Model Railroad Staging Yards

  • 01 of 04

    What is a Staging Yard and What Can It Do for Me?

    reverse loop staging
    Ryan C Kunkle

    What is a Staging Yard?

    Staging Yards serve many purposes on a model railroad;

    • Storage: Home for all those trains you can't run right now.
    • Operations: Staging represents additional destinations not modeled on the actual railroad.
    • Interchange: Represent connecting lines or other railroads.
    • Classification: "Active" staging yards allow train consists to be rearranged between or during an operating session.

    Real railroads also have staging yards used to hold trains until delivery is needed. A common example would be holding empty coal trains in yards near the mines. By keeping a supply of cars on the ready, demand can be met quickly.

    What Can Staging Do for You?

    In addition to simply providing a place to store extra cars, staging yards can become an integral part of your layout. Most modelers interested in railroad operations use some form of staging yard to represent portions of the world that aren't actually modeled. This gives the trains a place to go "beyond the basement," or "off-stage."

    Staging yards can represent neighboring divisions, cities, other railroads, or just the next mile up the line. A staging yard may be as simple as a single track or large enough to hold hundreds of cars. The right size and configuration is up to you and what you want the yard to represent. Some modelers reclassify and modify trains while in staging, making them essentially a classification yard, this is called "active staging."

    Trains can start their run in one staging yard, travel across the railroad and terminate offstage in another yard. If your railroad is a continuous loop, it may even be the same physical yard. Trains could also begin or end their run on the modeled layout.

    Staging can also represent an interchange, or a connection with another railroad. This places the railroad you've modeled in a much larger context and lends credibility to your operations.

    Most people think of staging yards as hidden, but they can be open and even feature finished scenery. Often, the entrance to staging yards will be modeled with the tracks disappearing under a bridge or through a backdrop. This allows operators to see when their train is moving or clear of the switches. For completely hidden yards, track occupancy detection or closed-circuit television can be used to monitor trains.

    Continue to 2 of 4 below.
  • 02 of 04

    Designing a Staging Yard

    Once scenery is completed on the upper level, this seven-track staging yard will disappear. Plan ahead to ensure you can run this yard blindly.
    Ryan C Kunkle

    Like any yard or track arrangement, there are many ways to build a staging yard. Some important things to consider when designing yours:

    • Capacity: How many trains? How many cars / train?
    • Reuse: Will trains need to return to the active layout during a session or is it once and done?
    • Active Staging: Will you reclassify trains in staging yards during the session?
    • Access: How will you get to the trains and tracks in the yard to fix derailments, clean track, etc?
    • Power / Control: How will you power the tracks and turnouts? Will the yard tracks stay powered when not needed?
    • Detection: How will you know which tracks are full / empty? Which train is on which track?


    While excess capacity in staging equals wasted space and resources, most modelers end up with the opposite problem. You think you only need room for two trains of fifteen cars each. Five years later, your roster has increased so that twenty car trains are the norm and you've decided to add a new passenger train. Adding track later, especially in a hidden staging yard, can be a challenge.

    Try to estimate the number and length of trains you'll want to run. If you have room to make tracks a little longer than necessary, do it. If nothing else, you'll give your operators a little extra clearance. If you have room to add one or two extra tracks, it is probably worth taking the time to do so up front. Even if not used regularly, the tracks can be useful for storing special trains out of the way or provide room for future acquisitions.

    Keep in mind that every train doesn't need to have its own track. Fewer but longer tracks capable of handling multiple trains are also an option.


    How you will turn, or restage, trains in staging for their next run is also a concern. Staging yards come in two forms, stub or double-ended. Stub staging has an entrance at one end only. Through yards have connections to the layout at both ends. Often these yards are built as reverse loops.

    Stub tracks usually allow the greatest car capacity / length. Double-ended staging, especially in a loop, allows faster re-staging of trains as they can re-enter the railroad without being reversed. Even if trains won't be reused immediately, its nice to have them ready to go the next time you want them.

