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Layout Planning, Covering All of the Bases



When the term “layout planning” is thrown out, the image that pops into most people’s mind is a track plan with a sidebar that delineates turnout size, curve radius, and track locations. That’s not the overall “layout plan”, it’s only the design, the technical drawing, the track plan, it’s not the overall plan for a model railroad.


The track plan is merely one component, among many, that must fit together to create a successful layout plan.


For our purposes, I’ll define a successful plan very simply. It’s one that ultimately provides the level of enjoyment, recreation, and satisfaction that the owner had hoped to wring out of it. We can’t hit that target, and most people won’t, if we limit our definition of planning to a drawing.


Planning for a successful layout entails far more than simply the technical minutiae of lines on paper. Other elements are just as important or more so:


  • Establish how you will interact with the layout. Some of the more common ways are: rail fan, prototype operator, structure builder, and scenery builder. Once you have a handle on your primary interest(s), weight the plan to highlight them.

  • Establish layout size and complexity level. How much of the layout do you want finished at various milestones? At one year? Five years? Ten years? How hard to you want to work and do you have the skills to hit those rough deadlines? Do you have a clear understanding of the maintenance issues that will arise such as track cleaning, component adjusting/tuning, and minor repairs? Set your layout size and complexity level accordingly.

  • Plan for comfort (aka ergonomics). A layout that is uncomfortable to move around or unpleasant to look at will eventually be used less and less. Give considerable thought to room preparation, layout height, whether or not you want duck unders, reach in distances, and fascia design.

  • Prepare the design (track plan). I’ve prepared some general guidelines HERE.

  • Material and component selection. A layout featuring high quality track, components, and rolling stock is a pure joy to run. A model railroad made with sub-par materials will result in ongoing frustration. There are many locomotives and rolling stock brands that look great but run poorly. There are brands of track components notorious for being out of spec. Ask around and choose wisely.

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