If you’re building a simple model railway for your children or perhaps are just starting out and only want to dabble you don’t need a fixed dedicated home for your miniature trains.
For a basic railway with which to explore the hobby or entertain children you really only need some track, a few trains, the controller and maybe some scenery items for interest. You don’t need to ballast, ground cover and all the other components you can see in the pictures elsewhere on this model train blog. If you want, these can come later but they aren’t needed just to start out. As such a beginners railway can go anywhere that’s flat.
Where NOT to put it
Where you shouldn’t however keep it is on the floor.
Floors are the worst place to put a train set. Model trains are delicate pieces of equipment and floors are hostile places from the tiny electrics inside and the fragile cases.
Having said this I also know a lot of people do run their railways on the floor so if you must do it:
A) Don’t leave it connected to the mains when not in use. Hopefully the risk of exposed power cables running across rooms will be obvious as to why this is a bag idea.
B) After use, at best put the track and trains away. Don’t leave out to getting trodden on, kicked or attacked by pets. At the very least, keep the rolling stock – the trains – stored somewhere when not used.
C) Clean the track regularly. The electricity that powers the trains in conducted from the rails to the train motors, any dirt on the Rails will prevent your trains running smoothly. ou might also find this post on how to look after floor based train sets useful.
Assuming you don’t want to use the floor here are the 3 alternatives.
# Table top or desk
There’s absolutely no reason you can’t have a model train set on a table or desktop (the early railways of my childhood where on the dinning room table). The stable surface is ideal, it’s away from feet that might trample it and it’s available for use whenever you want. Most tables are also reasonably large so you can get a fun continuous loop railway on one.
The only reservation being if the table is used for other things, eating etc, it will be best not to leave the track and trains on it when not in use. Food, dust and dirt will interfere with the electronics and fluid spills can be catastrophic.
A sheet or covering over the table is recommended if you care about the surface.
Window sills make great homes for train sets and I know of quite a few modellers who do just this.
The only thing to consider is sun light. If the window catches a lot of sun, the heat may cause the train motors problems, buckle the track rails so it or even melt some plastic buildings. Also, model trains are expensive and can be a target for burglars so if the window sill can be seen from a road and passersby so my recommendation is to have a blind or curtain.
An unused long book shelf can make a great home for a small railway (the long, narrow, shape is ideal for yard/station layouts especially smaller N gauge track). In fact of the three suggestions here this would be my preferred choice if needed.x
Pretty much the minimum shelf size needed is 2 feet in length and about 8 inches wide into which some interesting track plans can be fitted. www.carendt.com has some great plans if you’re stuck for ideas.
Lastly, if you’re returning to building a layout after a gap or starting for the first time, I recommend getting at least one of these 5 books for model railway beginnners.
> 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.
Picture credit: ApacheBravo
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. 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.