Model Train Express - Articles & advice for model train enthusiasts

Laying model railroad tracks

Most trains will run on any brand of track so long as the scale and gauge are correct. When buying and laying track it is important that each piece of track has the same code. Code refers to the height of the rails and is represented as either 100,83,55 or 40 with 100 being the highest.

Model railroad tracks are sold in sections of either straight, curved or flexi track. Curved track is pieced together from multiple pieces to form 1 or 2 standard corner radii, flexi track comes in longer lengths that can be bent into freeform shapes.

Some tracks like the Bachmann E-Z track come with a plastic roadbed already fixed to the base of the track. I prefer not to use this type of track as they are aimed more at the beginner and not of the same quality as plain track.

Laying the track


Begin laying out your track one section at a time according to your plans. Once you have laid down your whole track make sure you are happy with the layout making any changes if necessary.

If you are not using track with roadbed already attached you should mark out your layout onto the baseboard using a felt tip marker so you know where to lay your roadbed. Roadbed is made out of either cork or foam and sold in short lengths. Roadbed can be glued to the baseboard with a PVA glue using the marks you made as a guide.

Once your roadbed is in place you can begin laying your track proper. Take your time and ensure that all track joints are secure, run your finger along the track to ensure joints are smooth. At this point in time you can solder together the joints to ensure they don’t shift, this is however optional.

Track can now be glued into place using a clear drying glue. If any glue gets onto the tracks be sure to wipe it off as it can effect the transfer of electricity through the tracks. Small pins can also be used to hold the track in place.

Adding track ballast


Track ballast is the stone bed that railway sleepers/ties are laid upon. Ballast really adds to the realism of a layout and is quite easy to do. When purchasing ballast be sure to get the correct scale, I would also recommend using both a coarse and fine grade ballast. You will also need some isopropyl alcohol, hobby glue and a small paintbrush.

Start by adding the coarse ballast to the sides of your track and the fine ballast along the center of the track. Using a small brush clear away any ballast from sleepers/ties. Next make a wetting agent using a 70/30 mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water and apply to the ballast, a small spray bottle is perfect for this task. The ballast can now be glued using a 50/50 mixture of glue and water. Soak the ballast ensuring the glue gets into all the crevices then allow to fully dry.

Once ballast has been completed go over the tracks to make sure there is no ballast obscuring the tracks that could cause derailments. If any ballast has become glued to the tracks use a small hobby knife to remove.