4X8 is just plain BAD!

Matt Forcum's picture

The January 2012 issue of Model Railroader magazine is out now and the project railroad featured is once again a 4X8 foot layout.


I hate 4X8 foot layouts.


Ok, hate is a strong word. I don't hate them, but I do have some serious issues with pushing the idea that a 4X8 foot railroad is good option for a beginner. It is not and the reason for this has everything to do with size.


When we talk about the size of a layout, we should always take into consideration not only the foot print of the layout itself, but also the asile around the layout that a required for maintenance and operation. With this in mind, a 4X8 foot layout actually requires 8X10 feet of space.  That's the size of a spare bedroom! (for more on this, check out this awesome article by professional layout designer, Byron Henderson)


In my opinion, that kind of space requirement is just too much. Especially for a beginner who may be unsure of just how much long term enjoyment they will be getting from the hobby.  There are also many of us who just don't have a spare room to turn over completely to the trains and trying to squeeze a large table into a den or other room shared with the rest of the family is sure to foster more than a small amount of animosity towards the trains.


I think one of the reason the 4X8 foot sheet is still popular (besides the fact that MR pushes it so hard.) is because of the desire of a beginning hobbiest to watch trains run and run and run. If this is your desire (and it is a perfectly valid desire) and you are just starting out, consider building a small N-scale layout.  My second model railroad was an N-scale layout that I built on a small closet door.  It was small enough to easily slide under my twin sized bed when not in use, and it still offered a lot in terms of operation and modeling. Plus I learned a whole lot of tips and tricks along the way that I am now able to take advantage of on my new, slightly larger layout!


If the size and detail of HO scale models interests you, and continuous running is not a concern, then a small, space-saving point-to-point style shelf layout that can be placed against the wall may be your best bet!

Moderator note: Changed title from "Sucks!" to "is just plain BAD!" because some people may want to spam a post that uses "Sucks" in the title.


joef's picture


This post was resurrected from the spam archives. Every so often, we find some legitimate posts that get marked as spam, like this one - so we've pulled it back out of the hinterlands ...

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Joe Fugate
Publisher, Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine

Joe Fugate's HO Siskiyou Line

A bit of Honesty...

With this in mind, a 4X8 foot layout actually requires 8X10 feet of space.  That's the size of a spare bedroom!

I think it's really good for beginners to keep this point in mind, before they set out seriously building great ambitious plans.  I consider this hobby to be "expensive" but not just in terms of the financial cost, but also in terms of time and indeed, real estate.

In all reality, this hobby DOES take a room onto itself, even if you're just building models.  To build well, it takes a workbench size space to keep things organized and free for use.  As they say, a place for everything and everything in its place is a sure way to be more productive because you can find what you need when you need it.

It is possible to build a modular layout, or to build a layout that is in essence shelves that can be easily taken down. If you want to see your trains "go somewhere" before they have to stop and reverse direction, continuous run is the best option.  If you want to watch trains of decent length beyond 3 or 4 cars get any amount of decent runtime before coming to the end of their journey, a loop is the best course of action - point to point will not provide the action necessary.

There is the idea that you can get all of this and more if one were to just change scales.  I'm of the persuasion that you don't pick your scale; your scale picks you.  My dad, for instance, would be most at home with O or larger, if he were to be a serious model railroader.  Myself, I'm full-bred HO - the details I desire are still doable, but the scenes aren't so big that it's impossible.

The possession of a spare bedroom, or a den, or other room with complete zoning control is ultimately ideal for anyone considering the hobby.  Do we all have this? No, life goes in directions that makes some things a compromise.  Some of us have to build much smaller scenes to hold off our desire for a full fledged layout, some of us have to join clubs.  And some of us have the pleasure of building a large train-dedicated building in our backyards...my would that be nice!!!!  If my [nonexistant] wife wanted a horse barn, though, I guarantee you, that barn would be budgeted and built before I even THINK about building a trainroom!!!

Not a 4x8 fan, but the alternative is...

Dear Matt,

Totally agree with the issues that a 4x8 is actually a massive space-hog,
even if we only restrict access to 1 long and 1 short side. 

However, what would the "logical alternatives" be?

At the risk of suggesting something slightly out-there, how about:

- taking a long hard look at the Carl Arendt Small/Micro Layout website


- specifically the Articles such as





- and then considering the simplicity,
proto plausibility throughout a range of eras, 
and suitability as a "learning layout"
(IE a layout that will force the newcomer to try their hand at a _little_of_everything_, 
INC "local switching operations",

while not immediately dumping them in the deep end of _any_ given model RRing discipline...)

of an HO 6x1 5:3:3 (or even 4x1 3:2:2) Inglenook???
(I'm assuming that we're considering someone looking at starting in HO here, based on the 4x8 launching-pad...)

If we take away the "single sheet of plywood" HO 4x8,
(and have not really asked the newcomer what it is about the world of modelling and railroads that they are chasing, and therefore are interested in "heading towards'),

what alternative would we, as the "older more experienced mentor" modeller in this scenario, offer?

Happy Modelling,
Aim to Improve,
Prof Klyzlr

One of the most influential layouts..........

