Model Train Express - Articles & advice for model train enthusiasts

Buildings for model railroad layouts

Buildings are an important aspect of model railroading that add to the realism of a layout. You can gradually add buildings to your layout over time, the most important thing to do when adding buildings is to incorporate them properly into your scenery.


Types of model railroad buildings

There a 3 types of building you can use in a model railroad layout.

Ready-made buildings

The quickest and easiest way to add buildings to a layout is to use ready-made buildings. There are a number of manufacturers who produce ready-made buildings in all the popular scales, these buildings are usually made out of plastic. If you have a limited budget cheap ready-made buildings can be purchased and enhanced with custom paint and weathering.

Kit based buildings

Kits that you assemble yourself come in a variety of different forms including plastic, laser cut wood and cardboard. These kits require some skill to assemble but look more realistic than ready-made buildings.

Custom buildings

Some modellers choose to create their own buildings from scratch. Custom buildings can be built from plans or modelled using a real world buildings as a guide. If you enjoy the modelling aspect of model railroads more than running trains creating custom buildings will provide you with hours of enjoyment. If you are just starting out you can build simple structures such as phone booths, outhouses and sheds.

Railroad specific buildings

There are several types of buildings that are only found near railway lines. If the emphasis of your layout is creating an accurate railroad you should include these types of buildings.


Passenger station

Generally consist of a platform and a station building for ticket sales and waiting passengers. Passenger stations may also provide connections to other transport services such as buses and trams. Stations located at the end of a line are known as a “terminus” or “terminal”.

Freight station

Used for loading and unloading goods onto a train. Freight stations can be situated by themselves or along side a passenger station. Freight stations are often equipped with a crane for transferring containers. Due to the decrease in freight transportation by rail many freight stations have been abandoned or demolished.

Coaling tower

Coaling towers or coaling stations as they are also known were used to facilitate the re-fueling of steam powered locomotives. Coaling towers used a gravity fed system that allowed coal to slide down a chute into a waiting locomotives coal storage area.

Signal box

Although not commonly used on modern train lines signal boxes ensured that trains operated safely, over the correct route and to the timetable. A human operator would occupy the signal box and control line side switches and signals.

Engine shed

A place to store locomotives when not being used or repaired and maintained. Engine sheds often feature a roundhouse where the tracks radiate from a turntable. The main tasks performed inside an engine shed include ash removal, boiler washout, coaling and watering.