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Layout Design Gallery

Free ideas and examples from layouts large and small

Everybody loves model railroad track plans, so I've collected some of my favorite examples on these web pages. Most of these are custom layout designs in HO or N scale that were commissioned by a client.


All of these designs are copyrighted by me. I am happy when modelers build one of them as-is or in modified form -- please let me know if you do. You may post these track plan images for discussion online (in a forum, for example) as long as you also include a link to the page on my site. All other rights, including publication in any other form or use in a for-profit page or document, are fully reserved.


Just click any of the images for the story of each layout design. I hope that you enjoy them.

Large HO scale Tehachapi layout

"Best of the West" railfan sampler in HO

Capturing the essence of famous railfan locations like Tehachapi and Cajon in a very large space seems straightforward enough -- until more and more favorite scenes are added to the mix! This somewhat unorthodox large HO layout is designed for a full floor of a commercial building, but there are interesting ideas for layouts of any size.

Multi-deck N scale layout PRR NYC NW

Multi-deck N Scale NYC, PRR, N&W in Ohio

This operations-oriented N scale multi-deck model railroad combines a large steel mill, division-point yard, and port facilities in a mid-sized space (about 200 square feet).

Compact HO scale logging layout

Tight-quarters HO logging layout with continuous-run


A small space, but relatively large radii were the constraints for this HO standard-gauge logging line in a spare bedroom. But hand-laid turnouts and a John Armstrong trick came to the rescue. I even created a 3-D view -- very rare for me! 

Custom built HO scale layout

Beautiful custom-built HO layout

While many of my designs are under construction by my clients, it was a unique treat to recently visit one of my plans that has already been finished quickly and expertly by custom model railroad builder Rick Fortin. The mid-sized HO layout is full of neat scenes and ops potential … one might even call it a "layout vision fulfilled".

Large N scale model railroad Pacific Northwest

Large N Scale layout set in the Pacific Northwest

N scale is not just for small spaces, as this large operations-oriented layout demonstrates. Visible staging, interchange tracks, and plenty of industrial switching create realistic urban, rural, and mountain scenes and operations. A variety of Pacific Northwestern railroads can be hosted realistically on the proto-freelanced Cascade Southern.

Compact N scale switching layout San Jose

A little layout I could call my own


Who says the shoemaker's children have no shoes? OK, well it was just a little N scale shelf switching layout, but it was fun to run.

HO Granger layout Great Northern

Relaxed and Realistic Great Northern in HO

This HO mid-sized sectional layout design project was unique: rather than asking for the maximum we could fit, my client wanted to include fewer elements but leave room for broader aisles and more realistic scenes.

Small shelf switching layout Sacramento Northern N scale
HO Logging model railroad craftsman kits
HOn3 model railroad layout SP Keeler Branch
N scale hollow core door HCD switching layout Howard Terminal
HO layout SP ATSF model railroad Model Railroad Planning MRP

Small shelves, real yard -- could it fit?


Once in a (very) great while, the configuration of the benchwork is the best place to start with a design. This space-saving N scale switching layout is based on the real-life Sacramento Northern's Yuba City Yard and had to fit into a very tight corner on both existing and new shelving. The resulting design was built and proved to be a fun challenge to operate.

HO track plan offers room for craftsman kits and ops

This HO mid-sized layout was based on the client's desires for "believable scenery with interesting operations". Once again, a spiral peninsula increases running room and offers more space for the client's fabulous craftsman kit structures.

HO "Slim Princess" in a spare bedroom

This HOn3 mid-sized layout combines real-life locations with interesting operations on both narrow and standard gauge inspired by the famous Southern Pacific Keeler Branch in the shadow of the Sierra. The layout is designed to be built in stages with interesting operating and scenic possibilities at each phase.

Rail-Marine N Scale switching layouts

I wrote about Oakland, California's unique Howard Terminal "pocket" rail-marine facility in the Layout Design SIG's Layout Design Journal #46 including track plans for hollow core door and shelf switching N scale layouts. Click the image at left for more information and links to download a free copy of the six-page article.

HO "Two-Railroad Town" from MRP 2012 

This HO around-the-room design incorporates the southern Pacific and Santa Fe in California’s Central Valley in the 1950s. Featured in Model Railroad Planning 2012, the layout uses X-Factor staging below the visible deck to add flexibility to space-saving stub-ended staging tracks.

Model railroad modern n scale switching RBMN PA Reading Blue Mountain Northern

Modern-era PA layout designed for operation

This mid-sized N scale layout is inspired by the real-life Reading & Northern, but is proto-freelanced to provide more operating interest in less space. Reflecting modern railroading practices, most of the industries are large.

Switching model railroad layout N scale alcove MILW

HO switching layout brings Alcos to the alcove

I contend that there's almost always space for some sort of layout -- and a corner alcove proved the anchor for a neat freelanced HO Milwaukee Road shelf switching track plan.

Budweiser brewery beer N scale T-TRAK switching layout modules

Proto-inspired ops in eight square feet?!


There's literally no room for a layout inside my client's small condo. There is a garage, but it's minimum-sized and the car must be parked there most of the time. T-TRAK to the rescue! Two compact N scale modules provided the small yard / industry switching operating pattern I like but can be easily stored. And because they're modules, they can fit into a larger layout at a show or a future larger home.

