Reflections on the detection of the model train

In order to simultaneously run several trains on a model railroad network, it is necessary to detect the presence of a train on a canton, or its transition from one place to another. The very best is to know what train is at what place… but it’s not easy.

model railway trains
More simply, it must be possible to detect the presence of the train in a canton or its transition from one to the other. The purpose of this article relates to the detection of a passage of a train. I want to show in this article the advantage of detection of the last car or wagon – fitted with a magnet – by a reed switch.

Case study 1

Imagine the case of a long and slow model train and a system that detects the head end. This can be a reed between the rails, and a magnet under the locomotive, or an infrared barrier triggered by the passage of the model railway trains.

The direction of the flow is from left to right. If the front of the train is a long slow train and the following one is a fast train, there is a significant risk that the second catches up first. Indeed, with this passage detection system, the block is considered free as soon as the locomotive of the first train passes the detection system.

This can be remedied as follows:

1. Move further away the detector from the sensor signal: greater part of the train has left the block during the liberation of the former, reducing the risk of catching, especially with a long block. However, this does not guarantee security if the first model train is really too long and slow. On the other hand, a short train will long past the signal that will still shows way is open (although the situation is not so dangerous, the second signal being always red).

2. Delay detection by a small electronic device that is waiting a while before releasing the previous block. The risks are relatively the same as in the case described above.

3. Detect the end of the convoy (see case study 3).

Case study 2

In this second case, the detection by the reed is replaced by an infrared barrier. This naturally detects the entire model railway trains. Imagine this time a long, slow train, followed by a short, slow train, itself followed by a rapid model railroad train.

As soon as the locomotive of the first train reached the detection point, the signal that it just passed turns red and the one behind it turns green. The second train can go start again.

When the second train reaches the detection point, it will try to turn red the signal he has just left, but this red will be simultaneously countered by the detection of the first train, still active who will want to turn green this signal. However, the previous signal will have been released.

model railroading
If the train that is following is fast, it will have enough time to go up the block and will be at the same time as the second slow train in the block. This second train will be stopped at the signal and catched up by the rapid one.

To remedy this situation it is possible for example to:

1. Insert a timer or move the sensor signals. It is conceivable, but it does not guarantee that the above case can not arise.

2. Block the detection of the previous signal, as the detection is activated. This solution will indeed prevent to get two trains in the block, but will not prevent the fast model train to catch the tail of the slow one. Moreover, you will then to manually release a block.

3. Add a small electronic device which gives a pulse after the passage of the whole model railroad train.

4. Detect the end of the train only (see below).

Case study 3

In this third case study, I would like to show the situation when this is the tail of the train that is detected. This can be done with a reed and a magnet in the last car. Of course, this requires to always know what wagons and cars are equipped with a magnet. Given the simplicity and the benefits it brings, it seems to me that this is the simplest solution.

Whatever the length and speed of the first train, it releases the previous train only when the whole train has passed the detection. No risk of catching or having two trains in the block. Moreover, it also ensures to maintain the block occupied if a part of the process was to detach.

This is in my opinion the simplest solution for automatic block if the trains are not driven by the engine and when one does not want to move to a consumption detection.

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model railway trains

About Planning for model railway trains

The model trains standard boxes often provide a track oval, which allows to run the train on a minimal surface. The oval allows to quickly build a network and become familiar with the functioning of model railroad trains. The oval built on a board also helps to be familiar with the network setting.

But the oval has a big flaw: it is generally not a realistic reproduction of a railway network and in my opinion is boring in the long run. The article below aims to support thinking for the construction of model railways layouts that allows to reproduce some realistic operation and to be fun and enjoyable for a long time!

In reality, the trains move on from a departure station to an arrival station via several other stations. This can be represented schematically as follows:

model railways layouts
The stations A to E are on a main line. Some trains stop at all stations, others only to some of them. Each station has a particular function, but this will be the subject of another article. At the station B, a secondary line is detached from the main line in the direction of L and M. M is a terminal station.

model railroad
Let us now see how to design a model train network that would reproduce part of this line.