    If you will be actively changing trains in staging, make sure to provide adequate storage space in or around the yard and convenient access for operators.

    Access, Power and Detection

    These concerns are easily addressed in construction, but its good to have an idea of what you'll need before you start to build.

    Even in hidden yards, make sure you can access the entire yard to fix a derailment or clean track. It is also a good idea to provide fall protection if your tracks border the edge of the platform.

    Choose a detection system and make sure to accommodate any needs, like camera or detector locations in your plans.

    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    Building a Staging Yard

    Use premade rerailer track sections near the yard ladders in staging tracks. Even with the best track, accidents can happen. These can help catch a derailment in a hard-to-reach yard so you don't have to.
    Ryan C Kunkle

    The basic construction techniques needed to build a staging yard are no different than anywhere else on your railroad. If you've planned correctly, the pieces should fall into place.


    A sturdy base is a must for staging. Yards don't have to be level, but if there is a grade it is usually best to have the entrance to the yard at the top. This prevents cars from accidentally rolling out of the yard.


    Take care to lay track properly. As in any yard, maintain adequate clearance between tracks. If this yard will be hidden, adding a little extra space can prevent sideswipes from derailed cars and makes re-railing much easier.

    Use rerailing sections near yard ladders to help catch the derailments.


    Ensure the track is adequately powered in a staging yard, especially if it is hidden with a proper bus and feeder wiring.

    An option to turn off power to tracks not in use, either empty or full, is a good safety device. This will prevent a train from creeping out of the yard if an operator forgets to completely shut off a throttle or turn off a block. Powering down the yard when not in use also reduces current draw on your DCC system. Adding a power-routing option to your turnouts is one way to do this. A master kill switch is another easy-to-install option.

    In addition to powering tracks and turnouts, many staging yards require some sort of train detection system. The two most common types of detection rely on track current and light. These devices will likely require their own power supplies and connections to control panels and/or DCC control systems.


    Cameras are yet another option for detecting trains in staging. While it may seem like a costly alternative, a single camera can monitor many tracks and may be more cost effective for large yards. An added advantage: a camera can show not only if a track is occupied, but which train is in it. It can not however interact with the layout's command system to control signals or automatic block controls.

    Continue to 4 of 4 below.
  • 04 of 04

    Operating Staging Yards

    A simple rack for paperwork helps keep staging yards in order and keeps track of what's currently staged inside.
    Ryan C Kunkle

    Staging yards may be controlled like any other part of your railroad. Whether you use manual switches, a control panel, or a computer, make sure the turnout controls are easy to reach and understand.

    Label control panels clearly. Labeling is even more important if the tracks can not be seen.

    Track capacity is always a concern when operating staging yards. Switch ladders can be arranged to keep some consistency in the length of each track, but rarely will all tracks be exactly the same. It is good practice to record the car capacity for each track on the panel.

    It is usually easier to think of track capacity in terms of the number of cars it will hold, not its actual length. Not all cars are the same length however. Choose a common average car length for your railroad, 40 scale feet for example, and be consistent in your measurements.

    If trains have a consistent length, for example a unit coal train that never gets modified or a self-propelled passenger car, creating a dedicated track for that train in staging ensures a good fit each time.

    If your staging yard is part of a formal operating plan for the railroad, make sure operators understand how to use the yard. Provide a place for any paperwork that accompanies your trains. By providing a hook or box for each track, the paperwork can double as a block-occupancy detector. (No papers, no train.)

    Make sure your operators know the procedures for using the yard.

    • Who lines the switches?
    • How do you select power?
    • Do yard tracks need to be turned off when not in use?
    • How will they know which track to use?
    • How will they know when their train is clear / stopped if the yard is hidden?
    • How will they know if the train will fit in the designated track?

    Some of these questions can be answered by information on the fascia or control panels. An employee timetable (rule book) or some verbal training can also go a long way toward making your operating sessions more enjoyable.