Canadian National Northern Alberta Railways HO scale model railroad proto-freelance mid-sized

Canadian Prairie Crossing

An imagineered crossing of the Canadian National and Northern Alberta Railways was the inspiration for this mid-sized HO track plan. The layout includes the crossing itself with interchange, typical small towns with signature grain elevators, and plenty of operating potential.

model railroad Hoboken Shore shelf switching around the room rail-marine HO scale
model railroad Hoboken Shore shelf switching around the room rail-marine HO scale
small switching layout MRP Alameda Belt Line folding N scale shelf model railroad planning
Pacific Electric Orphan Branch San Fernando HO Switching Layout model railroad
HO 4X8 Red Wing HO Scale Model Railroader 4X8 HO Layout Around the Room
HO 4X8 Virginian Model Railroader David Popp Model Railroad Track Plan 8’X10’
HO 8X8 versus 4X6, Atlas Morgan Vally HO-30, track plan
HO Passenger Layout Waterwings, Better than a 4X8, HO Engine Terminal, Track Plan
HO 5X9 double track, out and back, track plan, model railroad
HO 6X8 donut, track plan, model railroad

"Junior" and "Senior" designs for the Hoboken Shore in HO


The client's household moves meant this layout was redesigned a couple of times. One version is an HO shelf switching layout, the other a larger HO switching design for a spare bedroom. Read about both here.

N scale switching layout folds to store in 1'X3'


This neat little shelf switching layout was published in Model Railroad Planning 2005. Based on a real-life railroad, the Alameda Belt Line, the design could also be built as a fixed layout in N or HO scale. The track plan provides an abundance of realistic switching action in a minimum amount of space.

Diesel. Freight. Pacific Electric? And all in a compact shelf ...


When some folks hear the words "switching layout", they immediately think of a switching puzzle like the Timesaver. But with a little more room, it's possible to build an HO shelf switching layout that offers a more realistic challenge and is based on a prototype, to boot. This compact layout replicates Pacific Electric's unique "Orphan Branch" that served a few busy shippers in the San Fernando area of Southern California (it's like, the Valley, Dude!).

Better than an HO 4X8: Around the room in 8X10

See the space, not a rectangle. An HO 4X8 model railroad layout requires an area of at least 8'X10'. So what if we take that area and arrange the HO track plan on shelves around the room? Broader curves, wider aisle, it's all good!

Better than an HO 4X8: Coal Hauler in 8X10 


Comparing a nifty published HO 4X8 Virginian plan with an interesting track plan alternative in the same 8'X10' minimum space. Wider aisles, easier grades, broader curves, gentler turnouts. What's not to like?

HO 4X8 Won't fit? Try something better!

Sometimes the limitations of the overall space and obstructions mean that a rectangular Island-style model railroad just can't fit. But by curving track and benchwork to place the layout at the walls and the people in the middle, an interesting HO track plan can still be found.

Rectangles make lousy roommates

The desires: 24" radius for HO passenger trains and a full-sized engine service area. The limitation: a shared space that won't hold anything but the smallest rectangle. The solution: bending the HO layout into a corner so that aisles may be shared. Free your mind from the rectangle and a great layout will follow!

The classic HO 5X9 "out and back"

Building an HO island-style layout just slightly larger (here, 5X9) allows much more flexibility in radii and operating scheme than the traditional HO 4X8. Here is one of John Armstrong's favorite track schematics, the out-and-back, in single- and double-track layout designs.

Already-Done Donut

When the benchwork has been built in advance of the track plan, options are limited. But this 6’X8’ HO donut-style layout still accommodates two trains in motion and broad curves for passenger equipment.

Switchmans Nightmare, HO, Engine Service

HO engine service shelf layout based on "Switchman's Nightmare"

This HO shelf switching layout was primarily intended for display of diesel locomotives and engine service structures. But adapting Linn Westcott's classic design from 101 Track Plans let us add a little operation, too.

Ventura County Railroad, track plan, N scale, garage

California shortline switching track plan


I developed this plan for myself, but never built the layout. The N scale switching layout would have featured the Ventura County Railway and connections with the Southern Pacific in the 1950s. The plan combines shelf layout sections with freestanding lobes to best utilize the space and share the garage with a car.

N switching layout, ATSF branch, staging, operations

Plausible N scale design – for an HO scale branch?


One of the ways to add interest to a layout is to imagine unmodeled locations "beyond the benchwork" represented by staging. ATSF service to Hamilton City is one such "virtual" location we developed when Rick Fortin and I created the operations plan for his ATSF 4th District HO layout. But could a transportable N scale layout bring this virtual location to life?

Ho 4X8, Turtle Creek, Model Railroader, Extension

"Al-turtle-tive" approach for an extension to a 4X8


Jim Kelly's HO Turtle Creek Central HO 4X8 project layout was featured beginning in the January, 2003 Model Railroader. A new series is beginning in the January, 2005 MR describing a 2'X6' extension. While Mr. Kelly's version is a very appealing and scenic approach, I started to think about an alternative HO track plan that might offer more operating interest.

Santa Maria Valley RR, N scale, X-factor staging, model railroad, layout

SMVRR in 18' X 20' with X-Factor staging


Santa Maria, CA is famous for its produce, its tri-tip barbecue, and the four railroads (of three different gauges!) that once served the area. This layout focuses on the standard-gauge Santa Maria Valley and is more fully described in my article in Model Railroad Planning 2004.  

HO 4X8 Layouts

Reluctantly, some HO 4X8 layouts


I believe there is almost always a better alternative to the traditional HO 4X8 track plan. But I have done a few HO 4X8s over the years which focus on one element or another to make the most of this challenging footprint.

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