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I've been going through this myself recently. I think the answer is "what ever height is comfortable for you". Too low can be a pain because you'll always be bending over or crawling on your back to get to the underside, too high can be a pain because you have to step up on something to reach or even see the layout.

Average counter top height is 36". When I searched this topic it seemed that 39 - 41" was an average recommended height. I'm average height, 5' 10", so I was planning for 38-39 myself but after dealing with leveling a few benches in my basement I seem to have ended up around 41" before any surface and homosote. Still workable for me but toward the high side in my mind.

Mine is 29 Inches to the top of the platform.  I built it with grandchildren in mind and little kids could see the trains without standing on something.   If I was going to do it over I would consider 36 inches it would still allow small children to see without having to stand on a chair or craw up on something.   

Layout heights of 30-40 inches are great if you view while seated or if you design primarily for young children.  When standing, an adult gets a "helicopter view" of the trains.  I prefer a closer to trackside viewing angle, so the majority of my layout is at 50-52 inches off the floor.  My grandchildren use small step ladders to view the trains, but the layout was designed with us big kids in mind. 

layout height

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Bob's trackside viewing angle and higher layout perspective is a good tip...model trains - like real trains - seem to look better from the sides then the tops.

My former layout = 34" base level - good for expansive viewing, had to sit down to get trackside viewing angles, and was constantly hitting my head while working underneath;

Newer layout = 43" base level - have to crouch over a bit to get that trackside viewing

I gained 3/4" by applying Tom Tee's hockey pucks for carpet under the levelers (sure glad I tried them), and a bit more for not accounting for jam nuts on the levelers. Best laid plans . . .

I have the hockey pucks in places, and thinner pads in other places.  On the highest part of the floor, I have the levelers screwed all the way down and no pad.  The actual heights vary from 41" to 42 1/2", depending on where you are.  The surface was leveled throughout.

My experience says 42".  However when I built layouts for people I would set up some test levels of modules for the client to get a feel of what height they might select.

TMI...My own layout varies depending where you stand.  Our basement floor was poured with a 6" pitch over 70' from diagonal corners to favor the sump pump crock.  So if I had a flat single level RR there would still be variation depending where one stood.

From the first level on my RR to the fifth level there is 35" of separation.  The towns and yards are each at different levels and all other right of ways are on a ascending or descending grade.

The rail head on the fifth deck is even with my eve level at the highest point of the basement floor

What is kind of weird is when I walk with a train along my longest grade which is at >1% I do not sense the train to be climbing up that much because we are both going up, although at 1% I hardly "feel" a grade.

At the start of construction, midway along the basement floor I shot a 360 degree datum line and marked it at 32" intervals on the walls, columns and return duct.  Then I mounted 2" X 4" studs from which all construction was mounted.

I suggest that you try several heights and build whatever is most comfortable for you for working above and below the benchwork.  Visit some layouts in your area and ask the owner how he or she selected the height and if they are OK with it.  

The trend with many model railroads today is to build them higher rather than lower.  Higher layouts are easier to work under for wiring, switch machine installation, etc.   You can store more stuff under a high layout.  Also, people like the eye level view.  

A low level layout built for the kids will soon be a pain in the back or knees because kids grow fast.  It will be too low even for them in a few years.  The older I get the more I appreciate a high layout.  NH Joe

@Tom Tee posted:

My experience says 42".  However when I built layouts for people I would set up some test levels of modules for the client to get a feel of what height they might select.

TMI...My own layout varies depending where you stand.  Our basement floor was poured with a 6" pitch over 70' from diagonal corners to favor the sump pump crock.  So if I had a flat single level RR there would still be variation depending where one stood.

From the first level on my RR to the fifth level there is 35" of separation.  The towns and yards are each at different levels and all other right of ways are on a ascending or descending grade.

The rail head on the fifth deck is even with my eve level at the highest point of the basement floor

What is kind of weird is when I walk with a train along my longest grade which is at >1% I do not sense the train to be climbing up that much because we are both going up, although at 1% I hardly "feel" a grade.

