Adding Railroad Stations to Your Layout

From the dawn of railroading, train stations have served as an important focal point on just about every system. While their purpose is primarily functional, few inanimate structures are able to inspire the same level of emotion as these iconic landmarks. From the tearful farewells of soldiers going to war to the heart-warming reuniting of distant family and friends, train stations have served as the start and end to many an adventure, and continue to play an important role in travel today. In this article, we’re looking at the major hallmarks of these fascinating complexes and how to design them to fit on your model train layout!

What Type of Station Should I Build?

While it might be tempting to add a massive terminal akin to Grand Central Station to your layout, the surrounding scenery and purpose of your railroad should play a part in which type you choose. If your railroad is set in a heavily built-up urban environment, something of this scale would make perfect sense. However if you’re modeling a small town in a rural setting, a smaller station will look much more realistic.

You also want to make sure that your train station won’t dominate your scene (unless intended). If you have limited space, a large train terminal will take up a lot of your available real estate. A smaller, more rural station will in contrast allow you to build a much more comprehensive scene around it. If you still want a somewhat urban feel without taking up too much space, you could consider a commuter train station.

Hallmarks of Railroad Stations

While a classic wood-framed ticket office and waiting room is typically what people will picture, railroad stations usually comprise of much more (or sometimes much less!). In addition to featuring passenger amenities, most stations were also historically a hub for local freight and mail delivery. Sometimes a segment of the main structure would be reserved for freight trains, while in other cases a separate freight station would be built alongside the passenger station. These would typically be similar in style. Although in some cases the freight station would be more rudimentary, featuring wood-framed construction while the passenger station might be brick or stone.

Large urban terminals were typically designed to be more passenger-focused, with freight operations taking place at designated yards elsewhere. However they would be important hubs for mail sorting and distribution. Often you might notice a similarly styled building adjacent to a major terminal. This is likely the post office, which would feature its own connection to the platforms so as not to impede the flow of passengers.

Station Design and Configurations

Many urban stations (and accompanying mail structures) were built over the train tracks to save on limited real estate. These feature grand waiting halls with steps feeding passengers down to the platforms. Others (usually older designs) were built with a train-shed and head house on the same level. These were typically more ornate and offered a pleasant, well lit boarding experience for train passengers. Both of these styles would generally feature many platforms and would sometimes also include tracks designated specifically for mail service.

Rural stations were (and still are) typically much more utilitarian. While urban terminals sometimes offered level-boarding from cast concrete platforms, rural train stations were typically at ground level, featuring a brick or paved platform (or in some cases no platform at all!). Any structures would generally be grouped together on the same side of the track, and often boarding only occurs from this side (regardless of whether there is more than one track or not). A siding known as a team track would usually be present, either leading to the freight house, or to an open area for loading freight into trucks. In the early steam era, most stations would also include a water tower to help cool down locomotive trains.

Commuter stations fall somewhere in the middle. They can either provide level or ground level boarding and will typically feature long platforms for each railroad track. Although the architecture of commuter stations usually appears similar to rural stations, they are much more passenger focused. They are generally designed to discourage people from crossing the track, with fencing installed between the lines and either an underpass or overpass for moving between platforms. Commuter stations usually don’t feature sidings or freight amenities.

What Should I Include for My Era?

For urban terminals, the over-track design generally didn’t gain popularity until the early to mid 20th century. If you are modeling before 1910, consider using a train-shed design. If you’re modeling a more recent timeframe, don’t forget to add features such as elevators, escalators, and ADA warning stripes!

Rural stations have changed little in design over the past 150 years. Of course many were lost as lines closed and passenger service was reduced in the 1960s and 70s. For those train stations that survived, most noticeable changes would occur after this time period. Team tracks and freight houses would be abandoned or removed as local freight service declined, and passenger facilities would sometimes be relocated to a more rudimentary bus-style shelter if the upkeep of a station building was deemed too expensive. More recently, many rural stations have received upgraded concrete platforms, LED lighting, and ramps to adhere to ADA standards. If your rural line doesn’t feature passenger service in the era you operate, your model train station could be repurposed as a museum or civic building!

Commuter stations have also changed little in the past 100 or so years, with most noticeable changes being updated lighting, modern signage, and perhaps new fencing appearing from about 1985 onwards. Certain commuter railroads also raised their platforms to train-height during this time, which often required relocating the station several yards from their original structures. Between the 1980s and today, many also gained larger parking facilities and multi-story garages. In the case of new-build commuter stations, these are almost always train-height, and feature modern architecture and accessibility infrastructure.

Adding Railroad Stations to Your Layout

Every town and city needs a railroad station! The question is, which type would be right for you and your train layout? Explore our great selection of passenger and freight stations at to get started today!