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My name is Gary and I have wanted to start model railroading for years. After 37 years as a Train Dispatcher for Norfolk Southern, I am now retired and ready to try my first layout. I am going to have to start with a 4 by 8 layout for my first one. I know it's not ideal but it's all the room I have right now. I want to start out simple and mobile with my first one. Since it may have to be moved from time to time to start with I was thinking about using Kato unirail to start with. I would also like to start with DCC system. My first layout will have no grades. Any suggestions on track, layout plans, and best DCC system for beginners would really help! Thanks


Well-Known Member
Welcome to the group Gary! As for DCC systems, they all pretty much have pros, and cons. I researched for months on a system to buy, and finally had to flip a coin. I chose the NCE Power Cab. Its pretty user friendly, and is expandable if your needs change for more power, or going wireless. Probably cant go wrong with most of them.
I am planning on using ho scale Willie. My main objective is to able to run at least 2 trains and be able to have at least 4 power switches. My main concern is wiring the layout. All help would be appreciated.


Well-Known Member
Welcome to the forum. There are loads of beginners books out there with what to do on a 4 x 8, so I'd suggest reading a little. As for what DCC system, you'll get a different answer from everyone. Connect with modelers in your area. Find out what they use. Get that one. That way you'll have a local pool of tech support if you need it


Section Hand
Many hobby shops have demo layouts and have different DCC systems fro customers to try out.

Nothing wrong with a 4X8 layout, but have you considered building a layout using modular sections which may be easier to dismantle should the need arise? You could do 2X4 sections and work around walls. Or, do a shelve railroad could be incorporated at a later date into a larger layout.

Check out the shelve layout in this copy of MR on line.

Welcome to the Forum and there's a lot of knowledge to be gained by just reading the various posts.

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Go make something!
Greg, your link wants a yahoo email password.

A 4x8 in HO will work but the curves that fit on it are pretty small which will limit you to 4 axle diesels and short cars. The same 32 square feet will make a decent shelf though. Do you want two trains running continuously or just two running, two locos switching, for example.

As far as DCC, I'd go with what my friends use. That way the can help with the learning curve and you can share throttles at ops aessions.
Greg, your link wants a yahoo email password.

A 4x8 in HO will work but the curves that fit on it are pretty small which will limit you to 4 axle diesels and short cars. The same 32 square feet will make a decent shelf though. Do you want two trains running continuously or just two running, two locos switching, for example.

As far as DCC, I'd go with what my friends use. That way the can help with the learning curve and you can share throttles at ops aessions.
Thanks Greg for the info! You have me scratching my head now. Maybe I should start with N-scale instead of ho. With your info it sounds like I would not be able to do what I want on a 4 by 8 using ho-scale. What are your thoughts on N-scale, pros and cons. Thanks


Section Hand
N scale has come so far in the recent years with locomotive performance and rolling stock and if I were to start over I would be in N Scale rather than HO because of the chance to create a larger layout and more railroading in in the same space as HO. The con of N Scale is size and working with N Scale as one grows older and one's eye sight is not what it used to be. I have a friend in his 70's who changed to N from HO and is happy.

I would check track planning books to find a plan but it in either HO or N Scale that meets your requirements for a layout.

The link didn't work because its on a user only website. Sorry.
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Aurora & Portland Owner
Gary, welcome aboard. As you an see, there is a lot of helpful people on here. Enjoy you stay and ask away, post pictures when you get ready to build.


Well-Known Member
Welcome to the Forum and the hobby. I will echo the pros and cons of going to N-scale. I have been in HO scale for years. Sure, I could get more N-scale stuff into a given area, but both aging eyes and some decrease in dexterity would take some of the enjoyment out of it. Yes, you can do some simple track plans on 4' x 8', which two separate continuous ovals, connected by turnouts. The outer loop could use 22-inch radius track and the inner loop either 18 or 15" R. You may also be able to find 20" R sectional track if Walthers is still selling the Shinohara sectional track.
The best suggestion is to visit you local hobby shop specializing in model railroading, or go online and find books on planning a model railroad and on basic DCC. The tighter curves will limit the choice of locomotives and rolling stock, but, depending on the era you model, there are quite a number of both diesel and steam locomotives that will handle those curves. You just won't be able to run a Big Boy or the more modern six-axle diesels. I started out years ago with DC, and built my present layout (which uses a 14' x 14' room) wired for DC, as most of my original locomotives were DC. When I decided to add sound, I switched to DCC, but kept the DC blocks and added a DCC power pack, with a toggle switch on the control panel to select which. (No way can I convert all the older stuff...timewise or moneywise). After trying several different DCC systems, I settled on the NCE Power Cab, as being flexible and, with booster, having enough power for any train lashup I want to run. I would suggest looking into whatever systems your local club might have for compatability sake, should you run some locomotives on their layout...although the engines themselves will generally work on most DCC systems.
Best of luck with your new hobby!