The most common model railway trains network is the oval as found in basic sets. On the oval, it is possible to reproduce one of the stations of the main line A, C, D or E or station L of the secondary line.

But even reproducing the precise terms of the ways of the station, eg the station D, no realistic operation will be possible.
how to build a model railroad

Indeed, every train that leaves the station returns very quickly to the other side. Although this network concept is proposed on many model train layouts plans websites and in brochures on this subject, we quickly get bored watching trains turning around.

model trains online

It can be improved by replicating the oval D station and simulating the stations before and after (C and E) by a hidden station that allows to exchange a convoy and extend fictitiously the trip.

If the operation of such a model railroad trains network is a bit more diverse than in the first concept, it still does not reproduce the actual operation of the line. Indeed, the train that goes from D towards C should really come back later form C to continue towards E. On the proposed plan, the train that starts from D towards C returns to D at the right SIDE, as if he just came from E, which is contrary to what would happen in reality.

To reproduce the D station and an operation which is conform with reality, stations C and E should be simulated in the form of hidden stations:

how to make a model train

In this situation, it is possible to reproduce the actual operation of the station D. It is even possible to have a schedule inspired by the reality with trains that stop at D, and others pass, cargo trains which must maneuver, etc.

But such an operation requires a lot of attention from the model railroader, since it must manage three stations simultaneously (this also depends on the density of operation of the line!). To focus on the operation of the station D, hidden stations C and E are often replaced by reversing loops equipped with sidings to exchange convoys. This is called a “dog bone” model train network form, especially if the line is double track (also known as flattened oval):

model railroad hobbyist

The reverse loop has the disadvantage to send back the composition in reverse order, which is contrary to reality, but this is a compromise that most designer model railroad hobbyists agree with, given the advantages and operating comfort it gives!

A theme often chosen by model railroaders is the station on a main line with a secondary line which is detaching from the main line. In our example, this may be the B station with the line to LM:

model railway layouts

The proposed concept to the left side is often the one the model railroad hobbyist is choosing. It allows a realistic operating on the line from B to M (the fact to reproduce or not the station L depends only on the available space), but the main line is only a single oval as in the first example above and it does not allow any realistic operation.

Simulate stations A and C as a station hidden in the Oval station brings a little more variety in the operation but neither allows realistic operation:

model trains layouts

However, the two examples below are suitable for a realistic reproduction of the operation:

model railway trains

In the first example, stations B and C of the main line are reproduced, while A and D are hidden stations. They may also be reverse loops as illustrated above with the proviso that in this case, the model train is returned.

It is the same in the secondary line in the first example where the L station is reproduced, but M station is hidden. In the second example, the terminus M station is M is also reproduced.

model train layouts plans

Obviously, you may feel you need a lot of space to reproduce a model railway trains network that allows such realistic operation. But it is possible to build this kind of network in L scale with these dimensions: 2m by 1m with a depth of 2.50m. With N scale, the required space would be even less.
You can even get a realistic operation on a minimal surface if you focus on the terminus M station and when L station is hidden:

model railroading

In a minimalist alternative, L can even be a fiddle yard.
I hope these few lines will help the model railroad hobbyist for the conception of model train layouts plans.

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Tips to expand the model trains network

Rare are the model railroad hobbyists who do not meet either once the problem of available space…
The question is: how to build a model railroad with this constraint?

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model train layouts
As a model railroader, you certainly want a great model railways network with long trains that wind on a picturesque track. The reality is often different. But even in a small area, we just do something interesting. Here are some tips:

Choice of subject

it is obviously difficult to reproduce a fork of the Zephir tracks, the southern Lötschberg ramp or complete a yard on a room model railroad network of 160 x 80 cm…
To rebuild realistically a theme on a small surface, it is necessary that the theme allows that. A small station on a secondary line will be easier to reproduce and will show more realism that a 8 tracks station filled with intercity R1 curves on both sides.

model trains layouts

Train Speed

On an oval track, a train leaving the station and which comes back five seconds later does not allow the viewer to place himself at the station and to imagine that the train made a long journey.

