Intro to Model Railroading

Welcome to the wonderful and fascinating world of model railroading! This is a place where you can let your imagination come alive. Maybe you had a train set as a child and want to revisit your youth. Or maybe you have children of your own and want to get them started in the hobby. Whatever the reason, we’re glad you stopped by Atlas, the trusted name in track, accessories, locomotives and freight cars, to check it out.

What scale?
When you start on the path to model railroading, the most important question you'll have to answer is which scale is right for you. Take our quiz to find out. Some of the terms tossed around in the hobby may seem intimidating, and words like scale and gauge are no exception, so let's define them and help you on your way. The three most popular scales are:

HO Scale
This is the most popular scale and is 1:87 proportion to the prototype. It requires a small area for a layout, using a sheet of plywood or even a bookshelf for some of the smaller layouts, and there are many products available for HO scale modelers. The track it runs on is 16.5mm gauge. Atlas makes three types of HO track (Code 100, Code 83 & True-Track). For more information, click here.

N Scale
N scale is the second most popular scale and quite small, being 1:160 proportioned to the prototype. Smaller trains will mean less detail, but you can run a large layout in a smaller area than HO. The gauge on the track is 9mm. Atlas makes three types of N scale track (Code 80, Code 55 and Code 65 True-Track). For more information, click here.

O Scale
“O” is the largest of the common model trains, with a proportion of 1:48 of the prototype. This requires a larger area than HO or N for a layout and the trains and accessories are more costly but also more detailed. O scale track is 1-1/4" gauge. For more information about our O product line, please visit the Atlas O web site.

How Do I Get Started?
There are several ways you can get started in this great hobby. The easiest way is to purchase a train set. Train sets are great because they usually contain the locomotives, cars, power pack and track you need to be up and running in a few minutes.

Another easy way to start is by getting a basic track starter set from Atlas. These are great because they enable you to start out with a great track system and let you pick and choose what locomotives and freight cars you want to use. Atlas makes several different Starter Sets in different scales.

These starter sets are a snap for beginners to assemble. Each contains enough Snap-Track®, Snap-Switches® and components to assemble a 38” x 56” oval layout with passing siding. Complete assembly instructions are provided.

Atlas HO Code 100
Item #88
Atlas HO Code 83
Item #588
Atlas HO Code 83 True-Track
Item #488


For an O scale starter set, please visit

Atlas also makes s special track pack for the World’s Greatest Hobby Layout. Atlas' HO True-Track is a premium "all-in-one" roadbed track made with nickel silver rail and brown ties (HO Code 83 track) for realistic appearance. This set contains all the track you need to create the World's Greatest Hobby Layout.

For added value, this set also includes the official "Building your first railroad" video. This instructional video teaches you everything you need to know about building a model railroad layout, including easy methods for laying track, wiring techniques and more! Narrated by Michael Gross, actor and model railroad enthusiast. 60 minutes. VHS.

If you want the Digital Command Control (DCC) system used in the video: the Atlas Master DCC System, please click here for more information.

You can all the products mentioned above at your local hobby store or visit our online store.

Another way to get started is by building a layout from the traditional way. Atlas makes a few different layout books with interesting track plans to suit any level, from beginner, intermediate and advanced. (Click here for more information.) Usually you would set up your track on a sheet of plywoord, maybe a 4’ x 8 sheet’ or a table.

How Should I Power My Layout?
You have basically two options when powering your layout. You can choose to power your layout using DC or direct current or DCC using Digital Command Control. For more information about DC wiring, please click here. For more information about DCC, please click here.

What Tools Will I Need?
The Basic Model Railroading Book, by Kalmbach Publishing Company, suggests using hobby knives, including X-acto handles with no. 11 (pointed) and no. 17 (chisel-end) blades, a scale rule for markings, tweezers, needle files, small screwdrivers, paint brushes and pliers to name a few tools. As you start to get a feel for the activities you enjoy doing you will see which tools you will use more often than others.

What About Scenery?
Several manufacturers make good scenery products for your model railroad. You can check them at your local hobby store. You can also buy reference books, which will give you helpful tips, and tricks on making your railroad extremely realistic.

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