G Scale Model Train Forum banner
1 - 20 of 44 Posts

· Registered
646 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Obviously, outdoor lines are viewed from above due to the nature of being on the ground. However, when doing an indoor layout, is it enjoyed best by looking down at it on the floor or up 2 to 3 feet off the gound. I assume maintenance would vote for it being up, but what are all the things to consider? Experiences on both would be appreciated as I begin my thought process on the project.

· Senior Dish Washer
3,413 Posts
Actually there are quite a few out door layouts that are raised up above ground lefel for various reasons and the same reasons may apply to indoor layouts.

1. Unless you are young and your knees are in perfewct condition, getting up and down is a pain. The quality of your layout will suffer if your knees give out on you and it becomes a struggle to get up and down.
2. Having your layout raised to around thirty inches still gives a great view and also allows you to store items under the layout.
3. Having your layout built on a table or some type of support system will allow you to screw the track in place, run wires under the table etc.

Currently I have a temporary layour around the pool. It is setting on the pool deck. At 56 yrs old my knees and ankles give me fits everytime I have to get down to do anything with it. Thus, the layout isn't getting much attention.

When I am able to start my outside layout, I plan to have it 36 inches above ground level minimum.

Good luck

· Premium Member
494 Posts
Mine is elevated more than most peoples ... small children often need a stepstool or a parent to hold them. (that's not a bad thing!)

This makes it easier to duck underneath when you have to, allows items to be stored under the layout, and also makes it possible to clear some things like a sink in one corner, and to match the level of a window in the other, just in case we ever run out into the back yard someday!

For most adults, the trains are just slightly below eye level perspective here, which I like. If you sit on a stool at the controls they ARE at eye level, and no ducking down required!

So, I guess I'm probably at the higher extreme... but my vote is still definately for some kind of elevation.

Matthew (OV)


· Premium Member
1,023 Posts
Bingo.... eye level or slightly lower for a fuller 3D effect when seated..

54 years of age and yes there is a balance in life.


· Premium Member
487 Posts
When I built my indoor large scale railway in the early ‘90s, I built tables with 1/2 inch plywood and 1 x 4 pine lumber. Unfortunately the tables were quite heavy and amplified the noise made by the trains. If I had to do it over again, I would build modules using rigid insulation instead of plywood.

The tables were 48 inches off the floor so that the patio furniture could be stored underneath during the winter months. As the patio table and cushioned chairs make a great railway crew lounge, the height of a new railway would be reduced to something visitors could view from the chairs.

I have a space about 2 x 32 feet along one wall which would make a good layout for switching and testing locomotive power conversions. Shelves or base cabinets would be used to support the modules and hide all the junk that model railroaders accumulate. Enclosed cabinets would also help to muffle the train noise.

I made the mistake of gluing the ballast down. It was difficult to remove the track without damaging it when changes had to be made, and the track and switches never came clean. I would look first for soft foam preformed ballast forms to help muffle the noise and eliminate the piling gravel on the layout. A second option would be a raised fascia across the front face of the tables to hold loose ballast in place. Our club layout uses fascia for this purpose outdoors and it works very well. The fascia is only raised the height of a tie so it does not interfere with close running trains and cars.

· Premium Member
739 Posts

· Registered
951 Posts
Elevated is the way to go - but watch out for the 'reach' factor. Unless you got long limbs, it can be a serious pain to reach anything past about 3-3.5 feet, and Murphy's Law dictates that is where the trouble will be.

· Premium Member
1,010 Posts

For outdoors raised or ground level is a matter of choice. For indoors I would definately have it on raised benchwork. It is easier to view, easier to work on and protected from being stepped on. This becomes more important as you add detailing to the layout. You don't want ol' Fido running off with an expensive item either or, worse yet, rushing Junior off to the hospital because he swallowed something.

