What makes some
model railroad better than others...
and, why these products come so highly recommended...
Truth is; no two model railroad layouts are exactly the same – and that’s a good
thing. Each layout is unique and in its own way will have interesting and exciting
features and details. However, all good model railroad layouts have a several
things in common… and this all starts with plenty of well though-out planning based
around a great theme, and practical functionality.
Every great railroad has a unique, well-thought out, well executed theme.
Deciding the theme is usually the starting point for any beginner. The theme will
usually be based around an era in time; have a function for the railroad (i.e.
moving freight, or passengers, servicing an industry etc.); depict a location; and
reflect a specific season of year (e.g. Winter, Spring etc.).
Although it is possible to have a mixed theme, the best model railroads are more
specific in nature. There’s the old saying, “rules are made to be broken”, and it
is your railroad so you can do what you want, but the best layouts stick to a theme
for very good reasons. The e-book (above left) details lots of options and critical
mistakes to avoid... from easy-to-fix problems, to the type that could take
forever to solve... not to mention the added cost fixing it.
Every Railroad Needs a
In real life every railroad has a purpose or reason for its existence. Trains
will operate (performing the functions required by the railroad management), in a
logical and efficient manner. A 1960’s diesel locomotive would be out of character
in a Wild West desert scene located alongside a snow covered forest. It just
wouldn’t look right. That diesel locomotive would be best operated on a mainline,
or in a rail yard, amidst a scene depicting vehicles, brick warehouse buildings
etc. from the era. The scene could be made even more real with fine details like
signage depicting typefaces common in the 1960’s. Little details like that can
really add character and set a layout apart from the rest.
The eye is not easily fooled, so little things that look out of place can spoil
the entire scene. The wrong colors, props, structures etc. can make a scene look
artificial. So whilst uniqueness and character is good; to be credible to the
viewer, a scene needs to look as realistic and true to life as it can possibly
Deciding on theme before getting started is usually the wisest move, because the
chosen theme will help determine the most suitable scale, the type of terrain, the
nature of the backdrop, the style of structures, and the trains that will operate
on the layout. Determining the theme from day one can save an enormous amount of
wasted time, money, and future frustration. After all; there’s not point in
building something only to be disappointed with the result, and then have to modify
it, or worse still start again from scratch.
Avoiding Track Planning
Not only does a model railroad need a unique theme, it also needs to function
efficiently. This is where track planning becomes some important. The layout design
needs to consider the size of the railroad, the space available, integration with
wiring, the intended scenery features, and the intended functions (operations) of
the railroad. Great layouts utilize track plans to enhance the theme of the layout,
are practical and functional, and provide operational variety. The e-book featured
above includes 18 unique track plans that can be used or easily
adapted for a specific layout theme.
I can’t stress enough the importance of functionality to the smooth operations
of a layout. Having a well-themed layout with lots of intricate details is great,
but the trains still need to operate smoothly without being delayed by bottlenecks,
derailments etc. If a train can’t move around the layout without interruptions or
problems, then it defeats the whole purpose of operating a railroad. In real life,
railroads need to run at a profit, so no railroad would stay in business if it
suffered constant delays or derailments. This is precisely why real railroads avoid
overly tight turns, really steep grades, and uneven topography.
The model railroader can avoid many of these problems with proper planning and
maintenance. When designing a track plan: avoid tight curves, avoid S curves if
possible; don’t run track too near the benchwork edge; avoid overly steep
gradients, avoid turnouts inside tunnels, avoid traffic bottlenecks etc.
Also from an operational and maintenance viewpoint: don’t make the benchwork too
high; don’t make it too wide; avoid narrow aisles, allow ample space for scenery
and structures; include ample crossovers or sidings, avoid cramped yard space… the
list goes on.
The key to having a great model railroad layout starts with the planning and
getting the basics right. The HO/OO e-book mentioned above has a wealth of ideas and
techniques for anyone in the hobby regardless of which scale operated, or their
level of experience. There’s always something new to learn.
After getting the basics right, it’s time to add the kind of realism that is
seen on some of the best model railroads in the world. The 40 “photo-realistic”
shipping container models are a good example of how highly detailed props can bring
a layout to life. The level of detailing is, without exaggeration, “the best on the
net” as these containers include rust marks, unique signage, and some even show
refrigerated motors on the ends.
To add even more realism, there are several clever technologies available to the
model railroader. The red/yellow Micro-Controls e-book above explains step by step
how to incorporate these technologies into a layout. It walks through the
possibilities, and includes photos, diagrams, and even videos to explain several
projects from start to finish.
So, have a good look at these packages, because they will certainly help you
create a truly great model railroad you'll be incredibly proud of. This hobby is
amazing, and definitely enjoyable, but it's always more fun when things are well
planned and executed. And, that doesn't happen by accident.