A Comprehensive Guide – Model Train Layout

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Adding To Your Model Train Layout

Creating realistic scenery is the part that pulls your model railroad layout together and brings it to life. Little details can make a big difference, as many spectators will spend a lot of time watching the trains operate, so they will get to notice the little things that add to the overall effect. Your visitors will get see the vegetation that grows alongside the track and notice the signs on the buildings and the weathering techniques used on the trains.

Tunnels and a bridge will add interest to a model train layout. You will need a rail station too. Put operating signals at crossings. Use either a set of crossing flashers or a flasher and drop-arm combo. Kids (and adults too) are mesmerized by these ‘lights and action’ items.

Other ideas like a working grain elevator, water tower, coal loaders, or a control towers help complete a scene. Be creative, but specific, when making scenery for your model railroad layout.

Make sure any vehicles and rail crossings are from the right era. One idea is black washing the grilles and hubcaps to add depth and realism to the scene. Using a small brush you can also paint taillights, train layoutsparking lights and door handles if needed. Then consider taking the cars apart and install drivers and passengers. Nothing looks more unreal on a layout than vehicles seemingly driven by invisible ghosts!

You can purchase miniature figures in male, female and child variations all molded in ‘flesh’ color. The arms must be attached by gluing. Then the figures can be painted. Sometimes, the figures will not fit between the steering wheel and the seat. It sounds a bit cruel but you simply cut the legs off with pliers and they fit just fine. Use flat (rather than glossy) model paint to make painted clothing and hair look real.

When buying adhesives for joining scenery, there are several choices in hardware stores and hobby shops. They are not all suitable for the same job.

When building scenery try using an acrylic matte medium or white glue as both of these modeling adhesives are water soluble. However, a contact-cement may be more suitable in some applications.

If you are going to use white glue, you may want to dilute it with water using 2 parts glue to 1 part water, or a 1 to 1 ratio, depending on its application. Try adding a few drops of liquid dish-washing detergent as this will help break up the surface tension of the water. Another thought is to add a small dab of latex paint to tint the glue and help hide any bare spots.

How To Make Your Model Train Layout With Some Realistic Looking Scenery

Your locomotives and rolling stock might be the focal point of your layout, I understand, but the scenery that surrounds and engulfs your layout is what makes your train set stand out among the rest. The choice of scenery adds a factor of personalization that you can’t substitute with anything else. Scenery is a vital part of a good model train layout, especially if it is going to be an accurate depiction of a realistic train scene.

It depends:

The choice of scenery you decide on all depends on what you are depicting with your layout. You will need to do some good research on the train and its surroundings to make sure you get the scenery perfect. If you are depicting a historical train or a certain era, you will wan to use old photographs to determine how the scenery should be built and laid out. Remember to think through all aspects of the scenery. This is one of the best areas to really showcase your talents, so take your time.

Scenic Ideas:

So you know what layout you want, and you have your locomotive and track all set and working properly, but what can you surround the train with? There are endless amounts of scenery, but I will highlight a few below for you so that you can get some good ideas for your layouts.


The terrain really sets the stage for all of your scenery. Your train will either be set in an area with train layoutsmountains, rolling hills, or flat plains. With this information you will determine how to make the terrain. There are several approaches to making the terrain, so you may want to consult with fellow modelers and modeling websites for the best approaches to making terrain. There are many ways to make the terrain, just find the best one for you.


When planning your model train scenery remember to think carefully about the geographical area you are setting it in. Is is green and lush with a high annual rainfall, or is it perhaps and arid dry area where vegetation is sparse or perhaps wind swept. Also, think about the time of the year and whether it is winter, summer, spring or fall (autumn). It would be unusual to have a summer coastal beach scene on one side of the layout and a winter snow scene on the other. Although it saying that, it is your layout and if that’s what you want, then do it.


If your train is set within mountains and hills, you may have areas of tunnels. These can be very fun effects that really please the builder and the audience. They can also be rather tricky, but a good challenge is always necessary for a good modeler. Consider where to place tunnels and build your scenery directly around these formations.

Rock formations:

The setting around your train may be rocky, so you will want to make this look as realistic as possible. This includes good painting and attention to detail with the formations you make.

Lighting Effects:

This may be as important as the terrain if you have the means. Lighting can be added to buildings and roads to feel more realistic. Lights can also shine with different colors to add effects of moonlight, sunset, sunrise, and sunshine. Although lighting is not always necessary and required, it really adds depth to your layout, so consider the effect that lighting adds.


These are a necessity if you have a train set in any urban location. Obviously they require some extraA Comprehensive Guide space, but they make the entire layout seem more real. Add roads and model cars. When you incorporate roads you also have the option to create bridges, which are a whole other project themselves.

Greenery And Landscape:

Adding trees and shrubs also adds depth and character to your layout. With good landscaping techniques people can really notice what setting the layout is modeled after. I would dedicate plenty of time to the landscaping of your layout, as it takes quite a bit of time and precision.

Adding People to Your Model Train Layout – How to Make Sure the People in Your Layout Look Realistic

Detail is the key to the most realistic model train layouts. That detail can be found in the scenery, locomotives, rolling stock, or even in historical realism. All of these things are important, but without people, your layouts will still look flat and lifeless. Take a look at model railroad magazines or at the photos and videos you can find on the internet and the most realistic ones will all be populated with people doing something relevant to the scene. You should seriously consider making people a part of your model railroad scenery.

People can help make your scene more realistic and interesting if done correctly. One thing to consider is what your scene is trying to convey. If it is an industrial building, the people are going to be dressed differently and be doing different things than if those people are waiting at a train station. Another consideration is historical accuracy. If your scene shows a day at the beach in 1920, you are not going to find a lot of bikini clad bathing beauties if you want your scene to be realistic. Also think about grouping your people. A single person may get lost in your scene depending on its size and scale, but a small group will remain noticeable. If you do use just one figure, place them in a spot that makes sense for just one person, like entering a bathroom, sitting on a park bench, or fishing by a stream.

In addition to the figures, your model railroad supplies will also need to include glue and paint for those figures. You may need sandpaper to help make the bases flatter since many plastic molds leave the bottoms of the figures feet less than flat. Glossy paint or flat paint can be used, but I think that flat paint is more realistic. When was the last time you saw a shiny person walking around!? Good old Elmers white glue can be used to keep your people in place. You may need to find a way to support them until the glue sets, but that is usually only an hour or so.

Pay attention as you walk around in your daily life and notice where people congregate and what they do when they are there. Are all of the people waiting for a bus facing the same direction or are they talking and interacting with each other? Do they stand close together or far apart? Are they standing in some sort of pattern or is their position random? As you take note of these things, transfer those attributes to the people in your scene and you will be surprised at how much more realistic they appear.

The addition of people to your model railroad supplies and to your model train layout can be one of the most fun parts of the hobby. Looking in your local hobby shop or at the swap meet for the perfect person in the perfect pose can become like a treasure hunt. Finding those personalities that fit, can be very satisfying and will also make people wonder why your layout looks so much more realistic than theirs. So go forth and multiply.