A useful bibliography for layout design

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The purpose of this bibliography is to give the beginning or intermediate modeler an overview of some of the issues involved in layout design. Most of the items listed are available from your hobby supplier, public library or from the publisher. Some items are listed that are out of print, and they aer noted with an "o.p." Many periodicals are o.p., but back issues are available from a number of sources as noted below. Some beginners may not want to get involved with layout design for their first or second layout; the section on Track Plans presents a number of options for consideration


The periodicals cited in this bibliography are listed below preceded by the abbreviations used in the citations. LDJ and MRP both focus on layout design topics, while MR, RJ and RMC are general interest model railroad magazines. GMR and MRP are annuals. All except LDJ should be available at your local hobby shop. Many public libraries carry MR, and a few carry RMC. Back issues of the magazines are available from the publishers and are often found at swap meets and used magazine shops. Copies of out of print articles can be obtained from some publishers and NMRA members can contact the Kalmbach Memorial Library. MR is also available in full text as part of the Infotrac EF database, an online database available through some libraries.

GMR, Great Model Railroads (ISSN 1048-8685). Kalmbach Publishing Co., 20127 Crossroads Cir., PO Box 1612, Wausheka, WI 53187. Annual, $4.95 per issue.

LDN, Layout Design News. Layout Design Special Interest Group, 605 Tennessee Ave., Alexandra VA 22305. Membership: $15 for four mailings, which includes both LDN and Layout Design Journal (LDJ).

MRP, Model Railroad Planning (ISSN 1086-5586). Kalmbach Publishing Co., 20127 Crossroads Cir., PO Box 1612, Wausheka, WI 53187. Annual, $4.95 per issue.

MR, Model Railroader (ISSN 026-7341). Kalmbach Publishing Co., 20127 Crossroads Cir., PO Box 1612, Wausheka, WI 53187. Monthly, $34.95 per year.

RJ, Railmodel Journal (ISSN 1043-5441). Golden Bell Press, 2403 Champa St. Denver CO 80205. Monthly, $28 per year.

RMC, Railroad Model Craftsman (ISSN 0033877X). Carstens Publications Inc., PO Box 700, Newton NJ 07860. Monthly, $25 per year.


Armstrong, John. Track Planning for Realistic Operation. Kalmbach, 1979. First published in 1962, the second edition of this book explains the whys and wherefores of layout planning, from prototype to table top. Every model railroader planning a layout should read this book.

Armstrong, John. Creative Model Railroad Design. Kalmbach, 1978. For the intermediate or advanced modeler. Continues to develop themes presented in Track Planning for Realistic Operation by looking at layout design as influenced by various factors such as pike location, scenery, prototypes or theme.

Barrow, David. "How to plan your layout." Model Railroader, June 1995, pp. 70-76. Barrow describes a technique called "segmental design," a method best applied to room size or larger linear layouts. The article also discusses many of the choices modelers face in the layout design process, such as operating preferences and resources available.

Koester, Tony. "Trains of thought: linear logic." MR, Dec. 1994, pp. 138-139. Advice for the beginner trying to choose a good track plan.

Livingston, Bill. "My railroad just growed." Model Railroader, Sep. 1962, pp. 28-29. More of a track non-plan, but an intriguing look at how one model railroader developed his layout. Reprinted in: Classic articles from Model Railroader. Kalmbach, 1980, o.p., and Track Planning ideas from Model Railroader. Kalmbach, 1981.

Lull, Dave. "Thoughts on the layout design process." LDN 13, pp. 30-37. Advises beginners on a step by step process for designing and building a layout. Answers the question "What should I do first." Does not address selection of a prototype.

Paul Mallery. Design Handbook for Model Railroads. Carstens Publishing, 1979. Includes a chapter on design of small layouts and useful diagrams showing segments of track plans throughout the book.

Railroads You Can Model. Kalmbach, 1976, o.p. The emphasis here is on the prototype. Most layouts in this book are too big for beginners, but the book illustrates the value of selective compression and the need to consider the purpose, track arrangement and practices of the prototype when designing a layout. This volume was followed by More railroads you can model (Kalmbach, 1978, o.p.).


