How To Design A Track Plan For Your Model Railroad

THE FINALIZED TRACK PLAN THAT I USED FOR BUILDING MY MODEL RAILROAD. THE OVERALL DIMENSIONS ARE 3'X13' ON THIS DOUBLE TRACK LAYOUT WITH HIDDEN STAGING, 7 INDUSTRIAL SPURS, A MODEST SIZE YARD, AND DIESEL SERVICE AREA.
Model Railway Techniques Home » FOR BEGINNERS » How To Design A Track Plan For Your Model Railroad

Read time: about 15 minutes

Designing a Track Plan for your Model Railroad can be a daunting task, especially with the myriad of over-complicated designs on the internet and misconceptions perpetuated within the hobby by others. But here at Model Railway Techniques we’re going to show you How to Design a Track Plan and share with you some valuable insight into making the Track Planning process both easy and understandable.

We will give you a step by step illustrated guide on how to draw a scale Model Railroad Track Plan beginning with an overview of some design basics such as location and shape, era, types of trains you want to run on your layout, and some brief operational and scenic ideas to consider.

You don’t require special design software or computer skills as many suggest, and you don’t have to be an expert draftsman to design and create a scale drawing for your own Model Railroad. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginning Model Railroader, or more advanced, the techniques and tips shared below will help you to design and create your own Model Railroad with ease.

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AN EXAMPLE OF A ROUGH SKETCH OF A SMALL MODEL RAILROAD YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT BUILDING.
AN EXAMPLE OF A ROUGH SKETCH OF YOUR MODEL RAILROAD TRACK PLAN IDEA THAT YOU WOULD MAKE, WITH THE ELEMENTS YOU WANT TO INCLUDE ON YOUR MODEL RAILROAD.
THE BASIC TOOLS YOU WILL NEED TO CREATE A SCALE TRACK PLAN OF YOUR MODEL RAILROAD.
THIS ILLUSTATION DEMONSTRATES THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE GRID TO THE SCALE OF YOUR TRACK PLAN
THIS ILLUSTRATION SHOWS HOW THE SCALE RELATES EASILY TO THE INCH MARKINGS ON YOUR RULER FOR QUICK, EASY, OVERALL MEASUREMENTS ON YOUR SCALED TRACK PLAN.
HOW TO DRAW A MODEL RAILROAD TRACK PLAN TO SCALE. STEP 2 ONCE YOU ARE SATISFIED WITH YOUR PENCIL DRAWING, TRACE THE MAINLINE WITH A MARKER.
HOW TO DRAW A MODEL RAILROAD TRACK PLAN TO SCALE. STEP 3. NEXT, TRACE OVER YOUR MAIN SPUR TRACKS WITH YOUR MARKER.
THIS ILLUSTRTION DEFINES HOW TURNOUT NUMBERS ARE DEFINED ON A MODEL RAILROAD, AND HOW YOU CAN USE THIS INFORAMTION TO CREATE AN ACCURATE SCALE DRAWING.
HOW TO DRAW A MODEL RAILROAD TRACK PLAN TO SCALE. STEP 4. NOW TRACE OVER ANY SIDINGS AND ADD ANY CURVES TO YOUR SPUR TRACKS THAT YOU MAY WANT.
HOW TO DRAW A MODEL RAILROAD TRACK PLAN TO SCALE. STEP 5. AFTER ALL YOUR TRACK IS TRACED, DRAW IN YOUR INDUSTRIES AND ANY OTHER BUILDINGS YOU WISH TO ADD.
HOW TO DRAW A MODEL RAILROAD TRACK PLAN TO SCALE. STEP 6. NOW ADD YOUR ROADS TO YOUR INDUSTRIES AND OTHER BUILDINGS. MAKE SURE TO ADD PARKING AREAS FOR YOUR MODEL VEHICLES AT EACH LOCATION.
HOW TO DRAW A MODEL RAILROAD TRACK PLAN TO SCALE. STEP 7. IN THIS STEP YOU DRAW IN YOUR SCENIC IDEAS AND FEATURES SUCH AS HILLS, MOUNTAINS, AND FORESTED AREAS USING A COLORED PENCIL.
HOW TO DRAW A MODEL RAILROAD TRACK PLAN TO SCALE. STEP 8. NOW YOU CAN ADD SOME FINAL REFINEMENTS TO YOUR TRACK PLAN SUCH AS ELEVATION VARIATIONS AND SPECIFIC SCENIC DETAILS.

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Last Updated on 2 months ago by James from Model Railway Techniques

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12 comments

  1. Amazing article. I am into scaling models and I have seen many of these train track people build on the internet. But I didn’t know what kind of planning something like this needed. To be honest I though it was a much simpler process but I do get that for something like this careful design is imperative. Excellent information for anyone that wants to make something like this.

    1. Thank you, Stratos K, for your comment. We are thrilled you found our article of interest. Unfortunately, with the proliferation of videos on the web these days the actual details tend to get lost. That’s why we are creating quality content to genuinely expand the knowledge of Model Railroaders in every scale. We hope to see you back again.

      James, Model Railway Techniques.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your article on designing a track plan for a model railroad. The step-by-step illustrated guide you provided is incredibly helpful and makes the track planning process seem much more manageable. I appreciate that you emphasize the importance of considering various factors such as location, era, types of trains, operational ideas, and scenic elements when designing the track plan. It’s great that you highlight the importance of personalization and encourage readers to design their own track plan rather than relying on generic plans from the internet. Overall, your article provides valuable insights and tips for both beginner and advanced model railroaders.

