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Model Railroad Track Plan Design of the Day - Big Space, No Free Time

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

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Prairie-themed layouts lend themselves well to modelers with lots of space but limited modeling time. (Caldwell, ID, 1941, Lee Russell. Library of Congress)

It’s a situation I see fairly often, a modeler that has a generous amount of space but, due to life circumstances, very, very little free time. Perhaps they also have entry level skills. With careful planning, which is the emphasis of my layout design service, this person can still have a highly satisfying, realistic model railroad without it becoming a three headed monster that eats you alive.

If you have limited time it makes no sense, none at all, to come up with a plan that you don’t have the time to build. That’s crazy! Here's a better approach if you're in that situation. Instead of using your ample space to shoehorn in lots of elements you don't have time to build, use it to create distance between elements and a longer run distance. In other words use your space to create longer run distances between simple elements as opposed to adding more elements.

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The plan above has a fairly long run but utilizes that space to increase distance between towns, not by adding more "stuff", stuff you don't have time to build. It's designed with a number of features that would make it something you could build fairly quickly and easily:

  • Narrow bench work

  • Limited turnout count

  • Flat geography

Despite the simplicity, the format is highly prototypical and representative of what you’d see over and over again across North America’s prairies and flatlands. It also lends itself to very prototypical operations for one or two operators.

A branch splits off of the main, runs through the flatlands, passes through a small prairie town, and then terminates at a slightly larger town. At the end of the run, industries would be switched. If you’re running steam, the loco. would be turned. The middle town would be switched on the way back to the main. Since there is only one train, there is no need for staging. An op. session would assume to have started the moment a train arrives on the branch. The basic concept could easily be adapted to a modern era theme.

If this type of thought process resonates with you, and you need help coming up with a model railroad design for your situation, drop me a line at

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