Realistic Model Railways
There is a great breadth of knowledge and skills required to create a realistic model railway transportation world. As an example of the diversity of learning needed in the hobby, check the following listing of knowledge and skills involved when creating a model railroad. They are categorized by sequential but recursive phases of activity. Use the contact info at the foot of the page to make content suggestions or correct my errors and omissions.
Knowing about how real railways developed and how they operated leads to a more realistic model train empire and greater satisfaction in the long run. One should immerse himself into study first to know the tradeoffs taken when the layout is designed, constructed, and operated. However one does not have to be absolutely prototypical in any phase and in fact too much concern detracts from the 'fun' aspect of the hobby. Always be pragmatic about accuracy versus fun.
- Economics - what industries developed because the railway was there and which ones needed the railway to continue operating?
- Geography - what is the physical setting of area serviced by the railway? Is it urban, rural, seaside, flatlands, desert, mountains, forest, etc?
- History - What timeframe (pre 1900, steam, transition, diesel, modern) and what social and political environment allowed the railway to develop as it did?
- Sociology - what were the job classifications and organizational structure of the railway?
- Physics - how do steam engines work? how do diesel-electric engines work? what about momentum, string-lining and dynamic brakes?
- Engineering - trackwork, bridges, tunnels. buildings, signaling etc.
Planning is the stage where research is digested and remolded according to resources available to the modeler. These resources are time, finances, physical facilities, energy level, and personal motivations. Tradeoffs are made and drawings evolve. Some even choose a professional to get it right the first time!
- Purpose - exhibits, club, proto replica, operations, modeling, personal entertainment, etc.
- Approach - prototypical, free lance, combination.
- Scale and Gauge - scale is the model's proportion (eg 1:87) and gauge is track width as a symbol (eg HO or N)
- Layout Style - point to point, loop to loop, out and back, dogbone, etc.
- Layout Construction - tabletop (island), shelf, peninsulas, portable, around the room, combinations, modular, sectional, domino, LDE, etc.
- Layout Design - passing track, facing points, trailing points, switchbacks, crossings, interchanges, transfer points, staging areas, house track, team track, drill (lead) track, runarounds, escapes, ladders, servicing, rip track, caboose track, stub-ended vs double ended yards, etc.
- Layout Standards - easements, clearances, super elevation, etc.
- Operator Interface - signaling, communications, work stations
At some point sweat equity investment is necessary. For some this is fun as it is an extension of their skills in home ownership. For others it is a phase that just needs to be done! And a few choose to let a pro do it for them.
- Carpentry - benchwork, materials, tools, techniques, etc:
Yahoo Layout Construction Group
- Trackwork - handlaid, flexible or snap, grades, ballast, switches, etc:
Proto87, Fast Tracks, Tortoise Switch Motors, Wabbit Switch Motors
- Systems Engineering - track power, switching, signaling control,
computer controlled railways, etc:
CTC Parts, DCC Specialties, Ken's Electronics, Paisley's Electronics, Tractronics Logic Ladder,
Snapper Switch PS, Staging Yard Controller, Turntable controls, WheelSet Painting, Wiring for DCC
- Electrical Engineering - fast clocks, marquee lights, etc:
Fast Clocks, GML Enterprises, Logic Rail Technologies, M. Rollins notes, General Listing
Modeling Crafts and Skills
For many the model is the heart of the model railway. For others it is only a means to the end. And some rely on professionals and friends to provide the model.
- Arts - backdrops and scenery, including ground cover and trees:
Evan Designs, Woodland Scenics
- Model Making - cars and structures from kits
[basic assembly instructions]:
Atlas, CustomModel, Rix Products, Woodland Scenics
- Decals - give model engines and cars a finished look: Champion, Microscale, Tichy
Engine and ambient background sounds add to the apparent realism of a model railway. They can be achieved through dedicated hardware (eg. MRC Sound Systems), DVD sound effect discs (eg. Fantasonics Engineering) or interactive modules (eg. Pricom Design). DCC control systems such as LokSound and SoundTraxx allow on-board engine sounds that are both realistic and easy to install.
Operations is the reason that model railways are not like railway models! Operating trains in a prototypical fashion is what it is all about for some. You may want to view my attempt to understand basic operations, freight forwarding and train operations or my listing of operations software. Other modelers (in fact the majority) just don't get it. They prefer to model equipment and scenery and operation is just a few laps of the track by a long train. But everyone has their own interpretation of what is fun and there is no federal inspector dropping by to enforce any rules.