The impression of a small network is reinforced by the speed of the train. However, if the train is traveling more slowly, the distance impression increases.

A train traveling one meter in 4 seconds in HO or 7 seconds in N is traveling at a speed corresponding to 80 km / h for the real trains. If one has not a TGV on a long straight line, that’s enough and lengthens the path sufficiently for the oval 160 x 80 cm to be covered respectively in 16 seconds (HO) or 28 seconds ( N). The viewer has time to see the train and to appreciate the vacuum station before the train comes back.

Train length

The longer the train is, the longer the network is thereby shortened. In particular, on a line with tunnels, if the locomotive is already entering the following tunnel while the tail of the train has not yet left the previous tunnel (except of course if it is a line with many short tunnels we can in see in mountains) this gives a very narrow perspective. There are many examples of realistic short trains on which to draw when it comes to model train layouts.

model railroader

Decor accentuating depth

We can give a sense of depth by reducing the size of the decorative elements (trees, houses, characters) farthest from the viewer. The eye will interpret this as perspective. For example you can also play with the width of a road or a gorge.

Decor Background

If behind the model train network there is a white wall, the viewer will immediately identify network dimensions. If otherwise the gaze continues beyond to an image that extends the decor, will be felt a greater distance.


The use of mirrors has been first described by John Allen. Cleverly arranged, they extend the decor. One can imagine such a long valley with mirrors or a few buildings with a mirror can immediately give the impression of a city. But beware, the viewer should in no way be able to see it and also, avoid the moving trains to reflect on it.

N Scale

The N scale is smaller than the H0 scale, of course. This advantage can be exploited as the vendors offer: 4x more train on the same surface. But we can exploit this advantage in the opposite direction, doing the same thing as what we have done in H0, but with more generous curves, longer tracks, more scenery, etc.

More scenery and less train

A network overloaded with tracks and trains always seem smaller than a network where the train blends into a suited decor.

I hope these tips will help you in planning your model railroad network!

The complete guide is accessible HERE.

Other manufacturing possibilities of the model railway trains network: the modular network and the diorama

We will go on on and discover other networks that you can choose to build. If you want a complete, exhaustive, detailed guide on how to build your model train and so, save a lot of money and time and make your own superb network, don’t miss this unique opportunity right below:

model train layouts

F- How to build a model railroad – The modular model railroad network

The module by its limited size (48 inches x 24 inches) is used to design one or more model trains network elements in a small space and to incorporate them with those made by other fans.

We meet more and more large examples, consisting of several modules which practicality characteristics for transport is well established.

When these modules are designed with good coordination among manufacturers for the choice of the theme and the type of region represented, it is a huge pleasure to see long model trains circulating well in a very diversified decoration as it is in reality.

The small surface area that is used allows the model maker to put the finishing touches at the decoration so much that when looking at a module photography in a specialized magazine, it’s hard to tell the difference between the model and a real view.

The length is not frozen, it may be doubled or tripled if using the base of 24 inches. The different lengths are therefore (24, 48, 72 inches), for modules receiving more important stations, the width may be increased but this is will always be done by the back side operator.

G- The diorama

If none of the above embodiments are possible in your current home, all is not lost, you still have an opportunity to devote yourself to your passion. The diorama will be run on any surface, it will consist to faithfully reproduce a scene of everyday life, concerning railroad or other.

It will be sufficient in itself and can be observed closely without losing its realism.

This model train is accessible to everybody in matter of space and financial possibilities, allows to do your first steps in designing a quality setting and nothing will prevent you to incorporate your achievements in your future model railway trains network if you have the chance one day to have the room as expected.

