How to wire & scale a model train layout

Written by tom chmielewski
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How to wire & scale a model train layout
Choose the right scale for your space and budget. (Getty Creative)

In model railroading, you choose the scale by the track and equipment you buy. HO scale is the most popular scale because you can accomplish a lot of railroading in a relatively small space. Wiring for any scale that uses two tracks starts with a basic concept of one wire to each track rail. But, it gets complicated quickly as you increase the size and complexity of your layout's design.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Track
  • Power source/controller
  • Wire (18-20 gauge)
  • Wire cutter/stripper
  • Soldering iron
  • toggle or slider switches (DPDT)

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  1. 1

    Choose your scale based on the size of space available for your layout. O scale demands a large amount of space for anything more than a toy train layout. G Gauge track, which actually carries several scales of large trains, is best used for garden railroads. HO, half of O at a ratio of 1:87, is the most popular scale for model railroads.

  2. 2

    Run wire to each of the two track rails from a model railroad powerpack that provides direct current to each of the two rails. On a small layout, where you only run one train at a time, you may only need one connection.

  3. 3

    Insert a double pole, double throw toggle or slider switch between the power source and the track to allow you to reverse direction of the locomotive by reversing polarity of the circuit.

  4. 4

    Connect the wire to the rails using commercial connectors with wires already attached to track joiners used to link tracks, or solder wires directly to the side of the rails.

  5. 5

    Run booster connections to compensate if you discover power fades and your locomotive runs slower or even stops on longer stretches of track.

  6. 6

    Isolate blocks of track using insulated joiners, or leaving gaps in the rail, to allow running multiple trains, each in a different block that's basically the length of train. These electrically isolated sections are controlled by a toggle or rotary switch to determine one of two or more power sources to control the locomotive, or they can simply cut off power to a siding.

  7. 7

    Create a separate block for a "reverse loop" where the track doubles back on itself by entering and leaving the loop through the same track switch or turnout. The track will short out if it's not isolated. You will need to reverse polarity of the mainline before a train leaves the loop.

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