Model Railroad Plans

Making Model Railroad Plans is a hobby within hobby for me. Below are some of the key examples of plans that I’ve made over the years for myself, friends, magazines and clients. If you want my help in designing a specific layout for you, please feel free to get in touch.

Small and medium sized, affordable model railroad track plans

Over the years I have taken great interest in Model Trains, however, I always had significant constraints while designing one – size, portability, cost, everything had to be taken into account while being sincere to satisfy my artistic interests. Hence over last over a decade I have designed many model railroad layouts and plans that fit an ‘average’ man’s life. Plans that don’t require a lot of space, can be built easily and expanded with a modular/sectional approach to give the builder clear goals and achievements. Here are some of my selected plans that I have enjoyed drawing and I am sure will be enjoyable to build too. If anyone wishes to use them, I would love to hear about it and will be curious to know how my visions are interpreted. So, you are free to use and modify the below plans – no strings attached, but I would appreciate if you let me know how you are using them.

Wrightsville Port: N Scale Waterfront Layout

My own layout, Wrightsville Port is not my own design – it is based on Iain Rice’s Coalport, Maryland in HO Scale. I converted that design into a 6X3 N scale layout. Considered to be a small size layout in HO, designed over just one wall spanning 9 ft in a room, Coalport, MD layout had everything I dreamt of, and liked in the real life – Large water body, interesting switching, a draw bridge, a trestle, a lighthouse, decent scenic modeling opportunity as well as that rough, old town feeling; and the most important part was that even though this was a pure switching layout, it had that depth of field, that very interesting and intriguing entry and exit. Also, if you try to imagine how the trains are going to run on this layout, you realize that even though this is a small layout, that reverse loop can create a sense of distance that is generally not present in most switching layouts. Adapting this design in N scale had actually made the layout in small to medium size category with much less than 18 sq ft area, and also a unique and fascinating look with a curved bench work that can replicate the feel of novelty furniture!

Coalport, MD in HO by Iain Rice
Iain Rice’s Coalport, MD in HO Scale

However, I did not adopt the exact plan, rather, I could not; I had just been inspired and heavily influenced by it. Why? Several reasons-

  • Ian Rice made this plan keeping mostly hand-laid tracks and turnouts in mind, whereas for me it had to be off-the-shelf. I neither had the time, nor the patience to hand-lay tracks. So, the plan had to be readjusted for longer turnout lengths.
  • I decided to move at least 20 years ahead of 1941; of course because I wanted to have the option to model in Diesel, but primarily, because VMC requested for one thing that I could not refuse (or even wanted to)-A container ship! To model a container ship it was important to move the era to past ’60s because before that they didn’t even exist.
  • Instead of a large warehouse, I decided to go for a Grain Transfer facility where grain barges bring the load in, then are unloaded by pneumatic un-loaders which is then transported out of the port by the grain hoppers.
  • The only part where I didn’t agree with Ian Rice’s plan is putting the trestle right in the middle of the layout. In my mind that would actually create obstruction to the objects behind it and the visual effect might be a little compromised. So I decided to pull that to the far right of the layout-where the industry stands in Mr. Rice’s design. This will also give an added advantage over the original plan, an over and under action!
  • I introduced an extended section towards the left to include a more elaborate town scene that would also give the trains a longer run, and will give me the opportunity to build a waterside town scene with compelling night time scene.

Finally, after quite a few tweaks on the design, the final version stood like this:

Wrightsville Port: N Scale Layout Plan
  • Size: 6′ X 3′ with separate fiddle and staging yard. The actual area is much less than 18 sq. ft. owing to the curved shape of the layout.
  • Operation: Point to point switching – typical pick-up/drop type freight operation seen in ports, along with a small passenger operation – a single RDC.
  • Benchwork: 12mm ply on 1″X 1.5″ wood frame-totally portable
  • Scenery: small port scene with most of the track embedded in concrete, small hill in the background with a lighthouse, small town scene on the left. Full night time scene with elaborate lighting.
  • Track: Code 80
  • Min Radius: 11″
  • Turnouts: # 5 and 7 Peco electrofrog with remote switching, powered by CDU
  • Grade: none (I am keeping the coal trestle grade off the main list as it’s a special operation for the railroad. The trestle has 6% grade – ability to push maximum two/three coal hoppers up the grade at a time)
  • Era: 1960-1970
  • Motive power: Diesel and occasional steam
  • Power and electrical – two cab DC with 7 blocks

