Want to build a quality HO scale layout

Hello everyone!
It is great to be a part of the forum. I live in Orlando Florida and just recently retired. I want to start model railroading by building a quality HO layout. I have been doing a lot of research over the last two weeks and came to a few conclusions: because of space limitations, budget, and product availability HO seems the right scale for me. DCC seems like a good choice. I want to buy locomotives that run very smoothly at low speeds and have great details in their construction. I like the detailed construction I see in several European manufacturers. Marklin seems to have a great reputation, but is it compatible with American systems. Should I consider Trix? Are Roco locomotives quality?
Can anyone guide me to educational resources on the Internet? Thank you everyone, I am very excited,


  • Dear Mark:

    Marklin trains use different wheelsets than American manufacturers in the sense that the two wheels are not electrically isolated from one another. Therefore, all Marklin locos and cars with original Marklin wheels will cause a short on regular 2-rail track. In a Marklin system, the two rails are electrically connected, and power is transmitted through them and the center studs instead of the two rails only. If you want to have a system compatible with American systems, you have to opt for Trix and Roco. These, Liliput and Fleischmann H0 locos can be operated on American track, and the quality of these locos (Roco, Trix, Liliput, Fleischmann) is very good. Fleischmann ceased production of H0 locos and cars a few years ago, there models are now reappearing under the Roco brand. Since you start new, DCC is the way to go. Digitrax and NCE produce starter systems which offer quite a bang for the buck. You can also get a Roco Z21 system (really slick), an ESU system, or one made by ZImo. But be prepared for the sticker shock on those. I would get the "The Digitrax Big Book of DCC", it a great resource and answered almost all question I had.

    Hope that helps,


  • As Ulrich has pointed out, Märklin equipment is largely incompatible with everything else in the two-rail DC DCC world. However, other major manufacturers do make locomotives designed to run on Märklin systems -- and other rolling stock (passenger and freight cars) can be adapted by replacing the wheels.

    Going with two-rail DC has some advantages:

    • There is a much larger selection of rolling stock.
    • You will be able to run your equipment on other DC layouts, such as club layouts.
    • You are more likely to be able to get technical support for DC DCC in the U.S.

    On the other hand, if someone you know is already operating Märklin equipment, that may be an incentive to go with that system.

    Yes, Roco makes good products. I own more than two dozen HO Roco locomotives. That doesn't mean that in the past they -- like most model railroad manufacturers -- have not had some missteps. About half my Roco locomotives were purchased new in the last decade or so; the remainder were purchased used because they were models that I really wanted and that were not available as current new models.

    Decoders can make a huge difference in the operation of locomotives. If you purchase locomotives that do not already have factory-installed decoders, look carefully at the available decoders. If you plan to operate two locomotives as tandem sets or as double-headers, it may be important to have the same decoder installed in both, as that will help ensure that the locomotives behave the same.

    Roco also makes one of the most widely used digital control systems in the world. And, that system keeps growing through the introduction of new components.

    But, before you begin looking at rolling stock and track, first step back and ask yourself some basic questions about what you want your layout to do. What era and region do you want to represent on your layout? What aspects (industries, resort areas, etc.) of that era and region are of particular interest?

    Do you plan to involve family members or friends in your layout project? If so, are there aspects of model railroading that would appeal particularly to them and that you can incorporate in your plans?

    For example, if you want to model any era of Austria, Germany, or Switzerland, you will find plenty of models from Roco and other major manufacturers. On the other hand, if your primary interest is on of the Scandinavian or Eastern European countries, or even Italy or Spain, then you may have to consider smaller less-known manufacturers.

    Don't be in too much of a hurry. Give yourself time to think about what you want to do. After all, you will probably be investing a lot of time and money in this project. On the other hand, once you have decided on a general direction and you gradually begin acquiring locomotives and rolling stock, you may want to set up a temporary table-top operation so that you can test run equipment.

    I am a big fan of Roco z21 digital start sets. If you can find one that fits into your general plans, it will give you a tremendous jump start -- at a very reasonable price. These sets are usually priced at about half of what you would spend on the locomotive, rolling stock, track, and digital components if you bought them individually. Even if the track in start set is not what you ultimately want to use on your layout, you can use it for your test track or workbench -- or for display tracks on bookshelves. (Yes, other manufacturers offer attractively priced start sets, too.) Remember that start sets offered vary from year to year -- and you may also be able to find other sets still on the market that are no longer listed in current catalogs.

    Speaking of catalogs -- invest in the current paper catalogs from major manufacturers, such as Roco. They give you a much better overlook on what is available than the online sites of various vendors.

    Because you asked for other resources: There is an extensive two-part essay on layout planning on the Reynauld's Blog site:

    You'll find other background information on that site, too.

    Keep asking questions -- both of yourself and others -- and read everything you can on aspects of model railroading that are of interest to you.

    -- Ernest

  • Ulrich and Ernest,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. It gives me the confidence to get started without making costly mistakes. I will definitely continue reading and studying .
    Do you have an opinion about the quality of Broadway Limited steam locomotives?
    Thanks again,

  • Mark:
    I have heard good things about them, but they are pricey. If I were to model American, there are several railroads I would be interested in, and the Pennsy is one (Santa Fe being the second). So I have read the reviews of BL in the model railroader since they are the prime maker of Pennsy locos. However, if I were to built a small layout, I focus on one country and then on one region. An American branch line set in the mid 1950s would be a good choice. You could run a few first generation diesels (no B-units though on a branch), as well as some small steamers (Pacific, Mikado, Mogul). Often, older mainline engines servedd their days out on a branch. A German or Austrian branch line set in the 60s would give you the same options, the equipment would be somewhat smaller, so the layout would appear bigger. German branch line locos had to deal with load restrictions of around 16t per axle, which made it impossible to move old mainline engines to branch lines. For instance, the 50 class steamer was designed for this type of service. An old 44 class could not be used on a branchline.


  • You can't go wrong with Roco. TRIX, Brawa, and Pico, also make good equipment as does Jagerndorf and A.C.M.E. The level of detail on the Jagerndorf and A.C.M.E. is remarkable, and many Roco locomotives are right up there too. I don't have any steam on my layout as I model a later era, but it is not out f the question that a steam locomotive might appear. Germany used steam into the early 1970's.

    Ever since living in Germany for a bit over two years as a young boy I have always wanted to model European railroads. It is like a trip down memory lane to run trains on my layout.

  • There are preserved operable steam locomotives in most European countries -- and these do get out on mainlines on special occasions. In relatively small Austria, there are more than a dozen operable steam locomotives, some owned by the Federal Railways as part of their historic collection, some owned by museums, and even a few in private ownership (well-off businessmen and tourism charter companies). Class 50 and 52 war locomotives exist in operable form in multiple countries.

    The GKB, a regional line out of Graz, owns what is claimed to be the world's oldest continually operable steam locomotive. (Liliput has a currently available model -- as an era 6 model!)

    My fictional railroad construction company, "Bahnbau Robl," owns a steam locomotive that it uses for promotional purposes, but which can also be pressed into service doing some switching at its main shops. At the end of my branchline, a roundhouse has now been converted to a museum -- and it has a tank engine and some 2-axle passenger cars that can operate excursions on the branchline during slow periods or for special events.

    And, I have a mainline excursion train pulled by a class 52 that consists of historic 4-axle coaches.

    There are several articles on modern-day steam on the Reynauld's Blog.

    -- Ernest

  • Where are you now with planning your railroad?

    Are you still planning to model European outline?

  • I wish the new guys wouldn't leave us hanging with their railroad plans and never tell us what they've decided.

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