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Model Railway Express

Hints and Tips - Trackwork

Updated August 17th 20110

The following Hints and Tips were contributed to Model Railway Express Magazine as a service where readers have been invited to submit "things they do" to keeps costs down, techniques they use to build their items and manage their railways in general.

These pages show the Hints and Tips categorised in the order they have been received by MRE mag. I am not promising "perfection" but as of the creation of these pages, these Hints and Tips page are also shown in order on Page 1... please click on this to access the hints in order that they have appeared in MRE Mag!

Click on the Menu to the area of interest to you.
















Hints & Tips No.11 - A good point Paul Jansz

Paint the rail sides on pointwork with the rail joiners in place, ahead of laying. So much easier when one can freely approach the job from all sides, and both electrical continuity and freedom of action can be tested before final positioning.

Editors note - This is also bordering on a "Scenic Technique"

Hints & Tips No.35 - Making Rail look Scale in 00/H0, Trevor Gibbs, Melbourne Australia

I have been 'weathering' my rail for a few years simply by getting out one trusty paint brush and painting the sides, particularly of Peco code 100, with a Russet or Tuscan box car colour. I personally use Tamiya type acrylics. You can simply run a paint brush along the rail sides, before or after ballasting and not worry about the effect too much. In fact mine was done after ballasting because I was not happy with the effect of the shiny rail at the time.

I have been asked a number of times if my track is Code 70 or 83 rather than the 100 as removing the sheen from the sides of the rails in this way, hides its apparent height. This is also lowered by use of ballast. Dregs from the paint bottle are especially effective as you can get simulated a build-up of grime and grease, as does occur. You can even skimp a bit and just do the sides which are seen from a viewers angle.

If you need to solder a wire to the rail, it is easily cleaned by simple scraping off the paint and retouching it afterwards.

Although photos are not conclusive you can judge the result yourself by clicking on the website and scrolling down.

Hints & Tips No.49 - Scale Looking Rail In N Scale... Not Quite So Cheaply! 

By Trevor Gibbs, (Australia)

I saw an article many years ago, I think in Model Railroader about a modeller who had taken his N scale code 80 track and lowered it into his baseboard...

What he had done is cut his track pattern into the top of his plywood with a router suitably adjusted and "sunk" his track plan into the plywood. The track was laid and ballasted over and the effect for the late 60s or early 70s was terrific and would probably still withstand scrutiny today! Why? Because not only is the height of the rail an issue but also the thickness of the sleepers in standard Peco N scale track.

While I cannot remember if he had done so, he may also have painted the rail side to lessen the effect visually of the height, similarly to what I suggested in Hints and Tips No.35.

Routers and other power tools are becoming progressively cheaper and this may be an option for you... hope these ideas help you!

Hints & Tips No.57 – Laying Track on a Helix,

By Max Bashtannyk and Peter Mitchell, (Sunshine MRC Australia)

If you are building a helix and laying track, instead of using track pins or nails, try using small screws and washers laid between the sleepers screwed to the plywood, using the washers to hold adjacent pairs of sleepers.

We have used 6mm x 4 gauge screws with 1/8” washers to hold the track as they are small enough not to cause any problems for American style Kadee couplers. Pre-drill a pilot hole in the base board to make process a lot easier.

This will allow you to make tweaking adjustments to the curvature of the track using a stubby screwdriver in between the layers of the helix. When the weather changes and you get the usual rounds of expansion and contraction of your track or a kink develops in the track imperceptible to all and everything but your constantly derailing 2-8-0 for example, you should be able to move your track without taking the helix apart.

Using Murphy's law, this could happen in the worst possible corner and this at least is a way of minimising your efforts to correct it.

Hints & Tips No.60 - How To Prevent Flange Snags On Rail Joints

By Crandell Overton (Vancouver Island, Canada)

Extruded rail stock is forced through a die and then cut with a sharp instrument. It will have sharp edges. If you are using flexible sections of track and joining them together along a curve, you will potentially meet with frustration when you find one or more engines or rolling stock items derailing in one or two places consistently.

There are several causes for derailment along curves, but a simple aid to nip this in the bud involves filing the ends of every rail section with a metal file to smooth off any burrs or sharp edges. As your engines become larger and more demanding of fine track laying skills, particularly larger North American steamers, the wheel flanges get forced toward the outside rail head on cuves close to the minimum stated for your engine. You can imagine what can happen, when the flanges encounter a wider gap than desirable, and one with sharp edges or burrs on the flange faces and the tops of the rail heads.

