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Model Railroad Planning Introduction and Advice

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Drafting a Model Railroad Plan
track planning tools

From templates to 3-D mockups, drafting a trackplan helps visualize the final layout.

©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Drafting a plan can be a lot of fun. There is challenge in replicating a subject within constraints coupled with the artistic expression of creating a unique design. Indeed, many enjoy design so much they never build an actual layout. There are two ways to draft your plans for a model railroad; computer-aided design and good ol’ pencil and paper. Both have their advantages, and both can yield excellent results.

Computer Design

Many different design programs are available for model railroaders. These range from simple “click and drag” programs that use a library of standard tracks to sophisticated CAD software. Some create three-dimensional views or run virtual trains over the layout. While more elaborate programs offer greater flexibility for complex designs, they also present a steep learning curve.

Which, if any, program is right for you depends on the complexity of your plan and your comfort with computer software. If you really enjoy computer design, or if you are simply willing to put in the time to learn, a high-end program may be a worthwhile investment.

The ability to take a flat design and show it in three dimensions is an asset on layouts with grades and multiple track levels. The ability to design in layers allows you to see potential construction problems before they happen. Some programs are so sophisticated, modelers simply choose to build and operate entirely in the “virtual” world.

Layout Design BC (Before Computers)

There is nothing wrong with drawing a plan with your own hands. Just like a computer program, with practice you can get very proficient at drawing track plans that not only look good but work well.

  • >Start with a rough sketch. Some amazing layouts got their start on the back of a cocktail napkin or a school notebook.
  • Next add some actual measurements to the plan. A ruler and compass are really all you need. Graph paper can be helpful in maintaining scale. Track planning templates with standard sizes track pieces are also useful and available in every major scale.
  • Your plan can be as simple as an outline of the platform and track, or done in layers to include benchwork design and scenic features.
  • Once you’ve got the tracks down, consider adding a little color by drawing in scenic features with colored pencils or markers.

And of course if you change your mind, an eraser or a blank sheet of paper is never far away. You’ll be surprised how quickly your eye can spot the curve that’s too tight or the yard tracks that are a little too close together even without measuring.

A Model Model Railroad

If you’re still not satisfied, the ultimate plan is a 3-D model. These mock ups don’t need to be complex. Some balsa or bass wood, paper and perhaps a little modeling clay are all that is necessary.

Mockups are especially useful for multi-level designs. These models allow you to see how the levels will interact. Scale figures can also be used to help determine isle widths and viewing angles.

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