The Best Model Train Books

This post was updated in August of 2021 to update a few model railroad books that are no longer in stock. If you have any recommendations that helped you out, please comment below and we’ll take a look!

It’s not a big shock that we like model trains here. And as much as we love writing about them on a digital blog, sometimes there’s nothing that quite beats a physical book.

Plus, a lot of the model railroad books we have listed below have the added bonus of being able to go really deep on a specific part of the hobby!

If you’re in need of a good book or are looking for something more in-depth than anything I’d be able to cover in a single blog post, take a look at some of these!


Designing and Building Multi-Deck Mode Railroads

If you’re considering building a whole model train layout that will be set up for some time, chances are good you’ll eventually just plain run out of space.

If you think that might happen to you, or you’re just looking to optimize the small amount of space that you do have, consider giving this a read before you make any big changes to your layout.

Tony Koester goes over everything you need to know about how to set up multi-decks on your layout, so you can really get more model railroad in your space with a lot less hassle than if you tried to do it yourself!

Designing & Building Multi-Deck Model Railroads (Model Railroader)
  • Tony Koester (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 96 Pages - 11/05/2008 (Publication Date) - Kalmbach Publishing Company (Publisher)

How to Build Realistic Model Railroad Scenery, Third Edition

Dave Fray is a bit of a staple in the model train community. He’s been building for more than 45 years, has articles featured in magazines like Model Railroader and other model railroad books, and even has railroads featured in movies and exhibits like Disneyland!

So it comes as no surprise that I have to recommend the third edition of his model train book on building realistic scenery for your layouts.

How to Build Realistic Model Railroad Scenery, Third Edition (Model Railroader Books)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Frary, Dave (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 144 Pages - 10/01/2005 (Publication Date) - Kalmbach Publishing Company (Publisher)

Basic DCC Wiring for Your Model Railroad

So, we actually have an article on DCC train control for beginners, and it’s not a bad place to start with. It goes over the basics, talks about what DCC is, and some other useful tidbits.

But, and this is the honest truth, I’m no expert when it comes to DCC for my model trains. That’s why I’d like to defer to Mike Polsgrove who’s a columnist for Model Railroader and also wrote this comprehensive guide. It has more in this book then I could ever hope to teach you.

Basic DCC Wiring for Your Model Railroad: A Beginner's Guide to Decoders, DCC Systems, and Layout Wiring
  • Mike Polsgrove (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 56 Pages - 04/01/2011 (Publication Date) - Kalmbach Publishing Company (Publisher)


One Hundred And One Track Plans For Model Railroaders

I like using a website like Scarm to help plan my builds when I have something already in mind. Its pretty neat!

However, my big problem is I dont always know what I want to build, or what would look good in what place. Thats why a model train book like this one is nice to have sitting around. It has 101 different layouts in it, and while not all of them are winners (in my opinion) theres more than enough in there to either copy directly, or give me enough inspiration to take my layout to the next level.

I definitely think this one is worth the value.

One Hundred and One Track Plans for Model Railroaders (Model Railroad Handbook, No. 3)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Linn Westcott (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 72 Pages - 08/28/2008 (Publication Date) - Kalmbach Publishing Company (Publisher)

Basic Model Railroad Benchwork, 2nd Edition

If you’re anything like me, your model train set-up looked like this: started on the floor the day I got my first train. Then, it moved to a spare table on some thick foam. Finally, it’s gone through a bunch of different custom built table iterations.

That’s where this model train book comes in! It takes you through a number of different bench layouts and goes over all of these topics:

  • Planning your bench layout
  • What materials you’ll need: lumber, foam etc.
  • Extending your layout with backdrops
  • Providing access via duckunders and liftout sections
  • Adding cookie-cutter or freeform roadbed
  • Using foam as a bench material

Its a really informative read, and if you’re ready to get your model onto something a little more permanent than a spare table in the basement, this might be the book for you!

Basic Model Railroad Benchwork, 2nd Edition (Essentials)
  • Soft Cover Book.
  • Wilson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies Jeff (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 103 Pages - 03/01/2012 (Publication Date) - Kalmbach Media (Publisher)

N Scale Railroading: Getting Started in the Hobby, Second Edition 

Niching down a little, this book is just for the N scale modellers out there! Admittedly, a good chunk of the information could be applied to other train scales out there, but for the purpose of this book Martin McGuirk chose to focus just on N scale.

In the second edition of this N scale model train book, it goes chapter by chapter through choosing a layout, maintaining your trains, building scenery and how to lay track.

There’s a lot to be learnt from this book!

N Scale Railroading: Getting Started in the Hobby, Second Edition (Model Railroader's How-To Guides)
  • Martin McGuirk (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 96 Pages - 11/02/2009 (Publication Date) - Kalmbach Publishing Company (Publisher)

Track Planning for Realistic Operation

Track planning for realistic operation is a little bit more nuanced than some of the other model railroad books here. There’s a bunch of stuff in here you don’t technically need to build a model railroad layout.

BUT, if you’re a serious hobbyist, and you want to make sure that your train layout is the best that it can be, this is a train layout book you should own.

It goes over all types of realistic rail interactions you can incorporate; spurs, yards, mainlines, junctions as well as explaining concepts like curvature, grading and clearances for your trains.

Track Planning for Realistic Operation: Prototype Railroad Concepts for Your Model Railroad (Model Railroader)(3rd Edition)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Armstrong, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 146 Pages - 01/29/2018 (Publication Date) - Kalmbach Publishing Company (Publisher)

Introduction to Model Railroading

We’re putting this one here down the bottom if you’re a beginner and you’re still scrolling. Hopefully this will be the one that you settle on, because if you’re new to model trains, or you’re even looking for a gift to get someone into the hobby, this is that book.

Jeff Wilson goes over everything you need to get into the hobby. From a place, era and scale to model in, right through to how to set up your early layouts and what kind of things you’ll need to make it happen.

Its not an overly complicated book, and a lot of advanced model train enthusiasts might not find a lot of use for it, but I think its a book that is worth a read through at least once.

Introduction to Model Railroading (Model Railroader's How-To Guides)
  • Jeff Wilson (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 96 Pages - 10/03/2011 (Publication Date) - Kalmbach Publishing Company (Publisher)

So, there you have it. That’s a nice little selection of model train books that are worth knowing about. Each one is unique in their own way, and I’m sure that some are more interesting to you than others, but hopefully, you’ll find something useful in all of them.

If you’re looking to pick up a model train to get into the hobby, consider taking a look at our best beginner train guide, or even checking out our recommendation of some of the best brands of model train.

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