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Model railroading is a fun, rewarding hobby that takes a lot of patience and practice.  A good layout is both fulfilling to build and impressive to view.  Who doesn’t love a cool looking model railroad?

There is more to model railroading than just building layouts.  Some people focus on making historically accurate models, while others try to collect as many engines and stock cars as they can, others focus on “weathering,” the process of manually painting new engines or stock cars to make them look more realistic, even still, others like a combination of these aspects.

As enjoyable as model railroading is, sometimes, it can seem very overwhelming for beginners.  Questions like “Which companies are good?,”  “Where can I learn how to build layouts?,” “How should I design a layout?,” and “Where do I go to learn how to weather?” are all common.

A local hobby shop, especially one specializing in model railroading, would be a good first step for questions like these, but sometimes, that is not an option.  What if you do not have a local hobby shop, or what if the scope of your questions go beyond the knowledge of locals?

As you would expect, the internet has a bunch of useful information for model railroaders.  Here are some of the better sites and tools that will help the beginner get started and aide the veteran in even the most advanced endeavors.

Model Railroader Magazine

It should come as no surprise that one of the better tools on the internet for model railroaders is the website of Model Railroader Magazine.


I should say off the bat, to get access to most of the content, you need to register with the website.  The process is quick and painless, but for downloadable content, like layout plans and downloadable articles, you need a magazine subscription.

Despite this restriction, the website still has plenty to offer.  You can read articles about various aspects of model railroading.  There is even a very nice introduction article that lays out the basics of the hobby for a true beginner.

Some articles have neat videos of outstanding layouts.  Maybe watching some of those will spur your own imagination!

Overall, Model Railroader Magazine’s website is useful, despite some limitation.  But it is just the first stop in our trip through the web.

National Model Railroad Association

The National Model Railroad Association has a great website that is full featured and offers tons of resources for the model railroader in one location.

For the novice railroader, the website has a great beginner’s guide that goes into great depths to introduce you to all aspects of model railroading.  Just hit “Beginner’s Guide” on the left navigation bar.

As you can see from the contents, the guide goes to great lengths to inform the reader.  Who knows, maybe even a veteran can learn something.

The next biggest feature the website offers is the “Directory of Sites.”  This acts as a one stop shop for a model railroader on the web.  There is a hefty database of websites and software that hobbyists will find infinitely helpful.  Just click “Directory of Websites” on the left.

Clearly, NMRA has gone to great lengths to get together a comprehensive list of online resources for their hobby.

The website has a bunch of other features to attract visitors, including contest information, historical information, and community information to tickle your every model railroad fancy.


In case you couldn’t tell, I had my model railroad phase a few years back.  Unfortunately, I was much younger and not nearly as tech savvy.  As such, I never utilized these resources as much as I could have.

One resource I did refer to a lot was Walthers, a catalog for everything model railroad.  If you have ever done any model railroading, you surely have heard of the paper catalog, but Walthers also has an extensive online catalog.

After a few minutes of browsing, you will quickly realize that Walthers’ website doesn’t have many bells and whistles.  It’s essentially an online version of their bare bones paper catalog.  This is not a bad thing.  If you need to find a particular car or engine, Walthers is probably going to have it.

Because of their extensive selection, Walther’s also has an effective search tool.  You can search by all sorts of areas including Scale, Manufacturer, or Item Number if you happen to know it.  The search is fast and thorough, returning the results organized by Manufacturer.

If you click on a result, you get a nice little profile describing the item and a big picture to help with your purchase.  This is true for many of the items on the website.

Walther’s is a great resource if you are out to buy anything related to creating model railroads, because it gives you a good point of comparison when it comes to price and a huge database of available products.

Unfortunately, good, up to date online resources for model railroad enthusiasts are pretty hard to find.  It seems that most railroaders prefer the social dynamic of model railroading.  Actually going to a hobby shop and talking with others who share their passion.

But slowly, model railroading is creeping onto the web so that anyone can get started in this fun and educational hobby.  Do you know of any other web resources for model railroaders?  Lets us know about them in the comments below.

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  1. Cajundweeb
    March 28, 2010 at 11:16 am

    As a train nut, I can attest to the quality of all three resources shown. Additional information can also be found via a Google search as well.

    • Mike Fagan
      March 30, 2010 at 11:11 am

      Google is always useful!