Evolution of a N Gauge - 3' x 5' Layout for the absolute beginner


"Many model railroaders ignore, in the rush to fill a newly acquired space with railroad, that it is very easy to end up with a monstrosity that does nothing but sit there, angering family members and consuming time, effort, and money with little return on the investment.

Biting off more than you can chew is one real danger that should be contemplated seriously. Think about all, the structures that would have to be kit or scratch built and the motive power and rolling stock. Then think about "real life." You know the part of life away from model railroading where you have to look after three VERY energetic children and attend to all those other interests and commitments.

You may decided that you simply didn't have the resources - and perhaps to a large extent the desire - to build a huge layout.

I've also seen far too many railroads that are nothing more than sticks and some grandiose schemes and hand waving showing of "what will be."

If you're contemplating construction of a large railroad I highly recommend taking the time to think the project through. Be honest about the time, effort, and money you'll have to commit in order to end up with a finished railroad.

If you think you can pull it off then go for, it but don't hesitate to opt for a smaller layout. Building a small layout is better than doing nothing at all. And an operational, well-scenicked small layout beats a basement full of lumber in my book."

Marty McGuirk
Associate Editor

In addition to what Mr. McGuirk notes above, not every one has the space to build a basement empire or even a standard 4’ x 8’ table, as the growing popularity of N Gauge shows.

Conversely many people starting in N think that a 4’ x 8’ HO plan will fit into 2’ x 4’ in N. By the time they find out that it can’t they have already spent a lot of time, and money, and are justifiably disillusioned with the whole hobby.

This Layout plan is a compromise between the two at 3’ x 5’. It was designed from the start as a tool to lead the beginner into the hobby, with a manageable and interesting layout. Only you can say if I have succeeded.

Though the document centers on an N Scale (1:160) layout, the information on wiring & operations that it contains will also be useful to HO Scale (1:87) and other modelers. So even if you are not interested in N Scale feel free to read it and pass comment.

If you wish to follow this project, especially if you wish to build it, bookmark this page and join the n_tutorial mailing list (see below for details). Your feed back can only help others who try to build it later.

Due to the size of this project, I have broken it down into several separate pages. I hope that this makes it more manageable for you as well as me. If this is the first time that you are reading the tutorial, I strongly recommend that you read it in sequence starting with the introduction.

To assist those who are returning to the tutorial or using it for reference I have included a breakdown of the topics.

Thank you for dropping by and I hope you enjoy the tutorial.

Chris Roper.

Hout Bay, South Africa.

For information or to give feed back contact caroper@caroper.com

N_Tutorial Mailing list

A lot of people are now building and/or following the tutorial "Evolution of a N Gauge - 3' x 5' Layout for the absolute beginner", or its variants and as such we have a mailing list on yahoo.com, and we invite you to join us.

In addition to acting as a forum for the exchange of ideas, it will be a place to answer questions and post information between web site updates. So even if you are not building the layout, or are beyond the beginner stage, please join in. The chances are very good that you can answer questions that I can't, or that others may be able to answer some of the questions that you have.

This is your chance to guide the future development of the tutorial and your input will be valued.

The following information is from yahoo:

This list is for the people who are
building or following the 3' x 5' Layout
for the absolute beginner, an N scale
tutorial layout, and is the place to
exchange ideas and tips.
For more information see:

Community email addresses:
Post message:
List owner:

End of Quote

If you are already a yahoo member then you need only click on the subscribe link above, otherwise you need to go to http://groups.yahoo.com and register first. Please note that subscribing to lists and joining yahoo are free. I have no connection with yahoo other than as a user.

Thanks for your interest in the Tutorial, and we look forward to you joining our list.


Introducing the concept

This section introduces the concept of the tutorial and the basic terminology and methods. It takes the reader from a basic loop of track, through staging and finally to a double track loop.

Building a layout for operations

The second section introduces the concept of a model railroad and basic operations. Staring with a single track mainline with passing sidings, it grows into a fully operational railroad with industry spurs. Along the way it discusses electrical requirements, operating systems and basic switching techniques.

Adding a challenge to the layout

Part three of the tutorial fleshes out the basic layout, first with John Allen’s Timesaver disguised as an industry, and then with a small classification yard. At each stage, the extra operating possibilities are discussed in more depth, and the naming and use of yard tracks is also covered.

The Name of the Game

The final tutorial installment (for now) covers the basic need to name and locate the layout as a prelude to more satisfying operations, provides some operating tips and introduces the possibility of expansion for the layout.

Advanced Track Plan

Whilst the Tutorial is a fully functioning railroad, some more advanced concepts were eliminated in order to fit the 3’ x 5’ limit. This plan uses slightly more space, at 80" x 32", and is built on a hollow core door. It includes active staging and locomotive servicing facilities, for the slightly more advanced modeler.

Compact Track Plan

Following up on some requests for a smaller version of the Advanced Tutorial Track plan, I have produced a condensed version to fit in 2' x 4'. Which is less than half the size of the original. This should also assist those who have asked for a HO version as it can easily be scaled up to 4' x 8', simply by doubling each radius and siding length.


The Kewaunee, Green Bay & Western R. R. Co.

The key to enjoyable operations is a believable operating scheme, and nothing is more so than a real prototype railroad. This section attempts to map the Advanced plan into the real world and provide a starting point for rewarding operations and research.

Variations on a theme

This section will show some variations of the basic layout, i.e. different construction methods, shapes or extensions to the plan.

It includes versions for other manufactures track, as well as HO versions of the plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

This is the place to find answers to questions about the tutorial, and the hobby, which have not yet been incorporated into the main body of the text. If you have any questions, I would encourage you to join the n_tutorial mailing list (details above), but you are still welcome to contact me directly.


I will be posting at least one update per month to the web site, whilst regular discussions and updates will be posted to the n_tutorial mailing list. Please join the list, the details are above.

The main focus, at this time, is on track planning and operations. The details of construction and scenery will be added later as the project expands. Like wise, the only graphics at this stage are GIF images of the track plan. I will be adding photographs, a full glossary and " hints and tips" as the project grows. Photos and drawings of implemented versions are available in the files section of the mailing list.

I retain the copyright on this work and reserve the sole right to publish the material, text and track plan. It is a work in progress and will be updated often.


Copyright © 1999 - 2002 – C. A. Roper

No part of this text or plan may be reproduced, in part or whole, other than as an aid to building a layout for your personal use, without the express permission of the author. For information or to give feed back contact caroper@caroper.com.

This is a work in progress and will continue to be updated.

Last updated Thursday, March 28, 2002