The German Railway in H0


Track Plan For A Mini Layout: Kleinwald

Some times real estate can be an issue when building a model railway. There are of course smaller scales and you might be tempted to go that way, but what if you desperately want to stick with H0? Some times smaller scales just does not appeal to you. The layout size is 1 x 1 meter (3.28 x 3.28 feet).

Kleinwald (Small Forest) is a mini layout that will give you a lot of operational fun, while only taking up a fraction of space. The little layout features a station with a siding, a sawmill with a spur and a little platform for passengers and workers to get on and off the train.

A backdrop in the middle of the layout separates the two scenes, and gives the feeling of each scene being part of something much larger. Two tunnels go through the backdrop, and creates an interesting landscape on both sides of the table.

The layout also features an optional connection to a staging yard. The staging yard allows for diversity in the trains that operates on your model railway. I would definitely consider using this option, as it brings more operating fun to the table.

A Cab Ride

Let's take a trip in the engineer's cab around the layout. On our trip, we will be sitting in a freight train with lumber for the sawmill. Our locomotive is the class V100, with two hoppers of the class Eanos. Our train departs the staging yard and drives into the tunnel between the layout and the staging yard.

Tip! A tunnel is an excellent method to disguise a connection to a staging yard, or separating two sections of a layout.

Shortly after entering the layout, we drive into the second tunnel. This tunnel is the gateway between our two scenes on the layout, the sawmill scene, and the station scene. On the station, the station master has set our route into track number two. This is our first stop. The locomotive must uncouple here and run around the train, because we need to push the waggons the rest of the way, as the spur at the sawmill is in the opposite direction. This is part of the operating fun.

As the run around completes, we are ready to depart, but first we must wait for the railbus that is about to arrive. The passenger service on the line, includes a small stop at the sawmill. As soon as the railbus comes back from the sawmill, the track is clear for us to proceed.

The railbus returns from the sawmill, and the station master sets the route for our train to proceed. The exit signal switches to green, and of we go. Through the third tunnel and into the sawmill scene. Here the point must be thrown manually, to allow for our train to drive into the sawmill's spur. We leave our two hopper waggons at the sawmill and drive back to the station. Since the railbus has already left on its journey to the staging yard, we wait for a short while, and when the track is clear, we too proceed back to the staging yard. Here we will take a much needed coffee break, and wait until the next trip.

Operating the layout

The sawmill is the heart of the layout. If the layout is operated by two persons, the person operating the station, will be responsible for setting the points to and from the staging yard, as well as operating the points and signals on the station. He will also operate the trains on his side of the table.

The person operating the sawmill, will be responsible for the exchange of goods wagons to and from the sawmill spur, as well as operating the point at the sawmill. He will also drive the trains on his side of the table and remove the loads from the goods wagons and put them back to the staging yard for re-use. 

Unless a third person is operating the staging yard, the person operating the sawmill must also start and stop the trains on the staging yard.

Tip! With removable loads on your goods wagons, you can create more realism. Your schedule would perhaps include picking up the empty hoppers from the sawmill when delivering the full ones. Since the sawmill is next to the staging yard, you simply take the loads from the hoppers and place them in the staging yard to be re-used for the next lumber transport.

Operating tip! When operating the layout, you could set a rule not to use the little piece of track completing the loop after the sawmill station platform. Having the line terminate at the sawmill, gives you more operating fun, as trains would have to drive back to the fiddle yard through the station. It will also give more realism to the layout, since trains rarely run in loops.

When you operate alone, you can benefit from having a loop, so trains can run endlessly by themselves. It's up to you!

The Track Plan

Designing the track plan I wanted the layout to fit in about a square meter, but still have an interesting look. The majority of small layouts are designed as an oval, that is perpendicular with the edge of the table. I did not want that, because I think the odd angles brings a more natural look to the layout. The only track that is perpendicular with the edge of the table is the staging yard exit. It is made this way to ease the transition between the layout and the staging yard. I have hidden most of this track in a tunnel.
Tip! The staging yard is optional, you can remove the track if you do not want it. The track plan is designed with C-track from Märklin and Trix, but can be easily converted into other track systems as well. If you use the Märklin or Trix C-track, you can replace the staging yard branch with a single R2 curve.

As you can see, the layout is basically a circle. I have used curved points to keep the track plan small, and still have room for landscape, with buildings, roads and trees. The idea is a small town scene, with most of the town somewhere outside the layout, or perhaps pictured on the backdrop that separates the two scenes.

Download the track plan as a SCARM file: kleinwald-mini-layout.scarm (384.50 kb)

Tip! SCARM is free model railway planning software for Windows. It is easy to use, you can download it from here.

Testing The Track Plan

I have set up the track plan on my dining room table. I wanted to test how (and if) the plan actually works. For my intermediate setup I am using the Trix C-track.

I immediately noticed one issue, that will make operating the layout annoying. All the curved track, will make coupling and uncoupling an operator's nightmare. You will need to consider couplers that can couple on curved track. There are a few options here, such as the Roco or Hornby short couplings (Roco #40271, Hornby #R8220) and the Hornby wide tension lock couplings (Hornby #R8268). Both couple easily on curved track.

I have tested the Roco short couplings on my intermediate setup, and it works perfectly using a toothpick or a pair of tweezers as your extended hand.


Tips For Constructing The Layout

If you decide to go for the layout, here are a few tips for you. These are products that I would consider using myself, should I decide to build the layout one day.

The Station Scene
A small station, does not require a gigantic building. A handful of manufacturers produce several small buildings, that would be perfect for our layout. Personally, I would go for the Blumenfeld station from Faller. This is the same station building, that is featured in my winter diorama series. I just love this building, and I think it would be a perfect match.

