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Thread: Why Build Modules?

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    Default Why Build Modules?

    As someone new to model railroading, I was wondering why people built modules? I've seen a number of YouTube videos where it seems the builder is building a standalone unit, not as part of a larger layout. Do people actually do that, or have they just not shown the rest of their layout they would attach it to? Some of them seem rather large, 5 ft or 6 ft x 2 ft. but it's just straight track with some switches.

    If they are standalone units, the train would seem to just bounce back and forth between one end and the other. Is that something people do? Not being judgmental or anything, just curious as to the thinking behind it. Thanks!

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    Most modules are built to a certain standard, then modular clubs get together, everyone brings their individual modules, and then they plug them together into one larger layout. That's one reason for modular railroading.

    EDIT: link https://www.ntrak.org/page-18061 Here is one example.
    Last edited by bikerraypa; 28th Mar 2021 at 08:32 PM. Reason: added link

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    Frequent moves is usually a big reason a person might opt to go that route. It's easier to move a layout in pieces without breaking out the saw-zall


    Or lack of space in general, I've got a T-Trak layout but don't have the space to have it permanently set up
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    Module Advantages: Portability, easier to move to another place for display or relocation (Most layouts at train shows are modular; also personal modular layouts are preferred if you move houses often and want to keep your layout - You can also build a semi-modular layout that can be rebuilt at another location with minimum difficulty). If adhering to module standards, can form part of larger layout.

    Module Disadvantages: Track interconnections between modules may create problems (i.e. uneven track, derailments), Cannot have continuous running unless there are turn-back modules. connected.

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    @bikerraypa and @Intermodalman give probably the two most common reasons.

    It also helps to break down a large layout into manageable sections. You can build a module to your chosen stage of completion before incorporating into your main layout. Modules also allow you to make changes. A section of the layout you've become unhappy with? Just build a replacement module and make the swap.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernJerseyRR View Post
    If they are standalone units, the train would seem to just bounce back and forth between one end and the other. Is that something people do?
    Yes. I believe that would be called a Point to Point layout. Good for an office or a shelf where you can't dedicate a whole room. But you still dig trains.

    Other reasons for working in sections or modules is access to all sides. If you can't stand for long you might need to work sitting. You can rotate the module on a table in front of you to reach all sides. Also you can tip it up on it's side to access wiring underneath.

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    My reason for going modular is that whenever I build a layout at home I seem to get to a certain point where everything works and then I stall before getting to the landscaping. I guess the technical aspect of the hobby is "my thing". At the same time I stop running trains, so the layout just sits there and takes up space.

    I was introduced to modules when I was in large scale, mainly because the size of a permanent 1:32 scale layout requires a LOT of space, which is expensive for a small club. So my club used the annual hobby shows as operating days and set up the layout at those shows and other events. My current N scale club does have a permanent layout, but also several modules.

    The European standards are defined by Fremo, which covers all scales and makes sure that modules are interoperable. @Heiko should be able to tell you more here, but for me the really cool thing is that at a meet the layout is new every time, and it's BIG. Last time my freight took about 30 minutes to run through end to end and back on the main line - and that was a fairly small meet.

    So basically by building my own modules I get my own section of such a setup. At home I can take any one module out and work on it and I don't need a lot of space for that or for storage. I'm taking @Gary Rowan's advise and (as usual it seems) make sure I'm not under-doing the overkill as far the size goes, but you can make your module pretty much as small as you want.
    My modules are not done at the time I'm writing this, but I think that's the way forward for me.

    Below is a picture from a large Fremo meet. I believe it's H0, but it would look the same in N scale.


