HO train layouts

Designing Model Railroad Layouts

HO train layouts can be designed using ideas from many sources. These sources can be enthusiast and hobby books about model railroading, brochures of track designs by model railroad manufacturers as well as the internet. For a beginner, looking at enthusiast books for HO train layouts is completely useless as usually no diagrams are given to help you to understand the design of a layout and instead names for the layout will be given like The Yardmaster and Figure 8 with Spurs which won’t make any sense to you. Thus beginners should pick up hobbyist books for getting info about HO train layouts or go online to find some nice solutions.

For more great tips on setting up your model railroad, just fill in your name and email and I’ll send them to you. As an added bonus, you get my detailed report on using DCC to control your trains. 

When thinking about a layout, start small, and give yourself room/options for expansion. This allows you to have a working railroad quickly, while you keep costs down. As funds, time and space allow, you can expand your layout, while always having a working railroad to enjoy.

Drafting Model Train Layouts

Before constructing your HO train layout, the entire plan of the design of the railway should be created, preferably on plotting paper, or using computer software specially made for designing model railroad layouts. This should be done as accurately as possible so that constructing the railway will become easier. While drafting HO scale layouts you must make sure that the gauge width is kept constant at the standard 16.5mm. This must strictly be checked in corners as several people make the mistake of designing the turn without taking measurements leading to a narrower gauge at points which leads to inaccuracies in the design of the track, and possible derailment problems.

You can read more here about drawing model train layouts.

Gathering Components and Tools To Build Your Layout

As HO scale trains are the most popular type of model trains in most of the world, looking for components to build HO train layouts is pretty easy. You can either get fully completed sets off the shelf, or purchase individual components. After you have built or bought the main railroad, you will want to have realistic scenery such as buildings, trees and other items to decorate your layout. Before buying these online or in stores, you should definitely double check the description to see if the object matches the dimensions of the HO scale. The last thing that you would like is to end up with incompatible scenery objects.

Some necessary components for a basic railroad:

• Rerailers, which can also serve a crossings.

• Rail Joiners, both insulated and non-insulated, along with terminal joiners, which allow you to hide wiring easily.

• Various straights, including odd sizes, which are handy when you are creating a free-form layout;

• Wire;

• Needlenose pliers. Get one with a wire cutter;

• Screwdrivers;

• A good DC transformer. While you may have one from a set, getting a better one allows you to have more realistic railroad operation;

• Wheelsets, trucks and couplers.

Putting The Layout Together

To put together HO train layouts without off the market construction sets, you must have good carpentry skills to construct the sections of railroad yourself and then put them together accurately by hand. However if you use a store-bought set, you may not need to use even a single screw or bolt and you can put together your layout much more quickly and with more ease. But the downside of this method is the lack of the freedom of design that you get if you constructed the layout yourself.

Here are some videos of small HO train layouts, with commentary that will help you put all the pieces together.

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Lionel Train Sets

Lionel Begins Production of Train Sets As Display Pieces

The production of Lionel train sets started in 1901 on a very limited scale. They were originally sold to toy stores and shops as a display piece and to lure potential customers into their shops. As there were no Lionel train sets available to the mass market, people started buying the display trains from the stores. Seeing this demand, Lionel started producing model train sets for the home market.

Early Lionel Train Sets

The early sets were larger than the model trains available today and from 1906, when a new 3-track set came out, Lionel made a model train belonging to a scale incompatible with any of the existing specifications. The popularity of this set of Lionel trains made existing model train manufactures switch to Lionel’s specifications to get more customers.

Change to the O gauge

In 1915 a change was made to the lower-cost Lionel train sets and they were made to conform to the O gauge. The reason for this move was that competitors had widely adopted the O gauge standard for their model trains and had combined to pose a threat to Lionel’s market share in the low-cost market. Thus a change was necessary to avoid a slump in sales.

Color schemes of Lionel Train Sets

The color schemes of Lionel train sets were originally never modeled after real trains. They were instead painted in bright colors which made them more attractive to mothers as gifts for their children. Children were also attracted to these bright colors and they were the primary targets of advertisements. This approach was completely different from the business plans that thier competitors used, which targeted older people and enthusiasts. The competitors invested more in technology to make their trains more accurate, and instead of using enamel paint like the Lionel train sets they invested in expensive lithography technology which printed the design much more accurately.

Effect of the Great Depression

When the Great Depression struck in 1930, the income of the company dropped drastically to just $82,000 annually, down from sales of half a million dollars annually just a few years previous. The company posted losses of $207,000 in 1931. The reason for this sharp decline was that during the Great Depression, expensive toys like the Lionel train sets were considered to be luxuries and people did not have any money to buy them. The top end products from Lionel cost as much as a used motor car during that time.

The Set That Rescued Lionel

The train set that rescued the Lionel train company from bankruptcy was a handcar featuring the very popular Mickey and Minnie Mouse. It cost just $1 and the demand for the model train set was so high that it could not be met with supply even after Lionel produced over 250,000 units of the product. Thus Lionel continued production until 1942 when it stopped production to take part in helping the World War 2 effort.

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Model Train Layout Software Review

The main purpose of model train layout software is to help enthusiasts and hobbyists to virtually create and design different model train layouts to see what the design will look like after construction. Almost all model train layout software is based on CAD (computer aided design) principles. They help you to create designs of the completed track layout and the scenery around it.

This article surveys several software packages dedicated to creating layouts of model railroads. It is current as of this writing, of course new packages are always coming out.

For more great tips on setting up your model railroad, just fill in your name and email and I’ll send them to you. As an added bonus, you get my detailed report on using DCC to control your trains. 

Available Model Railroad Layout Software Packages


AnyRail is an example of model train layout software that assists you in creating a model train layout just like the other programs reviewed, here, but has one feature that is unique to it. It has predefined libraries in it for nearly all the model train tracks that are available commercially. AnyRail will even handle flextrack! This means that if you have got a set of Bachmann E-Z Tracks you can use the software to design your layout using the Bachmann E-Z Track as the default rails. This method helps you to accurately create layouts that are completely compatible with your track set. It also removes the hassle that you would have gone through if you had not got this feature and you would have been forced to measure the dimensions of your track set or look for its specifications and then input all that information into the software. AnyRail is primarily based on 2D design. The software has a free version with a limit on track length which can be removed if you buy the license key for $60.00. Note that AnyRail was formerly known as DRail.

3rd PlanIt

3rd PlanIt is model train layout software that primarily deals in creating 3D models of your planned layout complete with all the scenery and other fixtures in your layout. You can model every fine detail in your layout using the software including, but not limited to terrain changes and height.

3rd Planit includes a standard library with automatic scaling to fit the scale of your layout.

The software is modeled primarily at serious enthusiasts, as they are more inclined to detialed designing of the environments of the model train scenery. The software has a demo version that is free and limits the used pieces to 100 and does not allow you to save your project. The limitation can be removed by purchasing the $125 key.


Cadrail is the main competitor to 3rd PlanIt. It shares almost all the same features but uses a different interface and relies more on designing the project rather than recreating the project in a 3D model like 3rd PlanIt. This means that the level of detail in CADrail is less than 3rd PlanIt but it makes up for that with a much cheaper price of $60.


XTrackCAD is among the most popular model train layout software currently being used and there are several reasons for that. First of all the software is designed to be as user friendly as possible with several tutorials and online videos from its developers as well as its user community. The second reason for its popularity is its price: It is free. This makes it the software with the most value for money. It is mainly used for creating 2D layouts and has a very strong user base that helps other users of the software by posting their own designs.

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