1-Choose a Theme: You can choose just about anything for your layout, consider building your layout around one of these themes: a cityscape, a night based landscape, one of the many industry’s (passenger, coal, oil and others), a period theme of the of any era (19th century, World War 1 or 2 for examples), or use a specific rail line (Union, Southern) for your layout. Use your imagination for your layout, there are many themes for you to choose from
2-Decide your rolling stock: You must decide which train engines and cars your wish to run, Passenger, Freight or Inter-model which uses sea and rail. Depending on your theme will help you decide on which type of engine you’ll run depending on what era your train is from. Before 1930’s steam, 1930’s to 50’s diesel or a modern electric train.
3- How much do you want to spend?: This also is key factor in how much can you spend or want to spend in building your model train layout. If your on a budget just by the track, rolling stock and add the scenery as you can.
4- Layout Design: Four of the more common basic patterns are:
* point to point – this is merely a straight line of track with a station at each end, with trains going from the station at one end to the other station;
* continuous loop – in its simplest form this is either a circle or an oval and the trains move around it continuously, but it could be modified into a ‘dogbone’ shape by pulling two opposite sides of the circle or oval together, giving a double track appearance in the middle with a smaller circular shape at either end;
* out and back – where the train leaves the single station, travels around a pear-shaped layout and returns to the original station;
* station yard only – where a single station is surrounded by a number of short, interconnected tracks, providing great opportunities for shunting.
Check Out the Essential Guide to Model Trains
5- Space for Layout: Decide how much space you have to use, this also can be the biggest factor in choosing a train gauge..
6- Layout Base: The layout base or table should be made of 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick plywood, cut to the dimensions of your layout plans. Use two-by-four posts as the supports for the layout. They should be placed about every 4 feet or so and cut the height that you feel you can comfortably work with.
7- Laying Track: The track will vary depending on which train gauge you chose, if you’re doing a continuous loop laying your track isn’t difficult. Lionel O or O27 comes in two styles that snap together with standard lengths and curves. They will need little technical skill with this track because the wiring connections are already in place. It easily snaps together, and it comes with faux ballast base. Other track styles can be cut into custom lengths and shaped into custom curves, for a more complex layout. Homasote or cork roadbeds are recommended, though, in order to keep sound vibrations down. Custom wiring and connectors as well as ballast will also be needed.
8- Wiring: This is very important and if you have little or no experience I recommend you get help. Bad wiring can cause power loss, I will be doing a future post on wiring but its something I have gotten help on in the past. You can always visit a local model train shop if you have one to get questions answered. Do remember to have many connection points at frequent intervals to prevent power drop offs. Transformers, The size of your layout will determine how large your transformer will need to be. You need to have the right size transformer to prevent any power drop off.
9- Accessories: These can added on later, anything else like signals or lights its best to have another small transformer to run these.on smaller layouts. If you are planning something grander than a large transformer would be best for running your entire model. Many of this depends on the track, train and size, so learn everything about what size of train your going to use.
10- Buildings and Scenery: These can be added over time, you can find all these items at local hobby train shops or on the web. Most buildings can be created as is from kits, can be purchased already made, or can be custom-made if you’re artistic and feel so inclined to build these yourself. There are also special order companies and model shops online that usually carry a more extensive supply and range of model train layouts. You can everything from people to highway signs, trucks, a school-house or an entire city. The scope of you layout usually comes down to two factors: size and budget.
My suggestion is start small but think big, starting small mean you won’t get overwhelmed by cost or scope. Just like any hobby it takes time, you will grow into needing less and less help but never be afraid to seek help. You may even decide to build your own buildings and etc, just make sure to enjoy this fabulous hobby of model trains
Some suggested books at Amazon for beginners in model trains.
Check Out the Essential Guide to Model Trains