What Makes a Great Model Railroad?

Each model railroad is unique and exciting in its own way, but all great model railroads have a few things in common. Making an awesome railroad starts with a great theme, innovative layout design, and functionality.

example of a great model railroad

One of the first things everyone building a model railroad needs to do is to decide on a unique, well-executed theme. Theme includes time era, function (i.e. passenger, freight, etc.), location, and time of year. Having a unique theme will bring your model train to life and give your model railroad character. The theme you decide on will help you to determine what scale, terrain, backdrop, structures, and train cars to use. By deciding on a theme up front you can save a lot of time and money in the future.


Using an innovative layout design will make your train exciting to watch as it zips around the model railroad track. Layout design includes the amount of space you have for your railroad, track planning, size of the railroad, and wiring. There is a wide variety of commonly used track plans that you can choose to base your model railroad after, or you can choose to create your very own track plan. Great model railroads use track plans that enhance the theme of the track, are functional, and provide variety.


The last, and probably most obvious of characteristics that make a model railroad track great is functionality. A well-themed track with an intricate layout is no good if the model train can’t get around it. Key things to avoid to improve the functionality of your track include overly tight turns, steep gradients, and uneven terrain.

If you’re interested in expanding your model railroad set or are looking to get started, be sure to visit ExactRail for all your model train needs.