Special Project: National Model Railroad Month G Scale RS3 Locomotive
A Special Project for National Model Railroad Month

Planning a G scale outdoor model railroad is not as complicated as it may seem. Like any project there are challenges, but there are also many resources available to help someone new to the hobby. All it takes are basic skills and common sense to achieve a great first railroad. Let's get started!

First Steps For a Simple Layout

Planning a garden railroad can be as simple as answering questions like:

  • How much space does a garden railroad need?
  • What skills and tools are needed to build a garden railroad?
  • How much money will a garden railroad cost?

There aren't any absolute answers to these questions since each person's vision of their desired garden railroad is going to differ. There are, however, guiding principles that will apply in most situations.

Space Requirements for a Garden Railroad

Create a simple diagram when planning your first garden railroad. Create a simple diagram when planning your first garden railroad.

The space needed to create a simple garden railroad will depend on the type of trains that will run on it. Using smaller locomotives like those available from LGB or Bachmann will offer more latitude with curves and operating opportunities since they can operate in confined areas. An area as small as 4 feet by 8 feet would be about the minimum size to accommodate these smaller trains.

Using a satellite view of the property courtesy of Google Maps (a free service) we determined that the best track plan for the available space was an oval.

It's important to know the minimum turning radius of your trains — especially the locomotives — when planning the layout. Make sure to allow plenty of room for larger locomotives to make it through turns. The larger the curves the better.

Layout radius requirements are dependent upon the size of equipment. Layout radius requirements are dependent upon the size of equipment.

Our goal for this project was to create interest in model railroading within our community, so it made sense to build the railroad in the front yard where others could experience the hobby. That gave us a space approximately 30 feet long by 20 feet wide, with a grade difference of about 10 inches due to the slope of the yard. This is plenty of room to accomplish our goal and run our largest equipment.

Turning Radius Basics

Radius vs. diameter

The biggest locomotive in our inventory is the USA Trains SD-70 MAC. It's a beast at 30 inches long. The minimum track diameter for this diesel is 8 feet, so all curves throughout the layout must meet this requirement or binding will occur between the wheels and the track.

By comparison, the Bachmann Trolley (pictured) will easily handle a much smaller diameter curve. A layout with smaller models like this can feature many more twists and turns.

Next Up: We'll take a look at the skills and tool needed to complete a simple garden railroad. Don't worry. It's easier than you think.

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