The most common benchwork height for indoor railroads of any scale is around 40". I wouldn't go below 36" unless there is some special consideration for doing so. Heights above 42" or so will require a stepstool or small ladder to work on comfortably. Some people prefer up to about 48" for a more eye level view and of course your height whether tall or short will influence the best height for you. My outdoor RR is nominal 40" height and while I can work on it for a couple of feet in depth I must use a small ladder to work efficiently on something 3 feet or more in depth. I am 5'-11".

Whatever height you choose build the benchwork solid and don't skimp on material. It is after all the foundation upon which your empire sits and the better it is the better everything will operate.

Here's my outdoor RR at 40" (nominal) height. Helen is 5'-10" tall.

· Premium Member
56 Posts
My indoor layout height is 50 inches. I used Sievers Bench work and covered it with 3/8 inch pegboard. I used "O" scale cork road roadbed (three strips) under the track. The combination of roadbed and pegboard reduces the track noise considerably.

Early Construction:

Cork Roadbed

viewing height


· Premium Member
259 Posts
Mine is on built up benchwork and ranges from 36" to about 72". How high to make it depends somewhat on your height. I used armpit level as the baseline for the height of the rest of the layout. That way I can comfortably reach the back of the layout in the area that is armpit level. Areas further up from the floor require a step stool to work on. Try to keep everything within three feet of the edge of the layout. Any more than that and you will need access hatches or ways to get on top of the layout to work on it.

I put a good size loop and Christmas display on the floor around the Christmas tree and would not want to work on the floor for a permanent layout.


· Registered
147 Posts
My indoor layout is 40" off the ground... I think its a good level when sitting on a stool, and working...

Standing I can reach just about every corner...

I built it strong, so if I have to I can crawl on it to work...

I did have it all against one wall, but couldn't reach sections without climbing on it...

so one day I got tired of that, and ran a saw down it and made it loop around the room...
now it has a center access way... only bummer about this is the duck under I now have...
I am going to make that a lift out section very soon...

I also have 2 small sections I can POP out of from under the layout to get to the back corners...
Scenery hides a hole where there is no benchwork in these spots...

Also make sure you can reach all the track and switches... that's the main things you need to be able to get too...

as for the knee factor, I had great knees until last year when I blew my ACL and tore cartlidge playing baseball...

I'm only 37 yrs old...

do yourself a favor and build it raised up..


· Premium Member
487 Posts
If you consider an overhead layout, be aware that some visitors may be taller than you. A section of Ric Golding’s Kaskaskia Valley Railway is indoors, and one track traverses an aisle about 6 feet above the floor. The roadbed is made from two pieces of 3/4 inch plywood laminated together.

While attending the Annual Fall Railway Operations, I managed to walk into the edge of that 1 1/2 inch thick roadbed and gave my head a terrible whack. After reaching up to rub it, my hand came down covered in blood. A second or two later the blood began to running down my face.

Unfortunately there were a kitchen full of ladies between me and the washroom and I really didn’t want to walk through them looking like something out of a chainsaw movie. I did find an alternate route to the washroom however, and was able to stop the bleeding and clean up without scaring anyone.

· Premium Member
441 Posts
As Richard Smith showed, elevated railroads are not necessarily confined to indoors.

- & like Philip, I've also suffered some serious knee injuries
- a broken right kneecap
back in Oct. 2003, & a slip-&-fall accident on black ice early 2005 (resulting in torn ligaments in the same knee!).
I was fortunate to have excellent surgeons both times (I consider myself lucky just to be able to walk normally - & I swim 3 or more miles a week, frequently bike 18 ~ 30 miles when the weather's decent, have biked up to 61 miles in a single day after the 2 surgeries - but the right knee is still very sensitve to pressure, kneeling is something I try to avoid as much as possible.

I had a small indoor layout; but once I bought my first live-steamer (which, even with RC control, requires a good bit of "hands-on" for burner adjustment, lubrication, checking water level, etc.), an outdoor layout was necessary. The rest of the family was not enthused at the prospect of having the lawn dug up; I'll also admit a lack of enthusiasm on my part for the amount of kneeling that a conventional ground-mounted garden railway would have entailed.
Then when surveying our backyard one day for "work-around" ideas to this dilemma, "I saw the light!"
- I could suspend a good portion of the track off our existing chain-link fence, over an existing hedge! The following 2 photos show the some of the earliest construction...

