Who We Are, What We Do

In the 1930s, Renselear Polytechnic Institute got its first model railroad in the form of a large, live steam locomotive donated by the owners of the Burden Iron Works in South Troy. The "Rensselaer Central" was disbanded during WWII. Model railroads returned when an HO gauge club was launched in 1947. Over its history, the club has occupied several basements on campus.

Work started on the current exhibit in 1972. It was a departure from previous layouts: this one was to be an accurate representation of real places. The layout would be a series of long, narrow scenes. Today, students, alumni, and community members work to maintain and improve the layout. Even after 40 years of active work, there are scenes that have yet to be completed.


Originally, scenery was constructed with plaster over wire screening. Today, we use a variant of paper mache over foam. Foliage is represented with dyed foam rubber, and trees are made using carefully dried plants.

Rolling Stock

Models of mass produced diesel locomotives are commercially available. Steam locomotives were customized for each railroad. We buy close approximations. Many freight cars are available as kits, when they aren't, we built out own.


Many of our smaller buildings are custom built out of architectural plastics. Larger mills are 'kit bashed' using several copies of commercial kits to represent these huge structures. Increasingly, we are using laser cutters to speed our work.


Most of the track is hand laid: railroad ties are glued to the ground, rail is spiked down. Digital Command Control (DCC), an industry standard to manage many model locomotives on one track, supports operations.