Time, space and money are possibly the three most important resources a model railroader has. On this page I will describe ways modellers can make effective use of their time. The discussion assumes you do want to use your time effectively. If you are content to go with the flow, read no further.

One general point to note is that the resources of time, space and money are interdependent. A modeller with plenty of money and can save time by paying someone to build a layout. That same modeller can gain space for their hobby by building an extension to their house, building a shed in the backyard, or by renting space. A modeller with plenty of time can save money by scratching building everything.

Home Layout


If you have decided to build a home layout and your have enough disposable income, you could pay people to design and build your layout. The downside of this is you miss out on all the knowledge learnt and skills gained from building the layout yourself.

Another possibility is to buy a layout or to receive it from an estate. Earlier this year (2017), one member of our club received the benchwork from an estate. Not quite the same as receiving a layout but all the time to build the benchwork was now available to work on other parts of the layout. If the layout you buy or receive is not quite what you want, you can modify it. The time to do the modifications will likely be significantly less than that needed to build the layout from scratch.

If you have decided, as most modellers do, to build the layout yourself you should

  • make you layout as small as possible subject to achieving your aims
  • add the backdrop as soon as possible,
  • test the layout after each step of the construction

In addition to saving time, making your layout as small as possible will minimise the space you need for your layout and will probably minimise the cost of buidling it. Do you really need that second deck? Could you get away with a wdith of 20 inches instead of 24 inches?

A good time to add the backdrop is after you have made the benchwork and laid the track. If you leave adding the backdrop until, for example, you have completed the scenery, you may will find the scenery gets in your way or gets damaged.

It is usually far easier to find a mistake made during the construction immediately after the mistake is made than after the layout has been completed. Hence, you should check you layout after each step of the construction. The checks will depend on the construction step. Possible checks include the following

  • After you have completed the benchwork and added the sub road bed, check that the tracks will fit. Maybe you did not allow enough spacing between parallel tracks, or you assumed when doing your track plan that the turnouts had a larger angle of divergence than they actually do? Are the passing sidings, yard leads, and yard tracks long enough? Also check that the ruling gradient is not too large and that you can do the switching operations you want to.
  • Check that your locomotives can pass through your turnouts and crossovers without a hitch. You do not have to check all your locomotives. Perhaps just three: your longest, your shortest, and the locomotive that seems to be the most finicky. 
  • After you have wired the track and before you have laid the ballast, check that you have adequate power on all parts of the layout.
  • Before you permanently fix a structure such as a building or a tunnel to the layout check that your longest, highest or widest rolling stock will clear the structure.


The key to saving time when building the benchwork is not to over-engineer it. Some modellers like their layout sufficiently strong that they can stand on it. If you are one of these modellers, you will certainly need a strong construction and it would be wise not to cut corners in an effort to save time (and money). If you want your benchwork just strong enough to support your layout and a few tools without bowing, you can use a sparse construction.

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