Active Member
Gary. If you do go with the 4x8, unless it's free standing and not against a wall you're ok..But if it is against a wall you will have a terrible time reaching for a derailed/stalled/uncoupled train in back due to having to reach across to deal with it. Same for scenery/structures. The likelihood of damaging things under your shirt sleeves becomes greater as well as exhausting. Either you'll need an access hole in near mid of the plywood, or perhaps cut into the long edge so that from above it's more of a C or, water-wings shape.
Shelf layouts are very very popular today.. You could cut the board lengthwise into 3, 1.33' x 8' sections placed end to end or as an L or T shape and make a switching layout where trains run one way and reverse (back up) to the beginning, with lots of industrial sidings/spurs to set out/pick up cars..You could also have an engine terminal and a turntable at one end. Sounds dull. But a lot of RR action can be had. You don't need trains to go in a loop (continual) to have fun running it..

Burlington Bob

Well-Known Member
If you have the space for a 4x8, you may very well have the space for a layout like this.

Remember, in order to have access to all sides, a 4x8 requires approximately 8x12 in order to have a 2 foot walkway around all four sides. Unless you build it on a table with casters, you will find reaching all areas to be hard if it's not in the middle of the room. And that's why the Heart of Georgia layout (or one like it) should get some consideration.

As to the choice of scale, I'll be 65 in two weeks and I can do most everything in N scale without problems. It does require magnifying glasses or optical visors. like this. Tweezers, small paint brushes, third hands and a bunch of other stuff makes precision work on small models easier. Practice will also make everything easier, as well.

Another thing about N scale. Your perspective at three feet is different than HO. In other words, what may be a view at say 200 scale feet in HO may be say, 400 in N.

Check out the options and do some research before you settle on a scale. Something else that may save you a lot of money. Don't go hog wild and buy eveything you see. Decide on a railroad and time era. Then refrain from buying items that don't fit your plan. That will keep you from ending up with a mishmash of stuff that doesn't really go together. I, and many others, have learned this the hard way!
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Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
Any suggestions on track, layout plans,
There have been more plans done for a 4'x8' layout in HO scale than all others combined. It is just a matter of finding them. You said 2 trains, and I assume simultaneous operation. That means you need either a double track main line design or a single track with at least two passing sidings. Local libraries will often have track plan books.

Click here for a single track with two sidings.

And a Double track here

Four by Eight Right of Passage ->

best DCC system for beginners would really help!
There is no best. I always recommend a new person look at the throttles and choose based upon that. The two extremes are that NCE has hand held hammerheads and Digitrax makes a table sitting Zephyr unit. With a hand held unit you are not stuck in a single spot to run the train. Depending on the exact unit, many will let one put plugs on each side of the layout and run from wherever is convenient at the moment. Some have wireless options.

You cannot really go wrong with NCE, Lenz, Digitrax, CVP, MRC Prodigy, or Zimo brands. Bachmann also has a new unit out but I know nothing about it.

My main concern is wiring the layout.
Should not be a concern. A layout of this size, with DCC, it could be as simple as running 2 wires to the track. If a twice around then double it up with 2 sets of wires to the track. The only trick I can see is if you choose a plan that has reversing loops in it. That will require an automatic reversing unit. Still nothing to be concerned about.

The problems today of a 4x8 layout is the size of locos. Modern locomotives are enormous compared to those in the 1970s & 80s. The models have a much harder time getting around an 18" radius curve than those made before. On the same 4'x8' Switching to N-scale would be almost 4 times the space and one can relax the tight corners a bit. So it might depend on what type of trains you want to model. In the 1970s I wanted to do passenger trains and switched to N-scale for that very reason. Later (1984ish) I decided the detail on the N was insufficient and I switched back to HO.
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