Can I Make 3D Printed Model Train Equipment?

Published: August 6, 2019 am31 3:24 am


Categories: Model Trains

The advent of 3D printing in all industries is undeniable. There has never been more amazing technology available to fans of model trains. As they say, the devil’s in the details, and we mean the equipment in this very case. It can be that details can take the longest to perfect, but our modeling efforts are supported by emerging technology. This article is about printing model trains and model train equipment.

How Can 3D Printing Help Model Railroading?

One possible way is through 3D printed plastic shells. A lot of steam and diesel locomotives used to share similar wheelbases and frames. It follows that outer shells could be interchangeable, at least in theory.   

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According to experts, there are quite a few 4-8-2 mountain trains, whose dimensions are approximately 73 inch drivers with a 41-42 ft locomotive wheelbase and a 19-20 ft driver wheelbase.  There exist two models of some of these, so it would seem like 3D printing off of a template, including valve gear, could serve another class just as well – for example MT-73 by Mopac. The chassis of a lot of steam locomotives are quite similar, and F or E unit chassis are practically interchangeable. This doesn’t apply only to chassis.   

If this is feasible, why aren’t more model railroaders getting into 3D printing?

3D printing is quite expensive. It costs almost as much to print a full size HO scale steam or diesel engine body as an RTR model. The good news is there are templates we can share with you (later in this post) to at least reduce your efforts. So far, the technology has been applied successfully to small locomotives. Commercially made drives are equipped with narrow gauge body kits.

If you want to try, but don’t have your own 3D printer yet for whatever reason, you could look into Shapeways as an option. The 3D printing giant has superb quality equipment that can print in a variety of materials and colors.

Now, we’ll walk you through how to print a passenger car for the Hectorrail 141. The end product will look like the Swedish railway network’s older passenger cars. As there is a very tight track radius, the length is crucial for this system. You can print the body center part at Z-rotation 54 degrees, while the car itself can be printed on Prusa i3.

There is no inbuilt tolerance of the roof guide plate to the body sides, so you might have to trim the edges on the body to ensure a perfect fit. The lock pieces hold the roof in place. If you have semi-transparent material available, you can print a cover plate for a small roof cutout. The build plates are normally ordered by color, for example doors and body parts in the same color.

The prototype included seats, but these are not installed. You can combine the seat insert and seat frame if you have a multicolor printer. If not, use the included build plate STLs and glue them together using superglue.

Ideally, wheels should be printed in two colors. The last layer or layers should be brightly colored, which improves the ease of placing them on the track and visibility a great deal. The prototype doesn’t feature LEDs, but these are possible to install. You need to look at the intended routing of LED light cables.


All of the templates and prototypes come preset depending on the printer make and model. If you want to know more about railway setups, we wrote this article to satisfy the greatest curiosity of any model railroader.