Planning a layout for several….or many years down the road? Design, preparing, and anticipation can be a big part of the fun.  In my experience with clients, the “layout launch” date is often tied to a lifestyle change, such as retirement, that will finally free up the time and space to FINALLY, have that model railroad you’ve dreamed about for years.  Perhaps you’re in a position to start in just a few months.  Possibly, but my experience is that people generally start planning many, many years ahead.

As you have fun planning for “the day” here are a few things to throw into the mix, things that I see tripping people up over and over again when they finally are ready to “go”.

  1. Delaying Learning: There are two ways to prepare, “learning stuff” and “buying stuff”.  Who doesn’t enjoy buying things? It’s natural that advance shopping is how most people prepare.  Unfortunately, it’s the skills you’ll need far more than the stuff.  Model railroads can be complex and they take a fair amount of knowledge to execute.  Now is the time to start picking up basic skills such as: scenery techniques, structure assembly, wiring, and electronics.  The best way to do so is practice on a small diorama.  The practice slab doesn’t need to be built with the intent of keeping it but rather as a platform to ramp up your abilities.  Lay some track, practice building a few structures, have fun with scenery, make some mistakes, pitch the thing, start again.  Not only will you have fun in the process but your permanent layout will be so much the better for it.  It will fall together more quickly, with less frustration, and look better.
  2. Buying Locomotives Too Far in Advance: Again, buying things is fun.  However, locomotives are powered by technology and technology improves year to year.  If your entire roster is purchased, five or ten years before you can start your layout, when the day arrives you’ll have an entire roster of outdated technology that won’t perform as well as what you can buy in the future.
  3. Buying Locomotives Based on Looks.  There are locomotives brands that LOOK great and there are those that RUN great. Sometimes they’re the same, often they are not.  Time and time again I meet clients that have huge rosters of locomotives that look fantastic but were produced by second tier manufactures with reputations for producing products with sub-par mechanisms.  It doesn’t matter how cool an engine looks if it lurches, stalls, and constantly derails.  High quality brands include (but aren’t limited to)  in HO: Kato, Proto 2000, Atlas, and Athearn Genesis.  In N scale: Kato. If you rely on these tried and true brands for the basis of your roster, you’ll be off to a good start.
  4. Not Planning For Lighting:  When many of my clients contact me they are either building a new home or close to doing so.  When I arrive on the scene the layout room is routinely dim and often by a large margin.  When planning the room lighting think in terms of the brightness you’d see at a jewelry store in the mall, not a dimly lit man cave.
  5. Downplaying Ergonomics:  Access, reach in distance, layout height, aisle widths…it’s all too easy to put these on the back burner in an effort to squeeze in more layout in the available.  The trap is you won’t even notice these compromises the first year or so when enthusiasm is high.  However, over time not having a layout that is comfortable to interact with will become a slow drain on your level of interest.
  6. Over reaching with respect to layout size:  You’ve been waiting forever.  So many ideas, so many things you want to feature.  I see it time and time again, in the excitement to finally build that dream layout, design  mission creep sets in and the ultimate layout ends up being very large.  It’s a double edged sword.  Large layouts come with their own set of problems and it’s best to have your eyes wide open and know exactly what you’re getting into before you bite off massive footprints, large turnout counts, or double deck layout layouts….especially if this is your first model railroad.