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Layout height, or remember when you were a kid?

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  • Layout height, or remember when you were a kid?

    If you had trains as a kid, you may have had them on the floor. If you were like me, you probably got down on your stomach for a railfan's view.

    I can still get that view today on my double-deck CP Rail M & M Sub.; half of the upper level is just below my eye-level, and the other half is just a bit above, providing a unique perspective on the trains. The photo above is what trains look like at my eye-level (I'm 5 '10).

    Layout height is an interesting topic for many model railroaders; you can see photos of the upper level on my layout at

    John Longhurst, Winnipeg

  • #2
    John,I still like my layouts upper chest high while seated that way I can still see the cars while switching and still be up close and personal.


    • #3
      My layout is built upon a 48" baseline with risers from there ranging to 4-6 inches above the baseline in elevated areas.
      Karl Scribner-Curmudgeon

      Cedar Swamp
      SW of Manistique, MI

      Avatar image by Savannah Lyn Burgess 7-15-2022


      • #4
        Just cut the legs today. 48" base height. I'm only 5'6" and my children are smaller. So can't make it too high.


        • #5
          Interesting topic, although there is no 'right answer'. I am 6'4", so I like the layout higher than most, however in building my current layout, it became an issue! I have decided to build a double deck layout, which means one deck is higher than 'perfect' and the other deck is lower than 'perfect'. I would say the ideal layout height for me would be somewhere in the area of 50-55", but since I am building an operating layout with crew members involved, I have to take the average height into consideration.

          I finally arrived at 39" for the lower level and 60" for the upper level. These are benchwork heights, so rail height will be higher. I arrived at this height after visiting numerous layouts and seeing first hand what the various heights offered. One double deck layout in this area that I operate on has these heights on the decks and I find them to be easy to operate on, and the seperation between decks to be generous enough that they don't interfere with one another.

          John, I'm curious - your 'eye level' puts the upper level at roughly 68"? What height is your lower level? Needless to say, I'm taller than you and would have preferred to go as high as you apparently did, but my crew protested and offered their reasoning. Therefore, I compromised to make the layout reachable for the 'average' height. No regrets on my part, but I am wondering what kind of feedback you get from your operators as your upper level seems quite high (which for me would be a good thing!)


          • #6
            This is interesting. I think there is a difference between te best viewing level and the best operating level. It also depends on what type of viewing you want. I like detailing interiors of buildings so need a high datum level.

            My last layout was at about chin level and I really liked the feeling of being trackside but I found that if i was a few inches hogher that i could see more of the layout and it felt bigger (not what I was expecting to be honest as i thought that being able to see more of the layout in one gaze would make it feel smaller) so for my current layout I have built it at about shoulder level.

            I also find it easier to uncouple cars with a slightly lower layout (I reach in with a barbeque skewer to uncouple the couplers).

            My dad is about 5" shorter than me (I am 6') so he gets a different view but he loves looking across at the layout, not down on it.
            Built a waterfront HO layout in Ireland but now making a start in On30 in Australia


            • #7
              In response to Mark, the lower level is 43 inches off the floor. As I said on the blog, I think the 62 inch level is better than 65 for operating purposes.

              To compensate for the height of the highest portion (65 inches), there is only a little bit of switching on the highest portion of the layout, and the switches themselves are close to the edge of the layout.

              Most of the switching is on the lower part of the upper level. (And most of the switching is on the bottom level.)