Who doesn’t love model trains? They’re definitely not just a toy for children, but often both the train and the layout can be pieces of art and design that someone has spent hundreds of hours putting together. But what happens when you don’t have a lot of room to run your locomotives? Well, you get vertical instead!
In this article, we’ll talk about how to elevate model train tracks to give you some more room to run different train models and hopefully save you some space.
What is the purpose of an elevated train track?
There are a few pretty obvious reasons straight away about why a model train might need to be elevated.
Unlike in the real world where it’s almost always a functional aspect of urban growth and city planning, sometimes it’s for aesthetic purposes on a layout.
And that’s totally okay as well! Having multiple layers in a design is a great way to get more out of it, and increase the realism, especially in a city environment.
Most of the time, when we are building a model train set, the purpose of elevating a train track is decoration.
Sometimes the track would go over a small river, sometimes the track will be elevated (much like a light rail) to bridge the gap between two terrains of different heights.
Other times, you’ll see model train tracks being elevated to run above a road (like in NYC) or even to help alleviate congestion between other train tracks.
In short, the purpose of using elevated train tracks can vary and, since it’s your layout, you don’t even need a really good reason!
How to elevate model train track
When it comes to having elevated train tracks, we recommend that you get DIY with it.
But we’re going to keep it simple, and the easiest way to make damn near anything for your model train layout is to build it out of plywood.
For this method, you will need plywood, wooden studs, screws, and glue for attaching everything together.
We recommend you pick up some thin 4×8 plywood for the elevated platform. Also purchase some studs that are approximately 4×7 inches with 2-3 inch thickness as well. Realistically, you can get a stud anything length and just cut it down to size.
These will provide stability and a base the elevated track and should have enough ground clearance for a train to go under.
Now prepare your model train layout design and sketch out your design on pieces of paper. tape a bunch of pieces of paper together if you need to draw it out life-size; then, you can just transfer it aross to the piece of plywood if you want one solid piece of wood.
Cut the plywood according to the layout of your design. Set up the studs accordingly. You can use a lot of reference for this section, but you really want to make sure they’re placed in the areas where the plywood pieces end and start, and in areas where an incline is needed.
Stick the pieces with glue, and either drive a screw or a few nails in from the top to give it stability. It’s recommend you put some weights on the glued places for a day or two until fully set.
That’ll basically do it. Now place the track on the platform and you have your elevated tracks!
Obviously this is just a giant piece of plywood smack bang in the middle of your layout now, so the next big task is dressing it up. You can do everything from foam-work to CnC’ing panels to glue over the plywood to make it look more realistic.
This steps all up to you!
Can you buy elevated model train track pre-made?
Yes, you can. There are many different models of elevated model train tracks out in the market. Some come assembled in the box, while others have to be assembled after unpacking.
Since there are many different designs available, you may have trouble picking the right one up.
That is why we would recommend you spend some times and work out your needs and the purpose for the elevated tracks on your layout and do research some research on it.
Eventually, you will find one that will best suit your requirement.
Alternatively, something like this might be the way to go depending on your track scale.
They’re just the support beams that you can clip your train track to. You’re only going to really run into trouble with this if you need something more custom, or if you need a lot of one size it can get expensive.
Although pre-made tracks seem to be the easy way out, you may have a hard time fitting those in your original model train track layout.
So just be aware that you may have to improvise and the result will be a little different. That is why we would highly recommend you to go DIY in constructing elevated model train tracks.
tips and tricks on how to run elevated model train track
Some people consider model train tracks as toys. That is why they think that it is a piece of cake.
But honestly, these model train track sets are not as simple as ty trains. If you can truly appreciate the ingenuity behind setting them, then you know how complicated they can get.
So, to help you with elevated model train tracks, here are some tips from us.
- Go DIY in constructing elevated model train tracks. Because that way you will have complete freedom of designing your model train track layout according to your imagination.
If you use premade elevated train tracks, you may have trouble fitting those premade elevated tracks in your design.
- Keep 7 inches ground clearance under the elevated tracks. This is not necessary. But if you want to take another train or under the elevated tracks, then you must do it. If 7 inches too high, you can bring it down to 6 inches, but don’t take it below 6 inches.
- Measure the inclines as precisely as possible. Inclines are important when taking turns. It is important for both elevated and non-elevated tracks. This is also where the ingenuity of constructing model train tracks shine.
So, use basic physics to measure the degree of inclines in every corner and set up the tracks that way. If you are using plywood and wooden studs for constructing the elevated tracks, then you will need to cut the studs at a slight angle to set up the incline.
So how do we elevate a model train track? We can go DIY and elevate the train track with plywood, studs, or Lego Basic Brick blocks. Or we can buy pre-made elevated train tracks from the market.
Which one would we recommend? Go DIY. You are not required to use the two DIY methods we told you. You can be more creative with it. Maybe use cardboards for it. Either way, DI will be the best solution for making elevated train tracks.
But if you don’t want to get into DIY, then go ahead and buy the pre-made tracks.
Peter has been building model trains for longer than he can remember. An avid fan of HO and O scale this blog is a creative outlet to allow him to dive further into other scales and aspects of the model train community and hobby.