Model railways come in a few different sizes and scales, and HO is one of them--it's a fairly large scale and requires a fair amount of space to set up properly. The best part about it is the flexibility with which you can set up your railway, so that you can make it fit into any space or shape imaginable. You'll have the best results if you plan out your railway with a diagram first.
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Most HO scale sets will come with enough track to set up a basic circle. A loop made up of a few curved pieces can make the first set up. If you also have straight pieces, you can make the circle into a larger, rounded square. From the circle shape, you could also expand and widen the shape to make a basic oval. A closed loop is the best shape for your train set because you can keep the train going straight without having to stop and reverse it.
Oval with Siding
If you have switch pieces as well, you could place them both on the same side of the oval, to extend the oval and make a siding, a place for trains to rest when not in service. This siding could simply be a second curve of the oval, or form a whole new side to act as a passing lane.
Oval with Bumpers
Instead of turning the switches to the outside, turn them inside so that you can place bumpers to park a train or a pair of trains inside your oval. Use the standard oval shape on the outside with a pair of dead ends facing into the middle.
The only thing more fun than one circle layout is two of them. With four switch pieces attached and pointing toward each other, you can sort of inset two circles inside a single oval.
You will need a crossover piece or a bridge in order to make a figure eight shape, as well as a couple of extra curve pieces. When set up, it will look like the number 8.
Try making any of the above shapes and adding elements from others to make an even more interesting set up. A figure eight with an extended passing lane, or an oval with a circle set in the middle.
Plan for Space
Instead of starting with a plan based on one of the designs above, try diagramming the space you'll be putting your railway into first, and then drawing the loop that will fit perfectly into that space. You can also get some inspiration for your railroads and see examples at any of the websites under References.
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