Model Railway Forum banner
1 - 18 of 18 Posts

·
DT
Joined
·
4,794 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have put this in Tracks, Layouts & Scenery even though more info on the progress of my layout can be found in my MRF Blog


What is the gestalt of laying down smooth compounding curves and straight lines? What makes good track work? What is the Zen of Track-laying?

One has to think long and hard before you lay track. You have to plan and scheme. Discussing options with others help immensely and forums such as our own furthers that process. We can learn rapidly from listening to a wide variety of ideas and opinions. If you met up with a buddy who shares the same hobby, he will have his method and either you copy him and he'll support you or you may risk his derision if you go and do something different. That is always the case of one-on-one interaction.

We have to lay track for our layout. We want to run trains and we realise that we need a permanent structure that we can devote our time and money. Our models look good on the shelf or when you pull them out of their boxes. Doesn't one feel slightly sad when the loco goes back into it's protective expanded foam and box? Wouldn't it be better to find an engine shed on the layout for the loco instead?

Layout it is then.

I have made layouts before. Mostly on rectangular pieces of plywood. The last was quite big and filled up my room above the car garage. It was still a toy-train layout though as it looked temporary. Something wasn't right. I felt that the layout needed a more permanent feel and I felt that it should become part of the building.

So instead of the layout taking up the middle ground of the room and me knocking my head under the eves, I decided a year or so back to build the layout under the eves and to free up the middle of the room for other activities. The principal activity though fro the past year was junk collecting. I managed to dismantle the last layout that took months to build in three hours. Not much of any scenery was kept as the idea was to do it right next time around.

Hang on... Didn't I do it right the previous time...?

This is where the subject of this piece is getting to. What makes a good track / What can one consider permanent / When are you happy with your track-laying / What is the Zen of Track-laying?

What is good track work? What is bad track work? Is it physical or metaphysical?

I think there are both physical or metaphysical elements to this conundrum. We are limited by our level of skill and it is highly likely that any first attempt will come out badly. Perhaps even second and third too... We are keen to get the trains running so we want to see action on day one. And, worst of all, when we mess up, we all too quickly patch it up, forget about the glitch and get on with it.

The trouble is that we know the problems are there and when coaches de-rail in certain black-spots we know why they are derailing. It's not the brand of track or the age of the loco, its our bad track work.

If we let this persist, what happens? We end up putting up with this niggling issue until it drives us nuts and we start the layout over again. These are the bug-bears that make us feel so bad with ourselves.

To get back to my new track. I have run trains on the benchwork for a few months now. I have tested the inclines with a selection of rolling stock and I have played with a few ideas that may add a bit of excitement to the layout. I got motivated recently to get the last of the benchwork done. I think that something on the forum was annoying me and I went out to the track to contemplate the universe like I do sometimes. I got a bee in my bonnet and finished off the wood work of the last section of bench work in two days.

Why stop there? I continued, I tidied up the junk, I cleared middle of the room out and continued onto the other surfaces that had been accumulating stuff over the months. Why not build some more of my raised track beds that will carry the mainline around the room? Viaduct sort of things. So I did.

I then realised that to do one section, I would have to permanently attach a large piece of plywood in front of my rear ramp. This would make laying the track afterwards a bit of a pain. So, I thought: Lets lay some permanent track work!

I have been buying Tillig track over the last year. I have boxes of 16.5mm track, mixed gauge and HOe track. I have some points and a few point motors of various makes. I also have all my old Peco code 100 track as well as some unopened boxes of the stuff. The decision was made to go 100% Tillig and to dump the Peco. I started to lay the very flexy Tillig flex-track at the back on my up-ramp.

I am gluing down the track in 4 or 5 spots along its length. Track pins or nails will transmit sound down into the baseboards (done that before) so I'm not using pins and going with glue on cork underlay. As this is permanent, It may as well go on right. I laid four pieces and stopped. They were not lining up, the joints were bad. I realised that I was rushing; that I was not doing it right and would most likely end up regretting what I had done and getting into this cycle that I mentioned before. I went to bed.

