building the trans-office-railway

This post is half laser build and half Ikea hack. Like many boys my age (39) and a lot of geeky and rather sad people, I quite like trains and railways and like a small portion of those geeks I quite like model railways too though I would never have a “proper” layout (well not before I’m 60) and could never really find the space or the time to put in the work. Unlike some model engineers I couldn’t give a toot! about scale and realism or any of that rubbish. I’ve a box full of trains and I intend to use them.


My younger siblings and I built a layout in the loft at our house in Grantham when I was about 14, loosely based on the 1930s GWR.. it was quite good fun but a wasps nest in the loft stopped play and then before I knew it I was 16 and was interested in other things like drinking and girls. When my parents moved out we cleared all the buildings, engines, carriages and wagons into a box and left all the track behind (including the precious points). I’d be curious to know if our layout is still in the loft of that town house?


Those boxes stay untouched for another 15 years until I suddenly got the urge to build a Shunting Puzzle… the shunting puzzle remains unmade (points are VERY expensive) but having won an eBay auction for a job lot of track (£10) I thought I should try and make a railways… around the edge of my home office.


1. It mustn’t look like a railway layout

2. It mustn’t get in the way of anything

3. Just like making a real railway you have to work with the landscape

I just made those rules up really but they were sort of at the back of my mind. I’ve called this an Ikea-hack because the railway line is mostly on or attached to my Ikea furniture. I quite like Ikea stuff because… well you know I have eyes and am a human. My office is entirely kitted out with white Ikea furniture specifically a large 4×4 EXPEDIT and some white gloss LACK shelves.


At this point the Tran-Office-Railway only goes around a quarter of my office. I’d like to extend it to go all the way around. Of course the door will be a bit of a challenge. I’d quite like to incorporate a shunting puzzle and maybe hack some intelligence into my system as well. But this is by no means an urgent project and is as much ornamental as it is usable.

The main “hack” is the laser cut track supports on the front of the EXPEDIT they could do with a bit of tweaking but they do the job and I’m pleased with them. The track supports are cut from Birch laser ply wood and are designed so the plastic track parts slot into place, the cable ties are just for tidiness the track will stay in place without them. They were designed to fit both EXPEDIT and BILLY bookcases but of course they don’t fit either perfectly. One annoyance was that the Hornby track I used doesn’t seem to have been designed to fit Ikea stuff. It would have been nice if one standard length of Hornby fit an EXPEDIT cubby… one bit of straight track is 162mm long (the plastic bit) and each cubby on the EXPEDIT is 335mm so they don’t divide nicely meaning I couldn’t space my track supports in a visually pleasing way (I don’t have OCD).





My LACK shelf on the window wall was lower than the top shelf bottom of the EXPIDIT so there is a small incline for the train to climb. The LACK shelf on the chimney breast is about 40mm higher than the EXPEDIT top shelf so there is a sharp incline. I’ve simply built up the height with cut corks. I had to blob some HOT-GLUE onto the track to stop it springing up though, obviously the track has little holes so it can be tacked down but I didn’t want to break the skin of my LACK shelf.

These aren’t the final design and I may make some improvements, perhaps have double track and ditch the shape to hold the track in place and use cable ties instead. In the mean time I have shared my design on Thingiverse and you can download the .svg file here.