How to Use Model Railroads

Views 2 Likes Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful
How to Use Model Railroads

Collecting and building model railroads is a rewarding and engaging pastime enjoyed by people all around the world. Due to the complexity and variety of railroads available, many find that this hobby becomes a lifelong love.

First time buyers may find searching for the model railroads to seem like an intimidating task, but this guide shall examine what is needed and how to successfully find the right pieces on eBay.

Why Buy Model Railroads?

Buying and building model railroads can seem like a costly and time consuming hobby, but the rewards that can be gained from it make it an enticing and positive activity.

  • Model railroad building is an excellent family orientated hobby. All members of the family can be given a piece to work on and it encourages children to take responsibility and dedicate themselves to their work.
  • Building the railroads teaches basic carpentry, electrical and engineering skills.
  • Model trains have a historical significance as a large number of the trains on sale today are based on full-scale trains that ran at one point.
  • Railway building requires and develops logical thought and planning.

Model Railroad Track Pieces

All model railroad tracks can be grouped into one of six categories, regardless of size.

  • Straight – Standard pieces of straight track, usually the most used type of track in a model railroad. Straight tracks are classed by scale and length.
  • Curve – Curve tracks come in a variety of angles, and are classed by angle, scale and length. Buying the same scale curve tracks in different lengths allows for parallel tracks to be laid around a bend.
  • Flexible – A flexible (or flex for short), track can be bent into shape to suit a layout. The track is then glued to the layout to stop it from shifting out of shape when in use. Always be careful to not lay the flex track out in curves that cannot be navigated by a model train. Flex track tends to come in 30 inch lengths and can be cut to suit the size needed.
  • Crossings – This track is used when a length of track laid in one direction crosses another track going in a different direction. Crossings come in 15 degree, 30 degree, 45 degree and 90 degree angles. 90 degree crossings are the most common used by hobbyists.
  • Turnouts – These are also known as switch tracks. A turnout enables a model train to enter from one track and leave on a choice of two or three other tracks.
  • Function – A function track is the umbrella term that describes any piece of track that possess a purpose other than just running or turning the model train. A Feeder connects the track to the power supply, a Rerailer shifts stray wheels back onto the track and a Decoupler can be used to separate cars.

Model Railroad Scale and Gauge

The scale of a model railroad refers to its size in comparison to its real life counterpart. Most manufactures list scales in fractions, so if a model is listed as 1:24 then this means it is one twenty-fourth the size of the train it was based on. The gauge of a model track is the space between its rails.

  • N – 1.148 in ratio. 9mm gauge. First introduced in the 1970’s. Now one of the most popular sizes available. Also one of the smallest model trains for sale. Suitable for use indoors.
  • OO – 1.76 in ratio. 16.5mm gauge. Most popular size in Britain today.
  • HO – 1.87 in ratio. 16.5mm gauge. This scale is more popular in America as opposed to Britain. HO manufactures have a large range of trains and railways for sale.
  • TT – 1.102 in ratio. 13mm gauge. The trains run on 12mm tracks.
  • Z – 1.220 in ratio. 6.5mm gauge. The smallest size model train for sale. Due to the size special attention must be paid when laying the tracks as badly laid tracks will quickly derail the rolling stock.
  • O – 1.435 in ratio. 32mm gauge. One of the oldest makes of model that buyers can still purchase.

Model Railroad Trains

There are many different makes of model train available for purchase, each designated to run on a certain track scale. Check that the trains are the correct size to run on the track.

  • The locomotive (also known as the engine), is the vehicle that provides power to the train and pulls the remaining cars along the track. These are always placed first on a track.
  • The rolling stock comprises of the remaining cars that are pulled along by the locomotive. These cars are purely decorative and will not provide power to the train.
  • A tram is similar to a locomotive in that it is powered and capable of motion, but unlike locomotives a tram cannot pull rolling stock.

Power Source

Spend some time thinking about where the track will be laid. Some power sources are suitable for outdoor use, while others require a mains and are more appropriate for indoors.

