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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)

Garden Railroad Planning Articles

Designing a garden railroad is more individual that almost any other creative enterprise. Most garden railroads include engineering, horticulture, history, landscaping, and pond culture, all combined in one or two people's imagination. There are far too many aspects of the hobby for one person to do them all well, so each garden railroad eventually reflects the core interests of the garden railroader(s).

That's one reason we can't put together just one chapter about planning your garden railroad. There are two other reasons:

  • The environment for outdoor railroaders isn't as predictable as the environment for indoor railroaders. No two gardens are the same, and no single garden is the same from one year to the next.
  • As you learn about landscaping and gardens and outdoor railroading all at the same time, your priorities will shift, and you'll start focusing on aspects of your garden railroad that weren't important to you before, while, frankly, "neglecting" others. Better that you and your railroad grow together than that you do all your planning at once from your armchair.

There is also a difference between planning the "look and feel" of your railroad and planning the infrastructure. As an example, you may want it to look like your railroad is climbing steep mountains, but your railroad will run better if you achieve that effect by having the track fairly level while the mountains "rise and fall" around it. And no matter how clever your track plan is, your turnouts need to be in the right places, or you'll spend more time than you should putting your trains back on the track. In short, our goal is to help you plan a railroad that will give you maximum enjoyment in the long run. Click to go to article

  • Building a Garden Railroad on a Budget - Includes information on creating an overall "project" plan for building your railroad in affordable stage. Updated February, 2008

  • Plan Your Railroad's Layout and Infrastructure

    • Which Comes First, the Garden or the Trains?  Click to go to article.Which Comes First, the Garden or the Train? - Your plants , landscaping and water features are going to be there even when you're not running trains. Yes, you should plan your garden with your trains in mind. But installing the railroad and then planning the garden could be a mistake - July, 2019

    • Click to go to article.Planning Your Garden Railroad for Watchability - Dreaming up a railroad that folks want to stick around and watch. Includes many recommended track plans and other suggestions you'll want to think about. - July, 2006

    • Click to go to articlePlanning Your Garden Railroad for High Reliability - Achieve smooth, stress-free operation by designing common problems out of your track plan and other infrastructure choices. Simple easements are among the topics discussed - January, 2001

    • Click to go to Article Tackle Those Grades With Ease - Longtime Southeast Pennsylvania Garden Railway Society Pete Eggink loves to study the real (big) railroads to see what lessons you can apply to a garden railroad. I've never devoted a whole article to grades, but reading Pete's article made me realize just how much useful information he has supplied. If you're wondering if it's a good idea to try to run a 60-car train up a 5% grade, this article will give you some hints.

    • Click to go to article.Planning Your Garden Railroad for Operations - Planning your railroad so that you can operate it like a real railroad! - August, 2006

    • Accessible Garden Railroads - Reducing physical barriers to the world's greatest outdoor hobby. March, 2006

    • Click to go to article.Garden Railroad Track Options - June, 2008

    • Is Aluminum Track a Viable Option? - New, June, 2008

  • Plan Your Railroad's "Look and Feel"

    • Click to go to article.Real-World Trains You can Model - What kind of railroad do you want to model? This is a summary of your basic choices, followed by a list of reading resources for learning more. We also have links to our own articles on unusual railroads you may find inspiring, including:

    • Click to go to article. Which Scale Should I Model? - Explains why so many different kinds and scales of train all run on the same track, and provides guidelines to help you find the best combination for your needs. Updated February, 2019

    • Click to go to article.Themes, Conventions, and Willing Suspension of Disbelief - Develop an "artistic vision" for your railroad that will help it be more rewarding to you and more interesting to visitors. Includes a review of literary and theme park design principles that anyone can apply - Updated April, 2008, with many new photos and examples.

Planning-Related Ideas from Other Folks

As always, please contact us with questions, corrections, additions, suggestions, or for any other reason at all.

Best of luck, all,

Paul D. Race

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