To help this, file a slight bevel (or a chamfer in other terms) on the vertical inside face of the railhead, and also on the flat top surface at the very ends where they were cut to rail stock as well as to turnouts (points). That way, your wheels will encounter an easier camber that will accommodate their passage, and not a sharp and jarring surface that will toss them this way and that.

(A Note from Trevor – this hint comes up in Free-mo type specifications in North America where modules are involved and this operation needs to be done because of alignment of the track. It is also very useful as Crandell points out for curves in general. I actually tried it on already laid track on my “memorial” exhibition layout and it has worked fantastically well dramatically reducing the derailments on joins and smoothing the passage of trains!)

Hints & Tips No.62 - How To Avoid Unsightly Solder Globules On The Sides Of Rails

By Graham Plowman (Sydney, Australia)

How many times have you been to an exhibition and looked closely at the track on a layout and seen huge great big lumps stuck on the sides of rails, accompanied by melted sleepers? It looks unsightly and ruins any possibility of realism or photography.

A little careful planning when building a layout plus the technique described here will see those solder lumps gone for ever!  Why do modellers solder wires to the sides of rails ? Well, the answer is simple: lack of planning. Traditionally, modellers cannot wait to get track laid and then they worry about the electrics later. In other words, the track is already laid before wiring starts.

 The answer is to solder wires to the undersides of the rails as the track is laid. To do this, pull the sleepers off the track, solder the wire to the underside of the rail, then file down and replace the sleepers. The wire can be poked down a hole drilled in the baseboard and there you have it: a tidy connection, no melted sleepers and no unsightly solder globules. Once ballast is placed around the track, you will not even see the connections which is a much better appearance than the traditional solder globule!

This technique also works well with foam underlay ballast.

You can see a full explanation on

and find links to other Hints and Tips as well

From Dave Poynter - Further to Graham Plowman's 'Hints and Tips' advice on soldering: the addition of a little flux to the rail before soldering will make the solder stick and flow much more easily, so the joint can be made neater and less 'blobby'. Plumbers' flux works very well and is available from most DIY outlets. Just apply a thin smear with a cotton bud first.

Hints & Tips No.63 - Preventing Joints From Flexing Under Heat Expansion

by Peter Mitchell (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

If you make a Helix or put a curve into a tunnel, the chances are that, when the track expands, the joint will move and create problems for stock negotiating the line. When you lay your track, to overcome this, put a small block of 3mm styrene or MDF on the outside of the curve adjacent to the rail joiner and glue or screw it to your baseboard, hard up against the sleepers.

The most logical expansion of your track will try to go outwards and the blocks will prevent that happening and keeping the joint aligned which may otherwise be a problem for wheels picking at your track joints as they roll through.

Use this in conjunction with Hints & Tips No.60 and you should improve reliability.

From Brian Lambert -While not wishing to start a war of words, I have to point out that the reply to Tip No.62, given by Dave Poynter, is very fraught with potential problems!

I’ll explain… Most non-electrical fluxes contain a mild acid which helps clean the surface of the items to be soldered. In most applications such as plumbing or soldering a brass/metal loco etc., special fluxes are used and once the parts have been soldered they have to then be washed under ideally running water to remove all traces of the acid contained in the flux. This isn’t a practical approach when dealing with electrical joints and therefore any residue of "Plumbers flux" will, overtime, start to cause the soldered connection to separate and become high resistance, leading eventually to total electrical failure and even the joint falling apart.

So, for electrical work, never use any additional flux or only those specially sold for the task.

Using rosin cored solder (‘Multicore solder’ as its sometimes called) which is sold specially for electrical work is really all that’s needed, together with ensuring both surfaces are clean and grease free. I prefer, whenever possible, to use a fibre pen to clean surfaces. Use the correct size of soldering iron wattage-wise (I use a 25 watt iron for most electrical work) and ensure the iron's tip is in a first class condition. Finally ensure the iron is up to full working temperature. Switch it on and then leave for a full five minutes - is my recommended practice. The use of a sponge pad, dampened with a little water, is also an ideal means of cleaning a hot irons tip to remove all oxidisation and old solder etc. There are also commercially produced special soldering iron tip cleaning products available too.

Try and pre tin the items before joining the two together. Tinning is using the soldering iron to heating the items and then applying a little of the cored solder to coat the individual parts in solder. Either twist items together or hold them in contact with each other – use tweezers or long nosed pliers etc. - as they may become hot. Then, with a little of the cored solder placed onto the clean hot irons tip to ‘wet’ it, apply the iron onto the joint and allow time for the heat to transfer through the joint. If needed, add a little more cored solder to the items being soldered (not onto the irons tip) to ensure a good flow of solder into the joint. Then remove the iron and don’t move the joint for around 5 or so seconds, until the solder is seen to solidify and become a little dull in appearance. Job done!

