Laying the track for your model railroad layout

I guess I’ve chosen laying your track for my first post because it’s something I’m always asked about. Lay your track poorly and it doesn’t matter how good the scenery is in your layout – you won’t have any fun. Smooth running of the tracks is everything.

I’ll presume you’ve decided on your layout. You have done that haven’t you?

Obviously the first thing to do is make sure it fits on your baseboard. Most people are short on space, so sometimes this means they try and squash their railroad on to their baseboard. Don’t do this! Whenever you get tracks just on the edge of the baseboard it means you’ll struggle with the scenery and it won’t look as good as it could.

Once you’re happy it sits on the baseboard, you need to mark it out so you can lay the cork underneath it.

My 11 year old recently asked me why modellers do this. Embarrassingly, I didn’t know. I just did it because that’s what I’d read all those years ago, and copied it.

But a quick ‘google’ found the answer. There’s two reasons: it softens the noise from the track and loco, and also gives you a great ‘shoulder’ for the ballast. Simple really!

Cutting your cork to shape can take a while. A sharp scalpel will save you no end of frustration. Once you’ve got the track pattern down, glue it down with PVC.

Next add your track back on. It should fit snuggly and you can see the ‘shoulder’ the ballast is going to sit on.

Now here’s the important part. Add your locos and carriages and plug in! Make sure they run smoothly. Move the points – in effect try and ‘break’ the layout (if you’ve got kids they’re great for this part).

As the next part is ‘gluing’ down the track, you need to be 100% sure the track runs fine without any hitches or derailmailments. Skip this part and it doesn’t matter how much time and love you put in to your model railroad, it’ll only end up annoying the crap out of you. Guess how I know this.

Gluing is the fun part because it’s where the layout starts to come to life. Add the ballast over the track and the sides. I use a toothbrush to brush it all in. It takes a while, but I always find it kind of therapeutic. Then get busy with the glue. Here’s how.

Get on old sprayer, fill it with a mixuture of PVC glue and water (50/50 mix). Then spray away! Be careful around points though – you don’t want those to cease up.

Give it a while to dry, because the next step really makes it look realistic. You’re going to need some very diluted black paint, and some ‘rust colours’ too. Take a small brush, dip it in the black, wipe the brush so it’s nearly dry and dab down the middle of the tracks on the ballast. Doing this alone to the ballast make it look very realistic.

Next, if you’ve got the patience of a saint, take a fine brush, dab the rust colours on the side of the rails (make sure you leave the tops of the rails shiny).

The end result always gives you a great start for your model railroad: smooth running track that’s anchored down and a great start on your scenery.

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