The diorama will pleasantly occupy your evenings winter without having to expatriate in your shop just because a corner of a table is sufficient. Wives will appreciate!

H-  Conclusion on how to build a model railroad

After having seen all these various constructions options, it may appear to you another one. Indeed, there is no reason not to associate different practices. A model railway trains network attached to a wall may well be continued by another shelf type to continue the room round.

Modules can extend plateau model train network. In fact everything is possible and this allows the time to redesign your model railway trains network, keeping what is already built without changing it in depth.

It is sufficient to provide the departure of the tracks in waiting that will pass when the time comes from the state of trackside to the circulation track. As you can see, there is no reason not to get started by following the best ever possible guide about model railroading here: COMPLETE and RECOGNIZED guide on model railroading.
Have a lot of fun!!

Building options of the model railway trains network: other fixed networks and the suspended network

C- The model railroad network on fixed panel surrounding the room

The main interest of this type of model train network is that it provides a view panoramic view and makes the operation even more interesting because you are at the heart of the action.

You will find a lot of more details about all the aspects of model railroad here:

model railroad hobbyist

As with previous projects, the width will be conditioned by the accessibility and backdrop should be studied before the model railway trains network implementation.
The room receiving the network must contain a minimum opening possible because unless to condemn them, you will must adapt the system by providing for example, opening bridges or removable plateau components which may be disabling for frequent use.

However, designing a bascule bridge is not that complicated.

This type of installation will permit you to establish large radius curves improving the aesthetics and authorizing the movement of all types of model trains, the decor could be more varied without shocking because the trays not being in the same alignment, it will be possible to move from one plain area to a hilly landscape, or even a mountainous one without it being ridiculous visually.

D- The model trains network called “shelf”

This is the only type of fixed model railroad network that it will be possible to install in a room not only reserved for the practice of modeling, a teenager’s bedroom or a living room, for example. The difference with the No. 3 will be mainly the reduced width of the plateau, generally of one foot, receiving the most often a single track if the complete circuit of the room is not possible; each boundary being equipped with a small station for simple maneuvers to complement the operating of model trains.

If the turn of the room is possible, you can opt for the installation of a double track to receive one or more stations where you will see cross the rapids and freight trains.

A well designed decorating will make you forget the lack of depth and if you have the talent, a landscape painted in the background can give the sufficient depth to your network.

E- The suspended model railway trains network

In case you have no room to receive one type of previously proposed network, it is still possible to achieve a plateau system suspended by cables to the pulleys to lift the network to the ceiling.

Use of this type of model railway trains network will be necessarily less convenient and will not allow not a very important decoration in matter of height and weight but if it allows you to become a model train enthusiast, do not hesitate.

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model railroad - model trains

Types of conceivable installations: the first two types of model trains networks on fixed panel

A- The model railway trains network of fixed panel located in the middle of a room

For this type of model trains network, the length has no limit, unlike the more it will be larger and the model railway trains network will provide a realistic operating for a variety of decor and the use of long trains of passenger cars and heavy freight trains with reasonable journey durations of the circuit.

The critical point is the width of the support for it must never neglect the accessibility needs anywhere in the model railroad network, the maximum width for this will be two meters.

If you dream of wide open spaces, you will have to plan access traps that will be invisible if they are well integrated into the decor and it allows you to adjust the width of your network to your needs, by keeping access necessary for the inevitable interventions in areas inaccessible from the periphery.
(This remark will remain valid regardless of the type of model railroad network selected.)

B- The model railway trains network on fixed panel attached to the walls of the room

When the room chosen for the model train network implementation does not allow a central provision, you must choose one of the walls to receive the back of the network.

In this case, it will be desirable to retain a wall containing no windows that have to remain maneuverable as the operation of the circuit will quickly become complex due to the problems caused by access to this opening.