Finally, and before turning off the iron, wipe its hot tip on the damp sponge to remove all traces of solder and flux, as this will ensure the tip remains in a good condition ready for the next job.

A Note from Trevor - the description from Brian has been one of the best word pictures I have seen on the subject. In defence of Dave Poynter, I believe I have seen a non corrosive Plumbers flux for use with copper pipe etc which is what Dave may have been referring to.

However, given the amount of tarnish which can occur on nickel silver rail (which is neither nickel nor silver in its content), some corrosive flux can assist the cleaning and solder flow at the joint but it would be imperative that the flux be washed totally washed off once the soldering is done.

Hints & Tips No. 74 - Tips About Yard Design.

by Jeffrey Wimberly (LA, USA)

1. Try not to cram a lot of tracks into a small space. Why? If the tracks are close together and a carriage or wagon derails and goes over and you have never heard of the domino effect, you may soon have a real life example.

2. Give yourself at least one staging track and have it connected to the main at both ends. Two would be better. This gives you plenty of area to make up and break up trains.

3. Avoid making spur tracks that are going to trap your locomotive behind a line of wagons. Always have an escape route.

4. Most importantly, try not to make a complex design. The more complex a design, the more things can go wrong because of a simple mistake.

Simplicity of design is simplicity of operation. I am in the hobby to have fun, not trying to find my way out of a Rubik's cube switch yard.

Hints & Tips No.75 - Extending the Life of Track Cleaners.

By Peter Betts, (Sydney, NSW)

When track cleaners such as Peco or Fleischmann track rubbers start getting worn down, glue them to a piece of 5mm thick balsa wood. This will double the life of the track cleaner as it will not crack up when it gets thin.

(Note from Trevor: This terrific hint could also very likely work well with an offcut of MDF or plywood... and when my track cleaner gets thin, I will certainly try it! Thanks Peter)

From Andi Dell

I've glued Peco track rubbers to off-cuts of plywood for many years. Painting the wood a bright colour first helps to locate them on the layout or in the toolbox.

Note from Trevor: This is a good variation and adds to the pool, thanks Andi!

Hints & Tips No.76 - Ballasting Track.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne, Australia)

The orthodox method of ballasting track is to spray the laid ballast with a mixture of water and detergent before applying glue to the ballast. This is so that the glue uses the surface tension of the water to spread around the ballast. Conventional use would say to spray the ballast carefully which is what I used to do.

However you may save a bit of heartache and a few washouts of your ballast by spraying slightly UP and AWAY from your track so that the water falls as mist ala light rain (scale rain?) on your track and allowed to soak your ballast. I have found that many PVA glues tend to be dilute enough and will spread so I usually make three runs of glue over the centre, and the two edges and allow gravity and the "wet watered ballast" to do their stuff. If you have a particularly strong glue dilute it to 1:2 or 1:3.

In any case leave it overnight and lift spikes holding your track in the morning! Clean your excess and away you go! If it is not tight enough, repeat the process where ballast is loose.

Hints & Tips No.81 - Diode Protection for Sidings.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne, Australia)

Model Railway and Railroad conventions dictate that a loco will run forward when the right hand running rail is Positive. We can use this to our advantage to protect locos overrunning sidings which are close to the baseboard edge and doing themselves (and our wallets) a fair bit of damage. At a discreet distance from the end of the siding, cut the rail on the LEFT hand side (as you enter the siding) and insulate it, preferably with an insulated joiner. Now bridge the gap with a 1 amp diode (a 1N4004 will do) with the bar of the diode towards the dead end of the siding.

You will be able to drive in but hopefully not too far. However reversing your loco will have it able to be driven out. There is a bit of a voltage loss of about .6 of a volt but because you are starting the loco, I doubt that you might perceive it. If your loco goes the wrong way because you misunderstood these instructions, just reverse your diode and test it.

DCC operators cannot quite do this, but it is quite prototypical that engines had to use a small rake of wagons to get another wagon parked in a siding because of light rail, insufficient clearance over the cylinders etc. Protect your siding with an “Engines must not pass this point” sign and insulate as above. Now have a Normally Open pushbutton switch with wiring bridging the insulated gap. When you are sure that your loco is set to go the correct way push your bridging button and you can drive your engine out. It is not as surefire safe as with DC operations but it will do the trick.

Hints & Tips No.92 - Laying Flex Track around curves .

By Chris Thompson, (Whyalla, South Australia)

Ever notice that the inner rail of flex track makes itself longer as you curve it? Of course you have. By judicious laying you can maximise the length of rail you have left over by keeping this length intact and feeding it into your next section through the chairs and effectively staggering your rail joints.

