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A Guide to Building your Model Railroad

A Guide to Building your Model Railroad

Posted by Guest on Mar 3rd 2021

In this article we are going to speak about all the information you need to start off with building your model railroad layout. Beginning from trivia to technical terms, we have it all in line for you. 

How to build model railroad?

If you are even talking or reading about model railroad building, you must know about Rod Stewart's model railway. Sir Rod Stewart’s Model Railway has been developed over 26 years. Studying about his project is more than enough to give you enough knowledge about how much dedication and strategic planning it takes to get your model railroad right.

Largest model railroad in the world would be the Miniatur Wunderland that is an airport attraction in Hamburg, Germany. This railway is located in the historic Speicherstadt district of the city.

To plan a model railroad, you have to begin with the design stage and get further beyond it. But before you begin your plan, there are 5 most important things that you need to put together first. If you are just starting out as a Model railroad hobbyist, these essentials may help you out a long way.

The first thing would be listing down the essentials. Define the constraints and the basic goals that you want to achieve with your plan further. The second step would be to list down your priorities from among your basic constraints. The third step would be to specifically plan how you are going to build your layout. The fourth step would be to do all your research on the current best practices while keeping the tried-and-true conventions, to enable a seamless design process. The fifth and the last step is to draft all your defined goals and standards on paper.

What are the 5 essential elements in your model railroad plan?

  1. Theme
    Your theme would include the prototype, era, and locale, along with the operations you want to undertake or replicate. Your model railroad does not necessarily have to follow any specific prototype. You can simply choose what you like best. You can even create your own railroad names, paint schemes, etc., so you can do what you like. 
  2. Area
    Space or area is a factor that you have to be certain about right from the beginning of your plan. If you apply some creativity, you can make the most of any space constraint you might have. You can create multi-level designs, modular layouts, creative alternatives, to make the best of the space you have at hand, however the are may be shaped. 
  3. Standards
    When you build a model railroad, you will surely have a list of constraints and guidelines like maximum grade, minimum radius, and more. The standards that you need to apply will completely depend on the theme of your layout. 
  4. Time & Budget
    If you are making your model railroad plan, you must have a budget and it must be important to stick to the budget constraints. Hence, you have to be realistic about what exactly you can afford to build and maintain while strictly sticking to your budget. Start small, keep a plan for future or possible expansion, build in modules and sections, and then proceed further.
  5. Scale & Gauge
    Some modelers build railroads in multiple model railway scales while some prefer building just one layout and its sufficient. The train size you choose will significantly determine several of the best standards that you have decided to follow in your plans. Also, before you do anything, you need to choose your scale trains and scale buildings. One important point to remember is that both standard and narrow gauge trains share a common scale and you will not have to cut down on your scenery. If you can manage to model an interchange between the gauge lines, it can result into significant operational and visual interest. Narrow gauge trains can actually be your way to penetrate into a larger scale without the need of a larger space. 

How to build model railroad benchwork?

Once you have a clear general idea about your theme and track-plan, it will be easy for your to design and build your model railroad.

The 3 main elements that you need to build your model railroad benchwork are supporting structure, platform/grid, and subroadbed.

The L-girder method of building a strong and supportive benchwork has been very popular helping you create a frame on upon which you can put your subroadbed. You can also use modular, precut, and predrilled wooden kits along with model train building kits that you can buy from the commercial market. You can also use a jigsaw on your plywood sheet to cut out your elevations.

After you have finished building the main supporting structure of frame of your model railroad benchwork, you need a platform on which you can build your layout. If you want a portable layout, you need to cut your plywood in sections to fit over the top of all your underlying benchwork modules.

When it comes to building your subroadbed, you can use homasote on top of your plywood. You can also choose the alternative option of placing multiple insulating extruded foam sheets on the top of your plywood and glue them together.

Once you are done with building your model railroad benchwork, you can proceed with laying the track.

How to wire model railroad?

When it comes to wiring model railroad, most people begin with using only one transformer to control one train. But, gradually, to get into the running, you may need to control tow or more trains at the same time. You can wire your model railroad using the following methods:

  1. Analog/ Non-digital Model Railroad Wiring
  2. Digital Command Control
  3. Layout Command Control

Model railroad wiring

Block wiring refers to a method of model railroad wiring wherein you have your layout divided into electrical blocks separated by rail gaps. Each block will be wired separately, and attached to a toggle switch that you can turn on or off.

Digital Command Control is a more advanced form of model railroad wiring and train control wherein you can control every locomotive separately from one power unit or from one single walk-around throttle. You do not need blocks. You do not need to urn power on and off to different sections of your track. The decoders can control not only power to the wheels, but also the headlights, sound, ditch lights, and more.

The Layout Command Control method is just an enhancement for DCC that has been developed and standardized by a group within the NMRA enabling faster and more reliable signaling to locomotives and other devices operated by decoders by adding an LLC bus to the DCC bus.

Model railway track planning software

There are also multiple efficient model railway track planning software that could help you. The type of model railroad software you choose to use will completely depend on how tech-savvy you are and how much you like to spend time on your computer, and what your main goals are. These model railroad software can allow you to run trains on your computerized layout virtually so that you can get a clear idea and vision about how your railroad is going to operate when you are done building your model.

To know more about model railroad building, you can easily head to Build Your Model Railroad Blog to get more in-depth information.

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