Model Railway Track Plans

Deciding on a Track Plan

Many model train beginners get stuck in the initial phase of planning their model train layout. One of the most important questions before getting started, is how much space do you have available for your model train layout? The answer to this question dictates the size of the layout along with the scale and track plan that will allow you to thoroughly enjoy your model railroad. Remember, the question of “what is the best track plan for beginners?”

The right answer is that there is no one size fits all track plan. It all depends on your end goal, the space that you’ve available and what things matter for you to consistently enjoy your layout.

Quick Tip – Reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start by just building one section at a time. For example, start off by etching a sketch of the track. Then lay down the track without glue or nails and just see if it looks right. Once that is solidified, nail it down and start on your next favorite section such as building a mountain. Then run trains for a bit. Build part of the town you’ve imagined. Play some more and enjoy the process of using your creative potential.

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Have you chosen a scale yet?

As stated above, choosing a scale is totally dependent on the space you have available and the level of detail you’d like within your layout.

For example, if the only available space is the size of a coffee table then you’re better off running an N scale layout because it will give you a higher level of detail and more freedom to add loops onto your track plus run more trains!

Here’s an example of an N Scale Coffee Table Layout:

n scale cofee table layout

Different ways to find track plans that fit your needs:

  • Looking at examples of layouts within magazines or finding track plan ideas online
  • Using track plan software such as Anyrail, Railmodeller and RR Track but this is very time consuming and not necessarily designed for model train beginners.
  • Laying track without gluing or nailing it down to see what actually works within your given space here’s a time-tested resource for this purpose

Top 3 Plans for Choosing a Track Plan

Continuous Loop Track Plan

The standard type of track plan consists of a continuous loop that ensures the train goes round n round. The train starts in the same location it stops it by running through one continuous lap. Another cool option is to take the convention out of the layout by modeling a figure 8 with an elevation on certain parts of the loop allowing two trains to pass over one another. It makes for a fun time to view and can be a great starters choice.

continuous loop track plan

Loop to Loop Track Plan

Another option to still gain the advantage of loops but without using as much space is the loop to loop track plan. The main difference between the loop to loop layout is that it hides the fact the continuous model train operation is taking place by moving the train from origin to the destination on the layout but each loop moves the train in reverse causing the train to turn around come back as if it completes a full loop. Loop-to-Loop allows for a layout to be run either as a point-to-point layout for realistic operation or as a continuous loop layout for display or showing off.

loop to loop track plan

Out and Back Track Plan

This is a simple model railroad plan that is particularly useful for smaller scale designs. It’s clever in its approach by sending the train from the starting point and reversing direction only to return to the starting point going in the opposite direction. Majority of out and back track plans utilized continuous loops to ensure the train went several times around the track before starting over again.out and back track plan

Prototype Track Plans

Let’s quickly define that a prototype track plan is a replica track plan. The plan does not have to be an entire replica but can take layout design elements and add them to its own layout for visual effect.

There is a variety of ways to find prototype track plans such as viewing publications and maps but my favorite way is to utilize Google Earth. The great thing about Google Earth is its ability to give you precise aerial shots of the actual model railroad, which you can then translate into your track plans. Start browsing around by zooming in on some of your favorite railroads and get an idea of the terrain, topography, rivers, and streams.

The goal is not necessarily to prototype a model railroad exactly to the real thing due to the sheer size and details in real-world railroads. The best idea is to gather information and ideas to add to your own layouts such as the shape of the track, the terrain and the types of locomotives.

Portable Railroads

Portable model railroads are moveable layouts that can be transported to be used at different locations but are much smaller than a standard size layout. It has restrictions such as not having continuous running model trains but using your creative potential, you can turn a portable railroad into an immense about of enjoyment.

A standard portable railroad carries a small locomotive and two cars along with a simple road without loops ability to switch tracks mid-motion.

The portable railroad track plan is designed using the standard 100 track sections code. The best type of track to utilize is flex track as it’s easier to move around, especially when using rerailer tracks.

The final point that matters with portable railroads is the wiring. Something as simple as a power pack screwed directly on the platform is enough current to give the track power and move the axels within the train. I highly suggest using a DCC system simple since it will allow you to run two separate trains and control the speeds of the trains. This will become a lot of fun when switching between tracks and allowing trains of different speeds gain the voltage they need to outrun the other locomotive across that part of the track.

portable railroad track plan

Model train starter sets are another great option to get started without much help:

Kato Unitrack is very well made, and allows you to build different, temporary layouts and easily take them apart. Trains run really well on if, and holds its value if you ever need to get rid of it.

M2 Starter Loop Uni-Track

Bachmann’s Starter Sets

Bachmann Digital Starter Train Set with EZ-Command

Starter sets are an easier way to build your first model railroad but have substantial drawbacks. For one, it’s very easy to outgrow basic model train starter set and without being proactive and building it in way that will allow for expansion, you’ll get stuck with basic track that doesn’t let you evolve the layout.

If you really must use a starter set then you’re better off planning for an expanded layout in advance and build around the basic oval starter set track plan. That way it can eventually grow into a wider and better layout with more bells and whistles than just what the box contains.

Overall, lots of model train enthusiasts try to make it overly complicated by asking the era and theme etc… When all a person wants to know is how to get a few if their model trains moving along an oval track such as a continuous layout.

The main variable is the space you’ve available for both building the model train layout and also being able to store it. After figuring that part out then think about what accessories that you can add such as a bridge.

When building a model railroad track plan coming across items such as a tunnel or a bridge can really set the tone of how the rest of your model train layout will turn out.

What to do next…? Watch the video on building benchwork for under $15