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Advice on Building First Model Train Layout

Mark is starting out in N scale and asks:

“I’m new to the hobby and looking to build my first layout and it will be going in my spare room. I was wanting to run a double main line layout in two (2) different level and was going to do it in a L-shaped design. My dimensions will be 116 x 36 along one wall and 72 x 36 on the short side of the L. I have 2 questions what height of the levels is everybody using on their layouts and will 36” be too wide? Thanks for your help and opinions.”

If you would like to assist Mark, you can post a comment, photo, or drawing by using the comments link under his post. By clicking the link you can also see suggestions from others after they have been approved by the Blog Moderator.

6 Responses to Advice on Building First Model Train Layout

  • Dale Arendssays:

    Welcome. You are taking on a serious challenge for a first layout so good luck.

    As to the height between the levels, it will depend a lot on the scale you are using. Smaller scales can get away with less clearance between the levels, typically 18 to 24 inches in N or HO. This gives enough room to work on the lower level as well as having space underneath the upper level for lighting. As for general heights, consider viewing angles. The upper level should be low enough to view while standing.

    As for 36 inches deep, that’s a bit far unless you have the means of reaching the back, especially in the corners. An L shape with 36 inch deep arms will mean about a 51 inch reach from the edge to the back corner.

    • Marisays:

      You should make a much smaller layout for your first layout. It will take half a year just to make a 4 by 8 square feet layout. It will take years to make a layout that you are planning. Please remember that your first layout often fails to work because of lack of knowledge. And you would waste a lot of time and money with the huge layout. Start with a small layout and learn from it.

  • Timothy Morloksays:

    If you are talking about an over/under track layout when you say 2 level, in N scale the clearance height should be between 1.75 and 2 inches or 4.45 to 5.08 cm. A 20″ width would be better and still give you plenty of N scale modeling area. You could increase the width at the ends to fit your turn around needs. I would recommend downloading a CAD program to help you design your layout. There several that are free or offer a limited free trial. I agree with Mari in that you should start with smaller steps. You could start your layout in a modular design that could be expanded over time and still give an operational layout in a shorter period of time. I would also recommend doing a lot of research. There are a lot of good books and videos that cover every aspect of model railroading. Best of luck and enjoy a lifetime of fun with this hobby!

  • Stuartsays:

    I agree with starting small. You’re bound to make mistakes so they’ll be easier to fix on a smaller layout.

    Also start with a single level – no sense adding another layer of problems when you’re starting out.

    • Sheldon Clarksays:

      I’m not clear what you’re trying to achieve. Are you trying to make a continuous run that crosses over itself or 2 separate ones, one above the other, or two separate end-to-end layouts, one above the other, or one that has two end-to end layouts connected by an incline? That’s just the 4 very different layout types I can think of on the spur of the moment, and the answers you need are very different in each case. Also relevant is the scale/gauge combination you will be using.

  • mikesays:

    36 inch width should be fine except in the corner, you should have all the track within 36 inches reach. nothing wrong with your size, just take your time and watch a lot of videos. I built a 4×8 and added a 6 x 8 to it no problem, my 6×8 has only 3 pieces of track that are not flex track and all the track is well within reach around the layout.. you will be very happy with the results from flex track., just don’t make a joint in a curve, I did and had to tear it out after much frustration. I use Atlas code 80 N scale.

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