Introduction to model railways/Getting started for the novice

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

So you want to build a model railway, you have bought the first components and now you want to get started.

There are a couple of basic ideas to get straight.....

Whilst there are some good general principles that apply throughout the hobby, there are no “rules”. Other than

“It’s your railway, you can run what you want”

Other general principles are

- Keep your work space clean and tidy wherever possible

- When you make dust, clean it up. Dust is the enemy of good train operations. For a further look at tools, go to the chapter Introduction to model railways/Tools

Another point to keep in mind “Rome wasn’t built in a day” - those fantastic models you see in the shows and on TV take thousands of hours (and £!) to make....what we aim to do here is get you started....the rest can come later.

Train[edit | edit source]

for the novice, buy a “ train set” from one of the major manufacturers. Other ways to get started are to have “inherited” locomotives and rolling stock from someone else, or perhaps you have gone and bought individual pieces from a show, shop or a well known on line auction site.

Whichever, let’s assume you are the proud owner of two locomotives, a couple of passenger coaches and some freight wagons......

By the way, a “train” consists of a locomotive and at least one, usually more, wagons of some description - passenger, flat cars, container wagons, specialist wagons etc. A locomotive by itself is NOT a train!

So - what track do we need, and what is the layout going to look like?

Track[edit | edit source]

3D model

For the novice, the best way to start is with track that is “pre-formed” into standard lengths and curves. This allows you to quickly and accurately form a simple loop for the trains to go round. The radius of the curved sections will match the radius of the points, so the correct spacing between multiple loops can be achieved. All the manufacturers provide these standard pieces, but note that track is generally not (or not easily) mixed between manufacturers.

If you plan to expand and develop your simple layout in future years, make a note of which track you have bought. Even within the same gauge (lets assume 00), the size of the individual rails can vary - this is called the “code”, and generally refers to the height of the rail above the sleepers. Making different codes of rail join up accurately can be done, but is not a “novice” task.

Another type of track is flexible and comes in lengths of 1m and needs to be carefully cut and joined as required. This track allows for a more “bespoke” appearance and more realistic curves and is generally used by most people making a model railroad. For the complete novice, pre-built (eg setrack) is recommended.

The wikipedia article on Peco provides more discussion on one specific manufacturers products.

Layout[edit | edit source]

Part of an HO scale model railroad layout

The novice will generally want to have a simple layout for the track - but it is a good idea to have an eye to the future - allow for some future expansion might be a good idea early on, either by leaving enough space on the baseboard for future tracks, or lay a point to allow a future spur line to a new region of the model.

The basic layout types are as follows:

  • Continuous loop. A circle or oval, with trains going round and round. Often this is the basic plan provided in train sets
  • Point to point. A line with a station at each end, with trains going from one station to the other.
  • Out and back. A pear shaped track, with trains leaving a station, going round a reversing loop, and coming back to the same station.
  • Shunting (US: Switching). Either a station, a motive power depot or a yard where the primary mode of operation is shunting. This includes layouts which are built as a train shunting puzzle such as Timesaver and Inglenook Sidings
More details and ideas on layouts are included in this wikipedia article

Whichever option you select, there are various track planning software packages available, with libraries of components you can “pick and place” on your virtual baseboard. This will help avoid glaring errors in the layout before you start laying track.

Base - getting the baseboard right is essential. Go to the chapter on Introduction to model railways/Baseboards on this wikibook before you pick up a screwdriver or head out to the shops to buy timber!

Power[edit | edit source]

there are three options for powering your model railway.

DC[edit | edit source]

The easiest for the novice is a basic DC powerpack. This will have 12v DC variable output to control the speed and direction of your train, and one or two fixed voltage outputs to power accessories such as light, points or other special effects. To start, all you need is the variable voltage output, that is connected by a clip tomthe rail. The problem with this approach is that you have wires on the surface and this is not a “good look”. Most modellers will run all wiring under the baseboard, and thread the wires tomthe topside through small holes.

For the track, once you are happy with its position, and you have fixed it to the board using glue, screws or track pins, dril holes down next to each rail, thread the wires through and solder them to each rail.

If you have a lot of track, you might need to do this in a number of places to ensure good electrical contact all around the circuit.

Visit the electrical pages of the Brian Lambert website for detailed information on all things electrical. The link is on the further information and references page.

DCC[edit | edit source]

DCC integrates with systems of different complexity.

The second approach is to use DCC. DCC can be simple to wire, as again it simply uses two wires to the layout. However, to ensure good electrical continuity, it is essential to run small wires from each section of track down to a main bus-wire. If you start to split the layout into separate “blocks” for signaling, the number of wires expands - a lot. There are many advantages to operating with DCC , including being able to control multiple trains, at different speeds, on the same section of track, having sound effects, complex programming of points, operating equipment, using computer or WiFi controls and more.

The full scope of DCC is beyond the scope of this book, but extensive and detailed information on DCC is available in DCCWiki.

Deadrail[edit | edit source]

The final power option is known as Deadrail. In this system, there is no power wiring to the track, instead each locomotive has a battery and a radio control circuit, normally with a DCC chip, and control is remote via WiFi or Bluetooth. The advantages of this system are obvious. No complicated wiring (DC or DCC), and almost prototypical operation where locomotives have to stop occasionally to “refuel”.

There are no major manufacturers producing equipment for deadrail currently, although a number of smaller suppliers provide kits, equipment and advice.

Further information[edit | edit source]

Introduction to model railways/References and further information