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.  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 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 complex system for accurately estimating costs.  We 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.  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 Silver (B) level of construction will exceed the specifications of 90+% of the custom builders currently doing business.  Stepping up to the Platinum (AA) level yields a product with an attention to detail second to none - absolute museum-quality construction.  In between is our Gold (A) level.  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 if you want GREAT structures.  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 certain situations, complete on-site construction might be necessary.  This method carries a substantial price penalty and we almost never do it.

PHASE 1:  WORKUP  - All our projects are bid on a per job basis.  Working with you, we will gather information and have you submit to us a sketch of the layout area with all measurements and obstructions noted.  If you already have a track plan you would like us to build, then this is a great starting point. After we understand your priorities and requirements, we will work up a “pencil sketch” Concept Drawing which will include the trackplan and significant layout features.  It will be “almost to scale” but we will be sure that everything will “fit”.  We generally do not charge for this initial concept development although very large projects might require a fee.  After you approve of the track plan and operations concept, we will require a fee to generate our Preliminary Design Drawing which will include 3 things, a detailed track plan to scale, our extensive spread sheet taken from the track plan which will detail all the labor steps and costs anticipated, and the formal contract. The fee for this work must be paid prior to any design work. The charge for this will be $8.00—$10.00 per square foot of layout area depending upon complexity and whether or not we are generating a new design just for you.  A minimum charge of $500.00 will apply to small layouts.  This cost will appear at the top of your spread sheet and will be applied to your contract if you decide to commission us for your project.  The Preliminary Design Drawing will outline the exact locations of trackage, yards, rock faces, tunnels, foliage, 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.

Keep in mind that the Preliminary Design Drawing is just a starting point.  There will be MANY changes and additions/deletions added in the weeks to follow.  These will be reflected at the end of the spreadsheet so you can always see the original estimate and the changes requested reflected in the bottom line.

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 we  have developed.  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 (Our Structure and Mini-Scene sheet) 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 in our shop at any time to view first hand the progress of your dream project.

All commercial modeling materials (track, turnouts, roadbed, switch machines, 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.


So, by now you’re thinking, “How much is this gonna cost me??  Well…. let’s get to it  unless you want to read the rest of our details following here and on the next page.

PHASE 3:  CAD DRAWINGS  -  With our full Preliminary Design Drawing, a formal contract/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 including the benchwork designs and new details.  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.