Scenic Design


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A common error when starting in model railways is to construct flat baseboards around the perimeter of a room, or to make a standard traditional flat baseboard according to the space available. Track is usually purchased on a random basis or to match a track plan and fixed to the layout. It is usually only at this point that consideration is given to the scenery and the problems with flat boards begin to appear. How do you include a water feature which would usually form geographical features like streams, rivers and lakes at a lower level than the track? How do you construct track at a higher level or scenic features to include bridges etc. when the starting point is a flat board? These features can be achieved however they would have been much easier to construct if provision had been made at the design stage.

If you are completing a freelance model railway or if you are modelling a specific location try to give the scenery as much consideration at the design stage as the track. Remember the simple natural order behind any landscape featuring a railway: Geographical features were present before the railway arrived. To obtain the most natural looking model railway it is important to get the balance between the amount of track and the surrounding scenery correct. Looking back at all the well known highly acclaimed exhibition and magazine featured model railway layouts the majority have achieved their high acclaim because the layout is not overwhelmed by track, and the scenery is to a very high standard.

Several methods can be used to ensure the best possible end product at the design stage of a model railway;

  1. Make a small scale model of your proposed layout to visualise the relationship between the track, scenery and structures.
  2. On smaller layouts make an actual size drawing on a sheet of wallpaper or lining paper to show the relationship between the track, scenery and structures.
  3. Use CAD software to test the scenic features of your track plan also designed with the same program. 

Professional Layout Services use the CAD program WinRail to design the vast majority of model railways we construct. We use WinRail to design the track plan, baseboards and also the scenery if required. We do not produce highly detail scenic drawings as these are very time consuming and as, the drawings are for our own use we simply add respective heights to the track, define areas that are of the same height and add scenic node points to give us the baseboard shapes when constructing. Examples of screen shots can be seen below after the track diagrams with and without heights shown.

Diagram 1 - The left image shows the track plan, and to the right the track plan with track heights added.

WinRail screen shot showing the track plan with an additional layer showing flat areas for non inclined track beds and scenic features e.g. rivers and settlements.

WinRail screen shot showing the track plan with scenic node points showing altitude from the river at datum. The node points are then used to create a 3D image as shown below.

Screen shot showing 3D visualisation from Winrail 10. The 3D viewer allows the layout to be rotated and viewed through various planes.


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