Offbeat Internet

3rail O-scale Trains

3rail O-scale trains come in three varieties: First, there are highly detailed full scale model trains, that are comparable to those typically found in HO or N scale. An example of scratchbuilt versions are the trains that ran on the layout of the famous modeler John H. Armstrong. An example of ready-to-run versions are the Lionel Signature series of models. Second, there are the semi-scale toy trains designed for "Hi-Railers" (people who build highly detailed, but often fragile, scale scenery models for their semi-scale toy trains) and "Toy Train Enthusiasts" (people who use cleanable semi-scale scenery, that functions similar to stage props... the scenery merely inferring the scene in which the semi-scale toy train actors perform). Examples of these are the MTH RailKing series of semi-scale toy trains. Third, there are the kids toys, often referred to as O27, which make no pretense of being anything but toys. Examples of these are old Marx toy trains on an Addams Family style layout.

Trackwork and Railway Structures - c.1926 (*.pdf) = a prototype railroading textbook, chock full of information useful to a model layout builder
All About Subways - c.1938 (*.pdf) = photobook showing all aspects of underground railway construction, from planning to completion
Caltrain Commuter Timetable - c.2016 (*.pdf) = an example of prototype train scheduling on a modern commuter railway

This webpage is dedicated to the "Toy Train Enthusiast", who operates their miniature railroad in a manner that gives their semi-scale toy trains a transportation purpose (whether a real-world duplication, something imaginarily believable, or a combination of both). Never allow yourself to be bullied by snobs who will try to make you believe that a layout with 3 rails is not a real model railroad. The pioneer modelers were almost all O-scale modelers using a 3rd rail pickup, and many 3-rail R-T-R models being sold today even exceed the quality of equivalent HO and N scale models. Always keep in mind that this is a hobby that is intended to be FUN. There are no fine-scale police who will come knocking on your door if you decide to add the occasional Plasticville structure, or if you run some Lionel space age cars on your layout. If the overall layout functions as a legitimate model of a purposeful rail transportation system, you have achieved your goal!

Relative O-Scale Boxcar Size

Notice: With the lengthening of passenger cars by 3-rail manufacturers from 14, to 16, and now 18+ inches, the typical home layout will have to do some serious selective compression of passenger train lengths. I recommend that you target Commuter trains to be only 1 car long, Intercity trains to be only 2 cars long, and Long Distance trains to be only 3 cars long. Avoid the temptation of ever adding more than two additional cars beyond these target recommendations to any passenger carrying train (because typical layout spur lengths are 14.5" minimum and 70" maximum)!
If you do need/desire longer trains, divide the train into "sections" that are pulled convoy-style with their own locomotive. For further compression, eliminate Observation cars from scheduled trains completely (like the real railroads did), only attach Diners to a train on an "as-needed" basis (many cars, such as Superdome streamliner cars, include a Cafe area), and only attach dedicated "baggage" cars to local trains (Long Distance head-end cars can be run together in their own separate Express train).

Choices in rolling stock (*.pdf)
~ Locomotives (*.pdf)
~ Cabooses (*.pdf)

Article: Layout Design for Operations (*.pdf)
Layout Vision Development (*.pdf)
~ Imagineering what I see (*.pdf)
Early Autumn 1982 (*.pdf) = a wonderful era alternative to the overmodeled 1955

Inspirational O-scale Urban Layouts (MP4 videos)

What a great little RR! {buildable in 3-rail}
Triple-track commuter train excitement
Tunneling through urban canyons
Passenger trains look so much better on gentle curves
A pleasant switching layout on a small shelf
3-rail transfer table in action

How to Run a Model Railroad - c.1944 (*.pdf) = the definitive guide for operating your model railroad just like the real railroads operate
Locomotive Duty Selection Matrix (*.pdf) = a simplified pulling power ranking of common locomotive types

Illustrative examples of prototype practices and modeling ideas (MP4 videos)

Simple planning ideas that can make a small layout more satisfying
The type of non-railroad buildings on your layout are very important
Consider double track on small layouts to alleviate congestion
Passenger trains can sometimes be a major form of traffic through crowded business districts
Underground tunnels allow safe access to through passenger station platforms (the angled sheds cover stairs, the square sheds cover elevators)
While bridges are sometimes used, many through stations make passengers cross the platform tracks at grade
Modern passenger trains do not all have to be Amtrak trains
Freight yards are a waste of space
Freight can be sorted without a yard
The various types of switching moves
How to handle those high or wide loads (something common with toy rollingstock)
Diesel engine and car shops can share the same building
Let the fuel come to the diesel engine
All about tank cars

Notice: Although 2-D trackwork and building footprints in the *.scarm trackplans on this webpage are drawn to scale (and the room dimensions were taken from real life spaces), the 3-D building and accessory graphics are rendered in simple block-form without any features. Many buildings and accessories were dimensioned upon plastic toy train structures, but for superior results, larger custom PaperCraft buildings are recommended.

