If you're building a new model railway and are looking for some ideas or inspiration for the track layout, you may have come across a number of track planner resources such as books, software and free online tools. But which one is the best and most effective for railway modeller track design?
Choosing the best model railway track planner can be a difficult task, given the sheer volume of track planning tools available online.
To help you solve this problem, we've utilised our extensive experience in all things model trains, to help you get the most suitable track planner for your model railway build. These options will cover all the popular model railway gauges including N, OO and HO.
In this guide we'll take a look at the best websites and resources for track planning and use our extensive experience to discuss the benefits of each. We'll review the options for the best model railway track planner, including the leading track planning books and software, as well as our recommendations on the free resources available for your next model railway build.
Track Planning Books
There are a number of track planning books available for the different model railway scales. These are a very useful starting point for planning your model railway layout and can provide some much needed inspiration if you're looking for ideas. We've found that they can also be a great option for people looking to fit a model railway into an unusual space or a room with unusual sizing as they help to visualise how the layout will look.
For a general overview of model railway track plans, we would recommend the 101 Track Plans and the 101 More Track Plans books. These provide plenty of examples and inspiration on how to layout your model railway track. For those of you in the UK, don't be put off by the references to railroading - these track plans will work for OO gauge layouts as well, and both of these books are well reviewed by railway modellers.
There's also the Peco Planbook specifically for OO gauge layouts. This provides more specialist advice on planning model railway layouts for OO gauge track.
If you're looking for track plans for N gauge layouts we would recommend the Peco N Gauge Track Plans book. This is similar to the options listed above in terms of the quality of advice it gives, but is specifically tailored to N gauge track plans.
Also, don't forget to check the used market for track planning resources. Quite a few track planning books are no longer in print, and you can pick up some fantastic bargains on auction websites. Try searching for "Model Railway Track Plans" on eBay.
Track Planning Software
One of the best pieces of track planning software is TRAX. This is a free online track planner that works on a wide variety of operating systems and browsers, providing it has access to the internet. It features a great drag-and-drop intuitive interface allowing you to easily move and connect track pieces to form interesting track layouts.
The advantage of this piece of software is that it can be used to design a wide variety of model railway layouts - anything from a basic layout in a small room through to more complex layouts covering larger areas.
Free Model Railway Track Planners
There are also some great track planner resources that are completely free! These provide another source of inspiration when designing your next model railway. We find that they're a useful starting point for track planning as they tend to provide more general ideas as to what your layout could look like.
These are some of the best free track planning resources available at the time of publishing this article:
Website with a significant database of free model train track plans which are easily filterable by scale, type and make. The site
A very large collection of track plans grouped by location, shape and size. This database covers layouts ranging from oval or double oval to branch lines. It also includes layouts for a number of Hornby track plans gathered from a selection of Hornby Track Plan Manuals.
- MRH Track Plan Database
A good selection of user-uploaded model railway track plans with differing layouts. These tend to be of a North American theme. Many of these plans include additional accompanying details, such as other illustrations and notes, so you get a clearer picture of the thought process behind the design descisions.
If you're looking for more tips, techniques and recommendations on the best resources to use for designing and building model railways, check out the other articles in our scenery and baseboard series. You'll also want to see our train set posts for our choices on the best trains to run on your model railway layout.