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4x8 Train Layouts
Model Railroading in only 4x8 feet...
One of the easiest and best ways to get started in model railroading is with a 4x8 train layout in HO Scale. 4x8 layouts are easy and cheap to build thanks to readily available sheets of 4x8 plywood. They do take up a fair amount of space, a but they're is easy to move out of the way when you need the room for something else. Most 4x8 model railroads let the trains run continuously. The best thing about a 4x8 layout is that it's small enough to get you started in model railroading without being overwhelmed and big enough to give you excellent operation and realism. One of the most famous model railroads of all time - the Gorre & Daphetid - started out essentially as a 4x8 layout.
101 Track Plans for Model Railroaders - By Linn H. Westcott
(Image: Gateway NMRA)
Model railroading is very traditional, and nothing is more traditional than building your layout on a 4x8 table. Building a 4x8 table for a model railroad has always been easy, and newer construction materials like extruded foam sheets make it even easier. Lots of great 4x8 track plans are available and with careful planning your 4x8 layout can become part of a larger layout if you decide to grow your railroad. 4x8 layouts are usually considered "beginner's layouts", but they're great for any model railroader from beginner to expert - so says the spirit of John Allen. The most important thing is that a 4x8 train layout is a lot of fun.
HO Railroad from Start to Finish has everything you need to know to build a 4x8 layout in HO Scale from start to finish. The table is built from foam core board so it's very light and easy to move around, and the track plan is simple but offers several switching spurs and good scenic potential. All aspects of building a model railroad are covered: benchwork, building structure kits, weathering freight cars, backdrops, simulated water, scenery, walk-around control, operations, and more. If you're just getting started in model railroading this book is the perfect starting point.
How to Build Realistic Model Railroad Scenery - By Dave Frary
First you'll need a table - Building a 4x8 table for your model raiload (part 1)
This video is an excellent tutorial on building a table for a 4x8 model railroad. The only thing I would change is to use small screws instead of nails (just personal preference). The method shown in these 2 videos is pretty easy and works great if your track plan and scenery are fairly flat. If your track plan has lots of variation in track and scenery elevation a "cookie cutter" style table would be better. Building a "cookie cutter" table is explained in great detail in HO Railroad That Grows (out of print but it's easy to find on eBay or Amazon for around $5.00).
Finishing the train table - Building a 4x8 table for your model raiload (part 2)
Gorre and Daphetid - World's Most Famous 4x8
Think you can't build a great layout in 4x8? Think again...
Pacific Coast Airline Railroad - Very nice On30 layout in only 4x8...
4x8 O Gauge Train Layout In Action - Lionel 1060 - I love these classic toy train display layouts...
Tips For Success - Building a good layout is just as easy as building a bad one...
(Photo: Atlas Model Railroad Co.)
It's easy to build a crappy 4x8 layout - but it's almost as easy to build a really nice one. To get the most out of your small layout, consider these tips:
Leave room for scenery Space is going to be at a premium, so make sure to leave room for scenery. Don't try to cram in to much track.
Run small equipment Modern locomotives and 80' cars are never going to look good on a 4x8 layout, even if you build it in Z Scale - so don't even waste your time trying. Choose smaller equipment like small 4 axle diesels and 40' (or shorter) freight cars. If you're into steam power, model an earlier era when locomotives were smaller.
Watch those buildings The same thing applies to buildings. A few big buildings are a lot less interesting - and make your layout look smaller - than a larger number of small buildings.
4x8 Track Plans
Lots of good ideas for a 4x8 train layouts...
You can find lots of good 4x8 track plans in model railroading books and magazines or on the internet. The National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) has a web site with a great selection of 4x8 track plans you can access for free and you can find many more by Googling "4x8 track plans". Here are some of my favorite 4x8 layouts...
The Red Wing Division is a 4x8 layout design with lots of switching potential. It's based on a track plan that was originally published in the December 1994 issue of Model Railroader Magazine. This track plan would work best if most of the structures were centered around a single industry. There isn't much room for water tanks or coaling towers so you'd want the time frame to be diesel. An SW-1500, Alco RS-3, or a GP9 would be a good locomotive choice for this layout and you'd want to run 40' frieght cars. What I like best about this design is that it was developed by someone who doesn't particularly care for 4x8 layouts.
- Red Wing
Track plan by LayoutVision
The Gateway Central X is even smaller than 4x8 but it still ha enough switching spurs for good operation. You'll want short locomotives and cars on this one. A Bachmann 70 ton switcher would be perfect. If I was going to build this I'd put it on a 4x8 table and extend one of the switching spurs into another industrial area.
