Elle Towan
July 17, 2023
7 min read

Track Planning for a Modular Model Railroad

Now that I’ve done a bit of research on what the layout will eventually resemble and the era it will be based, I need to work with my available space to create a canvas for the railroad.

Space Limitations:

With the location and a rough track plan in mind I now need to focus on space. Managing space limitations can be a challenge when modelling a specific location, especially if the location is large or complex. Space… or the lack of it, is the biggest factor for most people getting started building a model railroad. As much as I’d love to build a basement empire it’s just not feasible for me in the house that I live in. One approach is to use compression, which involves selectively reducing the size or detail of certain elements to fit the scene within a smaller space.

Luckily for me Cudgewa is relatively small, and the space I have to work with is a spare garage spot. It measures 5.4 by 2.7 meters. So that’s where I started.

I also create a list of must haves, for example,

  • I want at least 3 sidings to service with rolling stock,
  • a run-around track,
  • a station and,
  • a continuous loop so I can send trains off and have them run continuously around the layout.

The Cudgewa track layout is an end of the line station so having a continuous loop wouldn’t be prototypical however that’s why when I was doing the research and planning I chose to model a fictional location inspired by a real world branch line.

I have another design requirement and that is portability. I’m pretty confident that I won’t be living in this current house for the rest of my life so I want to create something that can be dismantled, moved, or even expanded on at a later date. That way when I do move, I don’t have to destroy the layout, it can simply be disconnected, stored, and then reassembled in the new location.

Also, by designing the layout to fit in what is roughly a standard car space, means that there is a good chance that the new house will have space for it. As long as it has a garage it should fit.

General Plan:

I started by mapping out the space, knowing that I had 5.4m to work with I started there, next I knew that I also wanted a complete loop. So to work out a minimum width I chose to use an 18 inch radius as a minimum curve radius. That enabled me to calculate I’d need a width 0f 1.1m for each of the end modules so the track could turn back on itself.

Next it was just a matter of working out what size each module should be.

I wanted each module to be completely self-contained, that is to say I wanted it to have the overhanging facia, backdrop, lighting and track all as one piece. Having it all connected means that when dismantled I could brace each side of the module and it would create its own containment box. This would make it much easier to move and store in the future without causing damage to the scenery.

I also want to dust proof the layout. Garages are often quite dust by nature and given that I’ll be sharing the workspace with my YouTube studio setup where I paint and create other models and dioramas, it can get pretty dusty.

My plan for dust control is to have a light weight sheet that will hang down from the top of the modules, when the layout is not in use I can drape the sheets down. That’s all good but won’t really stop dust from working its way behind the sheets! For that I’m adding a few small computer fans that will have filters, they will be automatically powered using solar and provide a positive pressure to the inside of the layout which should help stop dust from entering behind the sheets. I’ll just need to remember to check the filters and clean them every now and then to.

Creating the Blueprint:

With the space decided and general idea for the modules it’s now time to actually put pen to paper so to speak. I’m no draftsman but you don’t have to be! I ended up using a program called Anyrail.

The program has a free version, which is great if you want to try before you buy or if you’re only making a small layout you might even get by with the free version. The free version will allow you to place 50 sections of track which might be more than enough for a small railroad plan.

It also comes with a huge library of track sections that can be connected together, in just about every scale there is. So whether you’re building in Z scale or even Guage 1, this program will work.

I started by building each separate module in Anyrail. This gave me a plan for how I was going to cut the wood and actually assemble the modules. Once I had the baseboards drawn and the basic footprint visualized I could start on layout design.

A really cool feature is you can print your design at any stage during the process. Sometimes it can be difficult to use a computer to work out your track arrangement, especially in the planning and experimentation stage, which is why I printed a bunch of layout footprints without track on it. That way I was able to simply use a pencil and play around really quickly with trying different designs.

Putting the Track Plan Together:

The track arrangement I chose works in a combination of real world locations with a bit of artistic liberty to add some of the must have I wanted for the layout.

As described in part 1, I’m using Cudgewa as a guide for how I will layout the track. Also, by using a real world track arrangement, it will ensure you have somewhat realistic operations on the layout when finished and make the appearance of buildings and other features feel more immersed in the scene.

Quite often we try to add industries and track just because we want to, even though a lot of the time said industries just would be there in real life.

Cudgewa was an end of the line station, thus it had a turntable. The problem for me is the layout is just to tight to have a turntable, so I had to go without. My real goal with the layout was to get a station that felt large and could fit a long train. Similar to the Victorian train station diorama I made, but bigger. And for that to work I had to sacrifice some other details.

Also, as mention I wanted a continuous run, but I didn’t want it to be obvious, so while Cudgewa is an end of the line station, it will still have a full loop. To hide the loop somewhat I’ve lowered it down, so as the train progresses along the layout into the loop it will descend just below the height of the scenery along the backdrop before it returns at the other end.

When building a layout, if you can avoid it, it’s best not to have hidden track that isn’t easily accessible. I kept that in mind when designing the loop around the back. While it descends below the scenery it will still be open on top, that way I’ll still be able to reach over and clean the track with a cleaning stick or be able to pick up a train should there be any problems.

After making all those considerations this is the final track plan I chose.

I tried a whole range of different designs and plans that eventually lead to this one.


When designing the track plan, it's a very good idea to know exactly where the modules for each section begin and end, something that you'll need to avoid at all costs is having a turnout placed right over a section where two modules join... It won't work!

Also, as you can see in the above image of the track plan, I've got the framework of each module visible as a faint background under the track. That is for a very specific reason, as stated above it's so I don't put a turnout across two modules but additionally it is so I can avoid placing the section of the turnout that will be controlled by a point motor over any sections of the module framework. That's because the switch machine that controls the turnout will hang down underneath the sub-roadbed and possibly be fouled by the framework. While this isn't an overriding consideration it will make laying track and building the modules much more straight forward.

If you're new to model railroading, it will make more sense after seeing the track laying video which is part 4 of this series.

The plan was printed in 1:1 scale on A4 paper, so that I could piece the paper sections together and lay it out on top of the modules, making it very easy to transfer the track plan designed using Anyrail onto the actual baseboard of the layout.

Now that leads onto part 3 of the series. Part 3 is a video on building the modules.


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


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