Model Railway Track Plans

Choosing from a variety of different model railway track plans is the first major step when building a model train layout. Some of the most common types of layouts for small spaces include shelf track plans, coffee table track plans and hollow door ones. If you have a larger space for your layout then 4×8 HO scale track plans and certain types of O gauge plans tend to be the most popular.

How to Choose a Track Plan

Most model train beginners get stuck in the initial phase of planning their model train layout. The most important question to ask yourself 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 – You can 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.

Are you struggling to build a model train layout that fits your limited space but still want a functional, realistic and enjoyable layout with all the bells and whistles?

Access step by step directions that you can watch on your mobile phone, computer or print out while building your layout.

Choosing the Right Scale

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. It one of the most important aspects of reviewing of model railway track plans.

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

What’s the best type of track plan to choose?

Choosing the correct type of track plan is another important decision during the layout planning phase. Your choice should take into consideration the amount of space available and the level of realism you’re seeking to create. For model railroaders that want to simply enjoy model trains that continuously run then a closed route is the best option. For a more realistic layout that requires more space, a point to point track plan is a better choice.

Closed Route

A closed line track plan in an oval shape with continuous running trains. It’s the best type of track plan for small spaces but lacks realism.

Point to Point

This type of track plan contains a minimum of two terminus stations and allows a train to run from one station to another. Once it reaches the station it will stop and need to be reversed or replaced via switching operation. It requires more space but resembles more of what you’d see in real life.


Complex track plans are a combination of closed route type along with open track sections that eventually end at another terminus station point. It’s a more enjoyable type of layout but requires more space.

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.

So far you’ve learned how to decide on a track plan, choosing a model railroad scale and track planning software resources. Now let’s jump into actual model railway track plans.

Continuous Loop Track Plan

continuous loop track plan
6’x4′ oval shaped continuous loop track plan

The standard type of track plan consists of a continuous loop that ensures the train goes round n round. This 6’x’4’ oval shaped track plan contains a double loop with a branch and two main lines for running up to four model trains at the same time. 

Figure 8 Oval Continuous Loop Track Plan

Figure 8 Oval Track Plan
Figure 8 Oval Track Plan with 22 inch curves and 30 degree crossing

Also, you can take the convention out of the layout by modeling a figure 8 with an elevation on certain parts of the loop. This would allow two trains to pass over one another. It makes for a fun time to view and can be a great starters choice.

Loop to 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.

10’x4′ Double Loop Track Plan

double continuous loop track plan
Double loop with branches and reverse loops

Using double loop oval shaped track plan allows for the main line train station to sit in the front of the layout while the small yard in the back provides two reverse loops that cross each other in the center.

Loop-to-Loop can run either as a point-to-point layout for realistic operation or as a continuous loop layout for display or showing off.

Out and Back Track Plan

out and back track plan

This is a simple model railroad track 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.

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 Railroad Track Plans

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.

portable railroad track plan
portable railroad track plan with carry case handle

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.

Model Train Starter Sets

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.

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


The M2 starter loop track set is designed to fit out the M1, M2 and regular Starter track. It’s perfect for beginners who are looking to get into the hobby plus provides the flexibility to add it onto more complex layouts.

Bachmann’s Starter Sets

Bachmann Digital Starter Train Set with EZ-Command

This starter pack features Bachmann’s E-Z Command digital system that lets you independently control the speed, direction, and lighting of your decoder-equipped locomotives.

Model Railroad Track Plans for Small Spaces

For small spaces, some common model railway track plans include shelf layouts, coffee table layouts and hollow core doors. The best scale size for smaller layouts is either Z scale or N scale. The smaller scale, the harder it is to work with but it still incorporates the same level of detail and flexibility as the larger scales.

Shelf Model Railroad Track Plan

shelf model railroad track plan

In relatively small spaces using a shelf layout track plan in Z scale provides flexibility. The main thing to ensure your shelf track plan contains is overlapping the runaround with industry tracks or switch leads.

Coffee Table Track Plan

coffee table track plan design
4’4″ by 2′ coffee table

This coffee table track plan contains the traditional figure 8 oval style with one of the loops slightly larger than the other. It looks great under laminated glass and solid thick timber wood surrounding it on all sides.

Recap of Model Railway Track Plans

Overall, the deciding factors when making a shortlist of model railway track plans is the space that you have available and the level of detail you’re looking to achieve.

Lots of model train enthusiasts try to make it overly complicated by first trying to decide on the era and theme etc… When all a person wants to know is how to get a few of their model trains moving along an oval track by using simple continuous layout track plan.

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 and model train scenery you can add such as a bridge, mountains and scenery.

What’s to do next? Use this easy to follow process that guides you each step of the way with step-by-step tutorial directions.

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