Choosing Model Railroad Track Configurations

There are many factors to consider before we start building a model railroad layout. I know of many model railroaders who have started building without much of a plan and spent much effort and money on their layout, only to realize partway through that they just weren’t happy with their endeavors – and a lot of their efforts ended up in the trash. So… I think planning is very important.

In part 1 of this ongoing series on planning and building a model railroad layout, we looked at the all-important question of “Why do you want to build a layout in the first place?” In part 2, we’ll look at the tactical planning elements of a layout, focusing specifically on your track configuration.

doug-hodgdon-layout

Where should your layout be located?

When the passion for building a layout kicks in, I think the first question should be: “Where?” Finding a suitable space isn’t always easy. An extra bedroom? The garage? The basement? Build or buy myself a building to house my trains?

Then, the condition of the space is important. Is it big enough for my needs? Will the room or building need work before railroad construction can begin? How about the ceiling? The walls? The floor? What about the electrical supply and lighting? Heating and cooling? Do I want a train lounge for my buddies? How about toilet facilities? What will my wife think??!!

All of this may seem overwhelming but remember that this is YOUR layout. You can just disregard everything and forge ahead. Remember that model railroading is and always will be about having fun.

What track configuration should I have?

So there’s a lot to think about. But, once we get past all the preliminaries, we’re ready for the really fun part – the layout design. Steve and I thought we should run through the basic track configurations for those who might just be starting out. This may seem elementary to some, but I hope that you’ll hang in with us.

What follows is a list of nine of the more basic designs, complete with pros and cons for each.

CLICK HERE to download a handy PDF of these designs that you can print out and keep for reference.

OVAL

OVAL: The most common starter design. Lots and lots of continuous running.

DOUBLE-LAP-OVAL

DOUBLE LAP OVAL: Doubles the “mileage” of the oval.

DOG-BONE

DOG BONE: Great for those who want a more accessible and straighter section in the center.

FOLDED-DOG-BONE

FOLDED DOG BONE: Dog-bone with center “accessible” area folded around the corner of a room.

POINT-TO-POINT

POINT-TO-POINT: Most realistic design. You may need turning facilities at the ends depending on your motive power. No continuous running.

POINT-TO-LOOP

POINT-TO-LOOP: Adding a reversing loop at one end enables a return operation. You might need electronics to provide for the resulting mismatch of polarities at the loop.


LOOP-TO-LOOP

LOOP-TO-LOOP: Same idea. This provides for continuous running with the proper electronics at the loops.

FIGURE-8

FIGURE 8: Classic design. This can be done with an at-grade crossing or as an “over and under” plan. The over and under may require some gradient considerations.

FOLDED-FIGURE-8

FOLDED FIGURE 8: This might enable the design to fit into a larger space.

What design is best for you, your space, and your railroad operations? Only you can decide, but take the time now to avoid ripping it out later!

Next time I’ll discuss “layout elements” that may help you settle on a particular design. Stay tuned.

More in this series:

So You Want to Build a Model Railroad Layout?
Choosing Model Railroad Track Configurations
Assigning a Theme for Your Model Railroad Layout
Ideas for Unique Layout Concepts
Tips on Trackwork
Helpful Tips for Model Railroad Wiring
Creative Ideas for Model Railroad Structures

Discussion
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36 Responses to “Choosing Model Railroad Track Configurations”
  1. Al

    The above is in my mind a must for all new to the hobby and need to learn the railroad jargon. A folded dob bone. Thanks for the info. Al

    Reply
  2. Gerald Paterson

    Why do the free videos only last a minute or so and only start on the subject. Eg L gurder video. Only lasts a minute and then won’t allow the next episode to view. This seems to happen often. I can’t afford to pay to watch so only view the free ones. If this is the way it goes then I will be forced to cancel sub. Gerald

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Gerald. Please contact us at 1-855-208-7399; our Customer Service Team would be happy to assist you.

      Reply
  3. ANGELO

    I am trying to put a second level on my n scale layout and I can’t find the trusess that you have in a pictures on building your railroads there realy for bridges but I can use them for my second story

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Angelo. I would say that the Atlas N scale truss bridges would be a good place to start.

      Reply
  4. Bill Winans

    Your double lap oval is another variation of the folded 8.
    I don’t know how you plan, but I start with visions in my head of various scenes. I then try to “scale” them in drawings. After all that, then I pick the basic track design that suits my wants – one you don’t have listed is the oval (or its variants) with a branch, and that is what I use. This gives one the option of continuous running and point to point operations. Then I determine which of the scenes I have sketched will fit and try to organize them into a logical plan. Lastly, I understate the amount of space available to allow for errors in the plan and make room for some inevitable changes and improvements. For the group, I, like Steve Doyle, model in scale S.

    Reply
  5. JG

    Need advice on switching yard layouts for small/narrow spaces that would permit me to perform some reasonable train consist development albeit on a small scale.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello JG,

      Well, there sure are a lot of examples out there. I would need a lot more particulars before I could help you with that question.

      Thanks,
      Doug MRA Video Membeship

      Reply
  6. Chris Behrens

    I was hoping to combine HOn3 lumber operations incorporated into a more mainline HO layout. In addition, I would like to run dual track at some points. I’ve come to the conclusion that this should be point-to-point with dual track where necessitated by physical obstacles (cliffs, bridges, etc). Has MRA addressed issues such as this? Chris

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Chris,

      I certainly like your concept. If you send me a more detailed description of your project, I’d love to help you with some ideas.