The roadbed is HDPE decking supported by lengths of perforated angle iron for rigidity - here's a another couple of "under-construction" photos...

- On this stretch here, I actually had to cut down into
the hedges to keep the grades within reason (our property is partially on a hillside)...

That same section (which I refer to as "Hedge Cut"
) shortly after completion...

- & after a particularly rainy spring & subsequent explosive
hedge growth! (The effect looks remarkably like Maine Central's line through Crawford Notch in New Hampshire, running along a mountainside).

- Elsewhere, the railroad is supported by steel U-channel garden stakes (4 feet long), driven 2 feet into the ground; this is sturdier than it looks (it's survived 5 Massachusetts winters so far!).

Besides making operation a real pleasure
, having the railroad elevated makes taking dramatic low-angle photos easy!

The basic trackplan is a bent "dogbone" shape for the mainline - this Garden Metal Models bridge unbolts to permit lawnmower access inside the "east-end" loop...

While this LGB bridge has a hinge installed at one end to permit lifting it "drawbridge" style for easy access inside the "west end" loop...

The hedges also grew up around the original mainline construction, affording "ready-made" scenery!

- & this past year, I began adding ballast in selected areas - here's "before"

- and "after!"

In short - although it was more work & expense
to build elevated, the results were well worth it!


Apart from the question if it shall be a "walk-around" layout or a "sitt-n-watch", there is one very important point to consider:
What do you want to show?
in the small scales it is simple. birdseye perspective it has to be.
in the G-scales we have three options: from underneath (the overhead layouts)
they do not lend themselves much to advanced modelling.
i personally think this option is only for very large rooms, to see the trains in the distance.
the birdseye perspective: interesting if the theme of the layout concentrates on complicated track-systems like shunting yards.
disadvantage is the fact, that half of what can be seen are roofs of trains and houses.
the (scale)eye-level perspective: ideal for rivetcounting on bashed or scratchbuilt rolling stock. ideal for scratchbuilt houses (with interiour), ideal for foreground staging scenes with figures and assecories.
disadvantage - while one does not see much from the track, one notices the unnatural height of rails.

for me the best walkaround (indoor) layouts should have two levels. one about table high and one about two foot and a half above that.
with some eye guiding feautures that should give the most interesting experience for visitors.

· Premium Member
1,738 Posts

It's hard to say enough good about your solution and construction techniques! Running the track above the hedges was inspired, IMHO.

Before I realized health issues would force me indoors, I was going to build on a sloping piece of waste yard overgrown with bush honeysuckle, but instead of clearing it all off, I was going to thread the track around some of it, hoping to achieve a sort of 'instant timber' effect. That all went away.

As for heights, my sooner-to-be built benchwork will be 36" off the floor x 36" wide, i.e. the common width of light steel shelving. Shelves underneath. Altogether less hassle that way. And open framework 1 x4's so I can get a 'below grade' effect.


· Premium Member
487 Posts
Les, if you are considering the tin-plate style of bolt together metal shelving please consider the vinyl shelving instead.

The bolt together tin-plate shelving is a pain to assemble even with a battery powered screwdriver. The braces and the shelves are easy to dent, bend, scratch, and they will rust over time even in a fairly dry basement.

The new vinyl shelving taps together with a rubber mallet in minutes. Felt pads can be stuck to the wide feet to level the bays on uneven floors. These shelves are stronger than the tin-plate ones, won’t dent, bend, scratch or rust even if you spray wash them. If you ever have to move them, they disassemble quickly with a rubber mallet and pop together to form a rigid box with the risers inside.

I am currently getting rid of 15 bays of metal shelving and replacing it with vinyl. The costs of the good vinyl shelves at Wal-Mart or Costco is about the same or less than the tin-plate ones. Wal-Mart sometimes has them on sale. So if you are going to buy a number of them, ask when the next sale is scheduled.
1 - 20 of 44 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.