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Model Train Layout Plans - The Basic Components

Feb 27, 2008
All rail track layouts, whether for model trains on a 4ft x 4ft table top or for full size trains at a major urban rail terminus, can be simplified down to some basic components which are then used to integrate into more complex layouts, depending on the needs of the designers.

In the simplest terms these components are:

1. stub end track - a straight track with buffers at each end. While this is probably the simplest it is relatively ineffective on its own. Unless some option for turning your train at either end is provided, your train is required to always reverse in one direction;

2. circular track - simply goes round and round. This may be suitable for a model train layout for young children, but, like the stub end track, not at all challenging for the model train enthusiast in this simple form;

3. spur line - adding a spur to one side of a straight track provides an opportunity for switching, enabling your train to move off the main track but the return direction of your train still remains a problem;

4. passing loop - if a second spur, in the opposite direction, is joined to the original spur track, you have a loop which will allow trains to pass. The track goes from single track, to double track, then back to single;

5. Y-end - if three switches are joined at one end of your straight track, this can provide a turnaround track;

6. balloon or paddle line - a switch from one side of a straight track circles around and rejoins the straight track on the opposite side. This paddle shape allows the train to travel continuously, returning to its starting point;

7. switchback - when the train reaches the stub end of a straight track, it reverses onto a switch line, then travels forward onto a third line.

Depending on your skill and the space you have available you can combine any of these components into complete layouts of varying degrees of complexity.

To maximize the use of the space you have available for your model train layout, it is also possible to add even more complex components. These include:

1. turntables - small sections of track, fixed to board or metal, that can be rotated to allow a train to pass across to any number of alternative tracks. This gives far greater flexibility to your layout while still keeping space requirements to a minimum;

2. 'sector plates' - a variation of the standard turntable, these consist of a section of track on a piece of board which pivots from where it is fixed at one end of a main track. This pivot movement allows the train to move to any one or more alternative tracks but, unlike with the turntable, it is still proceeding in the original direction.

These basic track layout components are used to design model train layouts from 'micro' layouts as small as one square foot to very extensive layouts like those seen at major exhibitions.

Your track layout is limited by the space available, and by your design ingenuity. If you are short of ideas there are hundreds of these layouts available in magazines and on the internet. One website alone has more than 1000 different layouts illustrated.

If you are new to model railroading and have still to set up your first layout, or if you are wanting to re-design or add to an existing layout, you should get out the pencil and paper and research as much as possible. Then you can begin adapting all the ideas you find to your own specific site before actually commencing work on the tracks.
About the Author
John Vanse is a model train enthusiast with a number of websites on topics related to model trains.

These websites can be accessed through the key site:
The Model Train Guide
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