When designing and building a model train layout, you need to consider a theme, a budget and how much area you have to work with. If you are new to model railroading, consider starting with a simple layout. Your layout can be modified and expanded as you gain confidence in your skills.
Determine basic layout elements
The theme of your layout is what you wish to model, such as location, era and certain railroad operations. There are no specific requirements for a theme, so choose something you will enjoy working on. Next, think about the area available for your layout. You may not be able to change the available area, but you can use that space creatively. Consider your time and budget, and be realistic in your planning. It's best to start with a small layout that can be expanded later, rather than investing in a large amount of material at the very beginning.
Make a list
Once you have thought about the essentials, make a list of anything you want to include in your layout. You may want to prioritize the list or use categories to help with organization. You can look at completed layouts if you need additional ideas.
Apply standards to list elements
Review the constraints you determined in the first step, and go through your list with these in mind. You may not have the budget for elaborate scenery, or you may find that one scale fits your available space far better than another. Make a second list of layout elements, including only the elements that you know will work and you are sure you want. Keep your original list for inspiration throughout the process.
Design and build the layout
Use your final list to make a draft of the layout. You can do this by hand or use a computer modeling program. After you have created the draft, prepare your space and gather the materials you need to start building the layout. You can get these materials from many places, including hobby shops, online vendors and model railroad conventions. The tracks on your layout should be easy to reach, and you should leave enough space to move around the outside of the layout. Build the layout at a comfortable height for both working and viewing.