You have now reached the point where we can move on to actually planning and constructing the line. But before  

we (or rather you) do so you must decide which type of railway you want to create. You may have already 

given some consideration to this important question and the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

What is it about railways that appeals to you the most? Is it the old wood-burning steam locomotives in the days of the Wild West? Preserved steam engines on rural lines in the UK and Europe? Perhaps a mainline steam-hauled express locomotive with an impressive rake of passenger cars or the power of modern diesels? Or long lines of ore cars pulled by powerful locomotives?

Could it be rack locos in the Swiss Alps or the intrepid Glacier Express? A logging camp in the redwoods or a dockland diorama or possibly even a Coal Mine?

There really is no limit to your imagination and even if you just like the pleasure of "running trains" you would probably gain from adopting a theme of some sort even if it is a freelance railroad set in some mythical and      far-off land. The concept you eventually choose will influence the way you ultimately approach both the planning and construction of the layout and the emphasis on model accuracy when adding locomotives, rolling stock; structures and even plants to you line.

Here are some thoughts and ideas to give you food for thought but they are by no means exhaustive and you can always 'mix and match':

Type of Line?

Prototype or Freelance; Standard Gauge; Narrow Gauge; Broad Gauge; Brick-works; City; Colliery; Dockside; Industrial;  Logging; Mill; Mainline; Preservation; Quayside;  Rural, etc. and possibly a separate Test Track.

Track Plan               Operation?

Single Track or Double; End-to-End or Continuous Loop; Figure of Eight; Dumb-bell (or Dog-bone); Out-and-Back; Single Level; Multi-level; Raised Level;  Eye-Level; Multiple Train Operation;  etc. Consider also a 'hybrid' implementation with station and sidings located indoors  (a garage, shed or lean-to possibly) with long runs of track outdoors where space is not at a premium.

Mode of Operation?

How would you like to operate your railway? Continuous loop for constant running; end-to-end fixed point  to emulate prototypical operation; loop-to-loop;  complex sidings for shunting and making up (despatching) trains?

Geographical Location?

England; Scotland; Wales; Northern Ireland; Isle of Man; Isle of Wight; Eire; Europe (especially the Swiss Alps); USA; Canada; Australia; New Zealand; India; Philippines;  Cuba; etc?


Industrial; Rural; Desert; Prairie; Mountain; City; Coastal;  Waterfront; etc. or any mix of these.


Early Steam Period; Golden Age of Steam; Pre-Nationalisation; Post-Nationalisation; Transition; Beeching Era; Early Diesel; Modern Diesel; Future?,etc.


Narrow Gauge (2' or 3'); Standard Gauge (4' 8.5"); Metre Gauge; Broad Gauge (7'), etc.


1:20.3; 1:22.5; 1:24, 1:29; 1:32; etc.


Electric DC (Analogue); DCC (Digital) or MTS (LGB); Battery (Radio Control) or Live Steam?


Grades (Inclines); Tunnels; Embankments; Viaducts; Bridges; Ports; Water Feature (Rivers, Ponds, Waterfalls, etc.)  

Planning Dimensions ?

Minimum radius; track clearances; height restrictions; security considerations.

Realistic Implementation Timescale ?

1 Week; 1 Month; 1 Year; 2 Years; 5 Years; Lifetime? Be realistic!  It is far better to get a small layout up and running in a fairly short time-scale (even a few weeks) than struggle for years in pursuit of perfection and never actually experience the enjoyment of simply running trains.


£300; £600; £1000; £2000; £5000; Limitless Funds. Garden Railways are not a cheap hobby, especially where major landscaping is involved, so your ambitions need to be guided by your purse. To purchase a starter set and construct a basic oval you will need around £200 - £250.

Choosing the actual type of railroad you want to build is one of the key decisions in the planning process. If you get it wrong and have to change later on you may well have wasted a lot of money and effort. Do you like the idea of running lots of mainline trains to a complex operating schedule or would you prefer the simplicity of an end-to-end narrow gauge steam logging camp? Are train operations more important to you than scenery and structures? Do you want a completely automated line following a rigid timetable or a more flexible one which leaves you in charge free to run that freight or passenger service just when you feel like it.


It has been said that in general garden railroads are run by one of three distinct kinds of operators: engineer, dispatched or observer. The engineer is someone who actively runs the train by following it with a handy remote-control or alternatively from a convenient fixed location where they are able to observe the full length of the line. The speed of the locomotive is the engineer's primary concern but he or she may also operate the points, signals and uncoupling devices along the route of the track - thus being both mobile and interactive.


By contrast the dispatcher sits at a central control panel from which the trains and associated ancillary devices are operated remotely by means of buttons, switches and controllers usually with some sort of block system to isolate separate sections of the track. The role is essential a stationary one.


The observer is a person who just watches the trains go by from a position somewhere adjacent to the track. This is often achieved by having independent continuous loops, each with a single train running on its own under some form of automatic control which needs little or no manual intervention. Some form of Digital Command Control (DCC) is especially suited to this type of operation where enjoyment is simply derived from "watching the trains go by"


The design and implementation of your railroad will very much depend on the type of operation you envisage. No one can make this decision for you but be sure to do as much research as you possibly can before finalising you decision.


Join your local Club if you want expert advice freely given, become a member of the G Scale Society (where details of all the affiliated clubs and societies can be found - including those based overseas), visit Large-Scale Forums on the internet for online advice, subscribe to related garden railway magazines, read manufacturer's product catalogues and the small selection of books that cover the building of a garden railway. I will include a fuller list of suggested sources in the associated Appendices at some future date.


© Copyright : John Prescott - December 2009