Welcome to the N Scale Notes blog

I blog about locations in Europe, North America and Japan that could be the basis of an  interesting model railway; as I don’t have a lot of space I’m particularly interested in locations that could be part of a modular layout or a stand-alone cameo scene.

I’ve also been documenting my attempts at creating 3D printed models. As the name of my website suggests I focus on N scale but these ideas and techniques could be applied to any scale.

Whatever scale you model and however you’ve ended up here I hope you’ll find something interesting and inspirational.

You can see my latest posts below or use the menus at the top of the site to read the entire blog; if you’re looking for something specific you can even start viewing prototype locations by country.

If you keep scrolling you can find out a little more about the concept of modular model railways and cameos.

Modular Layouts

What are modular layouts?

Modular layouts are model railways composed of a number of free-standing modules built to a modular standard. To help visualise it, 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 they are 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).

Or… all three modules could be used to create a single scene spanning 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. With careful design of the edges it would be possible to alter the track-plan by moving the modules around or to 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, meaning 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 modular standard, should a group start in your area, you can always join in.

Modular standards prescribe key dimensions to 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.


What are cameos layouts?

Cameos are small layouts, usually up to about 2m/6ft long, that present a realistic, self-contained scene. They can be single-ended  with an integrated or add-on fiddle yard (imagine an industry at the end of the line or a terminus station) or through scenes with access to a fiddle yard at each end (imagine a section of mainline or a through-station).

If you’re still can’t picture what I mean, a brilliant example of an N-scale cameo layout is Cross Street by David Lund.

To truly meet the definition of a cameo the layout should:

  • put the ‘horizon line’ of the scene as close to eye level as possible, typically 63in for the average person standing;
  • feature high levels of detail and ideally, fine-scale wheel and track standards;
  • be as self-contained as possible, with an integrated display and support structure to ease transport, set-up and storage.

In many ways a cameo is similar to a module and a series of cameos built to a modular standard would allow those cameos to be connected together and even to other independent modules. The only difficulty in this situation might be edge-of-board scenery: a cameo is usually built as a self-contained scene with realistic scenery right to the edge of the board whereas modular standards tend to put an emphasis on plain, standardised scenery near edges to help independently built modules look better when connected together. It’s not an insurmountable problem though.

Inter-connected cameos could be used to showcase very different scenes from a particular region or stretch of railway (for instance, the mountainous Lötschberg Line in Switzerland or the Rhine River Valley in Germany). A group of cameos could be used to show scenes from a large urban area (for instance, passenger services in Berlin, Germany or industrial spurs and switching in Toronto, Canada). The cameos could be operated as a group when space allowed but as each cameo is a self-contained scene it could still operate as stand-alone layout when needed.

Click here for more ideas for cameos and modules.