As for the type 1, do not neglect accessibility (one meter wide or access doors.)
Attention, however, to the radius curves that will be low on a plateau of a meter wide, it will not be annoying with the short length rolling stock, but if you like big passenger coaches and freight cars of our time, the rolling of these materials may be problematic and not talking about steam locomotives with many axles with rods that will only accept great rays to operate in good conditions, as their big sisters.

The fact to be attached to the wall creates another concern, there must be support for the backdrop before the establishment of the plateau. If the wall is in good condition, just define a band of about fifty feet high which will be painted in order to obtain a sky background or which will be wallpapered with pictures of landscapes.

In the case of a degraded, wall renovation will be done right now before building your model railway trains network.

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Model railroad – Finishing, operations and maintenance

When landscapes and structures are completed, we must then bring them to life with a lot of details and accessories. Some traffic signs, lights, signs, trucks, cars, boats or aircraft are used in model trains networks. And do not forget the little people who are the finishing touches and are an essential part.

Preparation of the rolling stock for your model trains

Locomotives and cars of a model train network require a lot of attention. First, you have to assemble and decorate them with care to facilitate the operation and increase realism. It should also be tested to ensure they will perform their tasks.
In our model railroad network, members can use models of all the HO price range. However, we ask them to install metal wheels and couplers for quality and test their equipment before rolling.


A model railroad network should allow to perform several operations with rolling stock, whether for assembling or disassembling model railway trains, bring supplies or passengers from one place to another, to train in sidings, face to accidents or other unforeseen events, etc…

Operations can be relatively simple, such as when operators settle for running trains from one end to another of the model trains network. However, it can also give some more complex goals, such as moving cars in another section of the network and form new trains.
There are also operations sessions that are very realistic and very complex in which participants attempt to reproduce real network situations.

In these sessions, operators must reproduce specific order in determined times. Some operators have the sole function to store and assemble trains in rail yards or operate locomotives of major service industries. A dispatcher is responsible for giving the marching orders and coordinating operations.

Maintenance of your model train

A model train network is a relatively fragile system that must be periodically maintained. For example, we must constantly clean the rails to avoid the dust, grease, and construction waste affect the operation of model railway trains. Maintenance tasks are not the preferred among model makers, but they are indispensable parts of the game.

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Model railway trains – Laying the rails, electricity, decor and structures

The laying of the rails also requires meticulous work because the model railway trains are not running out of power and derailed during operations. In addition, the rails are laid on a background of cork or foam rubber to reduce noise and vibration.

When the rails are installed, they are painted and they are surrounded by an imitation of ballast (gravel or small rocks which are placed on the rails) to accentuate realism.

Electricity for your model railroading

The next step is the delivery of electric current used to power the system. Naturally, this serves to drive the trains, but do not forget that electricity can also make function remotely operated switches, lights in the network, as well as some accessories (eg level crossings).

Model railroad decor

The model railroad decor consists of the relief as mountains, plains and water bodies that are to be integrated into our network. It includes trees, plants, rocks, sandy grounds of nature. It also includes streets, parks and other city infrastructures. Finally, we must consider the background of scenes, like the color of walls and trompe l’oeil decors.

The preparation of the decor is a very long and detailed task for model railroader, but it brings great satisfaction. Indeed, to operate model trains in sections consisting of trees is so much nicer to see them pass in front of wooden beams…


The model trains structures are all major components built by humans in a network, such as houses, buildings or industrial railway, bridges, fences, etc…

The structures are generally made from templates to stick that are sold commercially. However, the model railroader paints structures to their liking and a lot of them modify buildings they assemble to better serve their needs.

Some model railroaders even build their model trains (or model railroad) structures with wood, cardboard or plastic. They often supplement the original models with accessories and details bought on the market.

Structures should look realistic in color and texture. The model makers use several techniques to create a patina or even make it look dilapidated structures deployed on a model railway trains network.

Don’t get frustrated not to know where to begin!

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Model railway trains – Planning and carpentry

The activity of model trains comprises the construction, the maintenance and the operations of model railway trains networks, for purposes of entertainment, learning and knowledge acquisition.

