I am not a layout designer, but don’t we all dabble a little in it?  One of a small series of my hypotheticals……..


Does a model railway need to occupy a dedicated space?

An alternative for limited space that also gives a bit of a mainline run – not much of one, of course, but something 🙂 .  I call this Model Railroad To Go (MR2G).  This is just two narrow four foot long sections coupled together with just enough staging to hide a train away from the layout.  The key feature of this design is that it can be broken down into two relatively small packages for storage and transportation.

The aim is to have something of an HO scale model railroad that can be set up easily:

  • maybe it’s a nice day and someone would like to operate on their twelfth floor apartment balcony.
  • or maybe there’s a blizzard outside and the apartment hallway or living room can be temporarily used for ops.
  • or maybe someone would like to visit a friend who has some space for fun – “I’ll bring the layout if you supply the locomotive and rolling stock”.
  • or maybe someone would like to present at an exhibition.
  • or maybe….

While the Free-mo standard can provide the same thing, I find that the 24″-26″ module widths ultimately make for something way too large.  MR2G has a width of half that which significantly helps for storage.

At the end of this post there is a downloadable PDF file of a CAD drawing with notations.  In the meantime, here are some pictures of the design of the benchwork.

The pictures below show overall views of the design.  It is built from dimensional lumber; my preference is poplar.  The table tops are 11mm birch.  The dog-leg feature has two benefits: it provides more stability for such a tall and narrow structure and it gives visual interest (rather than something that’s arrow-straight).  The angle of the dog-leg is 20 degrees – this can be reduced or increased as desired.



For speedy assembly/dismantling, the components are fastened with 5/16-18UNC or M8x1.25 screws and wing-nuts.  Fender washers on either side of these distribute the tightening load onto the wood.  Fasteners are not shown in the pictures but are located wherever a hole is evident.  The dog-leg section is attached to the main section with a “C” clamp.  The same goes for the staging.

Starting from the bottom….I like to use the levelling feet from Lee Valley.  Overall layout height is up to one’s preference.  For me, 45” from the floor is about right as I use Sergent couplers and find they are easier to operate if one can look down on the coupling.  As it turns out, the height 45” also allows the legs, when dismantled, to be nested inside the shelf bottom recess for storage.

The lower shelf on the main section ties-in the legs to make a solid anchor for the staging and dog-leg ends.  Self-stick Velcro strips could secure the DCC command station here.  The shelf can store other items like a throttle, rolling stock boxes, small tools, etc.  The back wall above the shelf adds rigidity but its main purpose is as a carrying sheet when the layout is knocked-down.


The views below shows the layout broken down into its storage configuration.  The back wall is mounted on top of the two main sections and has a carrying handle.  The scenery faces are turned inward for protection.  The two tie-bars from the legs of the dog-leg section are used as feet and securely box-in this assembly.  Overall size: 8″ x 12″ x 47″ (20.3cm x 30.5cm x 119.4cm) – this package can stand on end in a closet.



The legs themselves (without removing the levelling feet) are stored inside the bottom recess of the shelf, however only four fit inside and the other three lay on top of them.  The staging end is also laid on top of this and two double-sided Velcro straps can hold it all together.  A handle mounted on one side of the shelf makes for convenient transportation.  Overall size: 5-1/4″ x 7-1/2″ x 47″ (13.3cm x 19cm x 119.4cm) – this item could be hung on a closet wall.




Here is a picture of the inside structure.  A ledge under the main section helps for resting the dog-leg section upon assembly but it does not set the rail height as some vertical clearance is necessary (see CAD drawing).


The staging as shown will accommodate an 0-8-0 Switcher and four forty foot cars.  Naturally, this can be adjusted as desired.


The highly detailed scenery is kept low and removable structures are kept to a minimum.  In the design shown on the CAD drawing, there is a water tower.  This is removable and stored in a sturdy bin.  Since the water tower is removable I would also make a second water tower base with only abandoned tower foundations in order to allow a change in eras – from USRA 0-8-0 steam to EMD GP-something switchers.

The rail connection between the main, staging, and dog-leg sections is done a la Free-mo style.  The track ties with ballast go to the edge of each table while the rails are cut back 1 inch on either side of the split-line.  Soldering these rails to brass screws below them is highly recommended for security.  Two-inch long fitted rails, with a sliding rail joiner at either end, are installed to tie-in both sections. If the fit between the main and dog-leg sections is kept nice and tight, then loose ground cover can be temporarily applied to cover up the seam.

The roadway calls for use of the locomotive whistle/horn while also pausing to allow the headend brakeman to dismount to protect public traffic.  The double track spur allows for a team track and loading ramp/dock.  The scenery at the far end represents a city asphalt road and concrete sidewalk.  I would stop and pause at the turnout if the points need to be moved (making time for our brakie to dismount and climb aboard again).  For steam, the water tower provides for an interesting operation particularly if the sound of water being filled into the tank is available as a decoder function (or as an independent push-button layout mounted sound effect).  Using Sergent couplers, besides the excellent scale look and reliability, also slows the pace of operations as the jaws may need to be opened and/or the coupler aligned for coupling, like the prototype…


…sounds like a nice way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon, a dozen floors above the city.

Click here for the downloadable plan (MR2G)