How to illustrate your first trackplan - Part II

19 August 2020
Phil Martin concludes his class on successful layout planning and illustrating.

If you missed part I, you can read the article in full here. 

You could draw a trackplan using pencil and paper, but a computer program will give you a lot more flexibility and will make many things easier - we're in the 21st century, after all!

Use a drawing program, not a painting program. A drawing program keeps all the parts of the drawing separate so that you can always go back and change anything. It also stores the parts very accurately, which means that curves will always be smooth and details won’t dissolve into pixelated mush when you zoom in. If you later want to send the plan to someone else, a drawing file is usually smaller than the equivalent paint program file.

Creating an illustrated plan using a drawing program will take more time and effort than using dedicated track planning software, but the advantage is that you will have more control over what it looks like and the end result will be clearer, more pleasing to the eye and will help you and others imagine what the final layout will look like.

I use a drawing program called Xara Designer. Other drawing programs can do the same job and since they all work in slightly different ways, I will describe how to do things in general terms rather than specifically how my program works.

It’s very useful to set a scale factor between the drawing and the real world, such as 1:10 or 1:20, like an architect’s drawing. This means you can draw on a normal-sized piece of paper while the program shows scaled up measurements. If your drawing program does not have this feature, you may have to do the scaling yourself or draw at real size.

A layout plan is essentially a technical drawing, meaning that measurements are taken from line centres, regardless of how thick the lines are. So, set the program up to exclude line widths from your measurements. Use dark lines and light, pastel coloured or semi-transparent fill colours so that the colours don’t overwhelm the important technical information.

Some vector drawing programs

  • Affinity Designer
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Corel Draw
  • Inkscape
  • Xara Designer

'Lambstead' uses elements of Lambourn to provide operating potential. The platform is curved for scenic interest and the cattle pens are on a deliberately difficult-to-shunt kickback. Large Y turnouts are used to make the trackwork flow smoothly and a curved turnout is used in the entrance curve. Embankments and cuttings are shown by standard mapping symbols. Minimum radius is 610mm.

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Drawing track

Create a new layer called 'Trackwork' under the Grid Layer and draw an unfilled circle of your intended minimum radius – if you have one – and a line of your minimum intended train length. Set both to be quite thin and maybe red. These are just guides that you can copy and drag into different positions to give you an idea what will fit in your space.

If you’ve already got a set of turnout and crossing symbols, load them in so that you can copy and paste them into your new plan. 
 If you need to create your own set of track symbols to match commercial products, pay careful attention to the dimensions, curve radii and angles because these symbols must be very accurate for your plan to translate from the drawing to the real world successfully. This can be quite time consuming but you’ll only do it once and then you can use them repeatedly for years.

Start drawing the track using simple straight lines to represent the centre lines. Snap turnouts and crossings to the lines to start to form the plan of your trackwork. Remember, you can change the length, position and angle of any part of the track at any time, so have no fear of trying things out. There’s always an 'Undo' button if you go badly wrong!

You can add curved tracks by using partial circles or sectors, or by using the more free flowing, 'Bezier curve'. A Bezier curve (pictured above) joins two fixed points and is stretched by two other points that pull it into a smooth, variable radius curve.

Obviously, you need to make sure that all track joints are smooth – your program might help to do this – and be careful that no part of any curve is tighter than your minimum radius. Don’t rationalise your trackwork too much, or you may end up with something that has no character! 

Add simple perpendicular lines to the ends of tracks to indicate buffer stops.

Once you have a trackplan, consider whether it actually works. Are the headshunts and run-round loops long enough? Can you turn trains off-scene if you need to? Do you have enough storage for the services you want to run? Is the intended train length accommodated? Can you shunt effectively without obstructing any other movements that might be going on at the same time?


Once you have a working trackplan, you can see where the baseboards are needed, so create a 'Baseboards' layer under the 'Trackwork' layer and draw light coloured rectangles with thin black outlines to represent baseboards. Use the grid to set them to sensible sizes. Use diagonal rectangles or triangles to add fillets where needed. Check that any operating well is big enough and that you can reach all areas of the baseboard. If not, you may have to revise the trackplan, leave access spaces in corners or design access hatches in the scenery. 

If the baseboards fill a room, make sure you can always open the door from both sides for safety. Ensure that the baseboards can be built realistically.

If the baseboards need to be demountable, make sure that each one is not too big to handle and check that turnouts and crossings don’t fall across the joints between the boards.

Scenic ground surfaces

Create a separate 'Ground' layer under the 'Trackwork' layer and paint a light ballast texture under the track. Don’t worry about getting neat edges or exact distance from the track – a bit of variation is natural. Use a slightly different texture for the large areas of yards and sidings. Paint a general grass texture everywhere else, giving it a large scale variation that doesn’t look flat or boring. Paint roads and car parks using a suitable texture and perhaps use other textures to represent puddles and drier areas. But be careful not to overwhelm the technical details!

Trees and shrubs

On a new 'Greenery' layer, add trees and shrubs. Simple green circles will do the job, or you can use more detailed Landscaping clipart symbols. In either case, use muted colours and transparency so that they don’t dominate the drawing or hide the details below. Once you have a few different tree and shrub symbols, you can easily copy them to place new greenery in your drawing.
You can also paint large areas of trees using a suitable texture. If you are modelling a real location, it’s interesting to create a 'Woodland' texture from online aerial photographs of that area.

'Hannet Purney'
This ambitious freestanding “roundy-round” layout represents an imaginary junction on the GWR line between Paddington and the South West in the 1930s. The trees and hedgerows are taken from online aerial photos near Patney, Wilts. The hawthorn trees are in flower and this detail could be modelled on the layout. The fiddle yard provides many storage loops, connections for stock cassettes, a reversing loop for turning locos and trains off-scene and last but not least a slip-coach catapult…! Minimum radius is 610mm.


Add buildings and other structures on a layer called 'Buildings'. Buildings can simply be rectangles coloured light grey or brown, but you can add more life by giving them shaded roof faces. Simple pitched roofs can be represented by just two equally-sized rectangles snapped together. Imagine the sun falling across the layout and decide which roof face should be highlighted and which should be shaded. Apply the same light direction and the same colours to all the roofs in the drawing for consistency. The faces of more complex roofs usually meet at 45 degrees on plan, no matter what pitch they are. Again, once you have one building symbol, you can copy it to other places in the drawing where it can be resized as needed.

Give buildings a small shadow all around to suggest the darker corner where the walls join the ground. This gives an impression of the building’s height.You might also draw platforms on the 'Buildings' layer or give them their own layer. Platforms against curving tracks can be hand-drawn or you can use your program’s contouring function to help create the outline.


You can show cuttings and embankments using the standard mapping symbols to help the reader visualise how the railway relates to the undulations in the landscape. The standard representation is a row of thin triangles, which are thickest at the top of the slope and pointed at the bottom. Use the brush function in your program to automatically repeat the triangles and vary them in size as the height of the slope changes.

Text and Labels

Add labels in a simple sans-serif font. Some labels can be placed directly on the drawing, but to keep the drawing clean, most labels should be outside with fine arrowed lines pointing in.

Still searching for trackplan inspiration? Our guide gives you simple trackplan suggestions to help you get started

Looking for some tips in laying track? Our useful guide provides the basics to help you get started. 

Need more advice? Take a look at the BRM Techniques page for all our latest guides and advice articles.