Making a 3D Model of a Freelance Model Railroad in HO

Recently I worked with one of my clients to build a 1:16 scale model of a model railroad that I designed for him. It is not only an enjoyable exercise, it also gives an immense opportunity to physically inspect a layout. After I designed the model train layout in AnyRail, I built this model primarily to create an interactive prototype for the complex benchwork which is crucial for a model railroad of this complexity. Let’s take a look at the plan first. This layout essentially had 3 levels. From the main level one helix took the trains to a staging below, while another took it to the level above. The layout is completely freelanced, meaning the customer can take inspiration from any part of the world and super-impose on this plan to build a layout, however, I kept some very common operational features in the layout that suits any railway operation.

Level 1- Bedroom Sizxe Freelance Layout
Level 1 of the layout – Bedroom Sized layout with 3 levels
Level 2
Level 2 with a terminal station and small turn tbale, and a basic town scene

The layout will be semi-permanent, meaning, once built the layout will not be moved regularly, however, if the customer wants to relocate the layout in future, he should be able to do so without ripping off all the hard work. So my design had to cater to that critical requirement.

Track Elevation between Levels
Track Elevation between Levels
3D Render in AnyRail
3D Render in AnyRail

Now, even though AnyRail provides a 3D render which is helpful while building the layout to visualize track elevation, clearance and calculate gradient, it is quite difficult to get a workable idea about the complex benchwork that is the foundation to make this project a success. So, I built a 1:16 scale model of the model railway! Yes, you red that right! Here is a little gallery that shows how different components were built and how that is extremely helpful to visualize a complex project like this in extreme detail without even buying a single board of ply or even a piece of track!

Interactive Model of a Model Railroad

Sacramento Southern Railroad in N Scale: Perfect Model Railroad for a Model Train Collector!

During my last trip to California I visited California State Railroad Museum and took the opportunity to take the famous CSRM Excursion Ride. The 6-mile, 45-minute round trip in a historic train pulled by an oil-fired, saddle tank steam locomotive that was built in 1942 was indeed a real ‘trip’ for me.

For me, the visit it was not just about enjoying the ride or going back in time though. All the while that I was sitting inside the train or taking photos and videos of both the train and Old Sacramento district around me, a voice in the back of my head kept saying ‘This would make such a wonderful model!’ Some of those buildings are right out of popular Walthers kits, the scenery is so fantastic yet easy to achieve in a model form. And that beautiful Sacramento riverfront – Oh! How wonderful it would look if done right. So, after I headed back home, I started looking at options to design a model train layout which is achievable in size but can follow the prototype to every last detail for those who can handle it. This is what I will talk about here – how I took this prototype and turned it into an N Scale shelf layout. I have definitely used my real-life experience, and the photos and videos that I took as a source of information, but I am going to show how I used Google Maps and Google Earth – tools freely available to anyone with an internet connection, to drill down to the finest details which complimented my visit greatly and helped me arrive at the final design. The techniques used here can be used for any prototype, big or small, and depending on the space available to the modeler, a model railroad that is true to the prototype can be designed with ease.

Google Map study of the prototype
Layout and bare dimensions
Dimensions of individual elements
Aligning the final model with the Google Earth image
Expansion module of the destination of the excurion trip (Baths)

Little Adirondacks – Version 1

One of my recent ‘bugs’ is the standard gauge logging operation in the Adirondacks during the first half of the 20th century. ‘Logging Railroads of the Adirondacks’ by Bill Gove is a tremendous book – loads of historical information, prototype photos and actual railroad track maps and plans gives a lot of inspiration and options. I have been making various designs that capture the main theme of the region and type of operation, and even planning to make my next personal layout based on that theme. The lifeline of the logging operation in the Adirondacks mountains was primarily the various branches of New York Central. Multiple small, medium and large logging railroads interchanged with New York Central lines in many places. I took this theme and converted it into a few operation based switching layout designs of varying spaces.The version 1 is very much for small spaces. This is an HO scale, standard gauge layout depicting the theme above. The era can be anytime during the first half of 20th century, but I visualized it more during the 1940’s. Note that there is not really any ‘actual’ logging operation shown in this plan, it is focused on depicting one of those numerous junctions along the New York Central lines, and the logging operation happens ‘off the stage’ in the staging yard.

