Beginners Q&A: How much space do I need to build a model railway

Thinking of building a model railway and wondering how much space you’ll need? It’s a question anyone building their first model railway asks and here’s the answer.

When the urge to build model railway hits, several practical questions will pop up: Can I afford it? Where could I put it? Do I have the time? And, most commonly, if the emails I get are anything to go by, how much space will I need?

Thankfully, the answer to this question is pretty easy.

The answer: as much space as you have and want to give your new hobby.

It’s as simple as that.

It doesn’t matter how much space you have, there are layouts to fit. The question then is not how much space do you need but how much space do you have?

Railways For Small Spaces

If you only have a small area or you don’t want to commit too much space initially you can build a tiny layout that fits on a window sill, shelf, coffee table or even suitcase.Railways in small spaces seem to be catching on a lot at the moment, with many exhibitions now having dedicated sections to tiny layouts.

Railways in small spaces seem to be catching on a lot at the moment, with many exhibitions now having dedicated sections to tiny layouts.

Watch the videos in Model Railways In Small Spaces for inspiration and ideas of how to build a fully featured railway in tiny spaces or take a look at this short clip showing a fully operational railway on a small window sill.

A Corner Of A Room

If you have more room, you can pretty much build one to fit your taste – from a few feet to one the size of an entire room. Most model railways enthusiasts start life with their train set on an old table in the corner of a room and expand from there, some going on to fill a whole room.

This is how I first started. Many, many, years ago my first railway started just like this and then expanded to run alongside an entire side of a room, sadly (!) it never got the size of this one – with bridges across doorways.

If you’re thinking of using a spare room, take a look at Where’s Best To Build Your Model Railway where the considerations for loft, garages and sheds are considered.

That’s the great thing about model railways is you can start small, maybe occupying a desktop or table in the corner of the room, and grow it as your budget and confidence increases. Most model railways usually start at just a few feet and slowly expand.

If you’re looking for tips and advice, subscribe to my free newsletter (below) or get yourself one of these books on building a model railway. It’s easy to get started and needn’t cost a lot or use up lots of space. The key is not to worry about space, just get started.

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.
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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