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I started collecting N gauge last year when we went into lockdown however since I have just been purchasing items etc with the hope of building a layout, the problem is I don’t know where to start I’ve tried several setups on the floor as a temporary setup before committing etc but I’m having no luck, Ive purchased lots of Kato unitrack and cost isn’t really an issue however I’m limited on space. I’m wanting to create an Urban/City scene continuous loop layout (I think this is the correct terminology) featuring a high rise Shinkansen line that ramps up and down with a viaduct station, low level passenger lines including a freight line incorporating the kato automated crossing and signals as well if possible the space I have available is 12ft x 4/5 ft. As mentioned I already have lots of kato unitrack consisting of double viaduct track, double elevated track and single unitrack so any help would be much appreciated.


Below is a setup I had temporarily in my back room however i am building the layout in my attic as its converted and we don’t really use it much, the only difference is I have added a double track super elevated loop running around the out side of the layout as well and the high rise starts just after the station straight and not on the bend as the back viaduct run is where I intend to put the Shinkansen station and where they have the overhead station I added 2 DX stations with lighting instead and extended them to accommodate the Shinkansen’s with the 3/4 car add on packs.


Any help with design would be much appreciated as Ive basically got a years supply of track and now lots of rolling stock/locos etc and I haven’t even started a layout, I know buying the track without a plan is probably going to leave me with surplus and the kato turntable is certainly going to find its way onto eBay as now I’ve  decided on a Shinkansen line as its now no longer needed however I’m aware of this and will just have to list the surplus and hopefully not loose too much money and put the money I make back into the final design once I’m happy with it.


Apologies for the long post etc but I’m really stuck.





Edited by Craigb302
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Hi Craig, welcome aboard.

It feels your issue might be related to the lack of scenery, which would help hiding the trains and tracks. Maybe a good starting point would be to start imagining the general scenery, how you would hide the tracks to break this feeling of slot car track. Perhaps by creating areas with taller buildings, or cutting the scenery with a hill or mountain.

I have seen a lot of very compact urban layouts throughout the years, and Japanese have a knack for packing a lot in a small layout. We have a lot of resources on the forum, either in the Layout section of the forum, or the Inspirational Layout and Scenery section of the forum, notably it's first pinned thread, which could help you get inspired.

kami_illy made some very interesting posts detailing his creative process: https://jnsforum.com/community/topic/11826-small-b-train-layout/ and https://jnsforum.com/community/topic/16649-small-b-train-layout-building-it/ But they are many others like it.

You could also consider B Train Shorties to start experimenting with a smaller layout and area. Bigger layout can feel intimidating, and it would give you experience and perhaps a better understanding of what you like.


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Hi thanks for the replies, I agree the lack of scenery certainly isn’t helping, I found a similar track layout online that utilised a mountain however it was more rural setting than the bustling city i was trying to capture i will upload a photograph of it below.


I’m considering ditching the turntable idea all together if I’m honest as well as it doesn’t really fit within a modern Shinkansen setting etc.


And thanks for the KATO link I’ve not seen that part of the website before only the track plans where it shows you adding V sets to the M sets so that has certainly helped with regards to adding a Shinkansen yard etc. 


I will continue trawling the internet for further inspiration 



Edited by Craigb302
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Using Software is your best first step option.  It allows you the quickest visual of the layout and you can modify, cut and paste track faster than you can lay it down.

This is your initial layout in a 12 x 5 grid. It took 3 minutes to layout the plan guessing what track you used in the image.


This grid is 12"x12" so it is a 1:1 mapping.




This software is AnyRail and you can download it for free. It limits you to 50 pieces of track so you can test it out.




Post up a picture of the attic space as that will allow other to make suggestions. 




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Hi thanks for the link I’ve looked at any rail before however it wont run on a Mac 😫


with regards to the loft space there is no restrictions I’m only limiting my self to that size layout as I want to make it achievable and finish it, I can accommodate L, U rectangular layout board shapes etc and have room if i need to extend it or widen it in places if required that’s no issue. I’m considering using a Helix and having my Shinkansen yard underneath the baseboard that way it will save space.


I’ve just hit a design wall I’ve spent numerous hours putting temporary tracks together i just want to try and finalise something and begin working on it.

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If you can, you could also consider running the layout along the walls and focus on building it section after section, focusing on a single module at a time.

1 hour ago, Craigb302 said:

found a similar track layout online that utilised a mountain however it was more rural setting than the bustling city i was trying to capture

You could very easily densify the scene, replace the fields with buildings and structures.

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I might suggest losing inclines for your shinkansen track, not that you couldn’t have a small single track version coming off to accommodate E3/E6 type operations. Inclines take up a ton of space and in urban areas, shinkansen lines bridge over everything anyway. 