Your joints will be easier to maintain and straighten, and problem causes more easily found should your trains find cause to derail over the same joint area. You can “straighten” out the joint by using a spike to hold the track in gauge through the plastic sleeper.

(A Note from Trevor ... Staggered joints work well and I use them. However I am a little reluctant to solder joints on curves, as other modellers I know have done, living where I do. The temperature can go from about 0 degrees Celsius to 40+ in my garage as I have had trouble with expansion in the past. Those of you who have a more moderate climate regime or temperature control in your rooms may not be so reluctant to solder as I am.)

Hints & Tips No.94 - Mixing Flex Track with Set Track curves .

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

Early in 2008 I saw a 4x8 layout which was a “work in progress” similar to what I have done with my own memorial layout “Newry” at an exhibition. The purpose of this layout like my own was to show what one could start out doing and was on unpainted Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF).

The builder used Flextrack for the “straight sections” and Peco 2nd and 3rd radius curves for the end curves. Points were a mixture of set track and Streamline as the need arose. This allowed for some slight offsets of track to improve the “prototype appearance” and not having dead straight sections of track. It also allowed for more freedom with the geometry not being totally dictated by the lengths of set track that would have been used.

Sidings in particular looked good done this way. You get speed of laying, accurate curves, “prototypical straights” and the overall cost of your trackwork is reduced.

Hints & Tips No.103 - N Scale Layouts as a Proportion of OO/HO.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

N scale has proved a real boon for those of us who do not have the space availability for a larger scale layout. The temptation is to try to cram as much in a space or to take an OO/HO track plan and halve it for N.

Rather than take this approach, by all means cut down the use of space. However if it is at all possible either try to use the same size layout for N as you would the larger scale except alter the double track spacings etc, or split the difference and where you would have had a 8 x4 layout, reduce it to say 6 x 3 feet rather than 4 x 2 as tempting as that may be.

The illusion with such a small layout is lost a little mainly because the detail is within the field of vision of most people. By making it that fraction larger and making peoples heads move to take it in, the illusion of a railway is somewhat restored.

I feel that the same illusion can be lost when steep gradients in larger scales are used on smaller layouts. A gentle grade or curve leads the eye away and looks very effective in its own right.

Hints & Tips No.108 – Track Laying Safeguards 101

By Martin Hollebone (TR Models North Hants)

When laying Track and Ballast... Check and ensure that all loose track pins have been removed from the track before running trains. The magnets are strong enough to attract the pins into the motors and cause damage.

When laying loose ballast never run the trains until the glue has fully dried and the track has been vacuum cleaned to ensure no loose ballast remain. Especially be careful when laying loose ballast be very careful while distributing around point blades.

(A note from Trevor – A Special thanks to Martin for kindly allowing me to use the hints on his shops web site)

Hints & Tips No.109 – Short Circuits on Peco Crossings.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

I mainly run North American, specifically Canadian over Peco Streamline track on my home layout. On some of my slightly older engines, the tread is very slightly wider than the gap that Peco allows particularly over their short diamond crossing (of which I have one), and bridge unintentionally between one track and the other. I would have a similar problem with some of my British locos as well!

If a train is sitting on the other track, it can sometimes jolt into movement when the tracks are bridged or the crossing loco stalls entirely if it bridges the common rail which I use. To cure this, get some clear nail polish and paint it on the rails by the joint.

Hints & Tips No.112 – Railways in Pavement No.1

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

There are many situations where railways run in road areas usually in dockland and industrial areas. These areas can be modeled by a (very) careful application of plaster making sure your flanges do not get caught and ride high.

I have made a number of my own crossings and other areas over the years by cutting styrene sheet and stressing the material e.g. expansion lines to represent concrete, sanding to represent bitumen surface or dragging a razor saw to represent wood grain. And it is easy to modify and fit and your track will not be distressed by the setting plaster

Hints & Tips No.113 – Railways in Pavement No.2

By Bruce Leslie (MA, USA)

When it comes to building Railways in pavement, I use the same technique for street running and level grade crossings. My crossings are made using Water Putty for the roads on either side of the track, and then styrene between the rails. Styrene sheet is pretty thin, so I use a second, narrower strip underneath it, sitting on the ties. That brings the top piece up enough that the spike plates do not interfere with it.

Use gray acrylic paint for both the road and the strip between the rails. That provides a good color match, and by using a common, unmixed color, I can easily touch it up if it gets nicked or scratched.

Hints & Tips No.117 - Planning a Layout With Templates

By Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

When checking my planning on a full size board and being a cheap skate, I cut up varying widths and lengths of corn flake packets to represent track and turnouts and then lay them out on my board as closely as I can to the intended layout design.

Although this is not 100% accurate, it does show me when a thing is definitely a no no. If things such as clearances start looking a bit tight, then I take a lot more care with laying the card out, before committing my self to cutting and laying track.

Hints & Tips No.124

Use of Different Ballasting and Rail on Sidings

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Sidings are not so well maintained as main lines and as the main line gets re-ballasted, the source of stone may well be different from when the line was first laid. Sidings do not generally get re-ballasted or relaid at the same time.

Use a darker tone of ballast on your sidings or “muddy it up” a bit to achieve the effect. You could also use slightly different rail types or have the main line slightly visually higher to accentuate the difference with the track. Weeds will also accentuate the difference and look very effective for little cost.

Hints & Tips No.131

Painting the Sides of Layouts

by Joe Saliba and Charlie Ramsay (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

Exhibition layouts, in particular, need to be presented as being finished and home layouts can do with effective presentation when shown to your family and friends.

You may be very surprised as to how much more presentable your layout becomes with a suitable paint around the fascia of the layout, compared to the nails, screw heads and dirty fascia that comes with working on a layout.

(A Note from Trevor – When Joe painted up an exhibition layout of a club associate and my own 'Newry' layout, the impression was almost unbelievable. Ours were painted in a Royal Blue colour in a gloss enamel... and worth the time and effort to do it!!! Thanks Joe)

Hints & Tips No.133

Details No.1 – Culverts

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make a simple culvert under an embankment by drilling a small hole and inserting a piece of tube or (better still) a half tube where any water would flow.

Paint it a silver or grey tone to represent concrete or steel piping and perhaps detail it with some sediment, if water is not flowing through it, or use some thin white glue strings to simulate a slowly draining amount of water, perhaps into a slough type pool down the bottom.

Hints & Tips No.139

Use of Wahl Oil

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

For many years, some modellers have been using Wahl clipper oil to help with their locos maintaining good electrical contact with the track. This was dramatically shown when a friend bought an older Rivarossi Cab Forward locomotive to an exhibition which was running very raggedly. A few drops of Wahl Oil on the track and you would not have thought you were viewing the same engine!

There have been a number of spurious claims made about the product ( traction increased for example... physics tells me that oil and traction are not compatible) but the conductivity is improved if only a few drops are applied every 3-4 metres/10-12 feet or so. Like many other areas in this hobby, just do not overdo the oiling.

Hints & Tips No.142

Alternative Catenary

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make catenary or trolley wire for trams by stripping suitable sized copper wire and hardening it. You do this by placing one end in a vice and using a power drill, hold it reasonably tightly and start spinning the drill chuck while holding a tension.

You would think the wire would twist all over the place but it spins on itself and becomes quite rigid. Try to stop spinning before the wire actually snaps, usually just out of the drill chuck or vice. You can then make a jig to create your favourite catenary shape or length, cut the wire to length and shape and solder away.

I have also used wire in this way to make model signs for my own and club layouts, especially small signs like whistle and speed board signs for trackside details. You could use the copper wire from catenary offcuts in this way if you do not use these for the wire hangers!

Hints & Tips No.144 - Making a Turntable

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make a simple turntable from a length of timber (preferably plywood for dimensional stability), a reversing switch and a stereo jack, preferably one of the thicker ones at 4.8mm.

The stereo jack is wired so that the plug is on the turntable bridge side, while the socket is on (or in) your baseboard. Get it exactly in the middle of your bridge. The socket goes in your baseboard and is wired by a reversing switch to your track. The reversing switch is to get the polarity right, when your locos are rotated.

You can then sink your turntable into your baseboard or sit it on top and raise the track to it. You will need to make some sides for the turntable bridge - either a girder made from styrene or card above the rail, or a girder to cover the wooden bridge. You will also need to construct a model fence at rail height. You should now have a basic turntable to give you years of enjoyment and trouble free service.

Hints & Tips No.147

Ballast Removal

By Vicky Makin (Qld, Australia)

This instruction will work for those that have ballasted using PVA (polyvinylacetate) glue. Selleys Aquadhere (AUS) or Elmers (US)(correct me if I am wrong).

Your first step is to wet the ballast with water, between the rails and on either side. I could not find my eyedropper so I dunked my finger in water. Allow to sit for about 15 – 20 minutes. Then dig out the ballast on either side of ties that have a nail into the tabletop and pull out nails.

Using something suitable, utility knife or putty knife (I used a 1/2 inch wood chisel upside down because I could not find my utility blades) gently push the blade under the ballast and pry the track up. Once one piece of track has been lifted the rest will follow. What you have left is ballast ready to be scraped up. I used my chisel for this and it did a very neat job. Then clean up the area ready for relaying track.

You can recycle the ballast if you wish and the track can be cleaned up by washing with water.

Hints & Tips No.156

A Cheap Ballast Spreader

by John Rumming (Western Australia)

Use a funnel with flat base and a nail inserted in it that has a head wider than the end of the funnel. You can regulate the flow of material by lowering and lifting the nail, and if any gets caught in the tube against the nail, just rotate the nail and it will dislodge it.

Hints & Tips No.166

Details No. 6 – Help with Ballast

By Loren Hall (Washington State, USA)

After you spread ballast, but before you glue, tap the top of the rails with the paint brush. This will "bounce" the ballast from the top of the ties down to where it belongs.

Hints & Tips No.175

Cutting Track

by Craig Murchison (Wilts UK)

Cutting track s important for a good fit and few derailments. Using a hacksaw creates metal dust which is hard to clean up. Using a Razor Saw can cause your rails out of gauge under pressure of cutting. Shavings may also eventually find their way into your engines moving parts and cause problems for you later on.

Xuron makes a tool for track cutting. This tool is essentially a pair of side cutters with a flat edge on one side so that the resulting cut is straight instead of tapered to a point. Unfortunately however, although they have provided satisfactory track cuts for me, I have had broken three. These tools are just not strong enough for a lot of use. There are also copies of this type of tool in electronic shops which are cheaper and very much as effective.

Hints & Tips No.187

Two-stage ballasting
By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Everyone has their own method for ballasting track - this is mine which I find to be very effective. This method does away with that unsightly strip of bare board between ballast and scenery which can be so difficult to deal with!

1 - Having painted up your track, apply an even coat of neat PVA to a strip either side of the track and between tracks, stopping just short of the ends of the sleepers. Sprinkle on a layer of fine grade ballast material of your chosen colour, lightly tamp down and vacuum off the surplus.
2 - With a
medium grade ballast of the same colour, ballast up the track applying just enough to cover the bare baseboard. Tidy up the edges with a fine brush – do not make it too neat. Spray the entire area with a light coat of water/washing up liquid mix - just enough to dampen it - before applying dilute PVA to both grades of ballast in the normal way. When dry, airbrush or otherwise weather the ballast to taste.

Hints & Tips No.201

Super Elevation

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

I read somewhere recently that super elevation – the banking of track on the curves – was difficult to achieve on a model railway and not really worth attempting. My eyebrows lifted a notch because I have always found it to be one of the easiest of jobs, and the effort – on a larger layout at any rate – is well worth it.

Fix down your track in the normal way – I recommend one pin at least every 2" – and 'road test' it thoroughly. Before adding the ballast, slip a length of micro strip under the ends of the sleepers on the outside of the curve. I find that 30 thou x 100thou strip is ideal and gives a nice subtle banking, but experiment with different thicknesses if you wish. Carry on round the curve. When done, add a lead-in at each end of the curve with about 3' of 20thou (if you've used 30 thou) and 3" of 10thou. Ballast the track in the normal way.

Hints & Tips No.216

Clearances on Curves

by Trevor Gibbs and Charlie Ramsay (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

When laying Flex track in particular, you should take your two longest vehicles or loan two vehicles of the longest wheelbase you can find and check the clearances on curves.

By running around your curves with the end of one coach for example as near as possible to the middle of another coach in close proximity and ensuring they are not close enough to touch.

If you are contemplating buying a longer railway vehicle and you are not sure if your clearances are OK you can buy literally any pair of freight bogies (HO freight ones would be OK and make up a “plate” equal to the floor of the vehicle you are intending to buy. Plywood, MDF or Perspex will do. Mount the Bogies as close to the centre mount as you can and also test this on your curves. The overhang will be the same.

From Brian Macdermott - Further to this Hint, I have found that if my Airfix/Hornby 12-wheeled restaurant car does not hit anything, then things work out fine. For platform edge clearance, I find that the Hornby 61xx is good for checking.

Hints & Tips No.217

Using The NMRA Gauge

by Charlie Ramsay (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

The NMRA check gauge is a useful tool for checking platfrom, Bridge and Tunnel clearances, wheel gauge on individual axles and a range of other functions.

While it is HO Standard rather than OO, most HO US sized freight cars cannot fit under the larger OO scale loading gauge. This should give you slightly more than adequate clearances, particularly when dealing with smaller radii double track curves and larger passenger cars.

Hints & Tips No.236

Small Nails.

By Craig Wilson

When I lay track, I find the small nails are too small to hold. I use needlenose pliers to hold the nail, place it in the hole in the tie, and then hammer it in. No finger damage!

Hints & Tips No.240

Useful Tools No.4

From Several Sources

Track Planning Templates

To make it easier to plan a layout, draw up arcs of various radii and various straight sections, all 16.5mm wide with line 5pts thick, on the PC.

Printed out an together with scanned pictures of turnouts will enable you to shift things around to suit. A lot more convenient than large sheets of paper, especially when planning yards.

Hints & Tips No.247

Track ballast:

By Ezekiel Johnson (USA)

Try mixing colors of ballast to add realism to your layout. For your goods or Freight yards mix a little light grey in with some black ballast. For the mainline, use mostly light grey with only a little black. The contrast will help to set apart the different parts of your layout.

Hints & Tips No.263

Laying Track... Backwards???

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

The late John Allen, creator of the legendary Gorre & Daphetid, when laying track by hand used to align his track by looking at it in a mirror. His rationale was that because you were seeing it in reverse, you would pick out the misalignments and kinks in the track more easily because you were not looking at what you expect to see.

Fairly logical and yes it did work, even for flex track!

Hints & Tips No.274

A further Ballasting Technique

By Vicky Makin (Queensland, Australia)

I use a 500ml plastic sauce bottle which is great for applying ballast to the track. Compared to the larger ballast containers, the sauce bottle does not over pour making a great mess. I also use an artists paint brush the width of between the rails and I 'paint' the ballast in place rather than sweep like others do. I use an eye dropper to apply the PVA and water mix which is very accurate and not messy.

I suppose the best advice for those applying ballast is to take your time and do not rush the job or it may be unsatisfactory.

Hints & Tips No.280

Alternative to Kadee Magnets

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Some electronic stores sell “Rare Earth Magnets” which are extremely strong but extremely small, diameters of 1/8” or 1/4”, possibly for N and OO/HO respectively.

You would use these as you would for a Kadee except that you need to be right over the magnet for the coupler to uncouple. I remember seeing many years ago a modeller at an exhibition with a smallish piece of wood shaped similarly to a tuning fork with magnets on either arm. Placed in between wagons or freight cars to be separated, the magnets draw on the uncoupling “hose” on the coupler. Later I found a product by Rix of the USA which was exactly that. My only problem was that trying to uncouple cabooses, the magnets would pull towards the exterior handrails.

Good luck with your experimentation!

Hints & Tips No.288

Layout Design

By Charlie Ramsay (Sunshine MRC, Victoria, Australia)

Avoid putting any of your track out of easy reach. In this case "Easy" means you can rerail all the wagons of a train without straining yourself. If you must have wider bench work, make it at a lower height to compensate.

Hints & Tips No.289

Modelling Rail Joints

By Mark Frizell

You can model actual rail joints fairly easily if your depth of detail warrants it. Cut a thin slither of thin styrene about 5mm long, to fit in the web which is the thinnest section of your rail. Hold a small brad with a pair of pliers and push four small divots onto the slither. These will represent the bolt heads of the rail joiners. Glue in place and appropriately colour with a rusty coloured paint. You could even put a “notch” in the rail; head to represent a joint.

Hints & Tips No.291

Designing a layout

By Murray Johnson (Victoria, Australia)

Avoid the temptation to make a complex shunting situation in every yard on your layout unless you and those most likely to operate with you really like shunting problems. Prototype railways do not set out to create shunting problems unless they absolutely have to... and that is usually dictated to them by geography

Hints & Tips No.295

A Source of Piers

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

A strip of 1/2” or ¾ MDF could make quite a number of piers for elevated railway with slightly tapered long sides – which you could plane or cut yourself – that would be reminiscent of the Triang Inclined or High Level pier sets of years ago. The MDF could come as a left over from a cabinet makers and you would be most likely given it.

A coat of Grey Paint to simulate Concrete or a light orange to simulate the Triang colour and you have an elevated section for a little effort and not very much cost!

Hints & Tips No.305

Matches as Sleeper Details

By John Gibson (NZ)

I cut up used wooden matches and paint them to represent sleepers. I paint them an appropriate colour and stack them near yards or paint them a heavily weathered tone and scatter them as replaced or broken sleepers along the right of way.

Hints & Tips No.309

Another Method of Keeping Track Clean while working on your layout

By Sid Price

If you are doing track work, ballasting, painting, gluing etc. take some plastic straws and cut a straight split down one side. Place the straw over the rails, one on each side laid end to end, and do your spraying, stoning and whatever. Then when everything all is dry, remove the straws and expose your untarnished rail tops. No more sanding, scraping or polishing should be necessary.

