It's no secret that model railways can be an expensive hobby. However, how much does it cost to build a model railway layout from scratch?
And what is the value of these railways?
In this article, we'll explore how much you can expect to pay while building a model railway and some of the factors that go into deciding how much money you'll need to get started.
Although Building a model railway can cost as little as £370 or as much as several thousand, you can buy a model train set to run on a kitchen table for £160.
It all depends on the scale of the model train you choose, and the size and complexity of the railway you want to build. If you're just starting out, it's best to keep things simple and inexpensive.
If you make the model railway baseboard construction as big as you have space for, you can always add more features and detail later on as your skills and budget allow.
The cost of the materials needed to build a model railway will vary depending on the type of railway you want to create.
For example, if you're building an indoor railway, you'll need to factor in the cost of timber, screws, and glue. If you're building a garden railway, you'll need to factor in the cost of earthworks, foundations, and cement.
Factors that influence the costs of indoor model railways
- Timber and materials to build the model railway baseboards
- cables and wiring to connect the track to the controller or accessories to their power supply
- Model railway controllers
- Track for the trains to run on
- Coaches, Waggons, and other rolling stock
- Model Buildings
- Model lighting
- Model Landscapes
- Miniature people, animals, cars
Model railway baseboard materials to build the baseboard
Building a model railway baseboard rather than buying model railway baseboards ready made can be a relatively cost-effective way to get started in building your model layout.
You can buy the materials needed to build a simple baseboard for around £50. This includes a 1200mm x 600mm sheet of timber, screws, and glue.
The costs of materials will vary depending on the size and complexity of the baseboard you want to build
Hint: The choice of materials used for the baseboard top not only affects the cost but also how hard it is to get the track pins in
The average footprint of a Hornby train set is 1600mm x 1180mm so you would need three of our 1200mm x 600mm sections, costing around £150 in May of 2022.
Readymade model railway baseboards
You can opt to purchase a ready made baseboard, this could increase the cost dramatically.
The following companies have model railway baseboards for sale as model railway baseboards kits
Cables and wiring
Not only do you need the right type of cable for your specific setup, but you also need to make sure that the cables are long enough to reach from the track to the controller or other accessories.
PECO offers a wide range of PL-38 3ampcables in 7m lengths, which should be more than sufficient for most setups.
The company also offers a variety of colours to choose from, so you can pick the perfect one to match your railway's colour coding.
For example, you might choose Red and Black for connections from the controller to the track, Yellow and Blue for any accessories.
Unless you have bought a starter set, allow £15 for wiring a simple layout
Model railway controllers
There are a variety of model railway controllers available on the market, which can be broadly divided into four categories:
- All in one cased controller with power supply
- Panel mount controllers that require you to provide a power supply
- Handheld controllers that require you to provide a power supply
- Starter sets including a Handheld controller with a power supply
You have a choice of Analogue or DCC control.
Various manufacturers produce analogue and DCC controls, including Hornby, Bachmann, Gaugemaster, NCE, ESU
Analogue controllers use a voltage to control the speed of the train. This type of controller is best suited for older locomotives that do not have built-in circuitry to run on DCC.
DCC, or Digital Command Control, uses a digital signal to control the speed and direction of the train. This type of controller is best suited for newer locomotives that have built-in circuitry to run on DCC
If you're just starting out, we recommend getting a starter set that includes a handheld controller with a power supply. This will give you everything you need to get started without having to purchase additional components
Starter sets are available from all the major brands, including Hornby, Bachmann, and Gaugemaster
They typically cost between £50 and £370 and include everything you need to get started, including the controller, and power supply
Track for the trains to run on
All train sets and model railways need track. Hornby sells extension packs for their sets. PECO are a premium brand track manufacturer in the UK making track for all popular scales. We recommend the PECO track for its quality
You can expect to pay between £4 and £10 per 3-foot section for the Peco track, boxes of either 25 lengths or 12 lengths for large scales will work out more cost-effective than single lengths.
Depending on the scale or complexity of the point, you may anticipate paying between £13 and £60 per point for the Peco track.
Model trains are available from a growing list of manufacturers, some of those we deal with include Hornby, Bachman, Rapido Trains, Accurascale, Dapol, and Roundhouse engineering.
