HO Scale Track Plans for Model Train Layouts

Model Train Coming Around Lush Mountain

Cam Barker / Getty Images

HO is one of the most popular modeling scales worldwide. Large enough to appreciate fine detail but small enough to fit in most spaces, you can find a vast selection of products to finish your layout. With a little calculation, these plans can be adapted to other scales, as well.

The designation "HO" stands for "Half O." It is one-half of O-scale trains. In the model train world, systems are classified as letters. HO scale trains are 1:87 real-life scale.

These plans can inspire to get you started. Once you have your plans, look into tips for building your platform and so much more. Get ready to embark on a hobby that can last a lifetime.

  • 01 of 17

    Denver and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge (HOn3)

    Denver and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge (HOn3) track sketch

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    Denver and Rio Grande trains are HO scale but are narrow gauge—this is a different twist on HO railroading. Take a look at how to build these layouts from start to finish.

    Classified as HOn3 gauge, these trains are modeled on narrow gauge train lines (the rails are closer together). This means that although HO and HOn3 cars and locomotives are the same sizes, the trucks (wheels) and rails (tracks) are different between the gauges so their model railroad tracks are not interchangeable.

    The "n3" in HOn3 stands for "narrow gauge, 3 feet." Normal standard gauge in the United States, Canada, and Mexico is 4 feet, 8.5 inches between the rails. Any railroad with rails closer together is referred to as narrow gauge.

    These trains were popular in mining and lumber railroads like the southern Rio Grande region, Denver, and the Pacific, these train lines were three-feet narrow gauge lines.

  • 02 of 17

    Expand Your Train Set

    A train track plan that adds switches

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    Add a few switches and operations to the oval of the track which came with your first train set. This will increase the time it takes to complete the loop as your train stops to work the industries along the way.

    Think about how to add industries and scenery of your choice to give this simple plan a character all your own.

  • 03 of 17


    Oval 8 plan

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    Learn how to make figure-eights. Combine two common starter layout designs in this plan. Run two trains at once or switch back and forth between different routes.

  • 04 of 17

    Paper and Pines

    paper and pines track plan

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    Spectacular scenery on one side, heavy industry and switching action on the other, this 4-foot x 8-foot layout combines the best of several aspects of model railroading like mining or lumber activity and realistic-looking pine tree forests.

    Continue to 5 of 17 below.
  • 05 of 17

    Factory Town

    HO Model Railroad Plan

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    This 4-foot x 8-foot layout offers a nice blend of industrial switching and urban scenery with a track selection that may be an easy expansion from your starter set.

  • 06 of 17

    City of Industry

    city of industry track plan

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    This plan combines continuous running with lots of switching to keep your train busy for hours as you drop off and pick up freight from the customers along the line. This is a great layout plan if you get tired of watching a train run in circles. Learn more to see what operations are all about.

  • 07 of 17


    over under track plan

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    Adding a grade and folding a loop of the trackback on itself doubles the length of the run on this plan. Hiding portions of the line in tunnels or behind view blocks can make it seem even longer and more interesting. You can use staging track and add room for more industries to extend this route.

  • 08 of 17

    End of the Line


    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    For a truly challenging switching session, give this track plan a try. Turn your oval inside out and stop running in circles. Model the end of the line instead. Set out and pick up freight, turn the engine, and prepare for the next run. Tight curves and limited clearances add to the challenge and force you to plan your moves carefully. There is room for some scenery around town too.

    Continue to 9 of 17 below.
  • 09 of 17

    South Street Industrial

    South Street Plan

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    This linear layout keeps the action close to the operator. This design makes it easy to switch the industries and enhance the layout with detailed urban and industrial scenery.

  • 10 of 17

    HO Showcase

    HO track plan

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    Many modelers end up with more locomotives than they could ever run at once. Show off your trains with an HO showcase track plan that uses two outer loops for running with a turntable and tracks to display the rest of the collection.

  • 11 of 17

    Mountain Pass

    mountain pass train track plan

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    A 10-foot x 12-foot mountain pass room-sized layout features mountain scenery, a long mainline run, and several industries.

  • 12 of 17

    Cumberland Mines Railroad

    Cumberland Mines Railroad track plan

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    Based on a small prototype, this mining line model plan follows a simple track plan of an isolated coal-hauling railroad.

    Continue to 13 of 17 below.
  • 13 of 17

    Industrial Corner

    Industrial corner track plan

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    Another simple shelf-style switching layout, you can design this set of tracks over bookcases, a desk, or workbench in the corner of any room.

  • 14 of 17

    Archer Paper

    Archer Paper Switching Layout

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    This paper mill layout is a small design in a big industrial setting. It provides lots of modeling and operations options. Set within the confines of a large paper mill, this L-shaped shelf layout uses multiple car types and can keep you busy for hours. 

  • 15 of 17

    Portable Switching Layout

    Portable switching layout

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    Enjoy your railroad anywhere you go. In addition to a simple track plan that provides challenging switching, get step-by-step instructions to build this portable pike. This model plan is perfect for an apartment, college dorm, or as a switching game for kids and adults. This layout proves that good things can come in small packages.

  • 16 of 17

    The Timesaver

    The timesaver switching puzzle

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    A classic switching puzzle, the Timesaver game has been reproduced in many scales and forms. Combine two back-to-back for even more challenges as you race the clock alone or with the head-to-head competition.

    Continue to 17 of 17 below.
  • 17 of 17


    Inglenook switching layout

    The Spruce Crafts / Ryan C Kunkle

    Another classic switching layout puzzle, the Inglenook features just two switches, but there are thousands of switching combinations. This layout is truly simple and simply fun.