I thought long and hard.

The next day, I pulled up the Tillig track. It does come up easily with a sharp putty scraper pushed under the sleepers. I realised that there is no point in using the Tillig track in the hidden areas of the layout if the Peco track was laid down properly. I had to sight the straights and I had to get the curves flowing smoothly. Make sure the transitions were perfect and the lengths were exact. No rush this time. I used my meter rule and a few other metal rulers as straight edges. I ran my eye along the curves looking for slight imperfections. Getting into contorted positions on top of the benches under the eves to do so. It has to be perfect.

Plan the placement, Lay the track, check and check again. Pin with thumb pins and modellers pins, check again. Then, when perfect, apply the glue with a small brush. Weigh down the track with flat wooden blocks that apply pressure evenly to both rails and put a weight on that. Six hours later the quick acting PVA that has been applied in four spots is set and gone clear - in each spot it lightly covers about four sleepers and fills up about a third of the gap between the sleepers. It shrinks when dry and is hardly noticeable afterwards. Pull the pins, check the lines and curves. Now it must be perfect. If not, do it again. This is the big choice. Take it now, don't regret it later.

I have a good bogie coach that I then run over the section. I watch, listen, study. I smile and move on.

I am now averaging four to six pieces a day now. Laying them in different areas. Not disturbing those pieces that are drying. Each track piece is electrically isolated from it's neighbour. I am not relying on fish-plates for a good electrical connection, I have other methods for that, but more on that another time.

I am content. The track is going down well. It will be a good layout. And I am not planning on pulling it up - or moving house
 

·
Administrator
Joined
·
9,845 Posts
>you may risk his derision if you go and do something different
>I used my meter rule and a few other metal rulers as straight edges.
If you are ever in doubt about the truth of the first statement, read the ribbing I got for using a LASER level to sight my straights....

Oh, and I have to lift all my points because I have only recently realised that I have wired them with potentially "short inducing DCC faults". Basically, if the frog switch flips before the switch rail moves away, "phut" will go the DCC overload. So I need to hard wire the switch rails to their adjacent running rails, which of course gives me completely dead frogs if there is no switch... and for that I need a panel and ..... if I don't wire the frogs, my short wheel base locomotives and we're talking 6 coupled locos being short in this context will stall and in the DCC world that means.....

At the end of the day, poor trackwork will bite you every time you run. You can survive dodgy buildings, iffy paint work, but there's a kink in the track ....

David
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
7,397 Posts
I can relate to what you're saying there Doug. I am going through the same process at the moment which I am covering on my blog too. I have laid most of the track taking great care to get it dead right to the point that I am using a spirit level all along the track to ensure it is constantly level. I also use a steel rule to ensure that the gradient is not so sharp that it results in bowing of the track.

Having spent weeks doing all that I now have to rip it up again in order to solder my wires to the underside of the track and it doesn't seem to be going back down the way it was before. I called it a day at about 3:00 pm on saturday as it was 42 degrees outside and soldering wasn't the best thing to be doing in those temperatures. So I will go back out there on Friday and start again.

Like you said you are dying to get your trains up and running but the track laying is the most crucial part of the whole process. You stuff that up and you'll be paying for it for years. Best to get it perfect now before any scenery gets stuck on top of it.

I'm also struggling to figure how I am going to put in my shuttle lines. These will be at a raised level but ideally the highest one should be furthest away but I have created a problem for myself in that at the furthest away point I have two rails which are only seven cm above the baseboard. Do I move these or do I come up with another plan? It's all so complicated some times.
 

·
No Longer Active.
Joined
·
13,319 Posts
Excellent advice there Doug - for weight I have loads of old (but still serviceable) sealed lead-acid batteries removed from fire alarm systems that are ideal for weighing things down.

Been there, done that DWB - I have now adjusted the point linkages so that I rely on the contact between the rails - not the best solution but so far so good !

Neil - as I'm one of the worse offenders for trying to get trains up & running I am considering constructing a "test track" round the workshop, prior to our next project so that we can always "play".
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
101 Posts
Doug,

This strikes a few chords with me, if I may say so, and I can only admire that you and db, dwb & Neil, and modellers like you, are further along the road.

