It isn't long after one gets their first train set that they begin to wonder if there is more to it than just watching their trains run in circle. People want to expand their ovals into larger loops, add more cars and some even want to run more than one train. A layout provides opportunity to do just that, and more!
Model railroad layouts are usually permanent or semi-permanent setups of track mounted on a wooden frame known as benchwork. Tracks are set to run in loops and ovals and some even run between split levels. Sizes for layouts can range from fitting inside a breifcase (Z-scale trains also fit under coffee tables), to filling up entire basements and rooms, to expanding into one's backyard. The most common size for beginners is 4 feet by 8 feet- the standard size for a sheet of plywood.
The essential element of a layout is its individual track plan. Many modelers freelance their plan; that is, design it themselves. Others choose to emmulate full-scale railroads, modeling short sections of it on their individual layouts. Hobbyists model mainlines, sidings, branchlines, turntables, and other features of prototype railroads.
Besides simply track, layouts usually feature scenery, buildings, and details which are intended to further enhance the illusion of the model railroad being alive.