2X8 shelf layout ideas

ModelRailroadForums.com is a free Model Railroad Discussion Forum and photo gallery. We cover all scales and sizes of model railroads. Whether you're a master model railroader or just getting started, you'll find something of interest here.


Scale HO
Era Present
Minimum Mainline Radius 28"
Layout height 5 feet

Shelf style with area for removable staging to the East and South on the West end, The eight foot length running West to East, and the width of two feet being North - South

I've drawn up many ideas but can not settle on a design and start laying track. I came upon this forum last week and noticed this layout design section, so I am asking you guys for help/advice.

I've read Track Planning for Realistic Operation, and also everything else I could find on designing a layout for operation. But I have not asked others for their input, so here it goes.

I'm modeling the BNSF, loosely in 1996 to current. I don't want to simply run trains around on the track, I want operation. I have areas that could hold staging tracks adjacent to the main layout, or I could just use a big building to house a couple of staging areas on the main layout. The maximum amount of operators on this layout that I can foresee is two. 90% of the time I will be operating it by myself though.

One plan was to have a yard taking up most of the area and have the mainline run from one staging area through the main layout and ending at the other staging area. But then I realized that I wouldn't want to always setup the temporary stagings area's just to switch some cars, or play with my trains ;) Plus I think that the permanent area of my layout is enough for me at the moment. Time wise, money wise, and interest.

One of the other ideas was heavy industrial trackage, with two staging tracks near the back of the layout for a maximum train length of five 50' cars and one GP38 for one track and space for a 4 car train on the other track. I was thinking tight turns into some buildings, with some handlaid trackage. My previous layout was N with code 40 handlaid turnouts, and no I'm not lying when I say that it was relaxing. Well the building part, fine tuning them so that all of my rolling stock ran through them perfectly was the complete opposite. Well back to the topic. I would have a train come out of staging, switch cars, exchange the loaded cars for empties, maybe wait for a passenger train to come by. Assemble the train and leave back to staging.

I keep coming back to the industrial plan, but I would really like a yard somewhere. Or maybe an interchange track. I just can't decide.

Mainline curves are going to be a minimum of 28", with other trackage going to 18", or through experimentation with a car that will serve that industry and possible an idle car so as to not derail the car because of limited coupler swing.

Also I am not going to be changing scales, I love detailing engines and rolling stock, but in N scale it was not fun. Also those 2 bay hoppers from Athearn really caught my eye. So I will be trying to incorporate an industry that can use them. Most uncoupling will be done by hand, if their is a straight section of track then I will use a magnet.

Well that is almost all that I can think of. All comments welcome

Also I was looking at another members layout, and his staging area. My only real con with that is my layout height, which is 5'. Now I have this idea to use a cheap 4' level I bought at Walmart as the main support for the staging drop leaf area. Do any of you guys think that this will be sufficient to support the track with no warping of the tracks? I would only be supporting it at the very ends, so nothing in the middle. But I think that the metal the level is made of, coupled with the low weight it will support, will be able to hold up well. What do you guys think?

If I am going to have staging I would like it to be easily removable. I have been like this for 2 months now, throwing around ideas. All the benchwork was built in a day. I thought that was going to be the hard part. When I was 16 I would draw plans all day, but now its like I keep coming back to six central ideas. Oh well, I'll get it eventually.
Last edited by a moderator:


Fun Lover
I think I am getting that you are going N-scale, but I am not 100% certain. You can get more with N scale for sure. Can you come out wider? If so you can get some staging behind the layout. With two feet wide you can do a yard, some industries and an interchange if you wish.


I used to be in HO, went to N, and now am back in HO. Never again am I going back to N. I love to see the details, and with N its not the same. My dream layout would have long coal drags, double stacks and 14 car passenger trains, buuuut in HO. I just think N scale is to small for details. I've installed enough BLMA grab irons, and brake piping on N scale models. Now getting back into HO I am amazed at the detail Life-Like has put into its 2000 run. I can't wait to improve on the factory detailing, if I can, and fix the mistakes. I am by no means a rivet counter, but I like details.