      Thanks,
      Doug MRA Video Membership

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first year membership.
      https://go.modelrailroadacademy.com/C9741

      Reply
  7. mitch

    Hi ,i,m building a 4×8 layout in ho.This is all the room i have.and then theirs the wife.but we will not go there.i bought a atlas figure 8 track plan.I want to do it right. The plan will give me a good start.i feel this is the way to go if you are a beginner.Or if you are like I em can,t plan my way out of a paper bag. the atlas track plan come with all you need,exept the system you want to run trains with,dc. or dcc..So this will be good for all of us. Beginners and vets. And don,t for get what ever you do have fun and run trains. Trains 62 out.

    Reply
  8. Milton

    About to dismantle/reconfigure my layout, but it’s always good to start with “basic training”!

    Reply
  9. Chuck

    I’m starting a new build in ho, just figuring out what I want to do in the garage, my space is 14 X10.

    Reply
  10. BRMills57

    Do ;you have any diagrams for using 2 separate tracks? Want to design a layout w/ a passenger line and a freight line.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello,

      Well, there first thing is to decide have much space you would like to use. And then, what scale? There are some good track planning books available on line.

      Thanks,

      Douglas
      Model Railroad Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  11. Dene

    Hi I’m Dene. I’ve built a few layouts in the past 30 odd years, but the latest one, I have constructed the baseboard table Wichita lowers from the roof of my garage with a 3 tonnes winch and I’d like to purchase track layout planning DVD’s, but you don’t send to New Zealand. Bugger, what can be done please !
    A’ve a really nice day Dene.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Dene,

      You are in luck, we do currently ship to New Zealand. Hope this helps!

      Becky
      Model Railroad Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  12. Penny Simunic

    What is the smallest switch size(on the market) to make a compact yard mostly to show off rolling stock?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Penny,

      Generally, the smallest frog size commercially available has been a number 4. But, if you run modern freight or long passenger equipment, a number 4 may be too sharp, especially if you end up with S curves in your yard ladder.

      Hope this helps,

      Douglas
      Model Railroad Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  13. Thomas Heck

    Would like to build a ho layout on a 4×8 table with a golf course design on the table

    Reply
  14. Hans Haupt

    I am very unhappy with your publication.
    I am a Premium member, and most of your emails are for selling videos
    at ridiculous prices for vastly discounted amounts,
    wanting to goad me into buying a lengthy video, or six.
    On top of that, I get daily invitations to purchase your “Gold” plan,
    presumably to get more enticements to purchase videos.
    This is not what I expected. I expected many helpful hints for building
    a new layout, at the Premium plan level. In fact, had I known about your
    so-called “Gold” plan I would not even have joined the Premium plan.
    Your entire marketing campaign is a come-on.
    I will not sign up for more plans.
    Your publication is not worth the money spent on it.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Hans,

      We are sorry to hear this. You can change the type of emails you receive from us, by clicking on the Preference Center, located at the bottom of any of the emails we send out. The access your membership benefits you will actually want to visit our site and log into your account. Your membership gives you unlimited access to our ever-expanding video library, this can be found by hovering your cursor over VIDEOS on the menu bar. There you can browse through all our videos, and the categories they are separated into.

      Thanks,

      Becky
      Model Railroad Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  15. Garrie Taft Sr

    Have my father’s trains, must have thousands of dollars worth. Would love to get started to put it all together.

    Reply
  16. Robert

    Looking for ideas for my HO scale 15 by 17 foot layout in a separate room of my house.any ideas would be great.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Robert,

      I would recommend looking into an around-the-wall layout to get the most distance out of your main line and allow wider radius curves.

      Hope this helps,

      Douglas
      Model Railroad Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  17. David

    I like the loop to loop configuration. I control the polarity on mine with relays, and use spring switches for the loops. I think its more visually interesting, to have the trains run both ways on the same stretch of track. And those who have tried, and failed, to use reverse loops, are memorized that I have 2 of them and they just work automatically. Add to this that I am doing this in large scale, in my backyard, while bridging a pond and meandering through a forested landscape, just adds to the wonder and charm of my semi-fictional short-line.

    Reply
  18. FRANCIS

    Hi, I am starting out with a layout in O scale that is similar to the “Double Lap Oval” that is on a 4X10 trainboard, and what I would like to ask is will it be necessary to add supply wires to the track via buss lines to maintain steady flow of power. Currently have a 50 watt transformer, locos from my younger days (circa 1954) and a new MTH SW 9 Protosound 3.0 Pittsburgh and Shawmut (30-20491-1) and was wondering if I needed any special wiring setup to run this. Thanks in advance for any help and advice.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Francis,

      The use of buss wires and multiple feeders is a good idea in every application. They provide an even voltage everywhere on the layout. Rail connectors can create problems with current flow over time.

      Hope this helps,

      Model Railroad Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  19. Robert Colombo

    I am just starting out planning my 0 gauge design. I like the Dog Bone and Folded Dog Bone but want to add a second set of tracks – one for freight and the other for passenger. I was also thinking of two levels alternating which set of tracks is on the lower level versus the upper level. Open to any ideas. Bob

    Reply
    • Robert Colombo

      I failed to mention that I use the old O27 tubular tracks. 🙂

      Reply