There are many ways of estimating the cost of a custom model railroad layout, and there is no real 'Right' or 'Wrong' way to accomplish this task.  Indeed, there may not even be a clear-cut 'Best-Way' to do it.  Most of the custom builders utilize a simple "per square foot" analysis possibly tempered by some experienced "adjusting".  The end result is really all that matters.  However, it is our belief that any custom builder who quotes a flat, per-square-foot rate is really only giving you a guess (and likely precious little information).  Every layout is different, and there is no reason that you, as our client, will ever be penalized by having to pay for any sort of 'average' rate. 

Over the years, PMD has developed a fairly complex system for accurately estimating costs.  We will spend far more time on the estimating portion than other custom builders we have seen.  The reason for this is simple.  We hate surprises, and we know you do, too.  You will be spending substantial dollars for us to bring your dreams to life and you deserve to be well informed about what we are doing with those dollars.  Here at PMD, we are not "hobbyists"… we are professional model-makers, and we feel it is imperative that you, as our client, be fully informed about every cost for labor and materials that will be charged during the course of your project.  The method we use is fully described below.


PMD builds layouts to three different levels of detail.  You will find that even our B (Silver) level of construction will exceed the details and appearance of 90+% of the custom builders currently doing business.  Stepping up to the AA level (Platinum) yields a product with an attention to detail second to none - absolute museum-quality construction.  However, it is not necessary to adhere to one level for all phases of construction.  For instance, we can incorporate AA level structures into B level scenery.  Or perhaps you may want just a single AA level, museum quality, custom structure in the foreground of one scene.  This methodology provides the greatest flexibility and allows economies in areas that are of less importance to the client. 

Please refer to the comparison chart to gain insight into the differences you can expect in our 3 levels of construction.

All layouts will be constructed in a modular fashion in our studio in Romeoville, and the finished (or almost finished) modules will be transported to the end site for final assembly and on-site finishing.  This is the least costly way for us to construct layouts as it maximizes our in-house capabilities and minimizes travel time and expenses of all personnel.  In rare situations, complete on-site construction is necessary.  This method carries a substantial price penalty.

PHASE 1:  WORKUP  -      All our projects are bid on a per job basis.  Working with you, we will have you fill out a questionnaire and submit to us a sketch of the layout area with all measurements and obstructions noted.  After we understand your priorities and requirements, we will come up with a concept sketch which will be quite basic.  We do not charge for this concept work, but it does have to fit between paying jobs and may take some time.  This concept drawing will have little detail and will not be to scale but will serve to establish that the basic elements you desire in the layout are included.  After you approve of the concept, we will move on to the Preliminary Design Drawing and cost estimating.  We charge a modest fee for this process which must be paid prior to any design work commencing.  This fee will cover our research and development time, the design and drafting of the Preliminary Design Drawing (PDD) as well as the development of the cost estimates taken from the drawing.  The charge for this will be $5.00 - $8.50 per square foot of layout area depending upon complexity and whether or not we are generating a new design for you or utilizing your plans.  A minimum charge of $500.00 will apply to small layouts.  This fee will be applied to (and become part of) your contract if you decide to commission us for your project.  The Preliminary Design Drawing will outline the locations of track, yards, foliage, rock walls, streams, etc.  All structures and associated pieces will be indicated.  Depending on the size and complexity of the layout, this artwork may be as small as 11" x 17" or could be large enough to fill multiple 24" x 36" sheets.   For an additional charge, PMD will generate 3D concept artwork that approaches a photograph in realism.  These renderings can be invaluable in visualizing how the completed layout will appear.  An example of one of our 3D renderings is here.

PHASE 2:  COST ESTIMATING  - PMD generates very reliable and accurate estimates by entering information from the Preliminary Design Drawing into a comprehensive 500+ line spreadsheet.  In this way, costs are calculated by the actual square inch depending upon the end product resting on that square inch, be it roads, track, structures, mountains, ground cover, etc.  Obviously, the cost to cover a square foot with simple ground foam texture is dramatically less than a 1 square foot scratch-built, super-detailed factory occupying the same area. Every structure on the layout will be estimated separately in another spreadsheet designed just for that purpose.  One-time and custom stuff that doesn't fit into our existing formats will be estimated by the best method we have.... good old-fashioned, educated guessing (I know, I said we don't do that.  Actually, we rarely have to).   The complete breakdown of charges on this spreadsheet will be provided to you for your review.  The spreadsheet will also provide very accurate estimates of the total time necessary to complete each phase of the construction.  This information will also be provided to you and we will generate target completion dates for various areas of construction.  We welcome you into our studio at any time to view first hand the progress of your special project.

All commercial modeling materials (track, roadbed, structures, vehicles, figures, etc.) will be discounted 30% off of their suggested list prices.  Once you have become a client of PMD, you may choose at any time to take advantage of our buying power to purchase other items such as rolling stock or locomotives through us.  The same 30% discount would apply.  We do not sell at our cost since to do so would only require that we raise our labor rates to compensate.  The small difference between what we pay for the items used and what we charge you covers our ordering, freight and handling costs.

By now you're thinking, "So…..How much is this going to cost me??"  WellLET'S GET TO IT.