You can feel lost at the beginning in front of the planification and the different steps and the order and the way to accomplish them. Don’t worry anymore, you have at your disposal the adequate resource here :

model train layouts

Model trains constitute a well established hobby in North America since the early twentieth century. In addition, generations of children have been dazzled by the electric trains that are a traditional gift for the holidays. The brand toy trains “Lionel”, “American Flyer” and “Lego” come to mind when one mentions this activity.

However, these models generally lack of realism and their fans prefer trains more suited to their hobby. There are many scales of model trains. In the smallest “Z”, locomotives have barely the size of an eraser. But there are also models that must operate outside, as these trains built to 1 / 8 in comparison of the real size and where you can sit. The scales of the best known model railroads are, in ascending order of magnitude, “Z”, “N”, “HO”, “S”, “O” and “G”.

The scale by far the most popular is HO scale, which is rather small since it represents 1 / 87 of reality. An estimated 85% of North American model railway trains enthusiasts are using the HO scale.

 Stages of construction of a model railroading network

The construction of a model train layout is a hobby that requires patience, attention to detail, and a combination of many technical and artistic talents.

Building a model train network in a club allows to share skills and diverse interests of several members about model trains layouts. Thus, those familiar with the operations can benefit to others and learn from their expertise in return for those who spend more on decorations or structures.


Before you start building a network, you need to plan the main uses, the layout of the tracks, switchings, relief, etc.. You have to think at the time that we represent and the main industries and communities to be served by the network. The complexity of the challenges and problems can make this model railroading stage very long.

Model train layouts – Carpentry

We must then proceed to build the network infrastructure. The skeleton of a model railway trains circuit is normally made of wood, but there are different techniques of construction and assembly in this area. Whatever the choice of techniques and materials, carpentry network is complex, precise and must be extremely strong.

Model railroad structures may include one or more levels. Our network comprises two sections. There is a section at a level that is modular (that is to say that we can dismantle it in order to show in exhibitions). The other part of the network is fixed and consists of three levels.

The fascination of model railway trains

The model railway trains enthusiasts often say that their passion is the best hobby in the world. This is probably an exaggeration, but you can ask why model railroading passion so many people around the world for many generations.
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how to build a model railroad

Progress and nostalgia

Railway in the nineteenth century was one of the most important symbols of modernity. Thus, the trains and the model trains have always attracted enthusiasts interested in science and technology, and they are well served by recent advances in electronics concerning the control of locomotives and rails (DCC systems).

However, we must recognize that model railroading is as a reservoir of nostalgia, memories and heritage than also a place of celebration of progress. Thus, many designers like to portray scenes from the past in which they can scale steam locomotives.

How to build a model railroadSocial and inter-generational ties

The preparation and operation of model trains networks of small electric trains has always been considered an honest and healthy leisure offering a chance for parents to bond with their children and with their fellow citizens in achieving long-term projects that allow as many as entertaining fun than learning.

Model railroad is within the reach of young and old, men and women and is accessible to people of all backgrounds and all walks of life, even those with physical disabilities.

How to make a model train – An activity with a thousand faces

Model railway trains are a hobby which occupies as much brain as the hands and heart. Indeed, the challenges of designing and implementing model trains networks stimulate the spirit of system, develop a sense of observation and improve the scientific and technical enthusiasts.

The model railway trains allow to control skills and topics as diverse as carpentry, electricity, electronics, mechanics, materials, paint, solvents, measurements, drawing and photography.

In the realization of model trains, hobbyists can also express their view of the beautiful and good in the scenery of their choice, their structures and their rolling stock. They can represent scenes which have sentimental value to them, honor people and events and sprinkle their networks of humorous touches.

A place of wonder

Model railroading allows especially to keep in touch with the wonderment and curiosity that we all have known as children in front of the beauties of nature and civilization; model trains give us the chance to stay young by extending childhood for the duration of our lives.