    FREMO-gathering Zuidbroek (NL) October 2010: 1000 meter model railway modules
    FREMO-ses-e25318
    Ses, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
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    Quote Originally Posted by SteamPower4ever View Post
    The European standards are defined by Fremo,
    I've based my modules of the older 'N-Trak' standards. They have since changed their name are are now known as 'NRail' (NRail.org). They've been around at least since the early '80s when I joined a modular club at the time, maybe longer. Check them out if you're on the North American side of the pond.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SteamPower4ever View Post
    The European standards are defined by Fremo, which covers all scales and makes sure that modules are interoperable. @Heiko should be able to tell you more here, but for me the really cool thing is that at a meet the layout is new every time, and it's BIG. Last time my freight took about 30 minutes to run through end to end and back on the main line - and that was a fairly small meet. [...]

    Below is a picture from a large Fremo meet. I believe it's H0, but it would look the same in N scale.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...ses-e25318.jpg
    FREMO-gathering Zuidbroek (NL) October 2010: 1000 meter model railway modules
    FREMO-ses-e25318
    Ses, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
    That is my reason. I get most of the joy of MRR from playing with others, running long trains, operating, getting a feeling for the distances the trains travel (so no 4x8 for me) - so either a large (club) layout or these modules...

    Realistically, there's not going to be much more than a handful of ops sessions per year. So why spend the cash and time for a huge place to house a multiple operator ops layout (either in my house - I have a ~700 square feet apartment - or at a club)? I know things may look different in more rural parts of the US, but here in Downtown Germany it's much more manageable to rent a venue for a few long weekends. And then you have a deadline to get something done - weathering, building, DCCing...

    Also, it gets you started much quicker. You can join an existing group, learn from them what works well and what doesn't, experience what makes your modeling juices flow, and get your own modules running much faster and much more to your liking with all that experience. Plus, they will be a part of a several hundred meter long layout much sooner than you'd accomplish that on your own, and due to the modular nature, it also does not require as much constant dedication from as many members as I'd imagine a normal club layout would.

    If you have a look at the December edition of N scale railroading here: https://nscalerailroadingmagazine.co...December-D.pdf (yes, I'm linking to it again) you'll see a lot of modules in the second half of the magazine. I brought about 10 meters worth of modules to that meet (and none are in the pictures - none of them are at the level my friends display...) and a single train. But I got to play with all of my friends' trains on my friends' modules, too. Then we'll have a modern meet (some time after Covid), when I'll bring my GEVOs and Dash 9s and high cube boxcars and reefers and my friends get to play with my toys. We all get to enjoy all the different eras on a very high level without buying (and weathering and maintaining) all that rolling stock for ourselves.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Rowan View Post
    I've based my modules of the older 'N-Trak' standards. They have since changed their name are are now known as 'NRail' (NRail.org). They've been around at least since the early '80s when I joined a modular club at the time, maybe longer. Check them out if you're on the North American side of the pond.
    The good thing about standards is that there's so many to choose from Besides the grandfather of all (N scale) modules, N-Trak, and its siblings OneTrak and T-Trak, there is also BeNdtrack (or similar) which are all in practice aimed at running trains, modeling long mainline trains. Then there is FreemoN on your side of the pond, which seems to be aimed more at modeling the scenery for trains to run through. And on this European side, we have all the Fremo flavors - different scales, different prototypes - mostly aimed at car card and waybill ops. But I bet you can have a lot of fun with any of them, as long as you have a nexus of like-minded people reasonably close by (I try to limit my driving time to modular meets to about a day...)

    So, it boils down to what floats your boat. But that wall of text above is why _I_ build modules.

    Hope this helps,
    Heiko

    edit: If you're more into moving pictures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akqk1JgY4Ps by our own @orvio shows our latest Fremo americaN meeting here in Northern Germany.
    Last edited by Heiko; 29th Mar 2021 at 07:41 AM.


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    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernJerseyRR View Post
    I've seen a number of YouTube videos where it seems the builder is building a standalone unit, not as part of a larger layout.
    Assuming you are referring to modular style units, I can't add any more than what has been said already.
    I am "N"gaged in starting a modular club in Central Jersey, as you have commented on.

