The Design of Small Model Railways

Shrinking the layout

FeldbahnSmall Layout
[55×25 cm²]

Most modellers dream of king size layouts, some of us want to create miniature gems. In their, and mine, quest to design ever smaller model railways, a special kind of layouts emerged. These layouts are called “micro layouts”. Carl Arendt gave a clear definition: Micro layouts are small model railroads, usually less than three or four square feet in area, that nonetheless have a clear purpose and excellent operating capability.

A reader of this website, called Jaap, asked me if I could design a micro layout for him. The layout had to consist of a loop and two sidings. The well-known narrow gauge “Feldbahn” trains, made by Roco were designated to run on this layout.

For this type of layouts the tracks made by Tomix, are of interest. This track system has the smallest radius available. And from my own experience I know that the rolling stock of Roco can navigate the tracks well enough. This Japanese rail system is of high quality but sometimes difficult to obtain. In most countries only over the internet. But the minimum radius is 103 mm, which really is not much and just what is needed. But it’s normal N-track. So the distance and size of the sleepers are not suitable for H0e. By embedding in gravel or (model) sand, the rails, the sleepers are no longer visible.

The layout is full with tracks and there is little room for scenery. I think there are some possibilities to place sheds and huts between the tracks, but you shouldn’t have high expectations for a realistic landscape. I assume this is the biggest planning challenge.

It should be possible to build this layout with another track system. It’s hard to bend a radius of 100 mm with ordinary flex track. Most flex tracks cannot be bent in such sharp curves. You should adapt them first. And even so, it’s difficult to get a constant radius. Standard track pieces don’t have this problem and are made within narrow tolerances. That’s why I’ve chosen for Tomix, despite the fact they’ve the appearance of standard gauge track.


After I’ve finished the plan for Jaap, I strolled through my collection of track plans. In search for an even smaller layout. A real micro layout. I found the layout shown below. Scale h0 with 16½ mm gauge. Micro layouts at this scale are always miniature shunting layouts. There’s no room to construct an oval or loop.

Shunter SBB Em3/3Smaller Layout
[50×25 cm²]

This little layout has two levels, which are not connected. On the lower level a railcar can run to and fro. Here’s a halt below the bridge. The railcar can “hide” in a tunnel below the upper level.

The upper level contains a little shunting layout. Here, a shunting locomotive can move a car from one spur to the other. The tracks are connected with a turntable. In this case the manual turntable of Fleischmann, 6150.

3D view

You can find a group of railway modellers who are enthusiastic about building these micro layouts. Some out of the lack of space, some for pure fun. Nowadays, you’ll find always some of the micro layouts at exhibitions. Fun to watch. But also handy for exercising the build of a larger layout. Or to depict another theme. A scene which doesn’t fit on the larger layout. The advantage of building micro layouts is that they can be build much faster. They’re main emphasis is on being super detailed. The runing and shunting capabilities are very limited: it’s more about building than running trains.

Stackable Storage for Cassette Blocks

Micro layouts need to be stowed away. Because they’re so detailed, it’s wise to show or store them dust-free and protected. In search for a good place I noticed the plastic drawers in my office. These drawers are used to store stacks of papers, files and so forth. It seems a nice idea to use these plastic drawers to fit a model railway in. The inside is somewhat larger than an A4-sheet, so it will be a tight squeeze.

Little Trains of WalesSmallest Layout
[38×28½ cm²]

This layout is the smallest you’ll find on this website. And yes, theoretically it will fit into the drawer. It‘s inspired by British narrow gauge. More specific, the Leighton Buzzard Railway in England. That’s why this layout has a different scale: 009, 9 mm narrow gauge in 4mm scale or 1:76. Great Britain has many suppliers of rolling stock and scenery in this scale. So why not build a small layout with this typical narrow gauge trains?

The tracks are combined of pieces made by PECO and Tomix. I’ve used a PECO switch ( SL–E491) as a real narrow gauge turnout. Most of the pieces used are made by Tomix. In this case street track. Normally, this track pieces are used for tramways in N-scale. But they can also be used as street track in OO9- or h0e-scale. The problem mentioned above with the incorrect sleepers is no longer applicable. How to fit both track systems together on a real layout, is up to you.

 The heritage railway of Leighton has exactly the atmosphere I’m looking for in this model railway plan.

A train hauled by the locomotive "Doll" pulls out of "Pages Park Station" on the Leighton Buzzard Railway.

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