A HO scale model train layout plan, with Faller car system roadways.

The layout is 9 ft X 25 inches – pretty small for a HO layout and should fit in any average household. The whole layout is broken down in 3 equal sections of 36 inches X 25 inches, plus you would need a staging zone, possibly with sector plates. The turn table is totally optional and can be replaced with just a single stall engine house and the space can be used for added scenery. I have made the roadway to run small Faller Car System vehicles to add a little more action, however, that is very much optional too. Te double slip switches are Tillig ones – they have excellent geometry to provide a lot of flexibility within small space and helps restrict the length to just 9 ft. Someone with a little more space can just replace the double slips with back to back #5 or #6 switches.

Operation is standard with both mainline traffic and logging line traffic originating in the staging. It is possible to add short passenger trains in the mainline, however, it is not possible to simulate through passenger train movement – the train has to stop at the station, the loco reverses to the other end of the train and then takes it back to staging – one reason why I kept that turn table in the design so that the steam locomotives can be rotated. Freight on the mainline can be mixed  – mostly finished product from the two mills and from the local business, sometimes an odd box car can be spotted at the freight house. In the logging line the inbound train brings loaded log cars for the two mills and take the empties back to staging.

Little Adirondacks – Version 2

This design is the same concept and scale, just in a larger space, thus allowing a small logging section on far left hand part. You also get an over and under action, much longer siding to run longer trains; narrow, long design to give a sense of distance, especially with the long and narrow stretch of the road in the front. It gives an opportunity to create a small town scene and sawmill crew quarters as well.

HO scale shelf layout depicting a junction in the Adirondacks division of New York Central

Statesboro Blues!

This is an N scale layout and for this design I gave preference to Atlas C55. I wanted to include continuous run with a small staging and a yard, some small industry, one small oil refinery and some over and under action with possibility to run two trains at a time). This is an 8′ X 6′ L Shaped layout.

My approach was to build a complete imaginary layout with some lose knot tied to some real world. While searching for the right prototype and a name, I was listening to my favorite Statesboro Blues by Allman Brothers Band, and that’s when it hit me! What about Statesboro Railroad? But a quick online search told me that Savannah and Statesboro RR was decommissioned back in 1950s and all that is left of Statesboro railroad is a small spur now.

But I liked the name too much to go back now – so here is the story: What if Statesboro RR survived? Survived till 80s or 90s – the time that we are trying to capture. Online search revealed that modeling an oil refinery near Statesboro will not be too inappropriate. Though the area is primarily coastal and plain land, there are some small hills where I can hide my sharp curves. This consideration gives another advantage – keeping the theme intact with prototype buildings, roads and other artifacts, I can design the railroad the way I want it – because I really don’t have to restrict myself to the exact dimension of the prototype as it was in 1950s – who knows, if the railroad would have survived, it might have looked exactly the way I design it today – 50/60 years is a long time!

So here is the layout:

Statesboro, GA Trackplan

As you can see -the 8′ wall portion is actually pretty thin, except the loop. Even that has been kept at a minimum depth possible. Smooth, broad curves on the mainline with #10 turnouts and curved turnouts, smaller #7 and #5 in spurs. Long, curved yard giving a unique view of the trains, a long, curved stone viaduct over the yard making the view even more interesting. A large area to model the oil refinery with plenty of detail. Two passing sidings in front of the yard for plenty of action and operations, as well as a big junction type look. There is also enough area to model a small passenger station right in front of the yard if that’s a requirement. The layout will be divided in two 6′ long sections – depth will vary as the tracks take turns on the layout.

The only challenge would be the tight loops if longer locos are running – but longer locos can travel a considerable length by bringing cars in to the Statesboro yard directly from Savannah without hitting the tight curves, and going back the same way. Also, if there is any possibility to increase the loop radius to 11″, then most locos in N scale would run pretty good.

Here is the 3D plan with basic outline:

Statesboro, GA 3D plan

Traffic will be primarily freight – long train of oil tankers in and out of the refinery, mixed freight from other industries, may be some small container delivery to the large freight terminal, and plenty of opportunity to run a variety of through trains, including short passenger trains.

