Model (railway) layouts, the theory

Build with Markenburg  — Thu 13 Jan 2022

Job plans collage
Built by:
Teun van Kastel
Track plan
Style Period:
Around 1960
1:87 (H0)
C.a. 300 x 600cm
With Markenburg:
the theory

The start of every layout lies in planning it. But how do you develop a plan?
Our urban planners in particular can elaborate on this with full dedication and almost inexhaustibly. We have summarized the main points in a piece of Markenburg theory, supplemented with a nice practical example by Teun van Kastel.

The basis of a beautiful model railway design lies with the image or images that you have undoubtedly had floating around in your head for a while. For some people these are images from the past, such as your first experiences with real trains in your area. For others, they are ideal images of how things can be just that little bit better than they really are. In any case, it is good to make those images a bit more tangible.


Making the images from your mind tangible can be done with a photo collage, for example. Making a collage can be done in many ways, but it is important that you handle it thoughtfully. Those who take the atmosphere seriously can pay extra attention to the weather type that can be seen in the photos, or the season. Others will pay more attention to the era that can be seen in the photos, so that the time image is accurate. Paying close attention to the exact environment can also help, because certainly before 1960 people built visibly differently in every region and the landscape also differs visibly per region to this day. It is certainly no shame to pay close attention to all the points mentioned. After all, it is important that the images you choose each represent a part of the images in your mind as best as possible. Whether you make a digital or analog collage is then of secondary importance.

Available space

Measure the space you have available at home. You usually don't have too much model railroad space quickly and that's partly why various things are possible. One can think of a permanent job or a module job. The latter form often offers more model railway surface, but must be built up and dismantled with some regularity in order to be able to store again in a practical space-saving place. A hybrid form can also be an option. With a piece of permanent track in a fixed place and, for example, some space under the permanent track to be able to store additional modules. The modules can then be connected when there is a day to drive in full gear, or can be picked up piece by piece when there is time to build on them. There are also plenty of other creative ideas for finding space for a layout. For example, you will not be the first to build a permanent track that, if one does not work on it for a while, can be raised to the ceiling so that the same space can be used for the more daily business. But whatever shape you choose, there will be a maximum surface area and that is useful to know before we start with a track plan.


Think about which themes are important to you. That can be very specific and that is good to know and name. Write down which themes you are thinking about and see if your photo collage also connects to them. The other way around is also possible. Look at the photos in your photo collage and analyze which themes are reflected in it. Sometimes it can be useful to link themes together. Suppose you have a lot of photos of station throats and you discover that they are mainly in industrial environments, you can further distil your theme by removing a photo of a station throat at an intercity station from the collection. Also think of a ranking in your themes, there is a good chance that you will have to choose due to lack of space and then it is useful if you already know what you value most. So if the Station throat in an industrial environment makes your heart beat the fastest and there is no space to add the sidings, part of it must take place behind the scenes with a vanishing point or come on a module to be built later.

Selection from the photo collage of Teun van Kastel
A selection from the photo collage by Teun van Kastel
Google earth, with measurement function
Google earth with measuring function (Gives a good impression, accurate to centimeters)
Bing maps with birds eye function
Bing maps with birds eye function
(Looking obliquely from above via aerial photos)
Road plan sketch in CAD drawing
A track plan sketch in a CAD drawing
(Gives a lot of latitude for a distillation process)
Actual examples

Then it is time to find examples in reality. This helps determine size and scale. That can even be literal for those who have not yet chosen a scale. Suppose your photo collage and the naming of themes comes out to: “I want to watch my intercity train pass the meadows during an autumn sunrise.” Then you know that you can achieve a lot with the right lighting and colors, but the plural form of meadow is also important. A meadow can quickly become large and if it has to be several, a lot of space is quickly needed. Of course you can look for a narrow strip of allotment in a peat area, if that suits your taste, but otherwise using a smaller scale is the best approach to create the feeling of meadows.
It may also be the case that your collage and the naming of themes end up with: “I want to recreate a T crossing in the city center of Utrecht on Monday morning when the residual waste containers are on the street and you can see the trains slowly passing by through a view.” In that case, you know you're going for the details. You want to show the containers clearly recognizable and perhaps even be able to distinguish the spokes in the plastic wheels. This lends itself to a somewhat larger scale.
By working with contemporary websites and programs such as: Google earth, Google maps incl. street view, Bing maps incl. birds eye view, and by example the Dutch land registry map, it is possible to literally get a good picture of reality. The mentioned Google products also offer an option “measure distance”. Super handy. Because if you measure that the maintenance shed you love is in reality no less than 154 meters long (and yes, that actually happens) you also know what that means for the length in the scale you want. Divide the length by the scale number. E.g. 87, 160 or 220 and experience that the model shed is respectively 177, 96 or 66 cm long. Anyone who has already crystallized how much track space he has can start drawing. Draw to scale so that you find out whether it fits, or whether you may have to take measures. That could be switching from scale, which can be quite drastic if you already have material of a certain scale in your house. Or it gets creative when you choose to partially build the shed and decide to "drop off the layout edge" a less important part. After all, including part of the shed in the photo on the side or back wall can still give a very good illusion. The websites and programs mentioned can also help you create a crop of reality that fits the space you have. Suppose you have 3 by 1 meter of model railway space and would like to build a layout in scale N/1:160. Then you can choose a part of the world of 480 meters by 160 meters as an example. If it is possible in reality, it is also guaranteed to fit the model. There is a chance that your chosen theme(s) will turn out to be much larger than the piece of space that you are "allowed to cut out". Even then it is good to have your ranking of themes in order and it may also be worth looking for several real life examples. Not every maintenance shed is 154 meters long. Some are unfortunately even bigger, but there are definitely smaller ones to be found as well.