Not all brands cater for every scale, for example, Hornby currently focuses on OO gauge models.
The level of detail included in a locomotive and the number being produced dramatically impact the cost to you the buyer.
For example, a very popular locomotive such as the Flying Scotsman in OO gauge Railroad form by Hornby will have an RRP of around £90, whereas a limited edition model of the same locomotive produced in much smaller numbers with diecast parts, glowing firebox, steam generator, and sound will have an RRP closer to £300.
An average cost for a popular medium detail DCC ready locomotive would be around £170
A typical cost for a high detailed collectors model would be £300
The example shown below retails for £120
Occasionally we have second-hand trains available for sale. They can offer a significant saving over the cost of a new locomotive. All ours are checked over and serviced before sale.
The cost of a second-hand locomotive varies from £35 to £75 depending on condition and desirability.
You can buy second-hand trains from eBay, Car Boot Sales, private collections, and members of your local model railway club.
However, there are common problems with second-hand locomotives
- Often they won't work, especially if they have not been used for years
- Virtually all of them will have cosmetic blemishes
- They might be life-expired
- Early models were not always well built.
- Bad repairs may not be easy to spot from photographs
Coaches, Waggons, and other rolling stock
Just as with locomotives, the level of detail included in the model of your coach or wagon directly impacts the cost.
With the average OO Gauge coach costing £30 to £50 a set of 5 could cost between £150 and £250.
The wagons cost between £15 and £25 each.
Unless your model railway is based 100% in the rural countryside it should include some buildings. some typical examples are:
- Signal boxes at stations or junctions
- Stations and station platforms
- Engine sheds
- Goods sheds
- Farm buildings
- Animal Shelters
- Industrial areas
Complete ready to use resin buildings can simply be added to the scene and prices range from £15 to £50.
Building from kits is a way of gaining more enjoyment and expressing more creativity in your model layout. Plastic kits start from £15 and pre-printed laser cut card kits range from a few pounds to £30
Even a simple signal box adds another dimension to the layout.
Adding lighting to a model railway increases the realism and interest, particularly in the evenings.
Lighting can take the following forms:
- Interior lighting using a grain of wheat bulb or LED for a few pounds
- Scale lighting fixtures ranging from £10 to £30
- Illuminated signals from £30
- Glowing fires from £15
No real railway landscape is flat, even those without hills have trees and possibly a few surviving telegraph poles.
Modelling the scenery need not be expensive. You can recycle and repurpose older materials to create hills and cuttings can be great fun. Simple PVA glue for a few pounds holds it all together.
You can either use paper mache to cover the scenery formers or use a plaster impregnated bandage. A plaster bandage gives a much stronger finish and with 3 or 4 layers at £4 a role a typical layout may take £40 to cover.
Traditional scatter materials for grass and ballast cost £5 for a small bag, so typically you would spend £50 to £60 on scatter materials.
A newer more realistic technique is Static Grass. Static grass when applied correctly gives a much better finish and is more realistic. However, a larger layout could cost £150 for materials and £65 to £130 for the applicator.
Miniature people, animals, cars
Adding miniature people, animals, and cars to a new layout can really bring it to life.
Bachman, PECO, and Hornby do packs of animals, figures and items of luggage for £10 to £15 which are all ready to use.
You can bulk buy basic plastic figures on eBay for a few pounds but they are often not realistic or require painting yourself.
We hope that this article has given you some idea of the cost of building a model railway from scratch.
Remember that you can take as much time as you like to finish your layout and that the hobby can last a lifetime. You can finish buildings and scenery while you are running trains.
You can buy everything upfront before commencing the build or spread the cost over time.
A well finished and detailed model train layout that can be easily transported to another location is a valuable asset.
The final cost is difficult to estimate as many in the hobby suggest a layout is never really finished.
The total cost of a model layout is likely to be £800 to £2000 with a double-track oval, stations, rail yard and multiple forms of motive power and DCC control.
Further reading you might like
Why are model railways so expensive
Model railway scales and gauges explained
How to start a model railway - All you need to know
How to Create Model Landscapes
Model railway points - All you need to know in one place