Building a Model Railroad Helix

A helix is the ultimate model train elevator. Large or small, short or tall, there is nothing quite like watching a train climb above itself like a giant snake. A helix is sure to be a center of attention on any model railroad.

A helix can also be an intimidating construction project for any skill level. No matter how large, a helix can be broken down into very manageable pieces. If you can build a conventional grade, you can build a helix. The secret is all in the planning.

  • 01 of 05

    Helix Prototypes

    A BNSF stack train rounds the Tehachapi Loop in California. The rear of the train can be seen to the left of the locomotives. ®2009 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Even a construction as crazy as a helix is not without a counterpart in the real world of railroading. Get inspired from these amazing feats of engineering.

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    With careful planning, you can make the most of you helix and minimize problems on even the largest projects. ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Planning is truly the key to a successful helix. Planning in three dimensions can be a challenge as you balance radius, grade, and space.

    Learn More

  • 03 of 05

    Building the Helix

    Once the base turn is set, the sky is the limit. ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Step-by-step, turn-by-turn, a helix can rise to great heights. Although they appear complex, a helix is built on simple constructions. Establish a strong base and an even grade on the first tier and the rest is easy!

    Get started.

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    Laying Track in a Helix

    Follow these steps and you'll have a helix full of flowing curves. ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Round and 'round they go. Smooth track is essential to enjoyable operations everywhere, especially in a helix. Low clearances between tiers can make access and maintenance difficult, so get the tracks right the first time.

    Read more.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Wiring a Helix

    Feeders and buswires can be routed through a helix to minimize appearance and clearance concerns. ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Put power in the tower. There's nothing different about wiring a helix than the rest of your railroad, but there are a few tricks to make it easier.

    Learn how.