Job plans in practice with Teun

At the age of 5 I already received my first NS HEMA train set and since then the model railway virus has never gone away. When I met my wife 15 years ago, I was sure that our new home also needed a beautiful model railway. A room has even been specially placed on top of the garage, but due to additional family expansion, that room is not available for the time being. However, in 2012 I already drew up a module based layout on my PC with Anyrail, which eventually fits exactly in this room. I also wanted to start building and was allowed to use the attic at my parents temporarily. No sooner said than done.

The track is therefore modular in design and has the Langstraat as its theme….a former railway line from Lage Zwaluwe to 's Hertogenbosch (the Netherlands), which was put into use around 1887 and around 1972 saw its last days with only freight transport, during which the whole route could still be covered. At the moment only the western part to my hometown Oosterhout is still in use. The eastern part has been transformed into a bicycle path and fortunately the famous railway bridges at Waalwijk and the Moerputten have been preserved. It really pays to take a look at the Moerputtenbrug, it is a beautiful area.

Before I started building the module track, I obviously first collected a lot of information. This railway has always had an inexplicable attraction for me from my childhood. I live nearby and part of the trajectory that has now been broken up, I experienced in my young life in an active company. I was able to find a lot of information about the track plans and the buildings in the Utrecht Archives.

A great deal of information and visual material can also be found on the internet and various books. I now have 4 books about the Langstraat railway and more than 500 photos and even some old video equipment. Although the rails on the eastern part have been removed, a lot of infrastructure is still present in the form of guard houses, platform edges, bridges, etc. A good basis to serve as an example for the model railway.

The track covers quite a few meters… the modules fit in a room of 6 by 3 meters. In order not to drive in circles in front of the image, the 2 main tracks disappear after 1 tour, when leaving station Waspik, behind the background plate and then go completely around and become visible again when entering Waalwijk station. The track plan is an almost copy of the actual track plan and is made with the PC program Anyrail. This gives you a good idea of what you can do with the available space and you immediately know how many rails you need. From the program you get a complete parts list with item numbers of all rail pieces and you can print the design and explain it on the floor to get an impression. The complete track was also completed largely in accordance with the plan. On closer inspection I did not install the turntable. The Waalwijk yard became too big for me in proportion to the track. The track plan has also been slightly changed in the Waspik/Wolfshoek corner. The structures are all on their location as planned in advance.

Cutout 567 567 The facade with front doors facade is still loose
Top plan of Teun van Kastel
Folder full of archive material
Folder full of archive material, such as photos and drawings
Track plan printed on paper
Track plan printed on A4 paper and explained
track and back wall under construction
Track and back wall under construction. On the far left the front of the modules
Useful guidelines

- Make sure your tracks aren't exactly parallel to the front or back of the layout/modules everywhere. See for example the placement of my bridge. By placing that just slightly rotated in relation to the front, a more natural and playful image is immediately created.

- I have chosen to have part of the tracks run behind the background wall. This quickly results in a more interesting train run than the standard oval. Simply because you cannot follow the moving trains continuously with your eye. The track behind the scenes also serves as a kind of shadow station because both tracks have been given 3 blocks behind the scenes. The partitions between the front and back can give more depth to the scenes at the front using various techniques. Think of background photos, sky colors on the background walls and semi-relief buildings that visually continue into the background wall.

- In my situation I like to choose to have the trains in view as much as possible, instead of hiding them behind the scenes in a shadow station. The shadow station feature in the tracks behind the scenes is there to make the train oprations look more realistic. A choice to think about carefully because not every theme will be able to tolerate the same effect.

- My layout has one grade separated intersection. But that also means having slopes. It is important that a low gradient is used (preferably less than 3%) and that sidings for carriages and wagons remain neatly flat, otherwise the non-motorized equipment will go on the move. I have one ramp in the front layout and one behind the scenes. The slope in front is partly in the run-up to the bridge, from the Waalwijk yard in a rising dike, because the landscape around it rises with it, it is not noticeable. The modules under the bridge are just as high as the modules under the Waalwijk yard. Immediately after the bridge there is a dike and the modules are higher from the dike. Waspik station is therefore higher than Waalwijk on my track. This unobtrusive way allows me to rise about 8 centimeters in about 4 meters of length. A percentage of about 2%.

- The carefully chosen and well researched theme, namely the Langstraat railway in period 3, gives me the freedom to place the stations and the rest of the railway in a green environment. This is because the stations and the rest of the railway line were located far outside the village centers during construction. Some of the stations, such as Waspik and Drunen/Elshout stations, have never even seen the built-up area come close during their functional years.


There are endless possibilities. Both in the track plans and the methods to arrive at a successful track plan. In the 21st century there are also endless sources to get inspired from. Think of municipal and regional archives that are increasingly digitally accessible, as well as websites such as and, where a lot of information and inspiration can undoubtedly be gathered.
We hope to provide some handles on the methodical part, for those who can use it. Whichever ways you use; don't forget to embrace the process and have fun with it, it's a substantial part of the hobby after all.
And it's true, all the energy put into it will pay off. …Because a good start is half the battle.

Job plans collage
Various styles of track plans