Starting out on model trains

Topic moved from Help For Beginners by michaelgreenhill on 15 Feb 2015 21:46
  spdouts Station Master

Hi all

I’m seeking advice with how to get started with my new hobby.

I have bought numerous books and am endlessly researching but I’m not finding the project answers.

I have so far decided with the following setup:

Using Australian locomotives HO.

I can’t decide on the actual layout of the tracks but I want the ability to have bridges etc.

Ideas I like so far are the Australian outback. Trees, greenery and red dust etc

I’ve had a look at the “Modular train tables” (not sure if it’s the right decision) link below:

Are there any other sites you can recommend I look at or ideas I can go with to get started?

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  allan Chief Commissioner

It's an awful steep learning curve, and it's my opinion that it will take a very gifted (and wealthy) modeller to learn it all. In other words, especially as you start out, the wisest approach is to get together with like-minded souls and share resources, ideas and skills to minimise the compromises that are unavoidable in railway modelling.

If there is a club nearby, make the most of it. If there is not, your task will be more difficult.

Other important advice is to start small, and to choose a time and place to model - and limit your purchases to relevant items - or you will rapidly run out of space, time and money.
  ARodH Chief Train Controller

Location: East Oakleigh, Vic
Those modules you've linked to are meant for N scale. The modules for HO scale T-trak are larger and I don't believe that they're currently available as a retail item. Their are probably the better option for a modular layout though you'd need to either apply a entire top sheet or a solid strip trackbed.
Annoyingly, that 1200mm x 600mm size is the same dimensions as the recently de-listed foam board Bunnings use to sell.

I've found that a train pulled by a VR B class and consisting of six PL cars ( and a C van ( takes up all the straight and a bit of the curve, if your board length is 2440mm and you've built a R2/3 double oval (is my calculation that said train is ~1.5 meters long, correct?).
The same train in the smaller scales (N, Z) would be much shorter, though the amount of new ready to run Australian rolling stock in those scales is less than what's currently available in HO scale.
  yogibarnes Locomotive Fireman

Welcome to the hobby.  I note you have already done lots of reading - good but don't try to emulate those perfect looking layouts/models first go.  I also note you are aiming for HO (possibly the easiest scale to start in with lots of stuff available), but Australian prototype is more expensive.  Depends on the depth of your pocket.
Seek out a local club.  Seek out others locally in the hobby, visit them, see what they are doing.  You will both benefit.
Start simple and small.  As you progress, and you want to improve what you have done, you can start again (less effort needed the second time) or integrate what you have already achieved.
Most everything is easily replaced if it doesn't work but try to lay track to good geometry, because once down it can be hard to modify/alter.
Don't get frustrated, enjoy it!  If you stick with the hobby, and enjoy it with others, you will be smitten for life.
  spdouts Station Master

Thanks for all the suggestions, I appreciate it.

There are a few of things I don't understand with the above discussions - I guess ill understand in time.

I have been at several swap meets and had a chat with several guys and someone always has something different to say - not that there is anything wrong with that however it's harder to make any decisions.

I have also been to the Glen Iris (VIC) modelers house.

Are you guys based in Melbourne?
Any opinions which club I should be speaking with?

I though about the modular train tables and realised I'm cutting corners in the hobby, so I decided to go ahead and build my own table - link below:

What size should I be starting at?
What shape base eg square, rectangle etc.?
Would I be able to implement a second level train track in the future?

I have come across the L-girder type table.
Which option should I be taking based on my ideas and future ideas?

So, if Australian Loco are somewhat expensive to be starting with should I be starting with British or US??
  tj81 Beginner

there are plenty of track plan books available which may be able to help you deciding on layout for your tracks , most of which have parts list so that may help you, do a google search for Brian lambert in the UK his site is very informative and covers a wide range of things for model railways, there are few downloadable track plan progams too a good one is anyrail it has both a free version which allows you to do most things and the full version which gives you a number of extra features that are restricted in the free version
  BladeHunter Station Master

Location: Sydney
Maybe start with something simple, such as an Inglenook shunting puzzle or a Timersaver, to hone a few skills, at it's smallest size it can be built in an area of about 1200x300, with a little forethought in building & planning stages it has the capability to be incorporated into a larger layout. It could even be used as testbed for kit built rollingstock & locos or scratchbuilt if skills later progress.

Be aware that some people will try and talk you out of this type of layout, whilst others will say it's a good starting point.

At the end of the day it's your and your enjoyment alone that matters.

The thing I like mostly about the Australian scene is that there is the opportunity to run both 4 wheel & bogie rolling stock in the one train without it looking too weird.......of course it will depend on what period you choose. As for the expense, after being away from the hobby for a while I was a little shocked at the prices but once seeing the increase in the level of fine detail i can say I am very impressed.

