Different Types of Rail
Brief Introduction to Electrofrog Points
Setting Out Track
The first point when laying track is the ensure that it fits within the space available. This may done by using real track or paper templates such as those downloadable from the Peco website. You can mark out the position on the baseboard of either the edges or the centre of the track with a pencil.
When laying track, make sure that there are no kinks in the track by first using a straightedge and finally looking along the track with your eye. If you can't get your eye in position, use a camera placed on the track. Attention should be paid to getting the transition between a curve and a straight as smooth as possible. This may be achieved by widening the radius nearer the straight.
Ensure that your track is perfectly level, especially over pointwork, by using a straightedge and/or a spirit level. Any unevenness will exacerbate derailments. If laying gradients ensure there is a smooth transition between horizontal and gradient at top and bottom to prevent uncoupling.
Loosely pin your track in place (drawing pins between the sleepers are ideal) and check for smooth movement by rolling a couple of coaches along the track before fixing permanently.
Track may be laid on a bare or painted baseboard, but running will be noisier than running on some form of underlay. Various types are available including, foam, cork and closed cell foam.
- Commercial foam underlay
The pre-formed commercial foam underlay from Peco, etc is quick and easy to lay but it has a life of a few years before it begins to crumble as it hardens with age. This may not be a problem if the layout is expected to have a limited life.
Cork underlay or sheet is available in various thicknesses an is usually glued in position using something like PVA glue. It has a reasonably long life, especially when ballasted over. Although it has limited sound-deadening properties.
- Closed Cell Foam
Closed cell foam is reasonably new and is available in sheet form or commercially pre-formed from Woodland Scenics amongst others. Its life is a bit unknown at present. Again usually glued down, preferably with Copydex to aid removal.
Fixing Track in Place
Track may be pinned down using proprietary track pins, usually at spacings of about 6 - 8 inches. Do not push pins down too far as this will distort the plastic sleepers. Push the pin through a piece of scrap cardboard to aid holding when using. Use either a pair of small pliers or a small carpenter's hammer to put in place.
Track may also be pinned lightly in place then ballasted and fixed in place by flooding the ballast with dilute (about 50%) PVA glue using something like an eye dropper or squeezy plastic sauce bottle. Remove the pins when the glue has hardened.
Track may also be glued in position using dilute PVA or Copydex and suitably weighted with books, etc until dry. Do not use too much weight as the ballast/trackbed may distort.
Once the track is in place, ballast or paving may be added.
Ballasting The Track
Ballasting the track really brings a layout to life if it is done properly. First choice is the colour and size of the ballast. It is useful to do a little research here as the size and colour of ballast depends upon its age and location. Running lines had to be well ballasted and maintained to reduce wear and tear on the track and to assist drainage. Track in sidings and goods yards less so. In MPDs it was frequently difficult to see any ballast for the large amounts of ash, coal dust and cinders in the area.
Ballast is widely available commercially and although it is easy to change the colour by painting, the size will not change. To many eyes OO scale ballast looks over-scale and many modellers prefer to use N gauge ballast.
Loose ballast is applied to the track and later glued in position. It may help in achieving a good even appearance of width by placing some masking tape along both sides of the track before adding the ballast. Doing one small area at a time, say 1 - 2 feet, is recommended. Pour a little ballast over the track and, using a small dray paintbrush or your finger, work the ballast between the sleepers. Make sure that the tops of the sleepers are left exposed by levelling with a block of wood or some plastic card. Commercial ballast spreaders are available containing a hopper for the ballast and a shut off mechanism. To use these simply run the spreader along the track and stop the flow of ballast at the end of the run.
When ballasting points, it is recommended that you do not ballast the area between the sleepers containing the operating tie-bar mechanism as this can jamb the mechanism resulting in point failure and derailment. When working on points always manually test the point several times before and after ballasting.
Once the loose ballast is level and correctly applied, it can be fixed in place. There are a couple of methods, wet or dry.
Wet ballasting is achieved by preparing a dilute mixture of PVA glue (woodworking glue) and water somewhere between 40% - 50% glue. A drop of washing up liquid can be added to the mix to assist flow and slow down the drying time. Apply the mix over the ballast, an eye-dropper is ideal, and let it soak in. Allow to dry overnight and brush off any excess ballast. Repair any sparse patches using the same method. Check that any ballasted points still work properly.
Dry ballasting is achieved by mixing the loose ballast with Cascamite powder. This is a powdered wood glue available online or from good DIY shops as Polymite. Apply as before and then apply ordinary water (or with an added drop of washing up liquid) using a spray or eye-dropper. Leave to dry overnight and remove any excess with a brush. Again, check points for correct operation.
Many areas of track which received alot of foot or vehicle traffic was paved. Please see the paving track page for more information on laying paved track.
Dirt on the track is a major cause of poor running. It also transfers itself onto the wheels of locomotives and rolling stock, so when adding stock to the layout check and clean the wheels before you do so. Likewise dirty wheels transfer dirt onto the track.
There are various methods of cleaning track including track cleaning blocks (rubbers), Isopropyl Alcohol(IPA or Rubbing Alcohol), track cleaning wagons and electronic.
Commercial track cleaning rubbers are available from Peco, Hornby, Gaugemester, Fleischmann, etc, but are abrasive and create debris when used. Loose debris can be removed with a hand vacuum cleaner.
Some people use just a simple wooden block rubbed along the tracks or a lint free cloth moistened with IPA or graphite sticks from artists supplies.
Various track cleaning wagons are available from Roco, Hornby and Dapol. Some of these use abrasive pads while others use felt pads that can be moistened with commercial track cleaning fluid or IPA. These are ideal for getting into awkward places like tunnels.
A high frequency electronic cleaner is available from Gaugemaster, but is unsuitable for use with DCC.