I would start with the regular track and try and get in the aspects you want. Rural line, freight terminal, main line etc..The shinkansen could then by added making piers stretching over track when necessary. That way you are designing a layout above a layout. The shinkansen line could be placed on mountain side level when not spanning over other track, rivers etc..The shinkansen could dominate if not careful, which is fine if that’s your main area of interest, but it may be helpful working out you passenger/freight lines then seeing where you can put your high speed lines.  Any tight corners could be hidden in mountains. If you have limited space for shinkansen stations, look at some of the minor, kodama stopping stations for inspiration. Full length Nozomi would speed through but shorter services would stop.

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I like the sound of that suggestion never thought of doing it that way, and now you mention it it makes perfect sense I will have a play around this week as I’m off work on summer leave until September so I’ve got a few weeks to finalise something.



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welcome to the forum! Glad you found us. 

for planning software on the Mac there is rail modeler pro. $40 and works great.




There is xtrakcad that is now open source, but running on Mac can be touchy and usually breaks with system updates and new round of installing and tweaking.


I would agree with Kamome that the grades can be a pain, especially for shinkansens that also tend to run very separated from regular tracks. Also see if you like operating trains on the grades as they can be hard running if too steep and also put strain on motor cars (one of our club members use to do a lot of grades and usually steep and ran trains fast and it really Chewed up some of his motor cars). Unfortunately dedicated Shinkansen tracks need space and a loop of 12’ x 4-5’ is about the minimum to start feeling big enough (especially if you do >8 car trains). But they tend to dominate the layout. Our club’s old sectional layout at about 14’x6’ was just big enough to get a sort of satisfying Shinkansen loop for 16 cars and a station to fit and it was just at the point of dominating the layout. It’s always a tradeoff and Shinkansen lines just take space and they block a lot of scenery and buildings and views, can’t get past that in a small space. A full 16 car Shinkansen station takes up about 9’ if you want passing lines on it.


I would recommend you start looking at your temporary setup with some scenery and structure mocked up and just plopped in. You can just wad up newspaper and add lots of masking tape to make hills and mountains and even tap green paper or cheap green craft paint on it to simulate hills and such, with cardboard tunnels. For buildings you can just tape up some simple appropriate sized cardboard boxes to get some ideas of where they would go and look in your track plan. You can get fancy and print out free building pdf files to make buildings as well (pm me if you want some of these I’ve collected a lot of free ones), just print onto cardstock and cut them out and tape them up. Roads can just be cut up pieces of construction paper or simple printed roads if you want more detail. Doing all this really helps you get an idea of how much you can get in scenery wise with your track plans and will help you decide what makes you happy, more scenes or more track!


turntables are fun but then you want a roundhouse and all of a sudden it’s eating up a lot of space!


think about the layout depth as you can really only reach in a couple of feet comfortably, if against a wall you can’t get in from the backside. Trapdoors work but are a real pain to make and work thru and have to avoid track areas. What are you now using for a table and how do you get around it to work on stuff? This is one of the hidden things in layout design to really think thru well while in design and experiment on your own comfort on reach in to work on things, especially scenery as it can be long periods of fiddling. This also depends on the height of your layout as well.


You can try to make deep scenery pieced removable so you can work on them off the layout but that’s another design and engineering challenge to make sure to add into your design (like how will you lift them on/off over a deep section of layout). There are some movable scaffolds that let you lean out over the layout some, but it’s limited reach, not totally comfortable and they are big contraptions to move around and store (one friend hates to get his out of the closet that it takes up all the room in and get it set up so he hardly use it).


going around the outside of the room with you in the middle is one solution and try to keep at 2’ max depth although back corners are challenging and a place some do pop out holes to work in. It can give you much longer runs, not have the shinkansens lines dominate and better ways to do a lot of more separated scenes. But you get into the trains running around you and having to duck into the layout or have a lift up section to get into the middle. You can look at a big sort of U or G shaped layouts with loop backs at each end that allow access around 3 sides on the loop back ends so you have a clear place to enter the layout. It’s all tradeoffs.


helixes are nice but they are big, starting like 2.5’ dia min for shinkansens ro nicely run up and down.


big thing is keep playing with the temp setup to focus in on the bits you like most and the focus your design there. Even with a really big layout you can’t have it all. The friend’s above is really good sized and he had to balance train length, type of track etc vs the scenery he wanted, he eliminated viaduct Shinkansen track. It’s all about the bits you want most but realizing you probably can have it all so what you can compromise on or drop to get the most needed bits.


keep at it, it’ll come!





  • Like 1
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Welcome to the forum Craig!


I'm still fairly new to this hobby, so maybe you shouldn't pay too much attention to what I'm going to write now, but anyway...