    If you are referring to non-club, standalone small layouts, this may be a different story. Someone above touched on it. These could be just due to space, time, money or experience issues and be as simple as practice, a shelf switching layout, a display diorama or a scenic test track. Among other reasons.
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    Okay, @SteamPower4ever and @Heiko. These FreeMo gatherings are amazing. It must take a huge amount of planning and design. I wonder how a meeting is designed, and how is it powered?

    And are these meetings open to the public?

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    Quote Originally Posted by el Gato Gordo View Post
    Okay, @SteamPower4ever and @Heiko. These FreeMo gatherings are amazing. It must take a huge amount of planning and design. I wonder how a meeting is designed, and how is it powered?

    And are these meetings open to the public?
    We have a CAD file of most of our modules, and someone will have to get plans of the venue and measure out the space beforehand. Then it's a puzzle of getting all the different pieces to align just right... I personally haven't tried my hands at it, but I often see my friends and give them feedback. What I gther is that you typically have a few large blocks (like Whitehall Yard in the video or Hoquiam in the article) that basically will only fit one way into the space available, and then they build the line between. I guess the first draft will take a few hours...

    For really large meets with multiple groups, there's a lot more effort going into coordinating the different groups. Basically dividing the space into rectangles and fighting for every meter with the group coordinators.

    Fremo meets are DCC powered with throttles connected via Loconet. Our first DCC experience (way before my time) was with Digitrax components, nowadays we mostly use Intellibox as command station and a bunch of different boosters to power the track.

    Most of these meetings are not open to the general public. Though if you call or email the organizers beforehand, you will most probably be welcome to join in (after Covid, and unless you bring a class of five year olds and expect the meeting attendees to entertain and supervise them while you talk on your phone). Or in official language: https://www.fremo-net.eu/en/treffen/references/ .

    So (and this goes to all of you), if you find yourselves on this side of the pond, look us up,
    Heiko

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    Within Fremo, the modules are divided into classes: (main) line, signal module, stations and fiddle yards.

    I haven't seen signal modules in use yet, but a station - in lack of an English translation of the German term "Betriebstelle" - is a module that has anything more than through tracks. It could be a siding or a branch line ... or a major station or yard. The rule is that a station module must have at least one booster and that it powers the adjacent main line modules. My Elsewhere Yard will have three boosters. Digital sync is done via Loconet.
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    Lots of great information already here. I'd love to hook up with a "local" FREMOn club at some point, but for now my spare bedroom layout is keeping me busy.

    I did want to add another use for modular. My local NMRA Division has been getting into T-Trak. We have a collection of modules made and owned by members, along with some club-owned modules. I have helped with setting up the electronics. They've been using it as an outreach project, setting up displays at the local libraries, veterans' centers, schools, and so on. The modular approach is both very portable and serves to show off the varied interests and modeling skills of the members. Plus, it's very easy to convince someone to "dip their toe in the water" of the hobby with a 12" T-Trak module than the prospect of a 4x8 or room sized home layout.

    The social aspect is perhaps the best part. Getting together as a (potentially quite large) group to set up and run a layout is quite enjoyable.
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    Quote Originally Posted by TwinDad View Post
    Lots of great information already here. I'd love to hook up with a "local" FREMOn club at some point, but for now my spare bedroom layout is keeping me busy.

    I did want to add another use for modular. My local NMRA Division has been getting into T-Trak. We have a collection of modules made and owned by members, along with some club-owned modules. I have helped with setting up the electronics. They've been using it as an outreach project, setting up displays at the local libraries, veterans' centers, schools, and so on. The modular approach is both very portable and serves to show off the varied interests and modeling skills of the members. Plus, it's very easy to convince someone to "dip their toe in the water" of the hobby with a 12" T-Trak module than the prospect of a 4x8 or room sized home layout.

    The social aspect is perhaps the best part. Getting together as a (potentially quite large) group to set up and run a layout is quite enjoyable.
    Completely agree here. My club also participates in smaller events such as community "what are people doing in their spare time" -days or setting up at e.g. retirement homes. For these events a very small number of modules are used along with some reversing loop modules. It's just to display the hobby and spread some joy.
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    NTRAK.org got changed to NRAIL, mostly because the organization was working with multiple groups, and they wanted a new name that didn't reflect only one part. So NTRAK is still a standard, but there are now multiple standards all under the NRAIL umbrella. There is no NRAIL standard.