    Can you provide some suggestions for resources or references where readers can find more information and inspiration for designing their own model railroad track plans?

    1. Thank you, Drew. I’m happy you found our article helpful and insightful as well. As far as resources go, we have some small and also medium sized track plans on our site with useful captions and suggestions for each one. There are a ton of track plan images on the web, and if one wants to use those then I suggest our guidelines of modifying them to suit your needs be taken into consideration. There are also programs based on CAD that one can purchase, if you are willing to learn how to use them. Personally, I think drawing them yourself is better for reasons pointe out in the article. I also recommend John Armstrongs book, Track Planning for Realistic Operation, it has a wealth of information in it.

      James, Model Railway Techniques.

  3. I have always had a fascination with trains both real and model trains.  I had some sets when I was a young kid but I could never set them up like what your article is talking about.  I would never think about everything you should consider before setting up a large model train track.  I would never have considered the era of my design, freight or passenger, or if I would want a single track or multiple tracks.  After reading your article I would be able to make a great plane before starting to build.

    Cheers

    M.T. Wolf

    1. Thanks for visiting Model Railway Techniques and leaving a comment Mike, we appreciate it. Considering the era, type of operations, and single vs multiple track are key in designing a Model Railroad track plan that will bring you years of enjoyment, and thus the emphasis that was put on these considerations in addition to the step-by-step process of actually drawing a track plan. Often these important steps are missed, and we at Model Railway Techniques want to help beginners and seasoned Model Railroaders alike avid these mistakes.

      James, Model Railway Techniques.

  4. Wow, designing a track plan for a model railroad is an incredible experience! It allows you to unleash your creativity and bring your miniature world to life. The process of carefully planning the tracks, structures, and scenery is both exciting and rewarding. It’s like being the master architect of your own miniaturized railway empire. I highly recommend anyone interested in model railroading to dive into track planning – it’s an absolute blast!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Wallace, we really appreciate it. We also hope you found the article well informed with enough information to give you the confidence and knowledge to create your own Model Railroad!

      James, Model Railway Techniques.

  5. In my opinion, designing a track plan for a model railroad is a fascinating and creative process that allows you to bring your vision to life. I have always been captivated by the intricate details and realism that can be achieved through careful planning and layout design. When I embarked on designing my own track plan, I found that drawing inspiration from real-life railroad systems and incorporating elements of my own imagination enhanced the overall experience. Reflecting on my experience, I realized that it’s essential to consider factors such as available space, the scale of the model, desired scenery, and operational aspects like train movements and accessibility. It’s also crucial to strike a balance between functionality and aesthetics to ensure an engaging and visually pleasing layout. As I continue to refine my track plan, one question that arises is how to effectively integrate different levels, incorporate realistic curves and gradients, and create a layout that offers variety and operational possibilities. How can I strike a balance between complexity and simplicity to ensure an enjoyable and manageable model railroad experience?

    1. Thanks for the comment Akumendoh, it’s great to see an established Model Railroader reaching out for more ideas and advice on track planning. Integrating different levels by the use of grades for the trackwork itself can be a bit tricky if you don’t have a larger space to work with, say like a 10×10 or 10×12 space. Depending on what scale you’re in, grades can get quite steep. There is a lot of advice out there saying that if your locomotives can pull the train then go as steep as you want. But then the issue of appearance becomes a factor. Sure, maybe your locomotive can manage a grade of 3 or 4 percent, but how does that steep of a grade look compared to the other elements around it? Real railroad grades that steep do exist, but they are barely perceptible in real life because of the real world 1:1 viewing aspect. Only when seen from a great distance can you actually see how far the train tracks climb. For a Model Railroad standpoint of looking right, I would stick to a 2% grade, and allow a minimum of 3″ side clearance for scenery for every 1″ of track elevation. Unless of course you are planning steep rock faces, as is the case on some railroads, but generally avoided if possible. Curves should be as large as possible for best appearance, and if you have to use a sharper radius then the use of an easement entering the curve will really help with appearance. it’s always best, in my opinion, to start with less track, then add more where distance between tracks, elevation changes, and other scenic items will allow them without making the whole layout look too crowded and unrealistic.

      James, Model Railway Techniques.

  6. This is an impressive blog article! I didn’t think that building a railroad track for the models would be so intensive. How long does it take to plan versus the set up of the track? Do you recommend an indoor track or have you had success with tracks done in the backyard? I think it would be a fun project for my boys. 

    1. Hi Kelly, thank you for visiting Model Railway Techniques. The time it takes to design a Model Railroad can vary depending on the complexity of the design and the elements you want to include. For someone just starting out I would recommend a simple oval with a couple turnouts for some variety. You could have trains running in about a week once you have a suitable place to set it up and can add scenery and buildings over time.

      There are outdoor trains, or Garden Railways, but these are in the much larger G Scale and are fairly expensive compared to the indoor types we discuss. The most well-known manufacturer is LGB.

      I hope you consider introducing your boys to the hobby, it is a great way to learn a lot of skills and gain artistic talent at the same time. I recommend our article Model Railroading For The Beginner to learn more about the hobby, it truly is great.

      James, Model Railway Techniques.

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