Now that you have a theme, a dedicated space, and you have settled on a track plan, you should be ready to start to build your model railroad empire — or not! The next question is, do I build it myself or do I get help? Here are some things you may want to consider:

  • Time:    Do you have the time to do it yourself? Many people spend years or longer just on getting the track down. Fitting your work schedule and home life into building a layout could be difficult. If you can find the time, it will be very rewarding. However, if you can’t, it could become frustrating to the point where you will lose interest.

  • Skill:   If you have the skills it will be fun. If you don’t, then once again it can become very frustrating. However, don’t get discouraged. There are plenty of “How To” books and videos available. Remember, learning is part of the fun. Also check with your local hobby shop for advice and find out if there are any workshops or clinics happening in your area. We all started as beginners, so you are not alone.

  • Creativity:   This does come in very handy, especially if you want to build something from scratch. But once again don’t get turned away if you think you don’t. Start small with a basic kit, refer to those books and videos, and don’t be afraid to ask. If you can cook a steak on a barbeque, then you can build a kit, and once you build confidence in fabricating basic kits, you can move up to more complex and challenging models.

  • Cost:   Best advice here, if you have limited funds, budget yourself. Most hobby shops have lay-away plans for the more expensive items. Also, many companies now release theme items monthly; example: Walthers passenger trains sets releases one car per month, most sets are made up of 8 to 9 different cars. Remember, it’s more fun to look forward to picking up one or two items at a time. I have seen too many people go gung-ho and buy everything they want at once. Many then feel overwhelmed and end up frustrated. Then many, or all of their purchases sit in their boxes in the closet. So, slow down a bit; it will be more manageable and fun.  

What happens if you fall into the category of “I don’t have the time, but I got the money?” Here is where we at SMARTT can help. We can offer several different options if this is the case.

  • Design only: We can design your layout and allow you to build it yourself. Not many have gone this route, since the main benefit of a SMARTT design is to provide you with an exciting layout plan that will never get boring. For instance, we specialize in intricate track work where it fits the bill. Slip switches and double crossovers are our forte. The trade off is for most clients, building one of these designs alone can be a challenge. But for some, it may be what you want

  • Benchwork, Track, and Electrical: You want to do the scenery, structures, and detail work yourself (the artwork), but don’t want anything to do with the precise and demanding engineering, mechanical, and electrical work. At SMARTT , our benchwork, trackwork and electrical work is state-of-the-art. The approach is unique and it truly is the best there is. Taking this approach will give you years of flawless and realistic operation while you can focus on the creative and artistic parts of your model railroad empire.

  • The Turn-Key Solution: Most of the calls we get here at SMARTT are from clients who wants us to build them their ‘dream layout” from soup to nuts. That is always the best solution for those pressed for time to do anything themselves or for those lacking the skills to get it done right. All they are seeking is a completely finished layout that functions perfectly and looks great, and usually with all the “bells and whistles”. If you are one of those, then just sit back, lets us do it all and when it’s done “we hand you the keys!”

We offer you three different choices, or let’s call them model levels. One is our Basic level, the second is our Level One, and the third is our Level Two. For those who are really fastidious and with really deep pockets, we also have a Level Three which is essentially “fine-scale” contest award-winning super-detailing.

Nevertheless, regardless of whichever choice is right for you, our quality offerings at SMARTT are consistent. Ultra-high precision benchwork and trackwork, together with unparalleled electrical work (all of which are fully tested for every layout) are a hallmark of SMARTT model railroad layouts.

  • Basic Version: For those who want a fully or partially completed layout on a budget, we offer our Basic level. Benchwork, trackwork, and electrical work is impeccable, while bridges, tunnels, scenery, and structure details, when included, are fully complete, but with details and extra workmanship kept to a minimum.

  • Level One: Our Level One work is far more involved than a Basic layout. In fact, our Level One is most people’s standard for a high level project. Scenery, structures and detail at this level are all very good – just look below at some examples of some of our Level One projects. Typical features of a SMARTT Level One project include a variety of scenic foliage treatments and varying degrees of weathering on structures. Of course, as a client, if you prefer, we also offer you the choice for us to do this type of detailing only on certain parts of the layout, giving you the opportunity to add your own touch to your model railroad.

  • Level Two: This level will blow your socks off! If you can afford it – definitely go in this direction. You will be amazed! This is the ultimate in super detail and accuracy. From a blast furnace in a Pennsylvania steel mill, to the bridges across the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, to Bavaria in the 1920’s, we can reproduce it.  And yes, for those in the know, we could even simulate the Cuyahoga on fire if you want with really cool lighting effects. Level Two projects always include trackwork with super-elevated curves, painted and weathered to look as realistic as possible, complete with detailed ballast.  

Here are some other examples of Level Two options:

In one recently completed HO layout, we designed and built from scratch a scaled down version of Boston’s South Station complete with its intricate track work.


Custom built Level 2 Boston South Station replica


In both another HO scale and O Scale layout, we installed a full Catenary system for two clients who love electric locomotives. One was built from the highly complex and detailed offerings of a European manufacturer and one was built entirely from scratch.


Bavarian wonder-layout with full catenary throughout! (Level 2)

Additionally, both of these layouts, along with several others that we have done, feature fully functional and realistic signal systems.

The fascia (visible outer framework part of the benchwork) of your layout can be finished to fit the décor of your train room. In short, a fine-finish picture frame around your piece of three dimensional art. This final touch makes your layout a fine piece of furniture. You can even complete it with display cases, and yes if you want, we could add a beer tap just below your model railroad brewery if you wish.(mmmmmmmm, beer!)


A fine Fascia turns a completed Level One
layout into furniture that everyone will admire.

And, don’t forget, just as with a Level One project, if you like, we can complete as much of the layout to this level as you want, leaving part of it incomplete so you can finish it yourself.

Model railroading is truly a great hobby for the entire family, something that will give everyone years of pride and enjoyment. Model railroading is a great way to involve your family and entertain your friends. And best of all it is always a work in progress. There will always be something new to add or change. So let us assist you in your project. No matter at what level, we would love to help you fulfill your dream.

— Ray Del Papa


  1. Anonymous on October 7, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    That South Station model is gorgeous, what a skill, fantastic.

  2. Tim Maio on December 8, 2021 at 11:48 am

    Can the south satation model be recreated for sale?

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