The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading
  NUMBER 122


© December 16, 2008   

©Discover Live Steam and Rick Henderson (PC Rails).  This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.

 | Read other articles Send in an article |

Economic Impact on Riding-Scale Railroading



Written by Rick Henderson

Whenever there is an economic "down-turn", one of the first belt tightening moves are people cutting back on their hobbies in favor of covering mounting bills. With the generally higher costs of the riding-scale railroading hobby to begin with, it is not hard to predict there will be cutbacks by most in the hobby, some even severe.

I have already heard from several in the hobby about some necessary cutbacks they have to make, with number one being trips to the railroad. Some are trying to sell equipment but are having difficulty getting much interest at a fair price; money is tight with almost everyone. The upside is if you can afford it, there will be some great deals available on equipment.

How has the 2008 U.S. economic turmoil affected you and your riding-scale hobby?

Can you still afford regular trips to your local railroad? While most in the hobby are still going to their local railroad as much as before, about 30% have actually had to cut back on going, some have cut back drastically. This may in part be attributable to the fact that in this hobby not everyone lives local, say within 30-45 minutes of the track. Things are better with gas down about 50% from its high point but when it was at the peak, we saw fewer at the tracks on weekends. Gas cost, however, was only one factor, a lot of people active in the hobby are living on retirement income tied up in the stock market. When their portfolios devalued, so did their day-to-day living means.

When it comes to traveling to ‘other railroads’, only about 44% of us are still traveling as much as we would like to. Traveling to distant railroads usually includes lodging and eating out, above the cost of fuel to get there and back. Many people reported that they did cancel planned trips due mostly to the fuel costs. People are traveling fewer times and to make the best of it, planning on visiting more than one railroad or other attractions on the trip. We did have the fortunate few reporting that they have increased their travel adventures, so it is not all disheartening news.

It is, at least for now, a buyer’s market, especially on used equipment and many hobbyists are planning to take advantage of the situation. While dealers selling new equipment have to adjust prices to match raw material and operating costs, about 7% of the hobbyists needing to raise cash to make ends meet, are accepting below market offers. Most manufactures of riding scale equipment are very small operations and we may see the closure of some small business enterprises before we are into recovery.

Luckily, for the hobby itself, only 7% of respondents feel they may have to find a more affordable hobby; many of the same 7% are also considering selling some items to make ends meet. Just over half of the total respondents say they can stay with no change in going to the railroad, running or buying additional equipment.

The cost of fuel to actually operate your trains has only affected 15% of us; getting to the railroad in your vehicle usually costs more than running around the track. Those who were cutting back on running were also, for the most part, the same people that had to cut back on visiting their own railroad as well as other railroads. It is interesting to see that 23% of those responding reported using battery power vs. any type of fuel.

Several railroad owners reported independently that they have had to cut back on construction on their railroads for now. The cost of wood for ties has increased a lot in the past few years but the cost of gravel for ballast has doubled recently in some areas, primarily due to the cost to process and transport it. Other material costs have risen more rapidly in the past year and some will just have to wait for costs to become reasonable before resuming construction.

So how have people adapted?

Possibly the most positive thing that has come out of this experience is for the people making purchases of used equipment. That said, it is sad that others have to part with their trains without upgrading as most desire to do.

There are some more cost saving options that several people have adopted. Building your own trains is a good option for saving money if you have the resources to do so. However, there are some reports of higher raw material costs that have even caused cutbacks for that option for now. Storing trains at the railroad has become an attractive option for many. When traveling they are considering camping, mostly in RV’s rather than staying in motels. Potluck or brown bagging rather than eating out meals works well. Even an old fashion hot dog cook out is an affordable and fun way to gather and socialize on a budget while enjoying our trains.

As mentioned, for most clubs, a lot of their members live more than 30-45 minutes away. Some of the retired members, which is actually most of the more active members, may find the option of going to the railroad with an RV and staying a few days at a time more worthwhile. Several railroads now provide 30amp RV service to accommodate overnight visits. Even in a pop-up, you can have heat, air conditioning, TV, microwave, toaster, enough to make it comfortable for a few days at a time.


Overall, the hobby should survive just fine.

Several people pointed out that when you consider that this is one hobby where your equipment often holds its value over the years and most people can get close to what they have paid when they sell, it is a very cost effective hobby. Actually, if you belong to a club or work closely with someone that owns a railroad, the hobby is a good value for you when you can have your own train and access to a track to run on. Even if you belonged to a club and paid $100 in dues annually, you are only paying just over $8.00 a month for unlimited operating time or less than $2 if you went every Saturday.

We may not grow at a rapid pace for the very near future but most of us will enjoy what we have now and be very happy to have it. We may lose a niche manufacture or even a major player but again, we will survive and grow.



Written by Rick Henderson

Be sure to visit Rick Henderson's web site PC Rails


©Discover Live Steam and Rick Henderson (PC Rails). This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.

Would you like to discuss the ideas in this article? 
Post a comment or question here.

the end


Write to
(the subject line must contain the word discover)

Have an idea for an article? 
We need your article on ....

Technical Issues such as problems and solutions associated with steam locos, hydraulic drives, electric drives, track laying and maintenance, signal systems.

Construction Projects, mostly looking for car projects (let's leave the steamer building to the print magazines). How about scenery construction or building a hand car?

Full scale railroads and museums.  If you work for or volunteer for a railroad, if you've visited one recently and have a few photos and can write up a half dozen paragraphs on it, we'll be happy to put it up on the web.

Live Steam Railroads. How about a little background and a tour of your railroad or one you've visited.

Please share what you know with us.



The On-Line Magazine of Ridable Model Railroading

Read Other Articles

| Live Steam Railroads | Suppliers | Postings | Buy n Sell  |
 | Events Calendar | Books | Magazines | Videos  | Photo Contest |

Hit Counter