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Well, first off, you wouldn't be stealing... published plans are meant to be used by others. The real purpose, though, isn't really to hand out track plans, but to try to show people what can and can't be done, as well as to provide inspiration. I would definitely encourage you to design your own, some folks, though, have no idea where to start or how to proceed. If that's not you, then by all means, be creative! Unique is always better, in my opinion. Show us what you come up with (start your own thread and talk about your thoughts).

The first thing you're going to need to figure out is how much space you have available. 2-3 levels and lots of scenery is going to be a space eating monster, even in one of the smaller scales. In particular, grades are as much a problem for our tiny pikes as they are for the full sized ones. True, we can get away with somewhat steeper grades than they can, but still anything more than 3% is asking for trouble, and even that is pushing it. Even at 3%, you need 33-1/3" of linear run to change 1" of elevation, and that much again to come back down on the far side (and this doesn't allow for the required easement -- gradual transitions onto and off of the grade). Grades severely limit train size, with curves on the grade limiting it still further. Of course, if your levels are unconnected, that's a lot easier to manage, but that limits you to a "railfanning" type of layout where you pretty much just watch the trains run rather than doing anything with them. While that's fine if that's what you want, it gets boring quickly for others.

As far as just winging it, I have to be honest. Most of the folks I know who tried that gave up in frustration when they couldn't get anything to work right. It's much more effective to work from a plan, even just a rough one, because then you know it will run and you know it will fit. Consider that computer assisted designs are free (perhaps after investing in some software), and scale drawings cost only pennies (again, perhaps after some initial investment in quality drafting equipment). Track is expensive, and using it to plan your layout, unless you already have a bunch of it lying around, will run up a huge bill, and perhaps result in a lot of wasted track for parts you don't end up using. The commercial layout design software that I use (AnyRail), costs about as much as two good quality turnouts.

But anyway, welcome to the hobby! We're looking forward to seeing what great ideas you come up with on your own layout!
Thank you CTValley, you have given me some great information and food for thought. I am going to try my hand at SCARM that seems to be a popular one on these forums, i'll take a look at AnyRail too. I understand what you mean regarding track expense, it is always best to have a plan especially in the haunt industry where I have some experience. Materials arent cheap and build is a lot of work, so one really needs to have a roadmap. Its just always a daunting task for me because I dont draw well at all. Has anyone ever tried Google sketch up to design their layout?

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For my money, I would use a dedicated layout planning tool. Any CAD program, even PowerPoint or Paint, would work, but the really powerful ones like Sketchup have a lot of functionality you don't need, and require a lot of work to make every object 3D when 99% of what you need for a model railroad is flat (in a geometric plane, which might be inclined). Besides, the dedicated track planning tools have libraries of commercially available parts, automatically lock to common scales, and most importantly, have constraints that keep you from unintentionally drawing something that won't work (too-steep grades and too-tight curves). I mean yeah you CAN use anything you want to, but it's usually better to use the right tool for the job (you can strip wire with any old pair of pliers, but linesman's pliers or a dedicated wire stripper are easier, faster, and better).

I would say SCARM is popular because it's free, not better. It's actually a hobby project of a member here. For me, though, I prefer a commercial product that has the backing and sustainability of an actual company behind it, and don't think AnyRail's $60 price tag is too high for that support. But that's just me. There are half a dozen or more products out there, both free and paid, and my advice is to find the one that seems most intuitive to you, and meets your needs.
 

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For my money, I would use a dedicated layout planning tool. Any CAD program, even PowerPoint or Paint, would work, but the really powerful ones like Sketchup have a lot of functionality you don't need, and require a lot of work to make every object 3D when 99% of what you need for a model railroad is flat (in a geometric plane, which might be inclined). Besides, the dedicated track planning tools have libraries of commercially available parts, automatically lock to common scales, and most importantly, have constraints that keep you from unintentionally drawing something that won't work (too-steep grades and too-tight curves). I mean yeah you CAN use anything you want to, but it's usually better to use the right tool for the job (you can strip wire with any old pair of pliers, but linesman's pliers or a dedicated wire stripper are easier, faster, and better).