Article: Ideas for Prototypical Layout Operation (*.pdf)

Long Trailer Layout:

This shelf layout is for the urban environment Operating Enthusiast, and combines ideas from all the little modules described on this page...

O-scale Truck Trailer Dogbone Shelf Layout
O-scale Truck Trailer Dogbone Shelf 3dView
Shelf (*.pdf) - a dogbone shelf layout only 42 inches wide, made with sectional track
~ Shelf (*.scarm)

Article: The Passenger Train Oriented Layout (*.pdf)

Square Bedroom Layout:

Extensive diesel locomotive and passenger car servicing facilities are possible in a compact space...

O-scale Spare Bedroom Layout O-scale Spare Bedroom Layout 3dView
Bedroom (*.pdf) - a tiny bedroom layout that supports full-scale passenger equipment
~ Bedroom (*.scarm)

Article: Modeling Passenger Servicing Facilities (*.pdf)

Garage Wall Layout:

Passenger-only operations don't have to be dull. There's a lot of action taking place in this compact coach yard...

O-scale Garage Wall Coach Yard Layout O-scale Garage Wall Coach Yard 3dView
Garage Wall Layout (*.pdf) - a short shelf layout, featuring a full service passenger coach yard and an express depot
~ Garage Wall Layout (*.scarm)

Article: Layout Design with a Passenger Train Emphasis (*.pdf)

Diningroom Layout:

A busy layout for the local passenger train enthusiast, which can support multiple operators...

O-scale Diningroom Layout O-scale Diningroom Layout 3dView
Diningroom (*.pdf) - a compact diningroom layout featuring frequent commuter train action amongst urban freight switching
~ Diningroom (*.scarm)

Alternative O-scale Diningroom Layout Alternative O-scale Diningroom Layout 3dView
Enlarged (*.scarm) --- A slightly enlarged variant with one extra turnout, that adds an even gentler curve into the station and considerably more rollingstock parking
~ Movements (*.xls) - How passenger equipment might be moved during a typical operating session

Alternative unfolded to fit on a shelf Alternative unfolded to fit on a shelf 3dView
Unfolded (*.scarm) --- Keeping track lengths unaltered, if the enlarged variant is unfolded it will fit on a L-shaped shelf (and as such has potential as a portable module set)
~ Rollingstock (*.pdf) - Rollingstock required by each industry on the layout

Urban trackside industry ideas:

Example of durable minimalist scenery

As can be seen in the above photo, the flat lands "Toy Train Enthusiast" can construct functional industry buildings (and ground covering) that are esthetic, while remaining durable and easy to clean. Space savings can be realized through placing industries as building flats (ideally garnished with some color highlights and protrusions) against a wall, and using selective compression that infers large building size while keeping the model compact. Take advantage of incorporating variable structure heights whenever possible.

Explanation: Trackside Industry Ideas (*.pdf)

O-scale turnouts are expensive, which is why children will rarely own more than two. Because adults often also cannot afford all the turnouts they desire, these idea track plans were designed to demonstrate what could be accomplished using only a minimum number of turnouts. To avoid monotony, each of these track plans were also designed to look visually distinctive from each other, especially in regards to the associated track side building shapes and placement. Although these plans incorporate only one industry, a further turnout savings could be realized if multiple industries shared the same spur. Space savings can also be made if spurs overlap (e.g., one spur might branch above the main line, while another imediately after the turnout branches below).


O-scale Transloading facility Transloading facility that unloads and holds autos for dealer pickup - (destination)
[ideally a second spur would service the opposite side of the platform]
Automotive-1 (*.pdf)
~ Automotive-1 (*.scarm)

O-scale Injection molding autopart manufacturing plant Injection molding autopart manufacturing plant - (origin)
Automotive-2 (*.pdf)
~ Automotive-2 (*.scarm)


O-scale Historic bottling plant Historic bottling plant - (origin)
Breweries-1 (*.pdf)
~ Breweries-1 (*.scarm)


O-scale Concrete ready-mix plant Concrete ready-mix plant - (destination)
Cement-1 (*.pdf)
~ Cement-1 (*.scarm)

Coal Customers

O-scale Powerhouse Powerhouse - (destination)
Coal-1 (*.pdf)
~ Coal-1 (*.scarm)

O-scale Heating coal dealer Heating coal dealer - (destination)
Coal-2 (*.pdf)
~ Coal-2 (*.scarm)


Related:: The Architecture of Grain Elevators (*.pdf)
O-scale Lakeside rail-to-ship corn collection elevator Lakeside rail-to-ship corn collection elevator - (destination)
Grain-1 (*.pdf)
~ Grain-1 (*.scarm)

Iron Ore

O-scale Steel plant orecar overflow holding track Steel plant orecar overflow holding track - (destination)
Ore-1 (*.pdf)
~ Ore-1 (*.scarm)


O-scale Cold-storage meat warehouse Cold-storage meat warehouse - (destination)
Livestock-1 (*.pdf)
~ Livestock-1 (*.scarm)

O-scale Trackside livestock water sprayer Trackside livestock water sprayer - (passthrough)
Livestock-2 (*.pdf)
~ Livestock-2 (*.scarm)