I got Track Planning for Realistic Operation after I read your beginner's guide. I wish I had read both when I planned my old N scale layout.


Fun Lover
If you are going HO on a 2 x 8, then then you can do a little, but it will take planning. Staging in your space will have to be something like a traverser or removable cassette. A yard will take up pretty much your whole space. Combining an interchange with a cassette and a few industries might be the way to go.

I can picture a 4 foot cassette that holds 8 forty foot cars or 3 autoracks (small space and modern times is not as good a combination as tranistion era back because of the size of cars) and 15 to 20 industries. Your switcher pulls the cars from the interchange track (cassette) and delievers them to the appropriate industries. It then collects cars and puts them on the cassette.


Fun Lover
This is a rough draft. You probably don't need two runarounds (eliminate the one on the diagonal) and you don't need both sides of the crossing. You can get in more industries if you play with the street locations. The turnouts are #5's

It will have limited use with modern freight cars, but 50's 40 fotters will work well.



Wow, Chip, that's quite a nest o' switchbacks. It could be a might tedious switching out that cassette one or two cars at a time.

An "oldie but a goody" for roughly that space is Linn Westcott's "Switchman's Nightmare". (yes, it has one of those pesky switchbacks. But with a little more length, it could be eliminated.


This particular version has broader curves and larger turnouts to serve more modern rolling stock (though not a lot of them). If one envisioned the yard on the right as an interchange yard and the tracks on the left as belonging to one large multi-track industry, this could be a fun little layout. And since the original poster has a little extra length, the runaround and the tail tracks at each end could be a bit longer and the tail tracks could be used to connect to temporary or cassette staging.

Last edited by a moderator:


Fun Lover

Touché. It was a very rough draft--I spent all of 15 minutes on it. The idea was to point a direction rather than a finished layout design.

Now that I look at it, I see your point. LOL!


Stay off the tracks!
Remember, you don't have to get locked into having the track run from end to end straight across - you can also do a corner to corner mainline on a diagonal, although I'd include curves at both ends in order to make the track ends flush with the benchwork ends (makes it a lot easier if you later get to add onto the layout at either or both ends).


Like all of us, you're unfortunately hoping to put 10 pounds of sugar in a five-pound sack. One of the challenges is trying to optimize both for the main section alone as well as providing interesting options for the removable sections. Since the coupled length of a GP-38 is about 60 feet and the coupled length of 50' cars is around 55', your five-car design train is a also a little too long to be practical for the staging concept you've mentioned. It will measure around 46". Since you have to pull this out of staging and then work with it, you need at least twice this length plus allowance for turnouts, so it won't quite fit. Four cars plus power might just fit in the longer staging track, the lead, and the runaround.

This is a very, very rough stab at an idea, just to explore the trade-offs. Since you are not afraid of hand-laying, there is one custom crossing, the others are off-the-shelf Atlas parts. One of the things I often try for with these designs is to overlap elements as much as possible. The staging at the upper right of the permanent section overlaps part of the large runaround and some industrial trackage, for example.


The long temporary section on the lower left is a challenge because of the curve needed to connect it to the rest of the layout. I've included another staging/interchange track and some flats on this section to provide both a source of cars and some destinations.

But optimizing the permanent section and that long narrow removable section means the last removable section is not very optimized, holding another two-track industry and some welcome lead extensions. All part of the trade-offs in making the layout work both with and without the removable sections.

Anyway, this would probably need some tweaking, but I think it's a realistic example of what you might accomplish with more-modern equipment and that space.

Not to suggest that you go back to N, but here's an example of what fits in about 1' X 8'.


You can read the story of these modules here.

Good luck!
Last edited by a moderator:


These are all great ideas.

They are great ideas, and I am really surprised with the quick response.
I'll mull some ideas over and post my own ideas sometime later, again thanks for taking a look.

Affiliate Disclosure: We may receive a commision from some of the links and ads shown on this website (Learn More Here)

ModelRailroadForums.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com

RailroadBookstore.com - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section.

ModelRailroadBookstore.com - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.