Model Railway Baseboard Construction | Avoid These 3 Painful Mistakes

There’s nothing worse than building a model railway layout only to realise you’ve made a basic error. Avoid these 3 painful but easy mistakes when designing and constructing your baseboard for trouble-free enjoyment.

As mentioned in my guide to model train baseboards, I’m increasingly using modular baseboards but do build a lot myself. And I thought I new what to avoid but while researching the subject I came across a great article on layout errors which included these 3 painful mistakes to avoid.

The original article can be read here.

#1 The Wrong Height

This usually means it’s too low. Bending over to work on a low layout will give you back trouble, and wiggling beneath it to work on the wiring will give you a bad attitude toward model railroading in general. Also, trains look better at eye level, and how many model railroaders have an eye level of three feet? Unless you’re constrained by double decks or similar restrictions, a permanent layout shouldn’t be lower than 42″, with 48″ a better height; some will go even higher. But don’t go too high, or the layout will be equally uncomfortable to work on, and you’ll drastically reduce the area you can reach.

If you have frequent visitors, keep their heights in mind, too — children and vertically-challenged adults don’t get much enjoyment from a layout that’s too tall for them to see.

#2 Out of Reach

Operator can’t reach what he needs to reach. I did this to myself as I planned my own Big Dream. An industrial park was serviced by a long passing siding. One end of the siding was close to where I’d stand while doing the switching, but the other end was four feet away — far out of reach, unless I walked all the way around to the other side of the peninsula. How could I uncouple a car I couldn’t reach? Could I even read a car number from that far away?

ModelRailwayEngineer Tip

“Remember: if you can’t reach it, you can’t maintain it, and if you can’t maintain it, trains won’t run on it.”


And forget about throwing a manual turnout from that distance. Mentally put yourself in each place where a train operator must stand to do his/her work, and verify that everything needed to do the job is close enough.

#3 Too Wide

Benchwork too wide. Don’t kid yourself here — we aren’t talking about how far you can reach to get a fingertip onto something. We’re talking about how far you can reach to manually uncouple two cars, solder a wire to a rail, or adjust the throw rod of a turnout.

For most people, at typical layout heights, that’s about two feet, and your reach gets shorter as the layout gets higher. Don’t plan on climbing onto the benchwork to fix things; even if you make it strong enough to hold your weight, you won’t want to kneel on your finished scenery just to clean your track. Pop-up access holes can be a solution, but will your knees be up to the challenge twenty years from now? The best answer is either benchwork that is two feet wide or less or benchwork that can be reached from both sides.

Article original from

Share your stories of silly mistakes you’ve made when building your model railway, add your 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 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,
  1. Thanks for this. The Model Railway Engineers Tip is well made and I will have that in the front of my mind as I embark on this journey. I especially like the part about how your knees will be in 40 years. Well 50+ years on from my first set, I know that problem oh too well.

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