The Design of Small Model Railways

Why small model railways?

When you take a look through most of the layout design books you’ll notice there is not much attention paid to small layouts. It seems that only the manufacturers of rails have noticed that there are a lot of people around with only limited space at their disposal. But it’s my personal opinion that these designs do not offer the maximum possibilities of a small layout. Not only people with limited space can only build small layouts. When you want to build a large-scale layout, e.g. 0, 1 or 2 (also called G-scale), you’ll discover that a seemingly large space is smaller than you think. A table-top layout for H0-scale will be a room-sized layout on 2-scale. Some people say that for a small layout you can use elements from larger size layouts. In theory this might be the case, but quite frankly I think that some themes of large size layouts cannot be used for their small size variants. You simply cannot depict a main line station on a 2  h0 layout without compromising too much. I think it’s far more seful to use small layout designs for large size layouts. You can imply blow-up the designs and you will get a more realistic layout ith smoother curves and switches, longer tracks for more cars and more possibilities for realistic scenery. When you adhere to the paradigm of “less is more” in layout design, I hope you will enjoy these pages.

 This is a picture of a project called La gare de St. Artois. his diorama was shown on the Nederlandse Modelspoordagen of 2008. It contains a small terminus on branch line in a rural setting. The station has a track for running around and three storage tracks. I think that’s about all you will get with this theme. For anyone who love simplicity and realism, these kind of themes are worthwhile considering.

La Gare de St. Artois
Principles of small layout design

When you plan a small layout, it’s essential that you are aware of the limitations the small space imposes on you. While most literature states that space limits the choice of scales you can employ, I think the major limitation is the choice of themes you can model. Main line themes are out, while ndustrial and tramway themes are quite feasible. If you love mainline themes but you do not have space for it, you’ll probably have to scaledown. My plans are designed around themes that are suitable for small layout:

When you limit yourself to one theme, you will be more likely to gain success. The more experienced the modeler becomes, the more drastic he becomes in limiting his themes. While most beginners grow from branch line to mainline when space and budget allow, when they develop further they tend to grow back to a limited theme. But this theme is modelled in great detail. If you’re too picky, don’t start a small layout. There will be all kinds of compromises on your layout: curves are too sharp, the angles of your switches too steep, the sidings are too short. Everything is compressed to the impossible. But when it comes to building a small layout versus none at all, the choice is yours.

 The layout “Het Eiland Waan” shows an interurban electrical tramway in Scale 0 (1:43½). The model railway is based upon the tramways on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Seen at the Modelspoordagen 2010.

Het eiland Waan
Modules and dioramas

Modules and dioramas are becoming more popular when modelling in small spaces. The main difference between those forms of layouts and the small layouts I describe is the operational value. Modules with their standardised interfaces to other modules can in most cases not be operated satisfactorily on their own. Dioramas focus on landscaping and not on operation. Certainly, there are modules and dioramas around on which you can operate trains. You can design modules and dioramas which offer operational value. Mostly they can be classified as shunting layouts. The radii of curves I permit myself are too sharp for modules. Standards for modules prescribe much larger curves, except for narrow-gauge modules.

I personally favour modules which can be operated on their own. You can have fun by yourself as well as in a group. Currently this site contains no plans for modules. Maybe some time in the future…

 The theme of this diorama is a French narrow gauge station, shown on the exhibition stand of Rail Magazine at the Rail+Modelbouw2002. The diorama consists of an oval with a small station of two tracks. Beautiful and a delight to see, but there’re no possiblities for extended operations.

Railmagazine diorama
About the designs

The designs are all for H0 scale normal gauge track. When you use a smaller scale or narrow gauge, you’ll need less space or can use the space for smoother curves and switches. I do not give any suggestions for “re-scaling” or give measurements forother scales. It’s up to you how you adapt these plans to your own situation. I think you can use these plans in any geographical setting. They’re made with continental Europe in mind, but using them in an American setting shouldn’t be aproblem.

All designs have a surface area of less than 2 . This is my self-imposed limit for my small layouts. It’s slightly smaller than the ill-famous 4′×8′ baseboards. Well, a somewhat larger layout is still small, but I said the designs should be challenging. You might say everything looks rather cramped. I cannot deny this fact, but I tried to design the layouts with the minimum possible surface area. With a little more space you will immediately get better results.

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