At the start of construction, midway along the basement floor I shot a 360 degree datum line and marked it at 32" intervals on the walls, columns and return duct.  Then I mounted 2" X 4" studs from which all construction was mounted.

Mine’s right at 42” as well,…and I’m 6’1” so it works out well,…

Pat

As others have likely noted, 42" is the most common height for layouts in nearly all scales. That being said, I feel, as many others do, that you should build it to a height you are most comfortable with. Personally, I like layouts that are pretty darn high up so I can envision myself as a trackside spectator viewing or photographing the trains. That's not always possible or practical, of course, but it is something of a goal. My current under-construction layout is about 46" off the floor, but a good part of it will be at a higher elevation, including a point-to-point On30 line that will run the 25' length of the long wall. That line will run atop a series of cliffs, etc., and should help to make the layout look a lot deeper than it actually is.

I have the hockey pucks in places, and thinner pads in other places.  On the highest part of the floor, I have the levelers screwed all the way down and no pad.  The actual heights vary from 41" to 42 1/2", depending on where you are.  The surface was leveled throughout.

I thought about taking the hockey puck away from the leg at the highest level but it is one of the lift table legs and feels much more planted with the wider foot. So far the variance is from 41 to 41 3/4 but I still have 1/2 the bench work to do and I know the floor rolls off in the back corner. May need a double stack hockey puck or three.

@Tom Tee posted:

My experience says 42".  However when I built layouts for people I would set up some test levels of modules for the client to get a feel of what height they might select.

TMI...My own layout varies depending where you stand.  Our basement floor was poured with a 6" pitch over 70' from diagonal corners to favor the sump pump crock.  So if I had a flat single level RR there would still be variation depending where one stood.

From the first level on my RR to the fifth level there is 35" of separation.  The towns and yards are each at different levels and all other right of ways are on a ascending or descending grade.

The rail head on the fifth deck is even with my eve level at the highest point of the basement floor

What is kind of weird is when I walk with a train along my longest grade which is at >1% I do not sense the train to be climbing up that much because we are both going up, although at 1% I hardly "feel" a grade.

At the start of construction, midway along the basement floor I shot a 360 degree datum line and marked it at 32" intervals on the walls, columns and return duct.  Then I mounted 2" X 4" studs from which all construction was mounted.

Five levels.   I was able to lift the drop ceiling tiles and locate the studs, put a laser level up and mark as you say. Also added some furring strips on the studs for a backdrop that come down to where the second level will be at 50". Now I know where to attach the benches to the wall.

@Bob posted:

Layout heights of 30-40 inches are great if you view while seated or if you design primarily for young children.  When standing, an adult gets a "helicopter view" of the trains.  I prefer a closer to trackside viewing angle, so the majority of my layout is at 50-52 inches off the floor.  My grandchildren use small step ladders to view the trains, but the layout was designed with us big kids in mind. 

layout height

Very good point, I tend to forget about what things should look like farther along. I did plan for sitting (I seem to need to a lot more of this each day) and standing.

The two main points have been stated.    A lower layout, with in reason say 30-40 inches, is easier to work on.     A higher layout, say 48-60 inches is more fun to look at the trains.     So there are a lot personal choices and thoughts that go into picking the height.     I find working a yard and having to read car numbers back 24 inchees from the aisle is much easier on a layout 35 inches or so high.    But I really like seeing a train go by pretty much at eye level.


An advantage of high layout if it is around the walls in a room, is that entry and exit may not require much ducking.     And wiring u nderneath is easier to get to on a tall layout.    But a derailment more than a few inches from the front on a high layout will probably require a stool to remedy.

The best advice is to pick a height you like and comfortable with.  

I would offer one more thought, if you are building a layout that will last for some  years, don't make it low for the grandchildren.   First they grow tall and fast.   My grandson who was a toddler when I was working on the layout is now taller than me.     Luckily I did not size it for access by a 3-4 year old.

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