Working on relatively short areas, you should only need 4 or 6 straws

Hints & Tips No.318

Burnishing Rail

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

At time of writing I was reading where a few modellers had used a small block of stainless steel and rubbing it along the track used it to flatten the track. Although I was a bit skeptical, I tried the process using some thin steel I had then rubbed a few sections using the hardened rim of a tin.

Physically it did not change much up top very visibly but the performance over the track seems to have improved. This was particularly evident in a section where I was contemplating relaying it, thinking the rail was building resistance through aging The section would be at least 25 years old and possibly older. And the cost? The edge of a tin and a bit of elbow grease.

Hints & Tips No.325

Rejuvenating Peco Points

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

From long term experience, Peco points give way at the tie bar of the points themselves, losing the spring and crossties. I have successfully rejuvenated some Peco Points by using a copper clad strip for any sleepers that have been damaged and cutting a wide gap between the two sides for any sleepers and longer strip for the crossbar itself.

I personally use Caboose Industries ground throws but you could use a small Double Pole Single Throw switch with a hole drilled in the “lever handle” coupled to the throw rod with an “Omega” loop of spring wire... which you can also shape yourself!

Hints & Tips No.330

Installing Cork Roadbed

By Lee Davies (DEMU North East Area Group)

For Cork Road bed, we use cheap cork tiles form a DIY shop about 4 mm thick Glue the cork to the boards but varnish the board first to seal it. Use PVA and weights to hold it down until glue dries. You may need to sand it afterwards to get it level. Then glue or pin the track to the cork after it has dried thoroughly.

Hints & Tips No.348

Marking your “Fouling Points”

By Ian Cant

A simple way of knowing where your fouling points are on your sidings is to paint the side of the rails with a small dab of paint so that it can be easily seen but not necessarily noticed by the casual observer.

Hints & Tips No.353

Locating Uncouplers

By Philip Carr

Distant uncoupling ramps on a layout whether they be Hornby or Kadee types can be hard to see so I use either small markers such as “Slow” boards or discreetly placed bushes or weeds made from fibre fill and ground foam near the track. The “centre” of the bush is usually aligned to the centre of the uncoupling ramp and need not be greater than rail height.

Hints & Tips No.359


By Nailsea MRC

Although it is the dearest material, Plywood is generally considered to be the best material for baseboards. Try to obtain Birch Plywood if possible. Plywood is also preferable to timber for the baseboard support; get it pre-cut, when purchased, in strips 4 to 8cm. in width, 9 to 12mm. in thickness.

A Note from Trevor - Plywoods come in different materials such as pine here in Australia, and Luan and other exotic materials. The building plywoods are best of course and the expense is worth the cost in terms of stability and strength.

Hints & Tips No.395

Soldering Rails

By Rob Pearce

To ensure a sound electrical contact the feeder wires should be soldered to the rail. However, nickel silver is not an ideal metal for soldering. The slightest bit of muck will prevent it from tinning, and with this in mind I do not trust the solder joint as a mechanical joint. The solution I have adopted to these problems is to drill a hole in the rail. This serves two purposes :
* The hole is clean, fresh and therefore "tinnable"
* The wire is held mechanically in place
I drill a hole with a 0.8mm PCB drill starting from the outside of the rail and at an angle of roughly 45 degrees down. This should be done between sleepers, and on flexible track try to pick the gap where adjacent sleepers are not linked. The hole then emerges from the bottom of the rail into open space.
This allows a feeder wire to be inserted from below. Allow the tip of the copper core to come flush with the outer edge of the rail (or just proud by a hair's breadth) and solder it in place. Use a hot iron with a fine tip, applied to the rail and wire end together, and fine flux cored solder directly into the hole. Gravity and capillary action will take the solder down and the whole operation is over in a couple of seconds. This means the heat does not have a chance to spread enough to damage the plastic sleepers.
If this is done properly the only visible sign will be a very small trace of solder on the outer edge of the rail. Once the rail has been painted rust colour (for weathering) this becomes practically invisible unless you know where to look.

Hints & Tips No.405

Banishing Derailments Pt 1

By Several Modellers

A common problem for model train derailments is incorrect track gauge. A tight track gauge will cause the wheels to climb up and derail off the track. A wide track gauge will also derail your model train as the wheel flanges can not span the track properly.

Gauge can be adjusted by using spikes to hold the track down in gauge or by using a soldering iron to gently heat the rail, moving the rail to the correct position and allowing it to cool.

Check your points for sharpness when they switch. Some new switch points can be fairly blunt on the movable section
where it strikes up against the stock rails. This can lift or jolt the wheels and cause a derailment. A small file can be used to gently smooth the moveable part of the points to allow a nice smooth transition. Remember to check the gauge in both positions.


submit hints Trevor Brian