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Free model trains e-book from All model railroaders make mistakes when planning and building a layout, even those who have constructed several model railroads before. But, the key with anything in life, is to learn from mistakes.
For beginners, one of the more common mistakes is selecting the wrong scale. It’s advisable to measure start by measuring exactly how much room is available, and also consider how much space you might need now, and in the future if or when the layout expands.
Unfortunately some beginners start collecting in one scale and then later decide to change to another scale. The beginner will either begin all over or even attempt mixing scales. That can be a very bad choice, so it makes sense to decide critical things starting from day one.
Another suggestion is to visualize what you want the model railroad layout to look like, prior to getting started. Decide what you want the railway to represent prior to racing out to purchase something. Choose whether you want your model railroad to replicate a contemporary railroad, or if you prefer it depicts a period in history.
• Do you prefer steam engine or diesel operations?
• Do you prefer to run a DCC system or the more traditional DC?
• Do you want your model trains to transport freight, passengers, or perhaps both?
• What style of scenery and landscapes do you prefer for your layout? Farmland, mountains, a city scene, or perhaps a smallish town… consider carefully what elements you would like included, and what will work best in the area you have for your railroad setup.
• What style of structures, buildings, bridges etc., do you want included? Would you be thinking of including some warehouses or factories, a school, fire station, some shops, a church, a mining town, a container port … the possibilities are numerous depending on your theme and era!
• Will your railroad be on one level or perhaps spread over several levels, or perhaps your space might be more suitable for a shelf layout?
• Which track configuration would be best in the space you have? Maybe a figure 8 design, a point-to-point layout, a twice-around track, or a dog-bone track format?
• Will you be wanting a mainline, with perhaps a branch line?
• Will you be adding track sidings, or possibly a classification or staging yard or roundhouse and turntable?
There is no shortage of options worthy of consideration prior to geeting started. And, it’s usually best to imagine how your completed model railroad will look, prior to getting started.
Undergoing some historic research and careful planning can be really interesting if you tackle it with the right attitude. And, carefully considered planning can actually save dollars and frustration later.
For example, a common error is to make gradients that are far too steep. An engine will run smoothly along the flat track and then reach a gradient that it needs the power to climb. It could stop or battle to climb the grade if it is too steep.
If the gradient is visual, then restricting it to a maximum of 2 percent is a good option. If the grade is out of view (such as inside a mountain range, or as part of a helix), then possibly use a steeper grade. The weight ratio on a scale model railroad actually permits a steeper grade than would normally be found on a real-life railroad. Unlike on real railroads, few model railroaders operate 100 car trains, so the model trains can generally be expected to tackle steeper gradients.
Difficulties also occur if track curves are made too tight. Although shorter engines and freight cars can navigate tight curves, longer passenger cars potentially run the risk of getting stuck or derailing on tight curves.
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