The Design of Small Model Railways

Layout under the Christmas tree

Layout under the Chritsmas tree
[100×100 cm²]
 Upper level
 In-between level
 Lower level

The following pages contain stories about model railways which actually have been build. These layouts show that the plans from the previous pages can become reality. This page shows a small layout sent in by one of the readers of this web site.

Daan Biessels has designed a small layout for a “point-to-point” railway with 16 cm difference in height and a surface area of 1 square meter.

Layout under the Christmas tree

The design is based upon Märklin M-track. When everything was drawn on paper, the whole scheme seemed to fit on the desired surface area with acceptable grades. But only the real layout could prove that a spiral with Märklin 5120 (r=286 mm) could be operated. According to Daan’s calculations the angle of the grades would be per meter (1 in 20). Tests on a experimental layout gave the same result, but the slope remains fairly steep. Off course, both stations aren’t suitable for express trains. Small branch line steam engines will have to do the job and some form of realistic operation should be possible.

The table for the layout has a length of 1 meter and a width of 1 meter. There’s a rebate between both stations of 40 cm in both directions. This rebate is necessary to place the layout around a corner in the house. The rebate is also a nice divider between both stations. The corners of the layout have been rounded to make the layout as small as possible. A sturdy construction has been places in the middle of the layout, under the hill. This construction will support the Christmas tree holder. A large building can be put over the holder when the tree is stowed away.

Between both stations the track has a running length of more than 3½ meter, this is quite long for a layout of this size. The clearance has been made larger than necessary, in order to obtain good access to all tracks.

The layout is put on legs. Daan has used pieces of bark to imitate a rock-face. A gallery at the entrance of the station at the bottom and a tunnel some length before the station at the top, create a small but spectaciular piece of mountain railway. First snow has already fallen (gypsum with poster paint), the tracks are covered with snow. In reality all thing turned out to work well. Problems with electrical conductivity do not occur. A small hook is the only thing needed to uncouple the wagons with the Märklin system.

At the end of one track of the top station and another track of the bottom station a momentary switch has been placed. This switch activates a time-operated relay. The relay causes the current to switch off, generates an electrical pulse of 24 Volts for 2 seconds and switches the current back on. This mechanism allows a train to travel between both stations automatically.


You can run this layout with only one locomotive. This locomotive will have to run from the bottom to the top and back, with th locomotive facing the lower end of the layout. At both stations, the small pieces of track pointing towards the spiral can be used as maintenance tracks. At the bottom station, you cannot really use the station tracks only for putting the locomotive away. You can only put some cars at the maintenance track. Shunting is rather limited because there’re no possibilities for running the locomotive around. There’re more possibilities for shunting at the top station. You can use the maintenance track for its original purpose: storing the locomotive away.With only one locomotive the operation is limited to the top or bottom station only.

The best operational value exist when the little locomotives collect cars and travel to the other station. You can wite the layout for two engine drivers, both responsible for one station each. Each station has its own transformer and panel for switching tracks on and off. By placing a signal at the exit of the other station, a train driver can signal if the station is open for a new train. A dice will determine the sequence of wagons in the train. The numbers 1 to 6 correspond with each wagon. The train will consist of three wagons. At the beginning, the cars are mixed. Shunting is relatively simple: just use the main track as a headshunt. The train travels down, stops and returns to the top. Then you start all over again.

You can use the following scenario: two locomotives are placed on each maintenance track. The third locomotive is placed on a station track. You start combining a train in the station where the third locomotive is placed. You’ll need nine wagons to play the game (three cars on each station and three cars for the train). Roll the dice twice and put the train together. Drive your train to the other station. Each station has a track which can be shut off. The train arrives on this track and the current is switched off. Throw the dice. Use the locomotive form the maintenance track to shunt a new train together, using the six cars in the station. Then travel back to the other station. Switch the first locomotive back on and move it to the maintenance track. (The new train should have left the station to allow this movement.) The game moves to the other station. The wagons don’t have a dedicated number. The eyes on the dice determine a car, counting from left to right and from top to bottom track on a station.

With two engine drivers you can operate the layout as follows. The rules for combining the trains are the same as above. But in this case, a signal is placed at the exit of each station, controlling the entrance to the spiral. Each station has its own transformer and three toggle switches: 1: maintenance track on/off; 2: station track on/off; 3: signal stop/go. The spiral has two sections which are connected to the signals. Each train driver is responsible for clearing the tracks, moving the locomotive to the maintenance track and clearing the signal for the other station. The signal puts the current back on the section in the spiral and show a green light in the other station. The train can move to the other station. Here the other engine driver combines a new train with the cars available.

Photo gallery
Layout under the Christmas tree: Construction of the baseboard (1) Layout under the Christmas tree: Construction of the baseboard (2) Layout under the Christmas tree: Construction of the baseboard (3) Layout under the Christmas tree: Construction of the baseboard (4) Layout under the Christmas tree: Building the scenery (1) Layout under the Christmas tree: Building the scenery (2) Layout under the Christmas tree: Building the scenery (3) Layout under the Christmas tree: Building the scenery (4) Layout under the Christmas tree: Building the scenery (5) Layout under the Christmas tree: Endresult (1) Layout under the Christmas tree: Endresult (2) Layout under the Christmas tree: Endresult (3)

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