- Gateway Central X
Track plan Copyright 2002 Richard Schumacher
I wish I had a better picture to link to. The Alkali Central is a Model Railroader project layout that was originally published in the December 1995 issue. The Alkali Central is a simple track plan that still offers good operational possibilities - as long as you like branch line operations and not Class One main line operations. The setting is high desert so if you like the Owens Valley or similar areas you might enjoy building the Alkali Central. I think it would look really nice set in the 1920s with an IHC Mogul for motive power.
- Alkali Central
From Model Railroader Magazine
The next time someone questions your choice of a 4x8 layout you might point out to them the Gorre & Daphetid. The Gorre & Daphetid was built by John Allen (one of the most famous and talented model railroaders who ever lived) and the little 3.5x7 foot layout eventually grew into one of the most famous model railroads of all time. If I was going to build the G&D I'd expand it to a "full" 4x8 layout and build it in Sn42.
- Gorre & Daphetid
Gorre & Daphetid
Great Northern Pacific - My favorite 4x8 HO layout
The Great Northern Pacific was featured in HO Railroad That Grows by Linn Westcott. The Great Northern Pacific is perfect for learning about model railroading because you start out with a simple oval. Then you add track, buildings, and scenery in steps and eventually end up with a fairly complex model railroading. The finished "HO Railroad That Grows" is more toy looking than the other layouts I'm highlighting, but the retro look makes it my favorite. The book is out of print but it's well worth tracking down a copy - it's a classic.
- HO Railroad That Grows
By Linn Westcott
HO Railroad That Grows - A classic book on model railroading
Equipment For Your 4x8 Layout - Smaller layouts look better with smaller equipment...
As much as I like 4x8 layouts, even I have to admit they have some limitations. When it comes to picking equipment for your layout the most important limitations are tight curves and short sidings. Big locomotives and rolling stock just don't work that well on a 4x8. If you like steam, probably the best locomotive is the Tyco Shifter. Others that work good are 4-4-0, 4-4-2, 0-6-0, 2-6-0, and 4-6-0 locomotives. Some of the smaller 2-8-0 Consolidations are also OK, but that's about as large as I'd go. For diesel locomotives, stick with switch engines or small 4-axle road units. For rolling stock, use cars that are 40' long or less. You might think this sounds awfully restrictive, but your layout will look and run a lot better if you stick with locomotives and rolling stock that fit your curves and sidings.
101 Trackplans - More track planning ideas...
101 Track Plans for Model Railroaders has some excellent 4x8 HO track plans, including the original Gorre & Daphetid (which was actually a little smaller than 4x8). If you're just getting started in model railroading or are limited in space, it has quite a few plans for model railroads that are even smaller than 4x8, and if you find the idea of a 4x8 layout a bit limiting it offers many plans for larger (sometimes much larger) model railroads. 101 Track Plans is a classic, and if you like model railroading it deserves a place in your library - especially if you like 4x8 model railroads.
Hot Off The Press - Recent Articles on 4x8 Layouts...
The January 2012 issue of Model Railroader Magazine has an outstanding 4x8 layout based on the Virginian (a coal hauling layout). It's the start of a 5-part series project layout and it's absolutely stunning. The track plan offers great operating potential and also shows how a basic 4x8 layout can be extended with a branch line and staging yard. Besides that, they also talk about some of the trade-offs required if you want to build and operate a 4x8 layout. For example the 6 axle locomotives they wanted to use had clearance problems, so they had to run smaller 4 axle units. The layout is outstanding even with the smaller motive power. You really should check it out...
As a bonus, the January issue comes with an insert featuring the Alkali Central (another great 4x8 HO layout) and an N Scale layout built on a door.
Ignore the Naysayers
Some people just want to spoil the fun...
In model railroading circles - especially among self proclaimed "experts" - it's common to look down on 4x8 model railroads. As an example, in a forum dedicated to small model railroads I once posted a link to a 4x8 model railroading site that I have. I titled my post "For those who like 4x8 model railroads." Almost immediately someone made a post titled "For those who hate 4x8 model railroads." Just ignore the naysayers, build what you like, and have fun - that's what model railroading is all about.
The Future Home of My Layout
Model Railroad Links - Some links you may find useful
- Begginer's Guide to Layout Design
Some interesting thoughts on layout design
- NMRA Project Layout Page
Lots of good 4x8 layout designs
- Carl Arendt's Small Layout Web SIte
Most are even smaller than 4x8, but he has a few good 4x8 designs
- 4x8 train layout group on Yahoo!
Join the Yahoo! 4x8 model railroad discussion group