Constructing a Large-Scale Home Layout

By: Barry Kriegsman (edited by Jeff Koellmer)

My Early Layout

My earlier attempt at layout construction was a small layout contained within a spare bedroom on the second floor of our home. I had been collecting Marklin trains, track and related “hardware” for many years and had accumulated quite an assortment. Wanting more room, I decided to construct a larger layout in the third floor attic space, and to return the spare bedroom to its intended purpose (my wife Roberta was thrilled). I am a carpenter by trade, so constructing the new layout and its’ bench work would be a labor of love. I already had all of the necessary tools and much of the material. Ample head room existed in the attic and it offered me many more possibilities for a large-scale layout. In order to access the attic, however, my first job was to convert a storage closet into a set of stairways leading there. I needed to determine how best to utilize the space, and then finish the walls, floor and ceiling in this here-to-fore unfinished attic space.

Room Construction

I made the ceiling out of 3/4″ BC plywood, allowing a small “race” at the peak of the roofline for cabling and other electrical needs. For electrical service, I installed a new 125 amp panel with 24 circuits. This enabled me to include lighting and overhead fans for air circulation. I painted the new ceiling with flat black paint to reduce glare during nighttime operations. I installed four banks of spot lights along the sloped walls, with a total of 40 bulbs on dimmers. Eight four-tube, high-efficiency fluorescent light fixtures line the ceiling and are split up so every other one is on a separate switch. I finished the walls with extra insulation and sheetrock paneling, and then painted them sky blue. The room is air conditioned with two 18,000 btu units located at both ends, which helps in the summertime. I finished the floor by laying self-sticking 12″ vinyl tiles over a ¾” plywood underlay. Since it occupied the entire third floor of my home (less the stair well), its dimensions were 41’ by 21’; plenty for my layout ideas! The new stairwell ends on a landing near, but not against, an end wall.

Computer Assisted Layout Planning

In developing my track plan, I chose to use a software program that I already owned; WinTrack, version 6.0 3D. I had some familiarity with this program from earlier days and found it to be very intuitive and user-friendly. I set out to incorporate as many interesting areas of track as I could. The result is a track plan that appears below:

(Click to Enlarge)


When designing the layout I did not want any “duck-under’s” or access openings. I wanted to be able to reach everything on the layout easily, from an upright position. I chose to design the layout incorporating all of the exterior wall space, thereby enabling an endless loop for trains to travel around the entire perimeter of the room. Once satisfied with my design, the software provided me with an inventory listing of each piece of track I had planned. More on the track later.

Layout Construction

Now that my room was ready and my track plan was complete, I was ready to build the bench work. I began constructing the perimeter portion of the layout by nailing 1″ x 2″ fir cleats horizontally along the wall. For vertical supports I used 2″ x 2″ mahogany stock. I was considering using conventional 2″ x 4″s, but found that they twisted and split too easily. I wanted lasting quality! The mahogany is much stronger and straight-grained, as was the fir. In the long run it costs about 40% more for better-quality materials, but requires less re-work. I felt the added expense would be well worth it. I set the vertical supports approximately 36″ apart from one another and recessed a few inches from the edge of layout. I used 1″ x 4″ fir decking for the framework and 1/2″ Baltic birch plywood (clear, without knots or fillers on both sides) for the surfaces. The birch plywood comes in 5′ x 5′ panels, which helped me a great deal when hauling uncut pieces to the third floor.

Sound Dampening Surfaces

Before laying any track, I covered the top surfaces with sheets of 3 mm corkboard. I purchased the sheets in rolls of 100′ x 52″, then flattened and trimmed pieces to match the profile of the top surfaces. I wanted a surface that would dampen some of the noise of the model train wheels rolling on the tracks. Many of my locomotives are equipped with sound decoders and I wanted to be able to enjoy this aspect of their operation. I used staples to attach the cork to the plywood surfaces.


I used Märklin’s newer C-track™ exclusively on my layout. C-Track™ is 3-rail A/C, and I find that it fits together nicely and provides smooth transition from one section of track to another. To fasten the C-Track to the cork road bed, I used 15 mm flathead wood screws that fit nicely into pre-punched holes in the track bed. As of February 2009, all of the perimeter bench work has been completed and much of the track you see in the layout plan (above) has been installed. I am still “tweaking” some of the interior portions, but expect to be doing this for some time as I get used to operations and determine what else I might want to include.


I now have four main lines around the perimeter. Using a combination of Märklin Central Stations, ESU’ controllers and Intellibox units, I run freight trains on two lines, and passenger trains on the other two lines. The staging yards (see the track plan), now go all the way to the end wall. Eventually I want to operate 8-12 consists at any time. In the center of the layout is a hump yard, located to right of the crane (see track plan). To control the cars coming off the hump, I am working on an air operated braking system. This may be the subject of a follow on article. I enjoy operating long trains, and have even been able to run a 150 car coal unit train. I expect to be refining the design for some time to come. After all, isn’t that part of the fun of model railroading?

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