Before starting to lay track the first job was to cut out and raise some of the trackbed, as I wanted to avoid the "flat-baseboard" look as much as possible without using the open construction method. I also needed to run the mainline on a downhill gradient from the board-join to the north-end tunnel to minimise the uphill gradient for the branch. As you will see later the gradients to and from the branch still ended up a little steep, but the 'up' gradient to the branch is only as steep as the rail-overbridge approach at Welwyn Garden City station, and the 'down' gradient from the branch is not much steeper and trains will never need to go up it anyway. The joys of compromise! ;o).
The cutting-out was done with a jigsaw with the relevant parts raised on softwood batons of varying thickness – the station area is level as is the dairy yard, the mainline runs downhill to baseboard level from the station as stated, and the branch is raised approx 2" on a level plane into the fiddle yard. It was also decided to angle the dairy yard slightly to give a more natural look rather than running parallel to the baseboard edge. Before going any further both boards were given three coats of clear varnish to seal them from moisture, this should protect the MDF from warping especially as it is to be flooded with glue/water later when ballasting. The entire trackbed was then covered with Warmaline 2mm polystyrene glued with PVA in an effort to reduce sound-drumming through the baseboard, although this hasn't proved too effective in practice. Oh well, railways are noisy places in real life anyway!
More trackbed supports were added between the ones shown, but this gives you some idea. The wide area to the left is the fiddle yard.
There are many methods to track-laying, the merits of which I won’t go into, but I chose to avoid fiddly pins and glue my track down instead. Each piece of track was temporarily screwed to the board with self-tappers between the sleepers, and holes marked for droppers and point-motor pins making sure they avoided the bracing below. Once the dropper wires had been soldered to the underside of the rails the area of board was pasted with PVA glue, avoiding areas of tiebar movement on points, and the track piece fitted using the screws again for alignment but being careful not to squash the track into the trackbed. In the case of long flexi sections the track was also weighted down with household food tins (cat food to be precise – nice and heavy!) to ensure good adhesion. This was especially important on the S-curves on the north board as these have also been super-elevated to provide a realistic 'cant' to the track to enable high-speed running. This was done by putting strips of old credit card under the outside sleeper edges, the thickness of which was calculated to be perfect to give a prototypical 4 degree angle in N gauge!! I have used concrete-sleeper style track for the main running lines and wooden-sleeper style track everywhere else on the scenic area as this represents the real railway at the time.
Strips of old credit card being used to 'super-elevate' the track.
Aforementioned cat food tins being used to weigh track down whilst gluing. The stack of boxes contain the Dapol 6-wheel milk tankers, these were used to ensure the dairy sidings were planned long enough to allow the shunting manoeuvres required.
Droppers of 16/0.2 wire have been attached to every piece of track for reliability – this is the junction just north of the station.
North board fiddle yard completed. I have used concrete-sleeper track for the two centre lines to make them easier to set apart from the other tracks at a glance.
To ensure track alignment at baseboard joins the following method was used:-
Temporarily lay the track across join, mark the board edge where rails cross it, then remove track and screw small brass screws close to the board edge under where the rails will be. Remove enough sleepers from the track so the rails sit on the screws, adjusting the height of the screws if necessary so they just touch the underneath of the rail. Clean the screw-heads and underneath the rails using abrasive paper or a fibreglass pencil to ensure solder will adhere. Fix the track down using your chosen method (I glued mine but pinning is just as good), then carefully solder each rail to the screw-head underneath making sure you don't have a big blob on the inside of the rail where wheel flanges could hit it. Finally cut through the rails above and in line with the baseboard join using either a Dremel with a cutting disc (my preferred method) or a thin razor saw. Hopefully the following slightly fuzzy pic should give an idea what you end up with.
Once all the track was down, apart from the branch which couldn’t be made permanent until the mainline had been detailed and ballasted under the overbridge, some thorough testing took place using a variety of stock to ensure trouble-free running. This is the end view from the south. Note the gradient up from fiddle yard (left) to station area (right).
. . . and a closer view of the north board showing the dairy yard (unfinished) and the branch-line track bed in place. Again notice how the mainline slopes down gradually from the bridge to the curves at the far end.
It was at this point that the Health & Safety Executive (Feline Branch) decided to spring a surprise inspection of the track-laying :oD Either that or he was wondering where all his food had gone!
Next step was to ballast the track, adding in important details such as concrete cable troughs, orange trunking and aesthetic point motors. The cable troughs are actually matches with the heads cut off, then partially cut through with a craft knife blade to make it look like four separate sections. These were laid alongside the track with PVA, then painted over with concrete colour paint. On the real railway cables laid under the track are protected from damage by running them in orange tubes, so where the cable troughs swap sides or there are dummy point motors on the layout, these have been modelled using the orange wire from standard internal telephone cable pushed through gaps made between sleepers under the rail. The following pictures show the effect after ballasting.
The dummy point motor in the above pic is from Knightwing, glued in place after ballasting.
All rail-sides in the scenic area were painted with a deep red-brown colour to simulate a mixture of rust, brake dust and general dirt. Woodland Scenics Fine Light Grey ballast was chosen and was laid dry and brushed into place, then further tidying was done using a fingertip run along the rails with a fair amount of pressure. This was found to produce a pleasing effect by creating a raised shoulder along the edges of the sleepers just like that found along the East Coast Main Line! (see below pic) Some loose ballast was left in the middle of the track as mainline ballasting is far from neat in the real world, and a paint brush handle dragged along the middle to recreate the ‘trough’ also seen on the ECML. The ballast was pre-wetted using a mister bottle with a fine spray containing just water and a couple of drops of washing up liquid. This prevents the ballast from floating away on a sea of glue-mix later. A 50/50 mix of water and PVA (again with a couple of drops of WUL) was mixed and dropped onto the ballast using a large pipette until it was thoroughly soaked – this is the point where it looks a complete mess and you wonder if it will ever dry out!! Around points the glue-mix was applied a little more sparingly, but still well soaked apart from the tie-bar itself. Whilst the glue was drying the points were all operated back-and-forth every half hour for about 6 hours, and the result is that NONE of my points stuck solid and all operate freely.
The following pic demonstrates the ‘roughness’ and contours of the ballasting that I was trying to achieve, though it still needs weathering at this point. Some Metcalfe platforms sneaked in somewhere too!
Finally the whole scenic track area was given a couple of coats of Railmatch Sleeper Grime to give it an overall brown hue and blend the different colours in a bit, remembering to clean it off the rail tops after.
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