A helpful model railroading or layout design hint or tip.

Practical Yard Design Example

 Guy Cantwell has been kind enough to provide a copy of his thoughts and actions in building a small yard on his layout. Please see the attached file for his work.

Easyspline masonite roadbed

When I started in this hobby I used Woodland Scenics foam roadbed but after reading about Joe Fugate's Easyspline masonite roadbed I decided to try it out and WOW, what a difference.

I started by adding my risers made from 1 by 2.


Sanborn map

Sanborn Insurance Maps were made of 12,000 cities and towns across the United States by the Sanborn Map Company beginning in the 1867 for the purpose of assessing fire risk and setting insurance rates, and they were the primary American publisher of fire insurance maps for nearly 100 years.

Uncoupling methods

One decision that a person designing a new layout must consider is how he/she plans to uncouple cars on the railroad. Since the vast majority of model railroaders at this time use either Kadee couplers or a clone, I will discuss the two major ways of uncoupling them.

Train length and layout design

How you design your layout's passing sidings, yard tracks, and return loops can have a major impact on train length. In this tip we discuss briefly what the issues are.

You can have trains longer than passing sidings and yard tracks and can deal with them, although they will slow things down a lot. But a train longer than a reverse loop will not work -- the laws of physics says two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time — so the front of your too-long-for-the-reverse-loop train will collide with the back of the train once it reaches the end of the loop!

Verttical Curves

The topic of vertical curves has been generating a lot of discussion lately, with a variety of standards being proposed -- both with and without experiential or computational justification. The purpose of this page is to list and discuss the various standards that various groups and individual modelers have established, along with the scale, gauge, and type of equipment used. Of particular interest will be designs that did not work for some reason. Please feel free to add your own experiences here, so long as there is enough data for it to be compared.

Curve radius rule-of-thumb

 Here are some curve radius guidelines based on the lengths of your longest pieces of rolling stock.

2X - Some model equipment may be able to track reliably on 2X their length, but this is generally considered pushing it.

3X - Making your curve radius at least 3X the length of your longest cars gets reliable tracking around curves, but looks toylike.

4X - If you make your curve radius at least 4X, your longest cars will look much better on curves.


A "Block" is a group of cars that will be handled together from a location to the next place the cars are classified, interchanged, change trains or spotted at industry. The cars may be different final destinations. Blocks may be differentiated by :

  • Final destination
  • Interchange road
  • Next switching location
  • Car type
  • Industry
  • Direction
  • Next train

Blocks are identified by a block name or code:



Prototype railroads in North America measure curves by degree of curvature, not radius. The degree of curvature is measured by in the field by the offset of a 100 foot chord.

For a prototype curve:

R=Radius of the curve

D=Degree of curvature


So for a 4 degree 30 minute curve:

R= 50/sin(4 deg 30 min/2)

R= 50/sin(2 deg 15 min)

R= 50/.0392

R= 1275 feet

To convert to HO radius in inches:

Rho= (R/87)x12

Rho= (1275/87)x12

Rho= (14.655)x12

Classification yards


Classifications yards are arrangements of tracks used to sort or classify cars. They recieve inbound trains or cuts of cars, switch them according to their outbound


and then build them into outbound trains.

Large yards may have subyards separated by function.

Arrival/Departure yard/tracks: Longer tracks designed to recieve and inbound train or cut or tracks in which an outbound is built. Large yards may have separate Arrival and Departure yards.

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