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    Good question, NJRR. Like you, new to the hobby here. Unaware that anything like T-Trak existed. Looked into it a bit, and yeah, I could see me building a 13" single. Be fun to carry it to a gathering and plug into something much larger than I could or would ever build. Plus hanging out with other railheads would be neat.

    Did a quick search on Ebay and came up with a spec pre-cut 13". Put it on my 'Watch List' for now. Know the Houston group has a T-Trak tab on their website, so giving it serious consideration. Cheers. 'AC'

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    Quote Originally Posted by arnoldC View Post
    Good question, NJRR. Like you, new to the hobby here. Unaware that anything like T-Trak existed. Looked into it a bit, and yeah, I could see me building a 13" single. Be fun to carry it to a gathering and plug into something much larger than I could or would ever build. Plus hanging out with other railheads would be neat.

    Did a quick search on Ebay and came up with a spec pre-cut 13". Put it on my 'Watch List' for now. Know the Houston group has a T-Trak tab on their website, so giving it serious consideration. Cheers. 'AC'
    I don't know how much the kits are on eBay but you can compare it with the kits available from the three major vendors of T-Trak kits, in no particular order:

    Kato USA: https://www.katousa.com/N/Unitrack/TTrak.html
    CMR Products: https://www.cmrproducts.com/n-scale-t-trak-module-kits/
    Masterpiece Modules: http://www.masterpiecemodules.com/T-trak_N_Scale.php

    Standards and more info about T-Trak can be obtained here: https://www.ntrak.org/T-TRAK

    Record breaking T-Trak layout at 2018 National Train show with 340 modules: https://youtu.be/fCY7e_39cKU

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Rowan View Post
    @bikerraypa and @Intermodalman give probably the two most common reasons.

    It also helps to break down a large layout into manageable sections. You can build a module to your chosen stage of completion before incorporating into your main layout. Modules also allow you to make changes. A section of the layout you've become unhappy with? Just build a replacement module and make the swap.
    Basically my narrow shelf railroad 11" from the ceiling is modular for the same reason. It lets me bring each module down to a table top for servicing/landscaping. Means I don't have to solder or do other risky activities on a ladder. I just need to unscrew the module and unplug the tack and accessory busses and down it comes. One problem I have is that my longest module is 8' long and it flexes a little too much when I bring it down. Next time it comes down, I'm cutting it in 2 and adding a new set of connectors for the busses.

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    Quote Originally Posted by arnoldC View Post
    Good question, NJRR. Like you, new to the hobby here. Unaware that anything like T-Trak existed. Looked into it a bit, and yeah, I could see me building a 13" single. Be fun to carry it to a gathering and plug into something much larger than I could or would ever build. Plus hanging out with other railheads would be neat.

    Did a quick search on Ebay and came up with a spec pre-cut 13". Put it on my 'Watch List' for now. Know the Houston group has a T-Trak tab on their website, so giving it serious consideration. Cheers. 'AC'
    I have wanted to do this for years, but I unfortunately seem to live in the middle of N Scale No Man's Land. I'm surprised that there is not one single club in the Pittsburgh or west-central PA area. There used to be an N-Trak group in Pittsburgh, and I have tried (unsuccessfully) to get a reply out of them several times over the years, so I can only assume that they are now defunct. The closest club of any kind to me is about an hour away, and my one and only trip there years ago was not encouraging. I was basically told that I was welcome to join, although they wanted nothing to do with "toy" trains, that scenery was a waste of time and effort, and that someday I might be permitted to help work on their vast plywood HO-scale operations empire, although not to actually operate it. To say the least, I was unimpressed, and I gave in to my biggest character flaw - my tendency to tell people exactly what I think of them.

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