If I've understood you correctly, space and money aren't really limiting factors for you, instead time (and skill, I presume) is. Then I think what you chose to start creating should reflect that. I'd say space is probably the main limiting factor for a huge majority of Japanese layout you'll find a photo of. That's why most layouts we see are high track density layouts where trains spending most of their time navigating curves near the edge of the layout going around the scenery rather than traveling in mostly straight lines going through scenary as IRL trains do. Layouts don't have to look like that if you've got the space




But then I hear you say, "but the layout won't be finished if it's any bigger than X x Y and that means a lot of curves."


To that I say, "Have you considered starting with scenic modeling something smaller?




Like this:




"Is that even a layout?" I hear people say.


Of course it is. It can be a layout with a number of features like:

1. Shinkansen trains crossing above local trains.

2. Shinkansen trains disappearing into a mountain side tunnel on the right side.

3. A level crossing as a street crosses the local line and then continues in under the Shinkansen line.

4. Trains disappearing among or appearing from in between tall buildings.

5. A cityscape with room for multiple streets with areas with builldings of different sizes and styles.

6. A tempel on a hill.

7. A small but lush park.




"But how can the trains run? Where is the loop?"


Most of the loop is outside of the scenic area. The trains loop around, somewhere outside of the scenic area where we are not looking, then they come back. With up to four trains running you don't have to wait long for them to appear again on the scenic part of the layout. Or maybe there are three trains. The Shinkansen line could be a "dog bone" (think a straight double track with loops at both ends) meaning the same Shinkansen train will swosh back and fourth through the scenery. Would be pretty cool I think. If I wasn't so space restricted I would have incorparated that into my own layout.



And when this part is somewhat "finished" you can move on to model another section, thus growing the scenic part of the layout and the unscenic parts can be hidden behind backdrops or mountains if you want to. Maybe there's going to be a local station to the left of this area?



I really wanted to think like this when doing my layout, doing a small part of it before worrying about how exactly the next section was going to look like. But I was too space restricted for that. I really needed to nail down pretty much everything from the start to be able to fit a station, a harbor area and a loop, or it wouldn't fit.


But you are fortunate with a spacious attic. You don't have to decide now what the "finished" layout will look like. It doesn't even have to be finished ever, it could just grow and evolve as you like.




Or maybe after all you'd very much would like to have one of these layouts with a lot of track fitted into a limited space in some clever configuration and thus need it all exactly planed out from the start and that is of course fine too.


A recommendation for layout planers I've seen in several places is to write down what elements you want in your layout (much like how I listed 7 features above). Then you rank all the things you'd like to have, because we always want to have more things on our layout than we realistically can have. After that you should have a clearer pictures of what's actually important to you and can start thinking about what to include on your layout and what to not include (or at least not include right now).


I think a common mistake is to think too much about track geometry rather than think about "scenes" or "elements" one wants to have on the layout.



This post turned out much longer than I thougt it would.


I hope you'll keep us updated on your progress with the project.

Good luck!

  • Like 2
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So I’m making progress I took into account the points raised by the members here I decided to extend the layout  board to 12x5, I’ve decided to keep the Shinkansen line separate as opposed to creating a up and down figure of 8 and I got a viaduct station in so I’m happy there, I’ve also managed with the help of the Kato website to get the turntable/yard into the layout and I’ve got plenty of space for scenery etc plans and updates to the build are to follow.

  • Like 1
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Layout planning is tough, so many variables and they can impinge on each other many ways. But as Swede points out best to really figure out the things you like and don’t like in layouts first as that’s the thing that really bites you down the line. I always say play as much as possible early on with real track as staring at a screen is nothing like really playing with your trains and playing with the actual trains helps you better at imagining what a track plan on the screen might be like running but it’s no replacement for testing stuff out. Same goes with scenery ideas, mock stuff up a lot, the more you do the more you will focus in on what sings to you on your layout as opposed to liking it on someone else’s layout. The bigger the layout the more important this is.


On your shinkansen you might think of denting your Shinkansen loop so it’s not just an oval. Also see about canting the layout a few degrees relative to the layout, both help make the Shinkansen viaduct not feel like a racetrack as much. Our club did this with our first two layouts. First started at 12x4’ and we then stretched to 14x4’. http://japanrailmodelers.org/pages/layout/layout.1.0.html it’s a little harder to do this now with the inclined curves as it may twist trains too much without a longer straight section in any S curves, but worth a test if you have the viaduct to play with.


so at 12-5’ will you have access all around the outside of the layout? Do play with your own personal reach, it varies person to person so no one magic number.


swede’d point about movable scenery is great. Early on even when playing with track plans you can start doing some little scenery bases around structures or even little hillside or green bits. Plopping these around while playing with track really helps visualize stuff more and way easier to detail in small chinks on the bench than on the layout then plop in place later and just fare in scenery around it. and leave it removable in case you want to add more detail later, use on something else or rearrange your scene. Also a great way to test scenery techniques and hone your scenery skills. Great primer on this in this article. http://japanrailmodelers.org/pages/modelingjapan/tempoary.html

looking forward to seeing what you come up with! Keep us posted!





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