Track planning on modular base boards

My exhibition layout has been designed with a track plan finalised but track plans for modular baseboards are slightly different to normal layouts.

As mentioned in part 1, I’m building a layout to show at exhibitions and with the boards assembled, my attention shifted to the track plan.

I want the layout to be entertaining for show visitors with different interests while also giving the operators something to do during quiet periods at shows.

To do this, I’ve come up a layout theme that allows for countryside dioramas, snapshots of railway life and and also incorporate a shunting puzzle.

>This post is part of a series on the construction of a lifelike model railway for exhibitions. To read other posts in the series covering its development, track work, scenery and model building making, see building an exhibition model railway.

Essentially, the layout depicts its a narrow gauge line servicing an unseen gun powder mill somewhere in South East England. Trains carry goods from a loading yard to the mill and return with gunpowder for storage before onward transport – a common arrangement for many industries.

The line starts on the right with a loading yard, magazine and sidings. From here it passes an engine shed, coal station and service stop before running through meadows, over a river before leaving the display area on the left, with the exit hidden the behind a waterwheel powered mill, leaving the viewer to imagine the trains onward journey to the gun powder mill elsewhere.

The shunting puzzle to keep me and operators busy is incorporated into the sidings on the right. A head shunt long enough for 3 wagons, and sidings of 5, 3 and 3 wagons in length making an inglenook. (The layout will be DCC allowing a multiple locos to operate on what is essentially a single line, one for the shunting puzzle, one to haul fright.

This determines the track path and composition which I sketched out in Empire Express (to give an idea of how it could fit together and look) and then printed out Peco 009 point templates and sketched other track sections onto sheets of A4 which were placed on the baseboard I’m using – BB017 from Scale Model Scenics – to check actual sizing/positioning.

Track plan

Track planning for modular baseboards

So far so good but the track planning for modular baseboards involves a few additional considerations compared to normal.

Modular boards, by their nature, can be put together in different ways and may change in time and this could well involve separating the boards at the joins. Equally, modular boards often have support structs closer together than layouts built from large expanses of plywood.

If (when?) I rebuild the layout it’s very likely I’ll cut it up along the module joints and splitting up a layout is hard enough without having to also pull up points.

Equally, I’ve learned from experience not to place points over under board structs where there isn’t space for the point motors and electrical wiring or rod from the motor to tie bar.

For this reason, I’ve learnt to keep points away from joints and check that they don’t fall over a supporting beam or struct.

Unfortuntately, the first point of the inglenook lay right over the right most support struct. It would be impossible to place a point motor there or feed the rodding to the tie bar through it if it remained here.

As a result, I had to shuffle the entire inglenook track section to the right but then there wasn’t enough space for the sidings, inglenook’s needing three sidings of five by three by three wagons in length and a head-shunt long enough for 3 wagons plus loco.

Angling the entire track path slightly so it doesn’t run parallel to the front edge of the layout gave me a little bit more room on the right to fit the sidings and on paper at least it also gives the layout more natural feel. It was tight but just about fitted.

Another consideration when track planning for modular boards the track entering/exiting off the main board to other boards – or a to fiddle yards in my case – lies reasonably straight to the board edge where this takes place.

Joining track across gaps between baseboards is MUCH easier is the track isn’t curving or at an angle.

Having previously rotated the track to fit in the sidings on the right hand side, the track was now at an acute angle when hit the left hand side.

To prevent this, I redrew my paper track, increasing the angle of the curve so it reached the edge of the board more square on. It’s not 90 degrees but it’s a lot better than it was and will make aligning track between it and that of the fiddle yard much easier.

This post is part of a series on the construction of a lifelike model railway for exhibitions. To read other posts in the series covering its development, track work, scenery and model building making, see building an exhibition model railway.  


Updated: For clarification, my version of Empire Express doesn’t have Peco 009 track parts hence why I print out the Peco point templates for track planning.

Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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