Better Bends - Model Railway Engineer

Better Bends

2 comments 2 Intermediate 2 Comments

SuperelevationIf you have curves on your layout heres a quick technique that will make them look better.

Curves are a problem for trains.

Centrifugal forces push the train out and the wheel flanges touch the rails causing friction and wear.

To overcome these problems full size track is banked with the rail on the outside of the curve elevated compared to the inner rail. The rolling stock then tilts inwards countering the centrifugal forces and the wheel flanges don’t rub against the rails. A practice known as superelevation, see the above photo of a superelevation and a train banking on a curve at Dunbar – photo from Wikipedia.

On our model railways we don’t need to worry about shifts in the centre of gravity and uncomfortable rides for passengers or wear on wheel flanges. On model railways superelevation is purely cosmetic and purely for looks, giving a more pleasing look as the trains lean into bends.

To achieve this look, cut strips of card to roughly one third of the sleeper length in width and to the curvature of the track bend and and glue them to the baseboard where the sleepers on the outside edge of the track will fall. If you take a strip of card and cut V’s along the length you’ll then be able to bend it to match the curve. Alternatively, just cut it into short strips and place them under track one after another.

The exact thickness of the card depends on the gauge you’re working with.

For OO, approximately 1mm to 2mm will do. On my N gauge layout, I use between .25 and .5 of a mil depending on the angle I want. For other gauges, scale these up proportionately to the gauge. There’s a handy illustration of the different inclines and how they look on an N-scale layout here.

One tip, give your different rolling stock a trail run before finally fixing the track down. Too step a cant can result in trains falling off the track which neither you or the tiny passengers will appreciate.

One final thought, just as trains don’t like transitioning from straight to curve, suddenly introducing a banked rail won’t be appreciated by your rolling stock either. Slice the card being used into thiner strips and place this under easement curves or on the straight before the curve starts so both the curvature and height of outside rail elevation builds up slowly – sudden changes horizontally or vertically are prime cause of derailing.

With the track super-elevated your rolling stock will lean into corners and look much better. Give a go, you won’t be disappointed.



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  1. phill thomas - April 11, 2017

    Before setting out track, scenery and buildings on a NEW layout first cover the baseboard with thick lining paper, available from all diy outlets, just using wallpaper paste around the edges and joins. When you come to alter/change/modify your layout gently cut around the bit to be removed and it will lift cleanly off the board undamaged and leave the baseboard undamaged too. Just insert a new cut of lining paper in the space and start your layout improvements. SIMPLES !

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