What are modular layouts?
Modular layouts are model railways composed of a number of free-standing modules built to a modular standard. So let’s start with a 6×4 board (the way many of us start out in this hobby), but instead of using that as a single board, imagine cutting it into three 2×4 pieces and fixing each one of those pieces to a frame with legs so it becomes free-standing. Doing that allows each of theses pieces, which I’ll now call modules, to be joined with the other modules to form: a 12×2 layout, an 8×6 L-shape or even a 4×8 U-shape.
If you went for the 12×2 option above, then each 2×4 module could be a self-contained scene (perhaps one could be a station scene, another could be a scene where tracks passed through fields and another could be an industrial siding off the mainline). However all three modules could also be used to create part of a single scene that spanned all three modules (perhaps a very long station or a scale-model of a bridge).
You can operate a group of modules (like the very long 12×2 layout mentioned above) with fiddle yards at either end, which is known as an end-to-end layout or you could make a loop of modules (you’d likely need more than three though) to create a layout where the trains could run continuously. You could also create something completely different though. Take a look at Lance Mindheim’s excellent industrial switching layouts and imagine them built as a series of modules. You could alter the track-plan by moving the modules around or swap-out certain modules to alter the industries in your model railway empire.
Another nice feature of modular model railways is that they are designed to be joined to other independently created modules of the same modular standard. They can be brought together to form huge layouts at modular events. Of course it’s possible to create and operate your own collection of modules completely independently of any group but if you’ve built to a standard, should a group start in your area, you can always join in.
Modules are normally built using clearly defined standards that prescribe key dimensions that enable easy and reliable connections between modules of the same standard. There are even ways to join modules of differing standards if you ever need to. Modular standards vary considerably with some like Bend Track focused on running as many trains as possible on multiple tracks and others like Free-MoN and FremoN-RE focusing on creating a sense of space and realistic operations.
The choice is yours but if you want to find out more there is a list of modular standards on the Links page.