  • Clockwork – This was the originally power source for all model railway trains. The trains contain a spring that when tightly wound will provide the train with movement. Clockwork trains are less popular now and are mainly bought by collectors.
  • Electric DC and AC – Trains using DC and AC power comprise of a control box for speed, and a transformer to convert the power into a safe voltage. DC and AC can power only one locomotive at a time, and using AC will sometimes cause light and sound functions to operate independent of the operator.
  • Battery – Tend to be found in the smaller scales and in toy trains, but are suitable for use in large outdoor tracks as a DC or AC power source may be unattainable.
  • Petrol – Only used on large-scale tracks. Suitable for outdoor use only due to the fumes produced.

Setting up The Railroad Track

Depending on the size bought and amount of tracks contained, setting up a track can take anything from one hour to upwards of ten.

  • Unpack the model railroad and lay all pieces and tracks out on a flat surface. For smaller sets a tabletop will suffice, but larger sets will need an open floor space or possibly an outdoor space. Make sure that the set contains all the pieces listed on the box. Avoid laying track on carpet as fluff can catch in the train’s wheels and cause it to derail.
  • To connect the tracks simply slide one end into another. The tracks should click together and remain aligned. The little metal pieces found on the end of each track are known as rail joiners, and these conduct electricity along the track.
  • If using an electrical model railroad set, make sure that the power source is unplugged before beginning to wire it in. To wire the track simply strip the insulation from the two connecting wires and wrap the wires around the screws in the track terminal and tighten. Connect the other end of the wires to the power source.
  • Place the locomotive on the track first, followed by the rolling stock. Ensure that all wheels are placed on the track correctly and that all the tracks are clear of dirt or debris. When this is done turn on the power source and the train should run fine with no problems.

Searching for Model Railroads On eBay

Research into the type, size and length of track needed to start the model railway. This will speed up the search and keep the listings relevant. Remember to measure out the space that the railroad will be laid out in.

  • To begin browsing head to
  • Click on the All Categories tab found beside the search bar.
  • This will load the Categories page.
  • From here scroll down to Collectables and click on More.
  • Click on Trains/Railway Models to be brought to the related page.
  • Enter model railroads and press enter.

The Model Railroad Listings Page

The table on the left of the page contains filters that can be used to refine and speed up the search.

  • The Product Type contains Locomotives, Tracks, Layout and Accessories.
  • The Scale heading is used filter out any unwanted gauges. Always use this filter as it keeps only the relevant items in the listing.
  • There are a number of Brands for sale on eBay, including Hornby, Kato and Atlas. Different brands cater for different scales so always double check that the item is the desired size.
  • The Sort by drop down menu allows buyers to modify the search and list model pieces by price, condition, location and time remaining in auction.
  • To change the number of listings shown on the page, scroll down to the bottom and click on 25, 50, 100 or 200.

The Model Railroad Item Page

  • Clicking the title of a listed railroad item will load up the item page.
  • The item page contains relevant information regarding the item, the auction, the seller and the delivery.
  • A current photograph of the item should be seen on the left of the page. If the seller has not uploaded a photo, request to see one using the Ask a question feature. It is not advised to buy items that are listed without a photograph of its current condition. The Ask a question feature should also be used if additional information about the model railroad item is required.
  • Details of the current bid on the piece and the time left to bid are found to right of the photo.
  • The description box contains any messages from the seller to the buyer.
  • The postage box contains details of delivery costs and the estimated delivery time.

Buying With Confidence

  • Research into the different scale and size model railroads available.
  • Plan out the area of space that the railroad will occupy when set up.
  • Ensure that locomotive uses the same power source as the track.
  • Review the seller’s history by clicking on the Seller information link found on the top right of the item page.
  • If the seller has received a considerable amount of negative feedback then try another listing.
  • Never buy a model railroad item from a listing without a photo. Without a photo you have no way to guarantee that the item will be as described.
  • Contact eBay’s Resolution Centre if any problems arise when making a transaction.


  • Buying and building model railroads is an educational and enjoyable pastime that has been around for over one hundred years. There are many stores and dealers out there who specialise in model railroads, but eBay offers a greater variety at a better price.
  • Research into the various scales available and always ask the seller for more information if you are not satisfied by a listings description.
Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides