How to Lay Model Railway Track

The following steps are designed to accompany the short video and it is helpful to watch the video with reference to the information below. This article is intended to give you a simple overview to the basics of laying flexible model railway track including fixing the track on baseboard joins if the layout is intended to be mobile.

You will need

  • Flexible track – adequate supply to lay the length of track you require.
  • Small track fixing pins.
  • A small hammer with a flat narrow end as well as conventional round end.
  • A fine drill bit of similar diameter to the shaft of the track pins and drill
  • Rail joiners (aka ‘fishplates’)
  • Small countersunk screws – must be able to be soldered too.
  • Soldering iron and solder
  • Small hacksaw
  • Pencil

The baseboard surface should be complete and ready to lay track on. If using underlay such as cork then this should be laid and secured first. You should first decide exactly where you want track to go, and consider doing a dummy run with radii and some of your rolling stock to ensure clearances and that no radius is too tight.

The flexible track comes from manufacturers such as Peco in lengths of one yard (three feet) and will need to be cut to the required lengths. Even if you are laying a continuous track without any points some of the rails will need trimming on corners, as the inner rail of a curve will always be shorter than the outer rail.

It is assumed that you have already decided where you want to lay track and have checked radii and clearances.

STEP ONE

Any track that requires bending can be done so by laying the track face up on the baseboard surface and applying gentle pressure to bring it into a curve. Move along the length curving in this way as you go. Do not try and curve the track solely in your hands without baseboard support or you will twist it. Do not try and bend the entire curve in one location or you will kink the track and trains will not run smoothly through the curve.

STEP TWO

Measure where you want to cut the track. Mark the surface of the rail at the points to cut with the pencil, then remove the track to a suitable location to cut it. Cut with care with the hacksaw and support the track so it does not buckle or break under the force of the hacksaw. Go easy – there are no prizes for breaking your track at this stage!

STEP THREE

Once the track is roughly curved and cut to shape, use the drill bit and drill to drill pilot holes for the track pins through the track sleepers/ties. These need only be through the plastic sleeper and should not extend into the baseboard surface or the pin will not grip properly. These holes should be around 4” apart, though straight track may need less, and tight curves may need more. Don’t be frightened to use an extra pin or two to ensure that the track is held secure.

STEP FOUR

Place a pin in each pilot hole in turn, ensure the track is in the correct position for your desired trackplan, then tap the pin with the rounded end of the hammer. Then turn the hammer over and use the narrow end to push the pin all the way down. Take care otherwise the pin may bend if too much force or lateral pressure is applied. Alternatively you can carefully tap the pin home, but be careful not to miss and hit the track which may damage it. Repeat for each track pin in turn.

STEP FIVE

Where two lengths of track join together the fishplates or rail joiners can be applied. These should be applied to one side of the rails, then pushed together, ensuring that the fishplate is equally on both rails. At difficult locations such as within pointwork it may be necessary to carefully flex track to get the fishplates to mesh.

STEP SIX

At the rail joints that cross baseboard edges the track needs to be braced to stop damage in transit. This can be achieved by carefully screwing short metal screws on the outer edges of the end of the tracks at the joint. These need to touch the rail, but not distort it. Also ensure that the track on one baseboard aligns perfectly with the track on the adjacent board. Test before screwing with items of rolling stock as mistakes made at this stage are difficult to correct later.

Using the soldering iron, heat up the screw and rail end and solder them together. Be careful as excessive heat can melt and distort the plastic base of the track. Test again and make any adjustments if necessary by re-melting the solder and repositioning the rail ends slightly. You may find the blade of a small screwdriver to be helpful to hold the rail ends in position until the solder solidifies.

At this stage your track is now ready for scenic treatment if required. See my article on ballasting for more guidance on this.

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