Let’s face it. Most of the time it’s daytime on our model railroads. Why? Because you can see better in daylight. Hence, we install lighting to make sure that those painstakingly-applied scenes and details are visible to the observer. And this makes total sense.
However, in the real world roughly half of the time (on average) it’s dark out there. What about night? A keen observer will have noticed that railroads do, in fact, continue to operate in the hours of darkness. Sure, it’s harder to see, but it has a magic all its own. What if there were a simple way to apply that to a model railroad layout?
Turns out, there is. A simple way. And I’m going to show you how I did it.
My method makes one basic assumption: that ambient light at night (what there is of it) is rather blue in tone. (I also need to experiment with moonlight, but that’s a topic for another time.) Enter the brilliant (ahem) idea to simply provide some dim, blue light to the room. Not direct light, just ambient light. And how better to do that than a $5 string of blue LED Christmas lights?
My layout occupies half of the garage. My wife’s car occupies the other half. She doesn’t have to scrape frost in the winter. I get a double-deck model railroad. Fair trade, we think. Anyway, my half also stores boxes and boxes of things, requiring shelving– which happily provides a place to string lights for daytime ops. Night ops are different. In the photo above you can see the string of lights, haphazardly strung on whatever I could hang them from. Why so? Because frankly, nobody ever looks up. Plus, I wanted the ambient blue light to fill in every scene on the La Plata Division.
OK, so we’ve gotten the room lighting. But I seriously suggest you think about installing a few things to light up the landscape at the scale level. In my case I don’t have much urban area, which simplifies things somewhat. However, I have installed area lighting at the Winter Park ski lodge, in the North Yard area, on various structures in Hideaway Park, and eventually at Union Station. Everything else goes on the trains themselves.
I also have one other thing going for me. The upper level is always wintertime, so there’s lots of snow to catch and reflect light. You’ll see that in the photos below.
Remember that valance I mentioned earlier? Well, there is a string of multi-colored LEDs installed up there in addition to the daylight lights. These can be adjusted by color and brightness for additional effects, with a convenient remote control.
And the tail-end image is a fitting place to close. Hopefully this will inspire you to try some different lighting things in your environment.