Everything on model trains, model railroads, model railways, locomotives, model train layouts, scenery, wiring, DCC and more. Enjoy the world's best hobby... model railroading!

Brand New! Just Released! 15 Background City Buildings To Download and Build

Planning a 3 Percent Track Grade

Simon asks:

“Looks a 3% grade section is what I’ll need on my 65″ x 90″ HO layout. I was hoping for less, but with 18″ curves and a 122″ run that’s what’s going to need to happen. My questions – How restrictive will 3% be? What do I need to watch out for?”

Add your suggestions to assist Simon below.

14 Responses to Planning a 3 Percent Track Grade

  • John Howie says:

    Unless you have a powerful loco, don’t go over 2%

  • geoff says:

    I strongly recommend setting up a test track, to mimic the grade, and try it out. You can use a simple piece of wood propped up at one end. If your intended gradient has a curve, try and mimic that. I model in OO9, the UK version of HO narrow gauge, and I planned on a 4% grade. I built an oval on some foam, 4 ft x 3 ft, with a 4 % grade up and down, mainly to try out my tracklaying skills. I learned a lot about tracklaying, but I also found that at 4% I could only pull 5 wagons 🙁 . So I redesigned my layout to use a lower grade.

  • Dale says:

    While a maximum of 2% is recommended, most times 3% doesn’t give too much problem. A lot will depend on the locos you have and the number of cars you will want to pull. With 18″ curves, you’re probably not using monster locos so you’ll probably be ok with at least 8 or 9 cars. Make sure the cars aren’t too heavy – check them against the NMRA standards. (Don’t forget, if you have steam locos, the tender will count as a car unless it has its own drive system.)

  • The N-Scale Nerd says:

    Check out the DCC Concepts Power base system!


    A metal plate under the track and the powerbase magnets in your loco.
    I use their magnets for decoupling, too. (1 on either side and under the track with holes cut into the track base to accommodate them)


    A 3 percent incline is a good compromise and will look acceptable, however any curves included in the incline will increase the drag effect on the loco, and will reduce pulling power dependant upon the curve radius. I have used a 3 percent incline on my layout and the curve included is a 24 inch radius, and this works well as I dont usually pull more than 4 passenger coaches. This may not be the case with a 18 inch curve, so yes a test track may be a good idea. If this is not acceptable, then I would investigate the cost and ease of adding the DCC CONCEPTS magnetic power base system. Hope this helps.

  • Kim E Fokken says:

    When I put my 2nd layout arrangement on my 4′ X 10′ 22 radius was not an options so I did 18 but they are no less than 18 but it is said that ho scale inclines are recommended no more than 2% grade well I had a couple of places I know it is a little more than 2 and also in a particular place, probably at least 3 and the 18 radius curve at the same time but with alot of work and test of patience, I got it to work but I limit the amount of cars on it too. In some places I think with some customizing to make things work, there is a little more than 18. I used to use those Bachmann 85′ budd coach cars and I ended up quitting them. I found some Riverossi shorter coaches that worked better but since I have put on switch system and some new track, I have not tried those cars yet cause I am still working on perfecting my joints. I know that if I tried those coaches, in some places there would be issues. I need to make sure all is good with locomotive only then do cars with it. I have some cars on the track but they are parked in different area til I am ready to try them.

  • phil johnson says:

    From past experiences 3% and sharp curves make for very short trains or frequent calls for the Big Hook. Suggest you look into reducing your grade if at all possible

  • Ray says:

    Dont waste your time,its too steep and will look more like a toy train rather than a model especially with those curves.Switching to N scale will look much more realistic and you wont require such steep grades.I did 3 years ago and a whole new world opened up.

  • don kadunc says:

    3% grades are not normally recommended. However, the layout is small, so trains will be short and should work. 2% is always recommended ware possible.

  • Peter Bayley-Bligh says:

    Good diesels may make the grade but steam locos will not – best to have a much more gentle slope and without a curve on the slope itself.

  • Simon says:

    Thank you so so much everyone. I have a lot to think about.

  • Doug Sassman says:

    Doug Sassman says
    You can always double the hill———if you want to hall 20 cars ect. you take part of train up the hill and put it on a sideing then go back down and brign the other half up thats called doubleing the the hill

  • David De Bondi says:

    Hi Simon,
    I would follow Geoff’s suggestion and try experimenting with the grade.
    My current layout has ended up having a 1:20 grade which wasn’t working initially because of the tight curve. I modified the curve and now no problems.
    Getting your transition start point and radius is the crux to success. I have found that transitions can also need bending the rails on some grades, that is, giving an upward curve as in real life, not dead straight rail as the grade starts.

  • Andrew says:

    In my experience I try not to go past a 2% grade. Even some of my most powerful Loco’s won’t do well on a 3%.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add a photo or image related to your comment (JPEG only)


Use Tiny Railroad Micro Controllers

Download Your Free Catalog

N Scale Track Plans

Watch Video

Model Train Help Ebook

Model Train DCC HELP


FREE Tour Inside Club

Take a FREE tour inside the club.

Scenery Techniques Explained

Scenery & Layout Ideas

Model Railroading Blog Archive

Reader Poll

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.