Model Trains

The Largest Model Railway Setups in the USA

Published: July 4, 2019


Categories: Model Trains

Thanks to the Iron Spike Model Train Museum for the featured image

Model railway setups have quite a few fans – maybe you’ve thought about or even tried to make one yourself. If this is the case, then you know this is a task that requires a lot of effort and dedication. We’ll talk about the biggest setups in the US and some railway building tips in this article.

Northlandz, NJ

This setup, located in the town of Flemington in the Garden State, features around 50,000 trees, more than 3,000 miniature buildings in towns and villages, and 40-foot bridges across giant canyons. Its creator, Bruce Zaccagnino, spent 16 years working on it. He designed and created almost all of the scenery by hand and built the structure housing the railway. It has an impressive area of 52,000 sq ft, making it the biggest in the country.


Roadside America, Pennsylvania

Roadside America is a historic testament to a man’s passion for model railways as well as a gigantic scaled-down railway model. The huge display was first launched by Laurence Gieringer in Hamburg, Germany in 1935. As the railway number increased and his model continued to expand, the project was moved to PA. It currently spreads over 8,000 square feet with 18 different trains, hundreds of mini-buildings, a scaled-down Statue of Liberty, and even a functioning waterfall.

The Great Train Story, Illinois

The model railway exhibit was the biggest display of its type across the globe when it first opened at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in 1941. It’s still among the biggest, sprawling over an area of 3,500 square feet. The display features attractions from Seattle and Chicago and represents a train trip between the two cities.

San Diego Model Train Museum, California

The enormous display, managed by four model railway clubs, has been open to the public since 1982. It is among the biggest of its kind worldwide, covering 2,700 square feet of indoor space. Each railway club manages one diorama. You can feast your eyes on the toy train gallery.

The Garfield-Clarendon Model Railway Club, Illinois

The Garfield-Clarendon Model Railway Club is an extensive landscape located in Chicago’s Clarendon Park Community Center. The club’s purpose is to entertain and educate people about railways using their scaled-down operation. The current version features over 1,500 feet of tracks, including some meticulously handmade ones, with focus on recreating exact details. The layout has been moved and extended several times over the years.

The New Orleans Train Garden, Louisiana

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This organically minded, spectacular model railway system introduces you to the history of New Orleans in a nutshell. Augmented by actual living plants, the display is located in the City Park Botanical Garden. It was created by Paul Busse, a local artist whose project brought him international renown. Special trains coast along the 1,300 feet of track, each being a replica of a streetcar or train that traveled around New Orleans around the turn of the 19th century.  

Track Troubleshooting Tricks and Tips

This section delves into common model railway track issues, such as track gauge and rail alignment and building a test track. We hope you find our tips useful.

What Do I Need to Know About Alignment?


You need a reliable test train along with gauges and other tools for an effective layout tune-up. First, check if your rolling stock is fine-tuned and your rails are clean. If you establish this is the case, you can start looking for right-of-way issues. The first step is running a test train over each turnout route and track section to find spots where rolling stock derails or locomotive headlights flicker.  

Your test train should be comprised of reliable rolling stock of different lengths. The locomotive should run smoothly with all-wheel power pickup. The wheels of the cars should be correctly gauged. You will need to mount the couplers at the right height with their air hoses (trip pins) properly adjusted. Tackle these one at a time after you’ve run the test train around your layout and established problem areas.

How Do I Tune Up my Layout?

This is done in three stages:

·         Stage 1: Clean track and rolling stock wheels

·         Stage 2: Adjust couplers and wheel sets to NMRA standards

·         Stage 3: Correct any layout turnouts and tracks

After you’ve gone through all the stages, you can rest assured your layout will consistently run smoothly.

How Do I Build a Test Track?

This is another common question, in particular regarding stow-away model tracks, which we’ll elaborate on below.

Begin by retracting the safety bolt. You can then proceed to lift the table out and lean it against the door. The test track is held against the door by a magnetic latch, fixed under the top edge.

Choose the power supply for each track from a group of plugs and slide switches.


Your test track should be erected on a lightweight table holding test loops for standard and narrow gauge. The open track is supported by a pair of flush hangers and hinged angle braces. A magnetic cabinet latch holds it in folded position.

You can build the table from hardboard framed with hardwood strips glued together. The size depends on your preference. All the necessary materials are available at hardware stores.

For the standard gauge, use 55 flex track, and code 60 track for the narrow gauge. The curves will be tighter compared to the curves on the layout. Use spikes to secure both loops. Drive the spikes through openings you can drill in the hardboard and ties. The fasteners on the straightaways and near the rail joints and curves are normally spaced about 3″ apart. Alternatively, you could secure the track with adhesive caulk or latex construction adhesive.

Choose either Digital Command Control (DCC) or DC throttles to activate either or both tracks. If you choose the former, another switch chooses either the program or run output. To connect either throttle, you can add plugs in the tabletop as needed.

Finally, measure pivot screw locations and drill pilot holes for them accordingly. Make the holes in the braces bigger so they move more freely and drive the screws into the table sides.

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