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Thursday, 15 August 2013

The allure of modular model railroading

As a member of a modular club, I would only be "partly" responsible if the layout is terrible!
Having only recently made my re-entry into this hobby, I’ve not yet had a chance to actively pursue becoming a member of a model railroad club. I’m sure it’s great to share the hobby with others, but on Internet forums I often hear complaints about the challenges of being a club member.

Many report struggles with other members who are overly rigid about the adherence to a particular prototype, strict layout standards, etc. At the other end of the scale, others complain about members who are too flippant in their approach to modeling. It seems most club members have experienced at least some level of squabbling, difficult personalities and political infighting.

I’m sure most of you know how this goes. One member wants to model the transition era of a specific railroad; the other wants the rules relaxed so modern diesels can run alongside steam locomotives (including an HO version of Thomas the Tank Engine). Some members want a longstanding club to make the switch to DCC; others don’t see the sense in spending money to replace a block control system that’s worked well for years.

Almost any group, in any hobby, experiences these kinds of issues. It’s hard, if not impossible, to get a group of people who all want to row the boat in the same direction at all times.

This is partly what makes modular model railroading so appealing to me. You’re still part of a group, still get to run trains and share the hobby with others, but you’re also free to do what you want with your little bit of the layout (within the design standard parameters of course).

You can model as much or as little as you want, see and learn from what others have done and when the day’s done, your layout comes home with you (in most cases). Any interpersonal annoyances are minimized because you don’t have to iron out the intricacies of layout planning with three dozen other people.

Like anything, there are tradeoffs. My sense is that it’s more difficult for a modular club to achieve the same level of realism as a permanent club layout whose members have all agreed to put their collective efforts toward recreating a particular prototype.  Take the Waterloo Region Model Railway Club as an example. Although based in southwestern Ontario, the club models Canadian Pacific operations in Northern Ontario in the 1970s. I’ve not seen the layout myself but the results look amazing on the club’s website.

Obviously every member has agreed to this plan and as a statement on the club’s website explains, the adherence to such a specific prototype has actually helped the membership avoid infighting.

“By choosing a specific prototype, no one individual or internal group could determine what the WRMRC will or will not model, because the prototype railway has already dictated how it must be done,” reads the statement. “The decision to model a prototype freed us from a lot of undesirable politics, and united us towards a common goal.”
Interesting. Still I’m keen on checking out an HO scale modular club, which I also think better suits my (rather limited) skills as a modeller. There doesn’t appear to be one in Toronto proper, but if anyone knows of one or is interested in talking about it, please email me at

As for my layout .... I've got track and wiring to complete and only recently addressed a pressing wire shortage, which was holding up progress. Update soon.


  1. Looking forward to future progress! Incidentally, I've heard that Lambton Yard is closed that true?

  2. I can't say for sure Jeremy because I have no personal contact with anyone who works at Canadian Pacific, but I have noticed that locomotives are rarely parked near the yard office on Runnymede anymore. I know CP is downsizing and the Obico container terminal appears to be closed. There is some rolling stock on the tracks at Lambton, but operations there definitely appear to be scaled back from even a few weeks ago. Anyone who knows anything please send me info at and I will do a more complete post about this. You can feed me info anonymously! Thanks for the comment Jeremy.