After reading three years worth of Model Railroader Magazine, I have seen some new trends that used to be rare. obviously, its your railroad, but a modern, stylish railroad might be your taste. So here are some things I have noticed in the past three years that never used to be common:
- Curves instead of corners. A modern layout often has curvy sides along the front instead of corners. There are three reasons for cutting those corners: 1). train track never makes a perfect corner, and the curves on a layout reflect that smooth flow of the track. 2). the track is closer to people when the corners of the layout are shaved off which allows for easier maintenance and operating. 3). With the modern tools like jig saws coming into a cheap price range, curves are easier now than before to make.
- Backdrops. Backdrops are not a new concept, but it hasn't been until recently that you have seen them on just about every layout. I will say that backdrops, because they are a good idea, were common, but they are more common now than ever. The backdrop also is more often than not having curves instead of corners, which keeps the corners from breaking up and endless sky.
- Staging yards and mainline. It used to be (about the 80s, 90s) that industrial switching was the way to run a railroad realistically. And most layouts, being small and having tight turns, reflected that trend. But now, even on small railroads, the mainline is coming back into focus. This is another trend which is repeating itself because, at least in my opinion, mainline running is a lot of fun, and models those days of watching trains go by rolling hills to distant lands. staging yards are also not a new concept, but they have been made to be almost mandatory for large railroads because of the volume of trains on the layout. Small railroads are also using staging yards more frequently as they are a good way to pack a lot of train in a small railroad. If I were to place my finger on the year, I'd say about 1995 railroads with staging yards began to spike.
- Multiple decks. With the trend of housing making large rooms like dens smaller, more multideck railroads are being built to counter the lose of real estate. Now this is a very new trend, and I can't tell how long it will last, but just flip through your years of modeling magazines and count the number of multilevel railroads from year to year. My guess is that the trend started between 2000 and 2005 which means that a railroad constructed then, will be featured in a large magazine for the first time now, or a couple years earlier.
- Return loops and point-to-point railroads. Obviously, these are not new as I have an atlas track planning book from 1985 with several plans for reverse loops, but they are more common now with the advent of DCC. DCC, or Digital Command Control is an easy way to run multiple trains on the same block of power. Being a computer essentially, DCC can also easily control reverse loops. Point-to-point railroads are also more common in response to a trend that focuses on realistic operation. This is helped by the tighter spaces in which people are living more often, which means that there is little room for large curves.
- DCC. Even though DCC has been around for nearly 2 decades, it hasn't become popular until about 2004 when the throttles and systems became cheaper, simpler to use, and no longer required a computer to run the trains. DCC has profoundly affected how our model railroads are operated, built, wired, and used due to the innovations which make DC look too simple. I myself do not have DCC, but I love it and have used several systems so far.
So there are several things which make modern railroads look modern. It is just as much about practicality as a new style of "artistic" beauty which drives these trends. This is especially true now that more and more home layouts are featured in magazines, on the web, and are open for public "open houses." These are also trends that have only come about in the last couple decades due to the expansion of the hobby to the public.