If you are looking for a hobby that you can pick up quick and put down any time then move away slowly. If you are looking for one that you can make last a lifetime then model trains are for you. Building a railroad can take many years if you want it to. It can get really exciting when you finally finish your exact duplicate of an existing railroad.
So how do you get into such a lifelong hobby? Visit a few railroads and museums. Also go and check out some hobby shops and any friends that you might have that are into model trains. If you feel a tugging deep inside you like an urge pushing you to put on that conductor's hat and pull that train whistle then railroading is for you.
You must figure out how much space you are willing to dedicate to your new hobby. Once you know for sure then you can decide what scale train you will be running. This will also help you to know how much you will need to spend on materials. Now that you know where you are going to place your new railroad you can clean out that space. If you are going to build a table that is eight foot by twelve foot then you should allow yourself three or more extra feet on each side so that you have plenty of room to move around while you are building it and when you are running it as well.
Now that you know the where and the size then you are ready to begin sketching out your ideas. Draw out all the features you would like your railroad to have. You do not have to have them drawn perfectly. You just need a rough idea of how you want it to look when it is finished. You can base your layout on real towns or you can make up a fictional one that suits the train you will be using for this display.
Now you are ready to build your platform. Plywood is an excellent choice for this due to its strength and yet it is still easy to cut and drill. Make sure that you properly brace your platform so that it does not sway or collapse. You can then begin to build your features. Mountains and hills are easily created out of balled up or wadded up paper stuffed around wooden supports and then covered with wire mesh. The next step is to apply paper mache or plaster to the mesh in layers until you get a good coating. Take your time and make sure that you get the look you are wanting instead of rushing through and being unhappy with the end product.
Once you have all your features laid out, covered, and have given them time to dry you can begin painting them. Make sure to keep your colors as natural as possible. Painters acrylic paints are usually your best choice for painting this type of project. After the paint has dried you can then begin to assemble your train tracks. Make sure that you secure them in place so they do not come loose over time. Pins or glue can easily achieve this. Now that your features and tracks are in place you can put on your finishing touches.
Make your houses and buildings suit your setting and then begin to place them onto your display. You can build a whole town and complete it with people, cars, and the like. Give your new town a name and a story if you wish. You have now developed a railroad that you can call your own.