Choosing a track plan is a matter of personal preference. The modeler must determine how much emphasis will be placed on operations, scenery, etc., and what resources--time, space, skill and money--are available for the project. It is important that the track plan be properly drawn, that is, that the track layout shown can actually be assembled with available components. Layouts with curved turnouts and other specialized or impossible trackwork are not for the beginner. The modeler should not be afraid to modify a plan to suit his or her needs. It is easier to expand a plan than to shrink it. Thanks to Ed Vondrak for his input and advice in developing this section. Scale and dimensions in feet are noted along with other comments.

Single plans

Armstrong, John. "A 'vignette' pike in minimum size." Figure 3-4 in: Armstrong. Creative Model Railroad Design. Kalmbach, 1978, p. 45. N, 3x6, has both scenic and operational possibilities.

Armstrong, John. "Twice around with single track." Figure 11-2 in: Armstrong. Track planning for realistic operation. Kalmbach, 1979, p. 94. HO, 4x8 with twice-around main line, 2 passing sidings, could be built on one level. All the plans in Chapter 11 are worthy of consideration.

Kelly, Jim. "We build the Alkali Central." MR, Dec. 95, p. 101, Jan 96, p. 90-95. HO, 4x8, construction articles. MR introduces a beginners layout every year in the December. This series covers the basics and presents a decent 4x8 oval design.

Mitchell, Don. "Bekin United RR.". In: Walkaround Model Railroad Track Plans, Kalmbach, 1991, pp. 7-9. HO, 8x10, along-the-walls switching layout.

Mitchell, Don. "The Oakville Central." In: Walkaround Model Railroad Track Plans Kalmbach, 1991, pp. 4-5. HO, 3x6, snap track, 15" radius oval with interesting operations.

Schoharie Valley Ry. GMR 1996, p. 40. HO, 5x9, shows that a "Great Model Railroad" can be built in a small space.

Thompson, Keith. "The Kootenay Lake Navigation Co." MR, Dec 95, p. 112-114. N 3x6, includes notes about scenery construction and operation.

Vondrak, Ed. "Sector-plate staging." RJ, May 1996. HO 2x8, small, against the wall industrial switching area with hidden staging.

Vondrak, Ed. "Cedar Falls & Maple Valley RR." RJ, Mar 1996. HO, smaller spin-off switching layout, the North Bend & South Fork RR, is 10x11 along two adjacent walls.

Vondrak, Ed. "Auburn & Winchester." RJ, Aug. 1995. HO, 9.5x10.5, point-to-point walk-in, center backdrop, 24" minimum radius, #6 turnouts, micro-staging/interchange.

Vondrak, Ed. "Gifford & Tiosa." RJ, Aug. 1996. HO, 9.5x10.5, point-to-point with wye, walk-in, optional continuous-run connection, 21" minimum radius, interchange.

Vondrak, Ed. "Westmont Central." RJ, Jun. 1995. N, 9.5x10.5, walk-in, point-to-point, interchange-to-interchange, can be connected across the aisle for continuous-run.

Wicklund, Pete. "The Soo's Red Wing Division." MR, Jan 1994, pp. 88-97. Construction article describes 4x8 HO layout designed for switching. Reprinted in: Small railroads you can build [2nd ed.]. Kalmbach, 1996.


Track Planning Ideas from Model Railroader (TPIMR). Kalmbach, 1981. Has a number of layouts for small spaces, including:

  • Blumenschine, Leonard. The Wawbeek & Summount Ry. TPIMR, p. 33. HO, 6x12, complex layout with 24" minimum mainline curves, central operating pit, lots of sidings.
  • Lake Forest & Scagattville RR. TPIMR, p. 83. HO, 20x21, a large example of a walk-in linear track plan, not for beginners.
  • Seeley, E. S. Jr. "Designing portable layouts." TPIMR, p. 8. (Iron Mountain Line), HO, 2x7, shelf layout with two levels.
  • Vondrak, Ed. "A small track plan designed for growth." HO, 4x8, shows how basic layout can be planned for later expansion.

Linn Westcott. 101 Track Plans for Model Railroaders. Kalmbach, 1956. Has quite a few good small track plans, including a variation on John Allen's first layout. Westcott was one of the early track planners who knew how to draw things properly. Includes a section on how to change a track plan to suit your needs.

About this content:
Original author: Peter Ford. Last revised in 2000.
This LDSIG article is ©2000 by Peter Conner Ford (email).
Questions/comments may be posted in the discussion tab.

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