I would say SCARM is popular because it's free, not better. It's actually a hobby project of a member here. For me, though, I prefer a commercial product that has the backing and sustainability of an actual company behind it, and don't think AnyRail's $60 price tag is too high for that support. But that's just me. There are half a dozen or more products out there, both free and paid, and my advice is to find the one that seems most intuitive to you, and meets your needs.
I am playing around with a trial version of AnyRail as we speak, it does seem fairly intuitive and it's user interface is similar to MS Office so it is comfortable for me. I would agree, $60 isnt a bad price tag at all, its what i'd pay for a video game... I am excited to start my build. I feel I still have a lot to learn before I do though. :)

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Please make separate threads for discussion. Post more plans here!

This is a compact HO layout easily built with Atlas sectional track on a 30" x 79" door. The size of the adjoining yard can be adjusted to fit available space. The layout can be placed in a room corner and it's small enough to fit in a bedroom without monopolizing the floorspace.

Multiple short trains can run alternately, out-and-back from the yard. Trains can lay over in the long reverse loop section before returning to the yard. The oval allows continuous running and the yard provides switching opportunities. You can use the yard to build a longer train sometimes.

Minimum radius is 15", OK for smaller diesel power and cars up to 50 feet long.
 

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Nice plan, Ace A lot of operation in a small space. It would also work for On30 if running smaller locos.
 

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Thank You for the comment, Joe.

Here is an "advanced beginner" HO 4x8 plan, easily constructed on a flat table with Atlas sectional tracks. No cutting of track is required. Yard and turnouts have been placed towards the front of the layout as much as possible, so the back of the layout can be against a wall to save space after initial construction.

Two trains can run on separate circuits for convenient display running. Junctions and a reasonably long siding provide different routing possibilities. The one reversing connection returns trains to the yard.

Drawn with SCARM, my favorite track planning program. Some of my other plans are posted here: https://www.scarm.info/layouts/track_plans.php
 

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Only 4' x 6', this layout provides an easy way to cruise a couple long trains around on a folded dog-bone circuit. There's a pretty good length of main track for a small layout. Trains can temporarily disappear in the lower level tunnel. The 15" minimum radius is generally suited for smaller diesel power and cars up to 50-foot length.

The wye connection allows for expansion; a yard should be first priority for an add-on. The layout can be in a room corner to save space if you provide an access hatch.

A long S-curve (properly engineered with a straight section) is a desirable feature for any layout because it provides an interesting scene to view a moving train.
 

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HO layout on a door

This is a plan I've actually built recently on a 30" x 79" door. Eventually I'll have it set up so the one outer spur connects with my main HO layout. Operations are restricted mainly to 40-foot cars and smaller 4-axle diesel power because of the 10" minimum radius.
LOAD-246b.jpg
I'd like to suggest that folks could include ONE photo of actually-built track plans in this thread.
100_5134x.JPG
Since this photo was taken I've rearranged the buildings somewhat and added streets. The pic is slightly confused by O-gauge items in the background. This layout-on-a-door is not yet in its intended "permanent" location.
 

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Richfield and Fond-Du-Lac

This design was once used in Kato N scale Unitrack ads. I tried creating it directly from their plan, which included exact part numbers and surprisingly it did not work. It wasn't even close.

So I used Anyrail to build it so that it would work. Unfortunately when I exported the image, the file name defaulted to the image name I had just exported, so I erased my work. Anyway, according to Kato, it was a popular plan, so here it is.

You'll have to excuse my crude sketching on top of the plan. Adding connectors between the parallel mainlines would make it a lot better in my opinion. I'd eliminate the double crossover and it would run fine in DC or DCC.

Table size is 4 1/2' x 8' -- see the text in the image for details.
 

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Hot Water Bottles

Kato N Scale Unitrack

Easy to assemble 4x8 flat layouts that can be fun to operate with multiple trains. The extensive yards are optional. You can always add them later.

The first has both yards on the bottom in case you want to push the table up against a wall. The second would be better as an island, and if you plan on doing lots of yard work, I'd choose this one. You can run trains while working in both yards with out tying up the main lines.

The "bottle cap" lets you move trains between the main lines. Changing these switches makes the layout surprisingly entertaining to operate. It's a lot more than 3 nested ovals. I've run the entire layout (with smaller yards) on one Kato DC power pack, running two trains.
 

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Granite Gorge and Northern N Scale Kato Unitrack

This is an adaptation of the late John Armstrong's H0 Layout #28, the Granite Gorge and Northern.

