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Trains in motion, that’s what we ultimately want. Without it we essentially have a static diorama. But what is your operational style? Rail fan? Branch line peddler? Industrial switching? The answer doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you have a firm grip on it so that it’s front and center in your mind during the design process. When we know how we ultimately want to operate the layout, then we can push the design accordingly. If we don’t, we run the risk of ending up with something that doesn’t satisfy us to the extent it could, is more expensive, and entails more maintenance than is necessary. Listed below are some popular styles. Where do you fall?

Rail Fan

This probably is the most popular and by a wide margin. The rail fan simply wants to relax while watching their trains wind through interesting scenes. Mentally taxing operational scenarios isn’t their idea of fun. If this is your operational style, watch your turnout count. If switching industries isn’t that interesting to you, it isn’t necessary to have a labyrinth of turnouts that won’t be used. During the design process give a lot of thought to geographic scene composition as well as your urban areas. You can have industries without having them be rail served.


When I’ve attended or hosted more formal operating sessions, there is always a person or two that jumps to the head of the line when it comes time to assign the yard job. They love making up outgoing trains, breaking down incoming trains, and classifying cars

Timetable and Train Order

Time table and train order was made famous by the timeless articles in RMC on the V&O and then carried on by Tony Koester. The TT/TO modeler loves the chess game of following prototype rules and getting trains over the road and past one another as they do so. If this is your area of interest you’ll need a fairly long mainline run and a handful of towns. Double decking or moving to N scale are options for increasing the run length. Avoiding double tracking the entire line adds considerably to operational interest. You’ll need a staging yard also.

Industrial Switching

The person interested in industrial switching loves the actual point of delivery operational aspect of spotting cars at specific industries and is less interested in over the road running. Main line run length is less important, having enough car spots or industries to hold your interest becomes more so. A staging yard isn’t necessary.

Branch Line Peddler

The branch line operator is sort of a mix of the timetable & train order operator and the industrial switcher. They like over the road running and switching, but want a more relaxed pace. You’ll still need a few towns but they can be smaller and the sidings shorter. If you only run one train, you may not need a staging yard.

Shown above is what a layout design might look like for a model railroader that is passionate about yard switching. Trains come out of staging and pull into the arrival/departure track. From there, the yard switcher breaks it down. New trains are also assembled on the arrival/departure track. Motive power is pulled from the service area, a caboose is pulled from the caboose track, and an air test is performed. The drill track allows all of this to be done without fouling the main.

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