Free-mo Takes Modular
Model Railroad Layouts
in New Directions

Free-mo (or freemo) can be thought of as a "free-flowing modular" model railroad layout.

The concept began in Europe and has been imported into North America by clubs in the United States and Canada. It has started to make its appearance at national and regional train conventions.

A few modules were on view at the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers (CARM) meeting in Hamilton in 2008. Our club, the Nottawasaga Model Railroad Club, was building several modules to interconnect between our club railroad and modules others bring to shows. The concept has developed considerably since 2008 and I have seen some very big layouts at Trainfest in Milwaukee and at other train shows.

What makes "freemo" different?

A basic module has one track that must exit at both ends exactly in the center of the module lengthwise. 

Basic module endplates are 2-feet wide. What you do between the ends is up to you. Track can run straight or curve with or without turnouts. There is also provision for a double-track mainline.

Corner-type modules also have the centered track. The modules, therefore, can be rotated 180 degrees and this will change the entire look of the railroad. The layout can wander all over the place depending on who brings what to the shows.

The main idea is to allow the freedom to faithfully model prototype trackage (or freelance if that is your desire). You're free to build an odd-sized module that even includes grades. Our club's modules will need to be just shy of six feet in order to fit end-to-end inside the trailer we use. The practice is to advise the show organizers the size of your modules so they can work out a track arrangement. There already have been some amazing set-ups.

  • Modules can be any length. 
  • Many range from 6 to 8 feet. Some are as short as 2 feet. It depends on how you are going to transport them: car trunk, van, trailer, etc.
  • Track standard is Code 83 on the mainline with a 1" setback from the endplates.
  • 2" track filler pieces join modules. Sidings can be Code 70 or even Code 55.
  • Mainline radius is 42" with 36" on branch lines.
  • Height to rail top from the floor is 50". Legs should be adjustable.
  • Track power standard is Digitrax DCC.

If your home railroad is wired with another system, as mine is with Lenz, it is necessary to make provision for a Digitrax plug.

  • There are other standards for electrical that must be followed so all modules can be easily hooked up.
  • There's a provision for a modular signal system. 
  • Standards for painting and scenery have been set down. 

Personally I've seen modelers taking some license with these instructions so I'm not sure how this will hold across the continent.For more detailed information, go to Our train club followed the standards adopted by the Alberta free-mo group. Check out their website. 

There's a photo showing what a free-mo layout can look like.

freemo end junctionJunction to a freemo unit on my UNRR
model railroad wye track to freemoThe wye track from the freemo module

This was the junction between my permanent layout and a free-mo module i was building for my previous layout. This end joined the main layout via a double-track mainline. 

The left end of the module had only a single track at the center. The near tracks are used for Canadian Pacific (CP) classification. 

The rear was for Canadian National (CN). A CP box car has been spotted by the ShipIt program on a spur that will have an industry added (once it was built!) It actually ended up being a CP station. 

The two center tracks served as an interchange with my fictitious Utopia Northern RR.  The freestanding unit is the only piece of my railroad that survived my last move in 2015. It is being incorporated into the new UNRR.

Above is a view up one leg of the wye from Mintwood to the module called East Utopia. The other leg was the mainline to Utopia, the principal industrial area of the city.  The small station on the right is the first kit I ever built back in the late 50s.

painted slip switches on freemo modulePainted Fast Track slip switches on the NMR freemo modules

Below are some work-in-progress pictures by our Nottawasaga Model Railway Club and others taken at the Holland Centre train show in September, 2008. The modules were incorporated into our club layout but we had to move in 2015. The track has been salvaged for our new permanent layout at Bygone Days Farm in Collingwood, Ontario that will depict the prototype trackage from Collingwood the Meaford.  Design work is underway in 2016.  See the NMR club page for more information on the new layout.

free-mo module scenery under construction Steve Hoshell brought some new free-mo modules to the 2008 train show at Holland Centre.
free-mo module endplate This gives a good idea of how the track looks at the center of the end plate. Module configurations are endless because the track always lines up with the centerline.
Description of image This was the first attempt to connect to the Ontario Chapter of the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers (CARM) portable HO layout. The layout has an 1-foot extension on each end to increase its size to 5 X 10 feet. Currently built with Code 100 rail and DC, it has added the facility of interchange to free-mo. The layout is used to teach railroad safety to youngsters at train shows, cub meetings, and the like.
free-mo module leg construction These central legs support the modules by fitting between two stringers. As constructed, they are lightweight and easy to transport and put up.
free-mo module legs support A masonite stiffener slips in between the two sets of legs to provide longitudinal stability. Lateral stability is provided by the triangular plates and the crosspieces under the module's top that lock the legs into place.

Some new free-mo modules appeared at the Brampton, Ontario train show, October, 2008. Below are turnouts under construction using FastTrack templates and Micro Engineering tie and spikes.

Fast Track switches under construction
Fast Track switches under construction
Fast Track trackwork under construction
Here's another view of the work-in-progress.

Credit Valley Free-mo exhibit

At the Brampton 2009 Train Show in October, the Credit Valley Free-mo group had a group of modules in various stages of completion on display. Credit Valley Free-mo is an HO scale model railroad group of modelers that was started in 2007. More information is available at their website I videotaped some of the action during the show, including an operating terminal crane that Paul, of the Credit Valley Hobby Shop, demonstrated for me. Have a look.

The Credit Valley modellers have done a great deal of work in recent years and their layout at regional shows keeps getting larger and more finished.  Free-mo is a wonderful concept even if you don't plan to join a group and travel to train shows. As I have discovered, it is nice to transport a module instead of tearing the layout apart when a move happens. (The modules are designed to pass through doorways!)

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