Anways good luck & welcome to the fold.
  TheBlacksmith Chief Commissioner

Location: Ankh Morpork
A good approach would be to consider your first two layouts as test beds for the big one you will never find time to complete Laughing

Buy good control gear (DCC) and good locomotives and rolling stock, the rest can come along later.
  ARodH Chief Train Controller

Location: East Oakleigh, Vic
I'll just say if you decide to go for the full plywood sheet table aka the four foot by eight foot (1.22m by 2.44m) contemplate using the board design from here though probably not it's track plan as the appropriate large Australian steam engine doesn't exist as a model yet, though it might suit the items seen on 'Puffing Billy'. recently had a series covering building a basic up and over 1.2m*2.4m board.

A good bit of advice I've received is have your track plan finalised before you build the board frame, as trying to underboard motorise points becomes interesting if there's framing underneath where you want to position a point. Similarly the choice of what width of wood used in framing can affect what motors are usable for point control as well, if you want to rest the board on a flat surface. Less than 70mm Cobalts are out, less than 90mm Tortoises are out.
  David Peters Dr Beeching

Location: "With Hey Boy".
Take a Tip from one of the greats of the model railway world the late John Allen of Gorre and Daphetid fame he started out with simply a very small diorama type type of thing and the progressed from there up to a 8 x 4 type of layout and later the model railway he built took over the whole basement of his house almost but the 8 X 4 was incorporated into the newer layout. So what some have said is true start small and work your way up to bigger layouts. Trying to build the ultimate layout first up will result in most case in disappointment and frustration. Don't try and get all your Australian locomotives or rolling stock in one fell swoop either it can take years to get every thing you need and you will still find you have missed a lot. I have a huge collection of stuff but it has taken me nearly 50 years to collect it all and I am still adding to it as well.
  spdouts Station Master

Thanks for all the suggestions provided.

I have concluded and will be doing the following:

8 x 4 plywood table.
Track layout =
Planning on the outer layer to have a slight raise.

Still to decide on landscape.
Still to decide on rolling stock.

Opinion and recommendation on control gear (DCC)?
  FirstStopCentral Chief Train Controller

Thanks for all the suggestions provided.

I have concluded and will be doing the following:

8 x 4 plywood table.
Track layout =
Planning on the outer layer to have a slight raise.

Still to decide on landscape.
Still to decide on rolling stock.

Opinion and recommendation on control gear (DCC)?

NCE PowerCab, best option available.

Will be enough for what you're looking at running and can then be expanded later if you need it on a bigger layout.

  ARodH Chief Train Controller

Location: East Oakleigh, Vic
There's only one thing wrong with that trackplan, it uses Hornby Setrack points which like Peco Setrack points gives certain Australian rollingstock fits. I think in my test builds they were even giving my Powerline FS/BS cars grief. So those R8072(ST241) and R8073(ST240) would best replaced by SL-92 and 91 though advice I've been given is that SL-96 & 95 or larger would be better. The part numbers I've listed are the Peco Insulfrog ones, electrofrog just adds a E to it. The curved and y points, I've never used and Peco's streamline range doesn't have an exact match. Although by the loco shed I'd be tempted to use an SL-99 to give a third outside siding and replace the diamond crossing with a double or single slip.
And yes I'm suggesting code 100 rail parts as they are fairly wheelset agnostic and are available pretty much everywhere. The other codes of rail aren't as readily available, it's not like I'm suggesting KATO HO gauge Unitrack - try finding that in Melbourne.    

I don't think the curves will be an issue, the central operations hollow might be one, if you don't fit in a 80cm*60cm hole.

As for making the outer track go up, the quick way is to use Woodlands Scenics subterrain foam risers, though I wonder about how much rise you'd get, as the incline/decline must end before the points (they must remain flat or on a constant level).
  xdford Chief Train Controller

HI there and welcome to the hobby

Suggestions   - As you are starting out, "grow" your layout rather than try to do it all at once.

Check out for one such scheme (OK I wrote it but...)

For a smaller layout, ( and my own is an 8 x 4 ), you need a bit of imagination ... mine uses a lot but you can check out (OK I wrote these pages too!) to see how a layout is operated

Which side of Melbourne are you on? West, you have Sunbury, Melton and Sunshine, East you have AMRA, VMRS, Pakenham and a few others... some are friendly and some are not but you may well find a niche

And there are plenty of sites to help inc , ,, , and a host of others

Feel free to contact off list

Cheers and in any case Good Luck,

  spdouts Station Master

Thanks for all the shared information Gentlemen.

I went to my local lumber yard on the weekend and all the plywood 8 x 4 sheets were warped.
I asked the trade person if he could cut into 3" strips (one of the sheets) and he gave this weird look and didn't want to help then I walked away - This is for the frame and legs.
Seriously! Whats the world coming to?
Need to try another site this Saturday
  Gwiwer Rt Hon Gentleman and Ghost of Oliver Bulleid

Location: Loitering in darkest Somewhere
Welcome aboard buddy.

