Model Railroad Yard

Large Classification Freight YardLarge Classification Freight Yard
A Sample of  Model Railroad YardA Sample of Model Railroad Yard with a Ladder on Each Side.
Small Model Railroad Yard with TurntableSmall Model Railroad Yard with Turntable

Model Railroad Yard: The Hub of the Layout

Having a model railroad yard incorporated into your layout certainly adds a lot of action and provides a much more prototypical experience to your operating sessions. As you design your layout, if you’re not planning on having big, multiuser operating sessions, you probably don’t need a huge sprawling yard, unless that’s your main thing, of course.

But even if you’re the only operator, having a small yard will certainly enhance your own operating experience.

The yard is often the center point, or hub, of the layout.It’s where most of the action is. Trains come into the yard, get rearranged, and then leave to various destinations. The yard is often the means by which the purpose of the railroad is fulfilled.

Arrival Tracks

This is where the railcars are dropped off after they arrive in the yard.  They could be empty or full depending on what stage they are in their journey from one industry to another.

Lead or Drill Track

This is where the railcars are taken first in preparation to be made into a train. Switcher locomotives then take them to the classification tracks in a certain order to create the train. 

Classification Yard

This is where the railcars are sorted and the trains are made. The cars are usually sorted according to waybills which allow the workers to know which cars will need to be dropped off first, then second, then third, and so on depending on their destinations and the route of the train.  After the trains are made up, they are then taken to one of the departure tracks and they are ready to go.

Hump Yard

Some railroad yards like to use the power of gravity to sort cars for them. In this case the yard is designed so that the beginning of the yard ladder is built on a mild incline. The cars are then pushed over the incline and they then run down the other side of the incline. The turnouts are pre-set to direct the coasting car into whichever track that is selected. Cars usually have devices called retarders controlled by computers that slow them down when they get to the selected track before they run off the end or run into another car. This often makes car-sorting a speedier and more efficient process.

Prototypical Design for Model Railroad Yards

You may want to look at some prototype railroad yards to get an idea of how you want to design yours.

Most of the major Class 1 railroads have yards that are huge and complicated and not amenable to replication in a model railroad, but you could get a general idea from it to form your own design that is at least based on the prototype.

Check out the Google Earth application to find prototype railroad yards that you can view online.


Norfolk Southern Portlock YardNorfolk Southern Portlock Yard
Norfolk Southern Train Yard
Prototypical Train YardPrototypical Train Yard

Tips on Building a Model Railroad Yard

Take your time laying your track and turnouts for your yard. Good track-work here is more important than perhaps anywhere else on your layout. Make sure your rails are lined up well with each other and make sure your turnouts are clean, level, secure and operate flawlessly.

You will need to know the maximum planned length of your trains.  Your classification tracks will need to be able to accomodate them.  It will be difficult to create a train that is longer than the track, unless perhaps you can do half the train on one track and the other half on the second track, then connect them right before the train leaves the yard.

If you are doing DC control with block wiring, you will need rail-gaps to block off each one of the tracks in the ladder so that there will be separate on-off-reverse control for each track, such that locomotives and/or switchers that may be on each track can be controlled separately. The ladder itself (ie, the turnouts) on one side can all be in one block – and the same for the other side. This won’t be an issue for DCC control since the locomotives are controlled separately, not the tracks.

As you are laying your track and turnouts, you may want to test your model railroad yard frequently to make sure it does what you want it to do without derailments.

When doing your scenery, keep all ballast and other scenery materials away from your turnouts to assure good operation.

Consider adding electromagnetic decouplers to both ends of the ladder tracks in a double-ended yard to facilitate uncoupling without having to touch the locomotives or the cars. This adds to the realism and makes the whole yard operation easier.

Your model railroad yard will likely be a place of lots of enjoyable activity on your layout. The above tips will help ensure realistic and reliable operation.


References on Model Railroad Freight Yards

The Model Railroader's Guide to Freight Yards, by Andy Sperandeo, Kalmbach Books, 2004...

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