It's only recently dawned on me just how much railway modelling depends upon miniature engineering, which requires all the practical problem-solving and persistence (indeed, determination) you refer to. It also requires a kind of courage to break, cut, saw and generally rip up something you have either built yourself or paid good money for. It isn't something that is referred to in books all that much.

I know damn well that I must go through the same painful process on parts of my own layout. For me, scenic modelling and some kind of approximately realistic operation are the things I really aspire to, and look forward to, the "sexy" bits.

But I am slowly learning just how important the basic nuts and bolts are. If your track aint as perfect as you can get it, it's going to spoil those evenings when you just want to run the damn trains. There are no short-cuts. But what a hard lesson that can be, sometimes.

Zen indeed.

Incidentally, I think aspects like these are why railway modelling is truly "the world's greatest hobby."
 

·
Chief mouser
Joined
·
11,775 Posts
Great piece of philosophy there Doug, and a lot of good advice as well.

Track laying has always been the most critical part of any layout, after all if the trains don't run what's the point?

I have been using Peco up to now but am seriously considering ripping this up and switching to Fleischmann Profi, even if it is slightly more expensive. The end justifies the means.

The layout I am currently building is designed to be portable, but the track has to be aligned correctly or you can have a very expensive accident! Additionally if exhibiting said layout, which is the intention, the paying public soon get bored with the hand from the sky.

Regards

John
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
109 Posts
Hi Doug,

Totally in agreement with your statement. However limited by our level of skills, we all have the best measuring tool for track laying ever invented - the human eye.

Enjoy the hobby.

Johan
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
303 Posts
Doug,

I was fortunate to be building my layout at the same time as a new portable exhibition layout was being built at the Club. As a result, I was able to follow the design principles developed over the years by experienced modellers.

First of all, I did not want to have to wreck my layout when I moved on. So it has been built as a fully portable oval based on modules 4' x 2'8". This was so that I could cut three rectangular boards out of an 8'x 4'board.

I used the best materials available. Only best quality birch ply. The base boards are 9mm thick. The sides and ends are cut out out of strips of 6mm ply with a sandwich method of construction around 12mm square spacers. This has not warped in 10 years.

The baseboards were laid on the floor of the room and adjusted to produce a symmetrical oval and then the joint lines were cut so that most of the track would cross the joints at right angles. A new saw and a new plane were purchased to make sure that the joint lines were cut true and straight.

The base boards are supported on adjustable trestles at the joints. The joints are aligned using pattern makers dowels. Split hinges are used at each side to pull the joints firmly together.

The electrics are carried across the joints using computer D plugs and ribbon cable. The club use a heavier design of multipin socket supplied by Kent Panel Controls, because they had plenty salvaged from a previous layout.

The track was laid on 10mm thick foam rubber carpet tiles and latterly similar foam rubber mats used by campers. This is an innovation because I feel that cork transmits too much noise.

I used a mixture of SMP or C&L or Scaleway track and initially built my own copperclad points. Later, I moved onto C&L points for the sidings at the viewing side. I have some Peco points in the fiddle yard.

Transition curves were laid out and drawn using long sections of 20mm x 10mm plastic conduit on edge. Curtain rail also works. You need an extra pair of hands for this job. Curves were carried through the points and points drawn and built to fit. C&L point diagrams were adapted to fit.

As per the club, I use Fulgurex and Lemaco point motors as they are well engineered and give a slow movement of the point blades. I don't like to see the ballast jump about when solenoid motors under the baseboards are zapped with current from a capacitance discharge unit.

Point blades are soldered to a special brass slider fixed under the baseboard using fine channel strips soldered to thin double sided copperclad which is then cut and scraped to give electrical isolation. Another tip gleaned from the club and the product of many man hours design and experimentation.

The control panel is entirely separate and connected by D plugs. There are 40 switches for points.

What do I regret? What I have done wrong?

