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Model Train Resource: HO-Scale Track Plans for Shelf Layouts

Updated on October 21, 2019
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The author has been enjoying model trains for decades and enjoys helping others with his hobby and introducing newbies to it.

Long Island Railroad Montauk Branch
Long Island Railroad Montauk Branch | Source

HO-scale track plans, which represent 1/87 proportion, remain the most popular of the model train options because they balance detail with a convenient size. But layouts may be out of reach because even a 4-by-8-sheet pike takes up too much room in a standard bedroom.

If you’re willing to forego space-hogging loops for more operations, you can realize your dreams of HO-scale track plans through a shelf layout. Not only does it leave the center of the room usable for other activities, but mounting it at shoulder or eye level leaves the space underneath the shelf free for desks, cabinets or other furniture.

© 2011 by Aurelio Locsin.

Designing HO-Scale Track Plans for Shelves

This New Railway Modelers page describes the steps in designing shelf-sized HO-scale track plans with fiddle yards. Because the website is based in Britain, it describes OO scale, which is slightly bigger than HO. However, that scale uses HO-gauge track, so the ideas work well for American creations. The final example includes oil tanks, a factory with loading docks and a coal yard, but reveals no dimensions. I’m calculating its measurements at about 6-inches wide by 4 feet long in HO.

When you’re finished with the article, click any of the buttons on the left site of the site to be led through a wonderland of model railroading information.

Shunting Puzzles

The Model Railways Shunting Puzzles website hails again from the UK because the Brits have been building small shelf layouts as a standard for decades. A shunting puzzle is turnout-heavy layout designed to provide hours of operation. You have to figure out how to move cars from arbitrary points to other arbitrary points determined randomly, such as with playing cards or dice. You could forego this artifice by adding industries and a switch list to the HO-scale track plans. The 1’ x 4’ example shows an American urban yard with two freight facilities and backdrop relief buildings. It’s designed for a GE 44-ton or Alco S2 switcher, pulling 40-foot cars.

Part of an extended Inglenook.
Part of an extended Inglenook. | Source

Shelf Switchers

The late Carl Arendt, master of micro-layouts under 8 square feet, describes more than a thousand shelf layouts on his website. This page, selected at random, has over six examples of HO scale track plans from around the world, with a few more in other scales. Included are an extended Inglenook measuring 66” x 12”, a 30-year-old pair of modules that packed up into a crate for college living, a 12-by-32-incher constructed for Ikea shelving, and a pike with three gauges so the builder could use as much of his railroad collection as possible. You can click an index to eight years of layout pages near the top of the site.

Long Island Railroad

Though HO-scale track plans for shelf layouts are narrow, they don’t have to be small, as proven by Nick Kalis. His Lower Montauk Branch of the Long Island Railroad occupies about 14’ x 19’ not counting a 16-foot peninsula that is 18 inches wide. (Click the layout design image for a larger view.) There isn’t a single loop but the pike, set in the warehouse district of Long Island City in 1963, boasts three bodies of water, at least two dozen industries and a car float. You can read about Nick’s layout philosophy and view photos of the layout in progress.

Hard to believe that this scene is part of an HO scale layout by Lance Mindheim.
Hard to believe that this scene is part of an HO scale layout by Lance Mindheim. | Source

Los Angeles Junction Railway

Master railroad modeler Lance Mindheim is well-known for creating layout masterpieces that are then documented in the major model-railroading magazines, such as this Los Angeles Junction Railway. Measuring 9'6" by 4' with the shelf width at 22 inches, this highly realistic switching layout contains only two switches and six industries that provide hours of switching fun. Be sure to check out all the pictures as well as the other railroads on his website. I'm a big fan of his books, many of which I own, and of his design philosophy, such as ensuring that a layout fits in with the rest of the house.

Click here for some videos of HO-scale track plans, though not for shelf layouts.


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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      15 months ago from Houston, Texas

      That is a great idea to use model trains displaying them on a shelf if one has space considerations. I can envision decorating a child's bedroom with a train theme and having a shelf or shelves with model trains on them as a part of the overall picture. Or how about an adult's office space? I like it!


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