O-scale Lumber yard Lumber yard - (destination)
Lumber-1 (*.pdf)
~ Lumber-1 (*.scarm)

O-scale Custom furniture maker Custom furniture maker - (origin)
Lumber-2 (*.pdf)
~ Lumber-2 (*.scarm)

Milk and Dairy Traffic

O-scale Offline creamery milk transloading platform Offline creamery milk transloading platform - (destination)
Milk-1 (*.pdf)
~ Milk-1 (*.scarm)

Package and LCL Traffic

O-scale Express depot Express depot - (origin)
Package-1 (*.pdf)
~ Package-1 (*.scarm)

O-scale Flower wholesaler Flower wholesaler - (destination)
Package-2 (*.pdf)
~ Package-2 (*.scarm)

O-scale Freight house Freight house - (origin)
Package-3 (*.pdf)
~ Package-3 (*.scarm)


O-scale City newspaper City newspaper - (destination)
Paper-1 (*.pdf)
~ Paper-1 (*.scarm)


O-scale Internal combustion engine fuel dealer Internal combustion engine fuel dealer - (destination)
Petroleum-1 (*.pdf)
~ Petroleum-1 (*.scarm)

O-scale Heating oil dealer Heating oil dealer - (destination)
Petroleum-2 (*.pdf)
~ Petroleum-2 (*.scarm)


O-scale Produce broker Produce broker - (destination)
[ideally a third spur would service the opposite side of the upper tarmac]
Produce-1 (*.pdf)
~ Produce-1 (*.scarm)


O-scale Dimensional stone wholesaler Dimensional stone wholesaler - (destination)
Quarries-1 (*.pdf)
~ Quarries-1 (*.scarm)

Seasonal Canning Factories

O-scale Can factory Can factory - (origin)
Canning-1 (*.pdf)
~ Canning-1 (*.scarm)

Team Tracks and Transloading

O-scale Wharfside gantry crane Wharfside gantry crane - (origin/destination)
Transloading-1 (*.pdf)
~ Transloading-1 (*.scarm)

O-scale Metal recycler Metal recycler - (origin)
Transloading-2 (*.pdf)
~ Transloading-2 (*.scarm)

Trailers and Containers

O-scale Intermodal track Intermodal track - (origin)
Trailers-1 (*.pdf)
~ Trailers-1 (*.scarm)

Waterfront Operations

O-scale Navy pier Navy pier - (destination)
Waterfront-1 (*.pdf)
~ Waterfront-1 (*.scarm)

First Class traffic ideas:
(using toy-train accessories)

Related: Modeling Passenger Operations (*.pdf)


O-scale Commissary Track Diner (*.pdf) - commissary track
~ Diner (*.scarm)


O-scale Switcher Pocket Switcher (*.pdf) - switcher pocket
~ Switcher (*.scarm)


O-scale Sleeper Setout Track Sleeper (*.pdf) - sleeper setout track
~ Sleeper (*.scarm)

U.S. Mail

O-scale Mail Car Track Mail (*.pdf) - mail car track
~ Mail (*.scarm)

Portable module ideas:
(using toy-train accessories)

Here are examples of purpose oriented portable layout modules (using a interior door as their base), which attempt to maximize play value (animated accessories and cars are accommodated) with a minimal number of turnouts. These examples highlight ways you can create justifiable destinations for even uncommon and odd-ball cars. Modules are popular in England, where as little as two modules often form a modelers entire layout.

Proposal: Possible 0-scale Tinplate Module Standards (*.pdf)

Single panel

O-scale air express transloading Airfield (*.pdf) - air express transloading
~ Airfield (*.scarm)

O-scale antiquated urban light industry Bygone (*.pdf) - antiquated urban light industry
~ Bygone (*.scarm)

O-scale fantasy suburban rescue services Emergency (*.pdf) - fantasy suburban rescue services
~ Emergency (*.scarm)

O-scale fantasy missile proving ground Missiles (*.pdf) - fantasy missile proving ground
~ Missiles (*.scarm)

O-scale rural coal mining Mountain (*.pdf) - rural coal mining
~ Mountain (*.scarm)

O-scale compound ladder Ladder (*.pdf) - compound ladder
~ Ladder (*.scarm)

O-scale double-ended staging yard Staging (*.pdf) - double-ended staging yard
~ Staging (*.scarm)

Multiple panel

Article: Platform Vehicles (*.pdf)
O-scale return loop passenger facility Action Station (*.pdf) - an entire passenger facility on a four-panel return loop
~ Action Station (*.scarm)


Some example sources for FREE downloadable PaperCraft buildings


Miscellaneous Resources

SCARM - "Simple Computer Aided Railway Modeller" software download website - (still Win2k compatible)
~ SCARM forum
TrainLife - An archive of Model Train magazine scans
KCS 3rd Subdivision - (great resource for operation ideas)
Video about photogenic Dioramas
Atlas 3-Rail Track
The 4X8 Trick