Elle Towan
April 15, 2023
8 min read

Model Railway - Research & Planning

I’ve recently started my journey into building my own HO scale model railway. As some of you may be aware, I’m an Australian so naturally I’ve decided to model the Australian prototype. More specifically I’ve decided to model the area of Australia that I grew up in, Victoria.

To take you through some of the initial steps in deciding to embark on this journey I have put together some of my thoughts and planning process to give you an idea of how I got started planning and designing the model railroad.

Research and Planning:

Before you start building, research the location you want to model to gather information about the track layout, structures, scenery, and historical context.


Choosing a specific location to model in HO scale is an important part of creating a realistic and accurate model railroad. There are a number of factors I had consider when selecting a location, including historical significance, personal interest, available resources, and space constraints. For me the main consideration was personal interest.

Having good reference material like books and online websites is a good start when it come to doing some research. For me I did much of my research online but also used some books for reference and inspiration.

Images from Country Branch Lines Victoria Part 5 by Neville Gee (Train Hobby Publications)

One of the most popular approaches to modelling a specific location is to recreate a real-life railroad or section of track. This can be done by researching historical photos and maps, studying timetables and schedules, and visiting the location to gather firsthand information. By recreating a specific railroad or section of track, I’m able to create a highly accurate and detailed layout that reflects the history and character of the area.

Another approach is to create a fictional location that is inspired by real-world locations. This can be a great option for those who want more creative freedom in their modelling, or for those who are unable to visit or research a specific location. By combining elements from different locations, I’m able to create a unique and personalized layout that reflects my interests and preferences.

With those to considerations in mind, I decided to take the approach of creating a fictional location inspired by a real world location. More specifically that location is Cudgewa, a long since abandoned line that branches off from Wodonga.

Images sourced from https://www.victorianrailways.net/

Even though I grew up in Victoria, I moved interstate quite a long time ago, so visiting the location is not possible, not to mention the line has faded from the landscape long ago so visiting the location would do little to help me create a model of it. Luckily for me the availability of information online is excellent so I’m able to get good historical track diagrams online through some railway historical societies.

Scale and Era:

Determine the scale and era of your model, as this will affect the size and types of models and scenery you use. Consider the time period when the railway line was in operation and the types of trains that ran on it.

When it comes to model railways in Australia, there really isn’t much available in the way of commercial products in any other scale apart from HO scale, so for me this was an easy decision. I’m gradually seeing some N scale models become available for the Australian prototype however it’s only a small fraction compared to the availability of HO scale models. This can make it more difficult to find N scale models that accurately represent Australian prototypes, and may require more time and effort to locate the necessary models and accessories and in most cases it will mean scratch building train models and structures to represent the time period you are trying to replicate. However, with the growing popularity of N scale modelling, it is likely that more options will become available in the future.

Because I’ve also decided to model a fictional layout inspired by Cudgewa, I’m not limited when choosing and era, given that the line closed so long ago. I could of course limit the era to when the line was actually in service however that would greatly limit what I could effectively run. So I’ve decided to keep that option open, my collection of rolling stock and locomotives roughly represent the late 80’s and early 90’s so I’ll try to keep my era limited to that timeframe.

A P-Class train from my collection

Track Layout:

To accurately model the track layout of your chosen location, you will need to gather information about the track arrangement, including the layout of sidings, turnouts, and crossings. You can use maps, diagrams, and photographs to help you understand the track layout and how trains would move through the area.

The best resource I could find online for track diagrams was from victorianrailways.net It’s an amazing resource when looking at old and historical station track plans and layouts with specific dimensions and a library of images as well.

I was able to find a historical track signalling diagram for the old Cudgewa line, it was an invaluable resource in planning this model railway. And while I won’t be modelling the exact layout this was certainly a great starting point when it came to getting the initial track plan started.

Cudgewa Track Diagrams - sourced from https://www.victorianrailways.net/


Structures include buildings, bridges, tunnels, and other man-made features that are part of the location you want to model. To research structures, similar to how we would research the track layout you can use photographs, historical documents, and maps to determine what structures were present at the time you are modelling.

Now this was somewhat more difficult for me, there aren’t many photos of Cudgewa back when trains used to service the town, that said, Victorianrailways.net does actually have a small collection of images and some of the buildings are visible.

However, because this will be a fictional layout, I decided to look at other locations to get inspiration for building designs. Specifically I’ve been looking at some of the buildings and sheds around Euroa which is another station in Victoria and It’s actually still in service.

Old loco shed opposite Euroa train station - Image from Google Maps (Street View)

A feature I really like about Euroa is how trains that enter the station travel under a road overpass first, this will help when modelling the returning loop section of the layout I have planned, basically it will act as a view block as trains exit the scene and travel around the back of the layout before they reappear again from the other side.

The overpass at Euroa train station - Image from Google Maps (Street View)


Scenery refers to the natural features of the location you want to model, such as hills, mountains, waterways, trees, and plants. To research the scenery again just like mentioned above with track layout and structures, use photographs, maps, and other reference materials to determine what the area looked like at the time you are modelling. Look for details such as the types of trees and plants that were present, as well as any notable geological features.

For me this is the easiest consideration, the Australian scenery is reasonably consistent across Victoria, some areas are more alpine while others are more dry and flat so that will of course need to be considered however it’s really the structures that help pinpoint a location.

Cudgewa is certainly in the alpine area of Victoria and it’s quite green although they do experience hot dry summers, which is the time of year that I’m planning to model. My focus will be on dull greens and muted colours to set the time of year.

Images of Cudgewa - Google Maps

The image above shows images from google maps, specifically around the Cudgewa area. Google maps is an indispensable tool when it comes to researching the local scenery and terrain of a particular area, it has helped me immensely for getting a good idea of how to plan the scenic elements of my model railway.

In any case, if you are familiar with the Australian country side, those images could just about be anywhere in Australia! You can see in late spring it is still quite green (lower image) whereas in summer it is very dry and brown! (Top two images).

The good thing about scenery is it can always change during the planning process. You’re not fixed in right away when it comes to scenery and it can be quite flexible. There’s no need to lock in anything scenery related too early however having a rough idea will certainly help with planning. Especially for features such as waterways.

Structures on the other hand may play a more significant role in planning so it might be worth putting a bit more focus towards that area early on in the design process.

In the next article I’ll be looking at designing the layout and working within a desired space.


Download the files associated with the project. All files are included in a zip for convenience.


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