How to Get Started With Model Railways

Posted by Adam Nye on 16th Mar 2022

How to Get Started With Model Railways

How do you get started with model railways?

Model railways are an increasingly popular hobby, with an increase of popularity especially over lockdown, and many people choosing to take it up in retirement - but it can be quite daunting thinking about where to begin. We aim to break it down and make it as simple as possible to understand in this blog post.

1. How do I decide where to model?

one of the most important things to consider, even before choosing a gauge, is where do you want to model? A good way to come up with ideas is to look back at your memories - did you visit a heritage railway, or take a family trip to the south west ? Using your own memories can be a really great way to get started in choosing the types of engines and rolling stock (coaches and wagons) that you can run on your railway - of course you could follow 'rule 1' of model railways, which is run whatever you want and make it up as you go!

2. How do I Decide on a Gauge?

Once you have an idea of where you may want to model, the next thing to do is to find out what types of trains ran in the area, a good way to find this out is by googling it, or by joining a model railway Facebook group and asking on there. As soon as you can a basic idea of some of the types of locomotives you can have, search them up, but add model to the end - this should produce a range of results, with models available in OO, N or O, and the best bet is to choose whichever has the most options, so you can have a variety of models..

Another important factor to consider when choosing a gauge is 'How much space do I have?'' - if you have a whole bedroom, garage or maybe even a loft, you can think about using medium to large scales, such as OO and O gauges, but if you only have a small table or a small corner of a room, then you may want to look at N Gauge, which is one of the smaller but more readily available 'small gauges' which also includes miniscule models such as T and Z gauges.

If you want to model trains outside of the UK you have slightly different options - these being HO and N - HO scale engines run on the same track as OO but are slightly smaller, HO being 1:87 and OO being 1:76.

What do I buy first?

The best way to start in any gauge is to look for starter sets, generally OO gauge has the most affordable starter sets, but some are also available in N gauge. Starter sets come with everything you need, a locomotive and a couple coaches or wagons, a controller and a loop of track which you can then expand upon in the future. An alternative way to do this is to buy everything separately, this can either be cheaper or more expensive depending on how you do it!

How can I control my model railway?

There are two main ways of controlling a model railway 'Analogue' or 'DC', and 'Digital Command Control' or DCC. Which one is easier to use is up for debate - DC is the cheaper option, and is very simple and essentially just 'plug and play' however the bigger the layout the more power supplies and the more complicated it gets, as with larger layouts you will need lots of points (the part of track that allows trains to change lines), and this means you will need multiple switches to control where to current is going - with DCC it is a lot simpler in this respect, with everything being powered at once, and with each train having its own digital decoder, meaning each train is controlled separately from the track, whereas with analogue they are controlled directly from the power going through the track, so that two engines on the same line would move at once. We will go into this in more detail on a later blog post!

But to simplify: 

DC - Cheaper, better for smaller 'loop' layouts, and easier to start with

DCC - more expensive, but makes controlling bigger layouts easier, can also have sound fitted locomotives.

 How can I create scenery?

There are a number of ways you can add to the realism of your model railway - we will go few some of them now.

A great way to start is by paining the board you plan to bui9ld your layout on a certain colour, such as black, grey or brown, brown making the most sense for a countryside layout as it can represent dirt, and grey would make more sense for a built up residential or city area. The paint gives you  a good base to add more scenery on top of.

Ballasting your track is also important - an easy way to do this is by using ballast underlay (which you simply cut to the shape of the track and then glue to the board, but you can always buy ballast in bags and then spoon it over your track. Then you can use a toothbrush or a small modelling brush to move the ballast to where you want it to be, also making sure that you don't get any stuck on the rails. Once you are happy with the way it is sitting you can covert the area with a 50/50 water/pva glue mix to seal the ballast down.

Another important aspect of scenery is ground cover, this is used to cover large areas such as fields or hills to create a grassy effect. This can be bought in bags, and then added to a layout by sprinkling the cover over the desired areas - an easy way to do this is to simply use your hand, or you could use an empty spice container than you might get from a supermarket. The areas should be covered with a 50/50 pva/water mix and once the layers of cover are added and dried, it is worth adding another layer of pva/water to the top.

From here you can add static grasses, tree, bushes, flowers to your scene, all of these products are readily available meaning you can get on with scenery as fast as you want too!