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Why Good Track Planning and Track Configuration is the Key to Efficient Model Train Track Layouts



When planning construction of a model railroad there are all sorts of possible track configurations and train track layout plans to consider. Track planning and track configuration is very important, so it is vital you plan things carefully from day one.


The first consideration when choosing the right train track layout is the space you have available for your model railroad and what type of train operation you would enjoy most.


Real railroads (prototype railroads) run from one destination to another as opposed to going around in circles. In reality, real railroad companies usually have hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of track to operate their trains. Even in a scaled down form, most model train track layouts lack the space to fully replicate the real thing, so a degree of adaptation and compromise is usually required when track planning.


Full size trains (prototype trains) often run for long stretches over monotonous landscape, which if reconstructed on a model train layout, would be rather boring. As an example, the famous Ghan Train that runs through the center of Australia operates 1,880 miles across mostly barren desert. The track configuration is simple – it just goes in an almost straight line from the top to the bottom of Australia. The train goes from one point to another so is a point to point track configuration.

The Indian Pacific Train that operates from Sydney on the east coast of Australia to Perth on the west coast runs for around 2700 miles. Imagine replicating that on a scaled down model train track layout - it would probably stretch from one end of town to the other.

modular train layout

The main line begins at one point, and travels to another point, and stops, hence the term - a point to point railroad.

Although a point to point train layout is necessary on real railroads, the format is not generally practical for the average home (or model train club) track layout. Replicating the scale mileage of a true point to point railroad does not generally work that well.

To make things a little more practical (and interesting), prototype railroads have branch lines, sidings and other subsidiary systems. Adding these to a model train layout can be a good idea.

Before departure, the trains are turned around at terminals using yards, loops, wyes, and turntables. A single or double-track main line usually stretches from point to point.

When planning your point to point track layout, you might want to include switches and yards at one end of the railroad, and a turnaround at the other.

Most small train track layouts would not have enough space for two terminals, so use an "out and home" track configuration. An out and home layout accommodates only one terminal and is like a point to point layout double backing. The train journey would start at the terminal and it would pass through various landscapes, possibly a small town, and eventually arrive back at the same terminal. Many model railroaders like this type of track configuration.

Some might say it is cheating, but unless you have unlimited space (and money) for your train layout, a little compromise is usually required.

Constructing an out and home train layout usually enables a little more mileage between terminals. The train will still arrive back at the terminal in a reasonably short space of time.

You could add more realism and interest by combining an out and home, and point to point format with continuous pikes. You would need a fair amount of space though.

Many model railroaders prefer a continuous train track layout because it allows for varied train movements which make operation more interesting.

Whatever track plan you decide, the important thing is to have fun planning your model train track layout plans.