Darjeeling Station of the DHR

This is a true prototypical design of the exact feature – I personally did the prototype study on site and also took help from documentation available on the web. Of course slight modifications had to be made in the track geometry to fit a shelf layout format. The layout is 10′ X 2′, broken down in two sections of 5′ X 2′ each (the red line in the plan denotes the separator). The satellite image shows the actual track arrangement highlighted in red (as studied in 2011).

The reason for choosing OO9 is that most number of popular DHR locos and rolling stocks are available in that scale – two notable sources are Backwoods Miniatures and Worsley Works. OO9 locomotives are large enough to install DCC chip, and may be even a small speaker for sound effect.

Darjeeling Station of the DHR in OO9
Satellite image of the Darjeeling Station

For tracks, there are more flexibility as common N scale tracks can be used with slight modification (rule of thumb is to remove the alternate ties). I have mostly used Peco N scale Code 55 turnouts and tracks – others should work as well.

The layout is viewed from the station, that is the town and the loco shed stays in the background. The Hill Cart Road can be modeled to be the busy lifeline it truly is if the layout depicts modern days, else it can be left more or less moderately crowded while focusing on the DHR portion itself if the era is chosen to be up to 1960’s. Note that the layout will require at least one staging and fiddle yard, my recommendation is towards ‘Ghum.’

Port Y’Corner

I think the funny title says it all! This design has one fundamental design element, that is a ‘Y’ and is made for a corner. Designed in N scale, this is basically a small switching layout covering 3 square ft. with two additional sections on each side to accompany the scene. There is plenty of opportunity to model different facilities like oil, grain, warehouses, you can add quite a few cranes, a quay for boats and even a small lighthouse if you wish!

Port Y’Corner

In just 3′ X 3′ area this gives a lot of action, interesting scenes, and most importantly a good depth that is generally absent from a typical small switching layout. The intriguing part is definitely the wye – and I personally liked the unique shape of it in a relatively tight space and with pretty broad curves. With a little bigger space (6 inches on each side) the central square module can actually become a very interesting switching layout by adding a couple of more siding and/or switchbacks.

The layout is not designed keeping any particular era in mind, this can fit in any era and any locale. I used Atlas tracks and switches for the design – #5, #6 and #7 turnouts, but I am sure other manufacturer’s tracks will fit as easily.

Transfer Layout

Inspired by Harlem Transfer in New York, I designed this for small space with off the shelf turnouts. Those who are familiar with rail-marine transfer business know that the transfer companies were busy entities since end of 19th century till 1960s, and New York had seen quite a few remarkable transfer facilities in the first half of the 20the century. All these transfer facilities had very complex track work packed in a very tight space – even by the prototype’s standards. Yes, even 9-3/4″ curve in N scale would be perfectly prototypical (if not broad) for these facilities. For prototype information, please visit:

The biggest challenge for modeling these to the scale is lack of commercially available turnouts, as mostly all commercially available turnouts will be bigger than what it should be – closest could be Peco insulfrog small radius ones. I have designed this with commercially available Atlas number 4 turnouts and tried to keep it as tight as possible. But even with a LOT simplified track design, this can be a very interesting layout in terms of operation and can have visually exciting urban scene.

Transfer Layout

Notice that round freight house in the center which can be a unique structure for this layout. There is a provision on the top left corner to connect this layout to a staging/fiddling yard or to another shelf layout, but please note that like the real transfer facilities, this layout is self sustaining by itself and does not require to be connected to anything. The car float and the round warehouse here depicts the ‘outside world’ – that is car floats bring the loads of cars to the facility, and then they are unloaded at the warehouse. The trucks and road transport vehicles then pick them up from the warehouse and distribute it to their respective destinations. Also cars from other transfer facilities brought in by the car floats can be ‘stored’ temporarily, and then loaded to another car float to be shipped a different transfer facility. Empties from the warehouse need to be loaded to a car float to be taken to back as well.

For those who might be interested for more prototypical representation, Tim Warris has made a tremendous layout for Bronx Terminal – and trust me, it’s hell of a project! He has also developed tools for hand laying very complex tracks, especially for the various transfer facilities in New York.

Though this layout is designed with Atlas tracks and turnouts and 9-3/4″ minimum radius (which is broad for the prototype) which should be decent enough to run most commercially available switchers in N scale at moderate speed, if you wish to simulate true prototypical operation, the trains need to run at very slow speed on this one – hence I strongly recommend electrofrog turnouts, if you decide to use commercially available tracks and not make your own.