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I found a speed calculator on the internet (Model Railway Scale Speeds Calculator) and I thought I would try it.
I had no idea what speeds I normally like to run (on the main lines) on my 26ft X 17ft 'L' shape layout, but I thought it would be interesting to find out.  (I do not have any MTH, Lionel equipment/electronics to show this.  I run conventional with a remote.)
I set the markers I needed to do the timing, got my stopwatch, and started running some trains.  I set a 6-foot and a 12-foot distance.  I found timing in a 6-foot space a bit trying but found out that I did OK because the times/speeds were correct at 12-foot.
Here it comes!  WOW, was I surprised!   Apparently, I like to run sort of on the fast side.  It's not real fast, but my speeds (again, on the main lines) were 45 mph for freights and 50 to 60 for passenger trains (steam & diesel for both).  In the real world that might be OK, but after checking the speeds & slowing them down a bit, I decided they looked better running just a little bit slower on my 3 rail track, especially the freights.
I guess I had part of the child-like speed still in me at 74.

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As I watch model RR videos I don't like HO or modern 3 rail just creeping along. It's boring pretty fast.

I agree. Except in yards or switching, real trains - freight and passenger - move along most of the time. They make money for their railroads by traveling as fast as possible consistent with safety. I think it's more interesting to listen to and watch a locomotive running along at mainline operating speeds. I mostly run models of 1940s and 1950s rolling stock and locomotives - slow freights at 25 to 35 miles-per-hour and passenger trains at 50 to 60 miles-per-hour. I think steam engines sound best when they're chugging along. Just my opinion. I know that some people prefer to do low speed switching operations. Either way is fine.

To determine train speeds on your model railroad:

1) Measure or calculate the distance around a circuit on your layout (at the center rail). If you measure in inches - divide by 12 to get the number of feet. Then multiply the number of feet by 48 to get the number of feet at full scale.

2) Run the train around the circuit and measure the time - in seconds - to complete the circuit.

3) Divide the number of feet at full scale by the number of seconds to complete the circuit. That will give you the average train speed in feet-per-second.

4) Multiply the train speed in feet-per-second by 3600 (the number of seconds in an hour) and then divide by 5280 (the number of feet in a mile) to get the average speed in miles-per-hour.


Addendum: You can measure the distance along the straight tracks with a tape measure. For the curves, use a piece of string taped to the center rail if necessary. Then remove and straighten the string and use the tape measure to get the distance along the curve. You only have to do this once... I then make up a table (see photo with results for outer loop on my 12'-by-8' layout) showing miles-per-hour versus time (in seconds) to complete the circuit. Then, just measure the circuit time and consult the table for the miles-per-hour. You also can put your numbers in a spreadsheet and plot them...



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  • MELGAR_2021_0510_01_SPEED_TABLE_12X8
Last edited by MELGAR

Now I have someway to more accurately figure out how fast my trains are realistically going, than getting down on the carpet and lining my eye up with a 1.5 inch tall pewter passenger waiting at a Disney station, trying to imagine how fast the passing trains are going by to my old eyes! No kidding, I really do that....Now if I can persuade my wife (who looks at each train car and piece of track as a lost investment in the stock market) to assist me in measuring the distance around the loop of oval which takes up her spare bedroom, I’ll be in great shape!

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