.......... the G&D (yes, again!) started as a 4' x 8' and was incorporated intact into the two later incarnations of it. IIRC this size started as an easy way to run an HO scale set. Just go to the lumberyard, get a sheet of plywood (4' x 8' is the largest size that fits into a regular station wagon), and you are on the way. Usually one of those layouts was tucked against a corner, not set in the middle of the room. Was light/small enough to be moved around, lifted to let the family car in the garage, etc. 


Long life to Linux The Great!

Scarpia's picture

I don't know

I don't know - sure there is better use of space, but my first layout, a 4x8, was fun - fun enough to get me into the hobby a whole lot deeper. I'd wager it does for a lot of other folks as well.

Surely that cant' be too bad.

And now that I have that switching layout, I wish I had a simple loop - somewhere - to break in equipment.

HO, early transition era www.garbo.org/MRR local time GMT +4
On30, circa 1900    


When you have a "toy train set", everything looks like a 4X8

My first layout was a surprise Christmas Lionel layout on a 4X8 sheet of plywood that my Dad somehow secretly built in our home, complete with a passing siding, plaster-over-screen mountain/tunnel and green sawdust grass.  Pretty cool to a –wow was I THAT young??? – 4-1/2-year-old kid.

It was followed 2 and a half years later by an HO scale train for my 7th birthday, also on a 4X8 sheet of plywood.  I think my Dad lived out a vicarious interest in Model Railroading through me.

Our adult neighbor in my childhood years had a round-and-round HO layout, and an O layout, also on a 4X8 sheet of plywood.

A retiree neighbor later in my junior high years had a layout that started as a 4X8 that grew some sidings.

All of my references as a youngster, and any mentoring to be gained was from folks who thought the ‘ol 4X8 was good enough for anyone.  And none of them knew a whit about real railroad operations, so a loco chasing its caboose seemed also good enough for everyone.

Then for some reason in junior high I took a fancy to a switching style layout, and being old enough to build one myself, that’s what I created.  I can’t recall even what the influence would have been, other than perhaps an Atlas or Model Railroader plan, together with the vague notion that railroads did more than chase cabooses.  No longer would the 4X8 be good enough for me.

I know some of the perceived simplicity of my early views had to do with being a youngster.  I grew in both mental and “railroad” maturity at the same time. 

(Note to self: Friendly wife might take exception to the use of the word “maturity” in a Model RR context) 

There was a time where I doubt I could have told you what my Railroading objective was, other than “I like trains”, because I didn’t understand the full range of what railroading could be.

As a young adult, I went to work for the Soo Line, and it was quite a mental shift to find out what is really important versus what I thought was important to a railroad and its operations.

Point being… for those of us who have been blessed enough to “know” (read learn), there is a great opportunity and, I would argue, obligation to impart assistance, knowledge and guidance to newcomers with the gentlest humility.  They might even welcome my sage advice if given with tact!  Then the obligatory 4X8 becomes simply another option in the pursuit of a most enjoyable hobby.




- Milt
The Duluth MISSABE and Iron Range Railway in the 50's - 1:87


Actually, IIRC, the original G&D was 3 1/2' x 6'


"And the sons of Pullman porters and the sons of engineers, ride their father's magic carpet made of steel..."

Modeling the  Elk Creek Railroad in HO.




Geared Steam's picture

Same old rant about the 4 x 8

While I can argue about your "points" concerning space, blah, blah, blah ad nauseam, your comments have been "copied and paste" into MRR forums for years, so I won't bother or am concerned about changing anyones mind. 

Its very simple why Model Railroader continues to publish 4 x 8 layout plans, 

1) It's for beginners

2) Its cheap(er) 

3) It can be finished in a lifetime

4) It demonstrates techniques and methods to build a layout.

5) If it was called a chainsaw layout instead of a 4 x 8, everyone would "get it".

Simply put, it's a business decision by Kalmbach to demonstrate layout construction to new modelers, sell more magazines by announcing " A coal hauling giant in 4 x 8 space", is an affordable investment for the business (Kalmbach), and it will be completed in about 6 issues.

It's not rocket science, so instead of flogging the 4 x 8 theme to death, go build something and submit the article to Joe, in other words, contribute to the hobby. 

SPAM this reply. 



Jamnest's picture

MR 4x8 Project Layout

While I have done a lot of apartment railroading, my preference would be for around the walls, sectional layout, versus a 4 x 8 layout.  This being the case I am enjoying the MR project layout, as there are a lot of tips and techniques which are applicable to all layout construction.

I also appreciate the discussion of the potential to expand the 4 x 8 project layout as one's model railroading interest grows.

Before you knock the potential of a 4 x 8 layout ask Charlie Comstock about an operating session on a 4 x 8 layout. (or listen to Model Rail Cast #107).


Modeling the Kansas City Southern (fall 1981 - spring 1982) HO scale


4 X 8 Beginner & Ender

I've always felt that the 4 X 8 is a great way to get started in the hobby. Depending on the scenery desired, there's nothing in the way of hard construction and you can be up and running in a relatively short amount of time. 

That being said, I believe this type of layout has also driven many from the hobby as the operations end of a tabletop layout could get boring for some after a while. At that point if the modeler can't visualize a different style of layout in the same amount of space, they might get out of model railroading entirely.

Now I know some folks have enjoyed their 4 X 8 or similar size layouts for many years and I say great for them. However, I believe they would be in the minority of those who either moved up to a different type of design or left the hobby.

Duane Goodman

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