Within planning, there are several factors to take into consideration.
Space is probably the main limiting factor that a modeler faces. Because of this, it is important to know how big of a space you have altogether. You may only have a 1X4 window sill to place a layout, or you may have a two car garage which isn't being used. Try, if you can, to get the largest space possible. You can even run your trains outside with the top three largest scales, 7/8", G, and O.
It is a good idea to know what you need for your railroad. Foam, Lumber, Wire, Track, Buildings, scenery are all important materials to a completed railroad. This also includes tools, so you will want at the least, a screw driver, small saw, and a pair of pliers. Also, see my list of tools for building and maintaining a railroad.
Are you handy with a saw and drill? If not, perhaps a layout kit is necessary to start a model railroad. Mod-u-rail is a good choice for that, or you can get an NMRA layout kit.
Although the above choices influence what scale you want to model, eyesight and dexterity also needs to go into consideration. Anything from Z to G is plausible at the beginning, but later it might be only N or HO that you can use to model. The most common scales you will find in the U.S. are from largest to smallest: 7/8" (1:13.5), G (1:22), O (1:48), S (1:64), On30 (1:48), HO (1:87.1), N (1:160), Z (1:220), T (1:450) and and the Lego is roughly 1:32 Scale (Yes people do "model" in Lego). In order to decide which scale you want to model, I suggest going to a club or train show and experiencing first hand most of the scales out there. This will allow a person to get a good feeling for the scale spectrum as well as an idea as to the space a scale train takes up. The majority of railroaders now-a-days choose N or HO scale for two reasons:
- Both scales can have dramatic scenery which dwarfs the trains, all in a smallish area.
- Both scales are on the low cost side, making them affordable to virtually everyone.
The next step that I do when building a railroad, is I go online and look for places to model or find a prototype on Google Maps. Here are the coordinates to a few of my favorite places (just copy and paste onto the search box in Google Maps):
Minneapolis, MN 55401 This is the site of the Washburn A mill, or the Mill City Museum. It at one point had 32 tracks!
Rapid City, SD 57701 Here is my local grain elevator. Around the elevator, there are plenty of other modeling opportunities.
North Freedom, WI 53951 And this is the railroad museum at Rock Springs, WI. There are plenty of tracks to model.
When you find the tracks, keep looking around and you will be surprised as to what you find!
You can also go to museums or sites that are of railroad importance. here I am sure anyone looking for a model railroad will find a prototype.
In part two we will decide the track plan and make sure everything is ready before building begins.