The hobby of model railroading is made all the more enjoyable by a knowledge of the real railroads on which it is based. This attitude is more common in the smaller scales such as HO and N as well as two-rail O gauge. Many of those who place high value on scale like to refer to the prototypes on which they base their model railways. Some go to an extreme with scale and prototype. These extreme types are known as "rivet counters." The ones who are obnoxious about it are known as "weenies."
I should note that the weenies are the ones who try to make the hobby miserable for everyone.
The other side of the equation is usually found in classic S gauge and 3-rail O and O27. Prototype takes a backseat to everything else. Scale is less an issue among the adherents of traditional Lionel, Marx and American Flyer.
However, those trains had to come from somewhere. There was a prototypical precedent somewhere. The color schemes and model types all originated by way of a very real railroad item. Even the operating accessories are based on some real-world prototype. A little knowledge of real railroading and the real railroads can be a big boost. There is a lot of literature out there on almost every railroad that ever existed. The internet has thousands of railroad-oriented websites.
Knowledge of the history and operations of real railroads will enhance enjoyment of anyone from the river counter to the toy train speedster.
You can find prototypical resources of many kinds. Railroads of old spent a lot of effort promoting themselves to potential customers. They left behind a lot of literature, from schedules and posters to books on motive power and equipment. Take the time to look. It's worth it.