Beginners Ask Trains Ask MR: Building and powering a garden railroad

Ask MR: Building and powering a garden railroad

By Sammi DiVito | November 15, 2021

There’s a lot of info available on

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Large-scale track is seen resting in a bed of gravel in front of a small wood depot
Is ballast enough to secure your garden railway track, or do you desire a more secure roadbed? Luckily, there are a lot of options. Photo by video staff

Q: I am building a garden railroad in Colorado. Any suggestions as to how I should build and lay my track? – Dennis Dvorak, Colorado Springs, Colo.

A: Our sister magazine, Garden Railways, published a whole lot of information about how to build a garden railroad. Model Railroader’s Rene Schweitzer, who comes from GR-land, says that many people follow prototype practice: “Dig a trench, fill it partially with sand and the rest with ballast, and let the track float on top.”

You can find some other techniques in a few of the GR articles available on

Scott Gould’s concrete roadbed
How to: Grading concrete roadbed
 LGB rubber roadbed

I hope one of these techniques works for you.

Q: I would love to have a railroad outdoors. My question is, how do you power it with the outdoor weather? – Peter Meszaros

A: While it’s possible to power a garden railway via track voltage, like an indoor layout, dirt and corrosion caused by exposure to weather makes this method problematic. Many large-scale locomotives designed for outdoor use are, instead, powered by batteries and controlled via radio throttles. This is not only more reliable and realistic than track-powered locomotives, it also makes the layout easier to construct and maintain.

Kalmbach Books has published books that can set you on the right track in the great hobby of garden railroading. Check out Get Started in Garden Railroading at the Kalmbach Hobby Store.

Send us your questions

Do you have a question about modeling, operations, or prototype railroading? Send it to us at Put “Ask MR” in the subject and be sure to include your full name and hometown.

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