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Cornerstones of Layout Design

Four foundations to believable, engaging layouts

Prototype Inspiration

Whether your vision of the perfect railroad scene is a transcontinental Class 1, gritty industrial switcher, or tropical cane hauler, choosing scenes and elements of prototype railroads for inspiration adds authenticity and atmosphere to your layout. Prototype, freelance, or something in between -- any railroad concept can benefit from a dose of real railroading. I'll help you distill the distinguishing characteristics of the prototype road that can add realism and flavor to your layout.



What separates model railroading from other miniatures is the sense of movement and purpose. Staging (hidden, visible, or implied) helps suggest that the visible scene is somehow connected with the commerce of a larger outside world. All but the tiniest real-life railroads are too large to model in their entirety -- together we can find ways to suggest that the layout goes beyond the benchwork.

Major Industries


One of the challenges in developing a successful operating scheme is balancing workloads between road and yard, local and through trains, dispatcher and train crews, etc. There are also trade-offs to be made between staging and siding capacities, ops session intensity and enjoyment, and rules vs. op crew initiative. I can help you identify the key competing areas, manage the compromises, and insure a rewarding balance for your sessions on an existing or planned layout.


Interchange with another (prototype or freelance) railroad has been called "the perfect model railroad industry". These tracks can terminate or originate many kinds of cars and loads, take little space, and can be added to nearly any plan. What's more, they can suggest locale, era, and character of your layout just by the choice of interchange partners. Let's find a way to add this boost of realism to your plan, no matter the space.

First Steps

Let's explore how the Four Cornerstones can make your next layout more engaging and rewarding.

Examples and ideas

See the clinics on design and Layout Design Gallery elsewhere on this site to see the Four Cornerstones applied to a wide variety of themes, eras, locales, and spaces..

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Free model railroad layout designs, free track plans

See the Four Cornerstones applied in the Design Gallery

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