How To Use Animated Action To Make Your Railway Come Alive

model railway animationLooking for a way to bring your railway to life and add interest? Animated scenes are the answer.

I’m a great fan of using scenic animations, small dioramas with moving elements, to bring otherwise static aspects of a railway to life. I’ve seen them on a few layouts, have used them on previous layouts and hope to incorporate them in my small Cornish layout to create a “working” beam engine in a tin mine. The challenge is coming up with ideas. Hopefully, the following will inspire.

What’s possible is only limited by your imagination

Some great ideas can be seen on Rick Spano’s N gauge Sceniced and Undecided Railway of which he’s kindly posted videos here.

This is one of the videos showing two shop ceiling fans in operation. This particular animation was created by modeller David K. Smith but is now used by Rick.

There’s no limit to what can be created and I love what Rick is doing with them but perhaps the ultimate demonstration of animations is on Miniatur Wunderland. I’ve captured a few of their animations in my Youtube video below.

And it’s not just Wunderland doing it across the Channel.

For some reason, animations seem a lot more popular on European model railways (Modell Eissenbahns) than in England.

This video from the Eurospoor exhibition shows just how popular — this is from 2004.

And these

(Just for the record, it was watching the pump in the first of the two videos above that gave me the idea for a working tin mine — the beam engine should be a pretty similar arrangement).

Made with motors and magnets

Making them is essentially a matter of hooking up motors and magnetic switches to wires that pull, lift or move or drive models directly creating animated action. It’s really no more than is done for points and point motors but on a much finer scale.

Alternatively, systems such as the Faller road system use alternative movement mechanisms. This uses magnets to steer vehicles and motors in the cars providing the movement, as seen in this explanatory video:

This system can also be used for other forms of transport as well. I know of one layout under construction that will use the Faller system to move a canal barge.

Of course, they don’t have to involve motors. You could just use lights — perhaps a flicking red LED to simulate a bonfire or the firebox of a steam engine although this is probably only viable at HO scale.

How do you or could you use animations on your layout? Share your examples in a comment below.

> 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.
  1. I intend on having functioning mine workings, a hoist lifting mined ore to the surface and into mine wagons, those operating on and pulley system to lower down a hill, then a small crane to lift the loads out of mine wagons and into mainline wagons. Once a train is loaded itncan be taken to the local freight yard and marshalled into a long distance service, taken to the destination station, remarshalled into small delivery trains, and taken back under the mine for the hoist to take the load and lift it back to the mine wagons.
    An ambitious project, but I fancy using electro magnets and servos, quite possible. Give me 20years, and ill get the first motor in!

  2. Still, I think, movement for the sake of movement is something to be handled with care: a lumberjack who chops a fat tree with 3 sways of an axe, tree falls, and comes automatically back in its original position, is a bit ridiculous. A horse that runs his circles with the feet 1cm off ground is a modellers mistake and just as silly…….one has to be cautious…

Add Comment

Required fields are marked *. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.