You can get a lot of information, advice and support from the UK-based but fully international RMweb site.  As with here you have to register (free of course) to post but it's one of the largest sites of its kind, has a significant number of antipodean members and offers everything from the complete beginner to the subject matter expert in terms of knowledge and advice.

Sign up, ask away and don't be daunted by the sheer size of the site (which is a commercial enterprise) - it's not hard to find the Down Under Railway Modellers section nor to ask general questions in any area.
  ARodH Chief Train Controller

Location: East Oakleigh, Vic
I got around to playing with SCARM and attempted to reproduce that plan you liked using Peco setrack (as in Melbourne I believe only Metro Hobbies stocks basic Hornby setrack). I think I came close as some interpretation was required due to some differences between Anyrail and SCARM and Hornby & Peco (or the digital versions in each program).

First, Peco Setrack on the typical metric plywood sheet now found at Bunnings:

Second, Peco Setrack on a imperial cut plywood sheet:

Third, Peco Setrack with some Peco Streamline points:

The last has some issues with the diamond crossing as SCARM believes it can't be done, I think it can if you cut the flex track right. Replacing the SL-93 with either an SL-94, SL-80 or SL-90 would mean changing the design of the entire outer loop and reducing the clearance for it and the inner tracks if you still want to make it go up. Not to mention the reduction in finger space if you stay on the flat.
  Marbelup Station Master

Location: Perth, Western Australia
Another option to consider would be to build a "shelf" type layout representing a small station or similar sized realistic scene, rather than a 4 x 8 "train set", which is where this thread seems to be heading.
A shelf type layout would provide opportunities for shunting operations rather than continuous running, and would also be workable with a modest outlay for rollingstock, track and other materials.  As time, space and funds permit, it could be expanded to include a fiddle yard or staging yard and/or other station or scenic modules.  If the shelf layout follows a designated "modular" standard, there is also the possibility of combining with other modellers to form a larger layout just for fun or for an exhibition.  A shelf layout is also much easier to transport than a "4 x 8", and avoids the problems of reaching into the middle of a wide tabletop and the inevitable sharp "train set" curves which limit reliable operation of larger rollingstock.
There have been some project layouts in Model Railroader magazine in recent years based on the idea of starting with a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood but cutting it up to form a shelf layout, such as an L-shape in the corner of a room.
My own layout includes a 2.8 x 0.6 section based on the small station at Kojonup in WA, which I built between 1983 and 1986.  Fortunately, I now have the space for a larger layout but I have been able to keep the Kojonup module and add 3 other stations which allow timetable operation as well as continuous running if desired.  The main thing is that, by starting relatively small, the time and effort that went into building Kojonup weren't wasted.
  wagrttn Locomotive Driver

+ 1 vote for a module and/or shelf layout. As proposed by Mr Marbellup (his website is worth a visit), if well designed it can be shunted with a small amount of stock initially, perhaps with some off-scene storage, and then later when your modelling interest and desired theme 'matures' you can 'run through' the module with longer trains as well. Also, if you change your mind then a narrow module or shelf type arrangement is easily swapped out for something different whilst the off-scene storage/fiddle/staging remains intact.

If space is a problem then perhaps the scenic portion of the layout could be removable while the storage area of the layout remains fixed in place against a wall so that you don't have to pack away your stock each time?
  SA_trains Deputy Commissioner

Location: ACT
Well I'll also go into bat for a modular layout.

If you did go for the traditional 8x4 layout you really need an area that is 12x8 in area so that you can reach all areas of the layout. So turning that logic around if you have a modular layout that is 12x8 but each module 2' deep. The result is a layout that has far more operational capacity, considerably larger radius curves. This system is also easier to build and will be more satisfying.

There used to be a link to a layout design called Heart of Georgia. Presumably of USA origin. That link no longer exists sadly, but fortunately I had downloaded the various PDF files.

Unfortunately,  I don't know how to load a PDF file to this forum. If you are interested, PM me your  e-mail address and I'll send them to you.

I hope that the Heart of Georgia will inspire you to take a different track!


  dthead Site Admin

Location: Melbourne, Australia
I'll say a around the wall layout is great, and if you can manage 4 walls, great. and if you have sharper radius curves, they are not as bad looking than watchin from outside a curve, as you do on a table. And the layout  can have nice shelves under them and perhaps curtained off to make a pleasing room.

I know the desire to run a train continuously is huge with many newcommers, and is hard to shake. But around the wall and continuous running get all running and shunting positves and one negative - access into the room when one  resorts to liftout, swing sections, or duck or crawl under, If the layout is done well you can stil do a lot of shunting while the access area is open. This allows you to experiance it all. You may like shunting more, or it might take you to watchin the train running around.

David Head

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