Here are my favourite track plans for small spaces. It includes plans for N, OO, HO and 009 scales with designs that will fit into small spaces around a typical home.
1. Don’t Spill Your Drink — An N Gauge Coffee Table Layout
This is a fun track plan with lots of options for either town or scenic settings but at 90 by 70cm (3ft by 2.5ft) will fit into or on many coffee tables and give you something to watch while sipping your tea or coffee.
Loading yards and stations can be placed at each of the three track endpoints to provide entertainment and interest.
It’s from the German site modellbahn-traumanlagen.de (via www.track-plans.net) so uses Fleischmann N gauge track. These are available in the UK — just Google to Fleischmann and the track codes. Alternatively, Peco N gauge flexi-track could be used with a little reworking.
Surprisingly given how much is going on in this layout, only three points are used making it easy to cheap and easy to construct (points are the most expensive track part).
It also uses flexi-track which usually results in more reliable operation (few opportunities for power loss between track sections). However, there are some tight curves and I’d recommend practising with laying flexi-track before tackling it.
> For a great coffee table layout with a difference visit thatrailwaygirl. Her tiny, beautiful layout, is dead impressive 🙂
2. Behind the curtain — an OO Gauge plan for a shelf or windowsill
This is an easy-to-build, fun-to-operate introduction to small-space model railroading and one of many from the wonderful www.carendt.com website of small layouts.
It features a station and goods shed with a little siding space to operate the trains.
At 162×23cm (5ft by 9″) it would fit on a shelf or wide windowsill to provide an interesting urban terminus on the end of a short branch line.
The necessary track codes for Peco or Hornby are included in the description. Buildings and railway trackside accessories — coaling stages, water towers, sheds and the equivalent for modern-era trains — could be placed around it to add interest.
> If you’re interested in shelf layouts, Designing small shelf layouts for operating fun (downloadable PDF) is a gold mine of useful information and ideas.
3. Visiting hours are over but this layout will still work
I hesitated about this one.
I dallied because it’s not a track plan and could also perhaps get boring in operation.
Having considered it for some time, however, I think it’s absolutely worth including here. It’s a mini railway that ran around the grounds of a hospital.
For starters, although not a detailed track plan, there’s enough in the prototype plan to work from.
The line runs through a hospital and then connects to the outside world for onward transport. Trevor Marshall detailed the line in more detail Designing small shelf layouts for operating fun (photos from his visit to the Andrew Merrilees Collection at Library and Archives Canada and more photos can be found here). And being a very simple it would also be easy to construct and could be made in any gauge to fit the space you have available.A railway in a hospital would be unusual, interesting and fun to model.Click To Tweet
But what really made my mind up is the unusual and interesting nature of it and its huge model-making potential. It’s a hospital tram line, parts of which run inside the hospital and you could leave the roof off to reveal the tram working its way through the hospital corridors and showing all kinds of interesting details and dioramas of human stories in the side rooms.
It would make a fascinating project to build.
Extra: For the above three layouts, Hornby’s delightful Ruston & Hornsby would be a very appropriate and fun accompaniment. It’s a superbly detailed locomotive and will add to any of these layouts.
The larger size of HO and OO gauge track means you’re not going to get a micro size layout of the dimensions possible with the N gauge plans above but you can still have a reasonable degree of fun in a small space as this track plan shows. It fits into 124cm x 98cm (4ft x 3.2ft) and has plenty of options for operating.
It’s from Scarm shows and uses German Piko track but with a little work it could be constructed from other makes – Atlas etc – and it would work just as well with OO gauge Hornby track.
I like this because of its simplicity yet manages to incorporate three stations or two stations and a goods yard if preferred.
5. Double the fun shunting puzzle in 009 scale
For small feature-packed small layouts, you can’t get much better than Grosse Zweinuck by Emrys Hopkins.
It’s got a water feature, industry/factory zone, a station for passenger duty, a mainline and two — yes two — inglenook shunting challenges to keep you occupied and all in 2ft by 8 inches (60cm by 21cm).
What I like about this is that it has lots of variety in such a small space.
Loading and processing facilities around the factory and water feature appeal to the industrial modellers; the station opens up the opportunity for small scenes with people; the dual shunting puzzle gives operational challenges and a bit of scenic modelling could be included behind the mainline and to the bottom right where landscape meets the water.
The above diagram is, again, from carendt.com. You can read the full details of this ingenious micro layout here. This could also work for HOe scale if wanted.
> Inglenook shunting puzzles are a unique sub-theme of model railways and can be constructed in the smallest of spaces as explained here.
6. Sci-Fi in HO/OO Scale
I’ve looked at hundreds of model railways for this compendium and have to admit that after a while they can, don’t shoot me, get a bit samey, even monotonous.
Not so this compact 2ft by 4ft design which although in HO scale could easily be made in OO in a similar space (HO and OO gauge being the same track size).
The Mines of Xenon is very different to the usual steam branch line or EMU/DMU townscape theme. In fact, it’s about as different as you can get and really sparked my interest.
As you might have guessed from my articles on StarWars railways and the model making in Blade Runner I’m a big Sci-Fi fan so a layout set in a futuristic off-world mining colony, think Total Recall, complete with radioactive sludge ponds got my attention.
It’s an inspirational layout that got me contemplating alternative concepts, even including trains without wheels. This one however is great for starters, featuring a fairly standard track plan and showing what’s possible with a little imagination. The loop with a run-around and spurs provide operating variety while the outer unconnected loop (for the Turbo train) gives overcomes the dullness sometimes associated with switching layouts.
You could easily adapt this plan for other gauges and fit it into a smaller space too.
Over to you
Hopefully, this has given you some ideas and inspiration for your layout in a small space. Which will you use or do you have another design in mind?
Note: These track plans are for small spaces and as such feature tight curves which may prove a challenge for larger/longer wheelbase locomotives and rolling stock which are often only designed for larger radii curves. Check with the specifications of your rolling stock to be sure.