The fiddle yard, with 9 loops is not quite big enough, but I can run 10 coach trains. Otherwise I am fairly happy, and I hope to keep on building it for the next 10 years, God willing. I have left some trackwork to be completed later on.

Colombo
 

·
DT
Joined
·
4,794 Posts
Adding to what I was on about before...

I have decided to go a bit over the top with the electrics on this layout. Why? Well electrical issues and specifically conductivity problems between loco and track and the track pieces themselves are what plague a layout and give quite a bit of grief. I'll feel better knowing that the signal is being properly conducted to all corners of the layout.

I'm soldering feeder wires directly to each piece of flexi-track. This will later help with block control should I implement it. I grind down a patch under the rail - removing all oxidation. I tin and then solder on a set of wires.

I lay the track with two feeders adjacent to each other, preventing too many connections to the DCC BUS.



All my red wires are to the front of the layout. Keep it simple - no reversing modules are needed anywhere on the layout except at each return loop on either end of the dog-bone. As a 'red' rail will bend around and touch a 'black' rail, the reversing look sorts that out.

I join all track with insulated rail joiners.

I group feeders together and connect them to the DCC BUS using this type of connector:



The DCC BUS itself is low resistance (6mm²) speaker wire that should maintain a good DCC signal all around the track. I use a continuous wire from one side to the other. That is why these connectors come in handy - they allow me to add feeders wherever I want without cutting the copper. I just trim back a bit of the insulating plastic, drop in the wire under the screw, replace the screw, tighten and add the cap that prevents splitting.



The DCC BUS is just under 20 metres long and it works fine with my Lenz LZV100 command station roughly in the middle. If I need to add a booster later, I can either section the Main DCC BUS or add another under the baseboards.

 

·
Administrator
Joined
·
9,845 Posts
I have a very fine tip for my soldering iron, so I can solder my dropper wires to the gap between sleepers as shown below:-



The advantage is that I don't lose the effect of local sleepers keeping the rails apart; 16.5 mm is quite narrow enough.

David
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
7,397 Posts
Those last two posts look familiar, thats how I spent my last two weekends. Grinding down an area of the underside of the track is a good idea. That would have prevent one problem I had I'd I had known that before I finished my wiring. I will use that idea in future.
 

·
DT
Joined
·
4,794 Posts
I've tried soldering before without grinding. The solder joint will only last a few months. I thing the movement of the train over the joint is what gets it, but I was using solid core wire. Grinding (to give the solder a key), tinning and multi-braid wire for a bit of flexibility should be fine.
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
7,397 Posts
QUOTE (Doug @ 27 Feb 2007, 08:55) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>I've tried soldering before without grinding. The solder joint will only last a few months. I thing the movement of the train over the joint is what gets it, but I was using solid core wire. Grinding (to give the solder a key), tinning and multi-braid wire for a bit of flexibility should be fine.
I found on some older tracks I was having difficulty with adhesion of the solder to the metal. I reckon doing what you did there would have sorted this problem.
 

·
Administrator
Joined
·
9,845 Posts
I use a needle file until I have a nice shiny slightly rough surface. Once the joint has cooled, I give it a tug. Sometimes it comes away in my hand
, but at least I know that was a bad one


David
 

·
No Longer Active.
Joined
·
13,319 Posts
QUOTE (dwb @ 26 Feb 2007, 22:12) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>I use a needle file until I have a nice shiny slightly rough surface. Once the joint has cooled, I give it a tug. Sometimes it comes away in my hand
, but at least I know that was a bad one

David

Bin there, done that, got the T shirt !

I tend to use the wire thingy on the Dremmel wotsit to clean the railw before soldering.

Seriously though, the most important thing for good soldering is cleanlyness (spelling ?).
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
25 Posts
Doug said:-

"I group feeders together and connect them to the DCC BUS using this type of connector:"

What is the name of these connectors and does anyone know of a UK supplier?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
56 Posts
In the past on my N layouts I soldered the feeder wires to the underside of the fishplates at the work bench, I got excellent joints that I could inspect up close and under decent light and it didn't melt or distort the track.
 
1 - 18 of 18 Posts
Top