tilt the loop” to get 18″ curves. While still under construction, I am very pleased with the appearance and operation of it. I tried to be content with a switching layout but at the end of the day, there is just something pleasing about watching trains go roundy-round.

    • Mattsays:

      Continuous running would be great. Probably a lot of switching would be fun.

  • Don Jenningssays:

    I have several ideas for a train layout using that amount of space. I need to know if you want a shelf type (mainly for switching (( shunting)) of train cars) or do you want a layout that is in a circle? Big differences here.

  • Don Jenningssays:

    I would like to know what type of layout you want. You can do a lot with a shelf layout by having fun switching (shunting train cars around). A layout only becomes large when you add circles at the end of the table. I believe a smaller table like 55″ by 23 ” is great for a layout. I have several ideas that may help you.

    • Chris on behalf of Blog Moderatorsays:

      Don, for security and privacy reasons we do not publish email addresses. If you have ideas please forward them to the Blog Moderator who can publish them as an article for all to see.

  • Jim Kennedysays:

    I too have small space issues and plan to run N scale. I came up with the idea of a track layout based on a cabinet I saw in model railroad magazine that would fold up into a really small space for storage. Rather than using that build guide I thought of the idea of obtaining an armoire. The folding idea could still be applied but the armoire would provide storage space under the bottom of the platform. You would have to make the tracks jointed at certain points to fold the platform up. The platform could actually be built as a stacked inside the armoire. By having a folding platform the space could be doubled. The first fold could come straight from the armoire and the second fold could come from the side of the first after the original platform has been extended. Keep in mind the track would have to be specially joined and electronically set up to allow for folding. When not in use the track platform could be folded back and put inside the armoire and the doors closed on the armoire. The width of the armoire is about the same as the space you have but when unfolded would double the space. Just an idea.

  • David STOKESsays:

    Matt, one Aussie to another – a circuit of H0 in 55″ x 23″ “In your dreams”. Sorry mate, it just won’t work. You need at least 32″ of depth. Your 55″ length could work.

    Can I suggest you Google “John Allen Timesaver”, and DCC Concepts auto reverse electronics. This will give you a layout you can play with, and when all you want to do is watch a train move back and forth un attended.

  • Raysays:

    Don’t waste your time and energy on HO the space is so small it will look more like a toy than a model railway, only hope is N gauge …….

  • Bernard Hallassays:

    Go narrow gauge. 009 or HOn30, the scale is big enough to see to work on.
    Narrow gauge gives you the chance to have rolling stock such as HO or the UK 00, running on 9mm track which is “N-scale”, so you can do small locos & rolling stock & reasonable layout & curves in a smaller space.
    I think narrow gauge is a good compromise between HO or 00 -where you can see & handle & work on the rolling stock, and N which I think is a bit small
    Minitrains have a large range of RTR stock, Bachman has locos (sometimes under “N”, of some Welsh narrow gauge (N.G.) stock, as do a number of other manufacturers.Google for narrow gauge.
    Check on Carl Arendt site for small layouts, Carl was a legend for small & micro layouts, his son keeps the site (& book of stuff) going. Lots of inspiration there.
    I came upon a layout labelled Kembach which actually had two separate circuits in a space 40″ x 24″.
    I think it was in a French Magazine “Voie Libre” (The Free Way), which has an international edition in English.


    • KRsays:

      I second this thought! A narrow gauge train (HO rolling stock and scenery with N scale track approximates 3 ft guage) in an industrial or logging setting would fit in your space, and allow continuous and switched operations.

  • Mark Cartwrightsays:

    Find a minimal space of 30″ X 56″ and then begin to construct an N Scale Layout with Short Steam and short to medium Diesels.

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