The station platform can be made from the flexible platform strips that Auhagen provides (Auhagen #41201), and the lamps can come from the Viessmann or Märklin ranges of station- and street lamps.

To make the scene more interesting, I would add a couple of one family houses.

The Sawmill Scene
Finding a good sawmill should not be difficult, but they are quite big structures. So you might need to be creative. Kibri produces a set (Kibri #39852) that can be made to fit in the small space. You might have to cut the structure a bit, but that is part of the building fun.

The Kibri Sawmill is a nice little set. The crane is sold separately. Foto: Kibri.


The Landscape
For the landscape I would recommend going through the ranges of tunnel portals from various manufacturers. You will need at least four of them, if you include a tunnel to the fiddle yard, you will need five tunnel portals. I like the tunnel portals from NOCH, company also provides small accessories for the railway, such as hectometre tables and other interesting stuff. A small radio shed would also be a nice addition at the sawmill spur. Faller provides a ton of detailing for the station and the town, such as phone booths and other accessories.

The Underframe
I would construct the underframe from plywood, but create hills and contours using plaster cloth and some sort of frame. Both Woodland Scenics and NOCH provide different solutions for this. You should check out the Woodland Scenics SubTerrain system, or the NOCH Terra-Form system for ideas. Both systems are easy to use, and you do not need any knowledge of tooling or advanced woodwork. The only woodwork you need is a straight frame - which should be easy enough - or cheap if you pay someone to create a frame for you.

The Backdrop
In the center of the layout is the backdrop, which can be a plain blue plate, or you can decorate it with a photographic backdrop or a painted one. I myself like the painted ones, and PECO UK provides some beautifully painted backdrops. Some are town scenes, others are countryside. I think one of the benefits of a painted backdrop is that it does not draw attention in the same way as a photographic backdrop does. A backdrop needs to be there, but not seen - if you know what I mean. It must blend in.

The Trains And Accessories

What trains to use, is completely up to you. I thought of Germany, when designing the layout, so naturally I would use a railbus (class 798) for the passenger service. The advantage is that it can run both directions, without having to perform a run around. This will be important, if you decide to terminate the layout at the sawmill.

The freight locomotive would be a class V100, or a Köf (small shunting engine). You can also have a variety at your disposal, for more operating fun. 

Note! If you go for a Köf and if you are running two rail, remember to use powered frogs at your points. If you do not, there is a risk that the Köf looses power in the points. Because of its small size, it cannot bridge the dead zones in the frog. Luckily, on this layout, we are using C-track, and the Trix C-track makes it very easy to correct problems like this: You simply flip a jumper underneath the frog to make it powered. Other track systems have other solutions, and not all of them are simple, so check with your track manufacturer, to see what works for your system.

Starting From Scratch

If this is your first layout, you have some options that you might want to consider. The Märklin Start Up range, currently has a complete logging railway theme: Triberger Waldbahn GmbH (Triberger Forest Railway Ltd.). The company is fictitious, but the sets are great value.

With the different sets you get most of the accessories needed to build the layout. You get a train, lumber transport waggons, trucks and vehicles for the sawmill. You also get a sawmill kit, and other interesting accessories. 

The track that comes with the package, can be used in the staging yard, but you will have to buy some additional curved track and curved points.

You should check out the following Märklin products:

29310 Logging Railway, starter's set (digital, includes a power supply and controller).
44310 Logging Railway, goods wagon expansion
78310 Logging Railway, sawmill expansion (includes a sawmill kit)

Keep in mind, that Märklin uses a third-rail concept where Trix, Roco, Hornby and others uses a 2-rail concept. Consult your dealer, friends or local model railway club to see what they use, and decide from there. You will have the most fun if you run the same system as your friends and model railway club.

The Märklin Start Up range has a set with a sawmill. Foto: Märklin.

Going Digital?

Even though it is small, the layout is perfect for digital operation. It might be a bit over the top, to run the layout with an advanced command station, but it is indeed possible. My suggestion would be the Märklin or Trix Mobile Station (Märklin #60653, Trix #66950). The controller can operate, trains, signals and points. It speaks all relevant procotols, such as DCC, and the Märklin protocols mfx and MM. The Mobile Station box has plugs for up to two Mobile Stations, you can expand the system with the Mobile Station Hub (Märklin #60124) and connect additional Mobile Stations. To be reasonable, two Mobile Stations should be enough for this layout.

Tip! Although Märklin uses a third rail concept for their H0 trains, the Märklin Digital system is universal and can operate both third-rail and 2-rail layouts. It also scales to operate other scales, large and small (such as OO and N). Märklin Digital is fully DCC compatible.

For the points you should consider the Märklin m83 point decoder (Märklin #60831), a single unit will operate all four points on the layout. You can go for an additional unit if you decide to build the fiddle yard.

Signals can come from a variety of manufacturers, it depends on what type of signal you want. Typically a branch line would have mechanical signals of some sort. Both Viessmann and Märklin produces very nice signals to choose from.


The Kleinwald layout is a nice little layout that will give you much operating fun, being a beginner or an expert with limited space. It is also ideal for exhibitions as it will fit in almost any car. You can perhaps built it in two sections to take up even less space when not used.

There is a variety of options to choose from when building the layout, I encourage you to consult with friends, your model railway dealer or local model railway club to see what options works for you.

I hope you enjoyed reading the article, if you have any questions do not hesitate to contact me. Details is in the contact section at the top of the page.

Happy modelling!