Although N scale on a 4x8 table is a lot more roomy than the H0 version on a 5x9 table, the layout could still use more space. This is the layout I plan to build but I will be stretching out over a 5x11 table. This will allow for even broader curves less complicated up/down grades.

Regardless, I have laid this track out on a 4x8 table flat. Using temporary blocks to elevate it, I believe the max grade is at or below 2.5%.

If you plan to build this, I would be sure and see Jerry's Granite Gorge and Northern layout thread in the My Layout section of the forum. His youtube videos are a real testament to the entertainment this layout provides. The two connectors (Red-Blue) and (Blue-Red) along with the double-90 crossing (45 in H0) provide a lot of entertainment when running multiple trains. He's also said that you can't make it too big. He is currently running on 8x16, nearly 4 times the original size.

This is a classic.
 

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I had given thought to building that layout too with a modification to be able to run two trains unattended with no waiting or passing.

I decided to give it a try myself and I'm happy with what I came up with.
 

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I decided to give it a try myself and I'm happy with what I came up with.
I'd like to see it. I cleared out my schedule to build it last week and this week. I should be cutting foam right now. Instead I'm down with bronchiolitis and too drugged up to operate a saw, or do my taxes, or anything important. Other than watch videos and read unimportant stuff I don't need to remember, I decided to pick a few plans and upload them. I can see from my spelling in another post, I'm not sure I should be doing that either. Ha.
 

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I mean that I decided to design a layout myself, not that I built the modified Granite Gorge.

On the Granite Gorge, IIRC, I made a slight change to the track routing in the center of the layout and changed it to a continuous dual main line rather than having the single crossing track.

I forget know what the original looked like exactly, but it's in one of the books I have along with The Great Eastern Trunk that I built a long time ago.
 

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I designed this several years ago. I built all the benchwork, laid a good amount of track and actually ran a couple of trains. Then I lost interest. It has been completely torn down and I gave the track to a friend.

Scale is HO. Each square is a foot.

I am currently designing something smaller and getting bids on "total" construction.
 

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An invitation

It is noted that replies be limited to postings of trackplans, I get that, I hope you will allow a sincere question...

I'd really like to do a 3.5 x 3.5 foot layout, self contained. Can you work in a passing siding? Can you work in an elevation to accommodate a wooden trestle? I am thinking small physically, but large in terms of visual impact. HO is what I work in.

The size specification would fit in the back of my Hyundai hatchback to take to exhibitions. Of course, I'd be looking at very short trains, 3 passenger coaches or 3 freight cars and a bobber caboose. Theme is 1880's.

This is not an idle question. If I can find a suitable project, that's something I'd like to do for the coming year. I got the wood, I got the track, I got the rolling stock.
 

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If your equipment can handle 18" curves (the maximum that would fit in 3.5'), you MIGHT be able to do this using a #4 curved turnout to get the siding in (because at 3.5', all you're going to have is a circle with a very short straight at the center of each side, not long enough for a turnout.

Any incline, however, would be ridiculously steep. To get the necessary 3" clearance, at a 3% grade, you would need 100", or over 8', and that much again to go back down, which would exceed the circumference of your layout. 4% would just barely fit, but would challenge most locos and rolling stock.

Unless you're just talking about TERRAIN relief, with the track on one level (or a much smaller elevation change). Then you could use something like extruded foam boards to build up your base height, and carve out the gully for the trestle.

That said, how about building a series of 2'x4' modules that could be interconnected once you reach the show site?
 

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Thanks for the tip CTVRR. Good ideas.

Here is a small layout with a lot of operating potential. If I whack off the yard and eliminate the escape route (and its turnout) in the upper left corner, do you thing this might work (author is Dan Mack)? I this one, the elevation would be flat.

dan macks layout.jpg

Here's another version I've been contemplating (author unknown):
4 x 4 RP.jpg

It is a 4x4; I am wondering if a gentle elevation of about an inch along the outer main might work. I tried an elevation once with a turnout at the bottom of the hill, that caused frequent derailments. Counting from left to right, upper left being #1, an upper right being square #4, I thought of starting the upward grade in #1 and returning to "sea level" at #4, so that by the time the train reaches the turnout it is on the flat and level again.

As a 4x4, it would have to fit the hatchback at a list, and leave the hatch open in the back to transport.

I would be most interested in tweeks and comments.

As to an NMRA standard module, I was am contemplating a point-to-point yard that would have the requisite three run through mains.
 
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