PHASE 3:  CAD DRAWINGS  -    After acceptance of our estimate, a formal proposal will be drawn up detailing all facets of the project.  A certificate of insurance will be presented to you and a down-payment will be required at this time which will vary depending upon the total cost of the project.  Small projects under $10,000 will require 50% of the total estimate at this time.  Since the bulk of the materials are purchased at the onset of a project, larger projects will require a minimum down-payment of 33% of the total project cost.  After receipt of the payment, PMD will enter all the design information into our CAD systems and we will then generate detailed working drawings for the construction phase of the project.  Copies of these drawings will be presented to you for your reference.  Any design changes required (unless due to PMD error) or requested after the completion of the CAD drawings will incur additional charges.

PHASE 4:  CONSTRUCTION  -   During Phase 3, materials will be ordered and a construction schedule arranged for the start of your project.  Once materials are in-house, construction will begin. 

BENCHWORK:  We use clear grade Pine for our B grade construction.  All joints are glued and stapled.  With A grade construction, we will rip all framework, joists and cross-ties from 3/4" A-C Exterior Glue plywood.  This provides improved straightness and warp-resistance over Pine.  Our plywood is sourced from major commercial cabinet-shop suppliers, not from local home centers.  AA grade construction will use only furniture quality, 3/4"  imported Baltic Birch plywood or equivalent.  This fabulous material is great to work with due to its solid (without voids) core, 11 or 13 ply construction and "almost" perfectly straight and uniform sheets.  To our knowledge, no other builders offer this level of quality on their benchwork (although they may after reading about it here).  AA grade joints are all glued, screwed and reinforced with cleats where necessary.

FASCIA:  B grade layouts will have tempered hardboard fascia, contoured to match the layout.  Mounting screws will be countersunk below the surface of the board and the recesses filled with polyester putty so that no fasteners will be visible.  The surface will be primed, sanded and top-coated with a sprayed color finish specified by the client.  Custom color matches are available, but additional.  For A grade layouts, a high-pressure laminate (Formica™, Wilsonart™, etc.) will be applied to a medium density fiberboard (MDF) core.  We can easily provide furniture grade hardwoods and veneers for our AA grade construction.  These surfaces are normally provided unfinished and sanding, staining and finishing can be done by the client.  For an additional charge, we will do it for you.

BACKDROPS:  We are strong believers in the artistic value of properly designed and executed backdrops.  They add incredible depth to the overall miniature scenes.  We have 3 different levels of detail available in our hand-painted backdrops, or we can apply one of the commercially available backdrops to your layout.

TRACKWORK:   We spend a great deal of time on the trackwork phase of construction and we ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEE derailment-free operation on every layout we build.  You will not find any kinks on curves or at rail joints on any Progressive Model Design layout.

  • Track is carefully gauged at all points, especially through turnouts and at rail joints. 

  • All rail joiners on curves will be soldered.  Those on straight trackage are not (to allow for expansion/contraction).

  • Spiral easements (transition curves) are standard at all levels of construction and greatly enhance operation, especially on tighter radius curves.

  • Curves are super-elevated on all AA level layouts.

  • Separate electrical feeders will be supplied throughout the trackwork wherever the risk of loss of electrical continuity at a rail joint exists.

  • We offer a proprietary Insul-Sound™ roadbed construction which combines unique laminated composite materials over super-strong 11 ply birch plywood sub-roadbed, and exclusive sound-absorbing adhesives to provide the quietest possible operation of all your fine models.  Standard with AA level construction.

MODELING:  Please see the comparison chart for details about the different levels of modeling we offer.

PHASE 5:   INTERIM BILLINGS  -  During the construction phase, PMD will issue periodic invoices for work completed.  As always, you are welcome to inspect the progress at any time during the construction phase.  These invoices may or may not coincide to specific areas of construction.  A proportionate percentage of your down-payment will be applied to each invoice, and the balance will be due within 15 days of the invoice date.  Failure to pay in a timely manner may result in the suspension of work on your project.  The total of all invoices will not exceed 85% of the contract price, allowing a 15% holdback for final installation and checkout.

PHASE 6:    INSTALLATION  -    The layout will be delivered to the site under the terms of the contract.  Final installation, scenery patching and completion and operational checkout will be conducted on-site under your supervision.  All capabilities of the installation will be fully tested.  If any problems are found, they will be corrected at this time.  Upon your acceptance, the layout will be considered complete, waivers of Lien and a final invoice for the balance due will be presented and final payment will be expected at that time. 

PHASE 7:   WARRANTY  -   The warranty period for a layout is 1 year from the date of completion.  During that time period, PMD will repair, or replace at our expense, any item(s) that prove to be defective or fail to operate as originally specified.  Structure and scenery lighting is warranted for 180 days only.  A small percentage of scenery materials and track ballast will be lost to cleaning procedures.  This is considered normal and is not covered by warranty.  Other scenery defects (which should never occur!) such as visible cracks, chipped plaster or paint, cracked resin in streams or lakes or ballast loosening are warranted and will be repaired.  Damage to the layout caused by accident, lack of routine maintenance, act of God or failure of climate control devices in the layout area is not covered by this warranty.

PHASE 8:   EXTENDED SERVICE  -    Although there should be no need for any periodic maintenance on a PMD layout, other than normal track cleaning, time and dust accumulation will take their toll.  Colors on trees and ground cover become washed out and water surfaces may appear dull.  We have a number of restorative compounds and special cleaning agents that can make an older layout look almost new again.  We can also add a fresh dusting of new ground cover and foliage and you will be amazed at the difference it makes.  The cost for this service is quite reasonable.  You are welcome to contact us any time for an assessment and quote.