Tunnels are great but they also present a problem. How to gain access to the track buried deep inside a tunnel without having ugly gaps in your scenery.
I love tunnels. My layouts have lots of them.
For the most part, they run through hills towards the rear of the layout and I leave holes at the back of the landscape (where they’re hidden from view) to retrieve stuck trains or carry out track maintenance work.
But on one section of my layout, I have a hill smack bang in the middle the baseboards and the track runs through it.
I could have had a lift-out section but this would have left an ugly join gap around the top of the hill and as the tunnel was only six inches long I opted to go without an access point hoping problems wouldn’t emerge.
The decision was a mistake waiting to happen and sure enough while having a tinker with my trains the other night they began sticking while in the tunnel. Worse, after the third pass it became obvious that it wasn’t the trains but the track that was the problem.
As this was a key run of track, allowing trains to pass from one area of the layout to another, I couldn’t just leave it.
The only answer was to carve up the hill, fix the track, reconstruct the hill, redo the scenery and hope nothing happened again for a while.
Obviously, I could do this but having learnt my lesson once I set out to find a better way
How to camouflage a lift out section of the hill.
Specifically, I wanted a solution that would allow the hilltop to be repeatedly lifted out but in such a way that an ugly seam wouldn’t show and avoiding scenery reworking every time.
After a bit of contemplating I realised I needed to overlap the gap between cut-out and fixed landscape so covering the join while incorporating a feature that would hang down from the front of the overlapping movable section masking the front of the of overlap.
An idea dawned on me.
A forest on the top of the lift out section with overhanging tree trunks at the front might work.
A while back I wrote about a technique for making forests on the cheap with expanding foam and I gave this a go.
I cut out a section of the hill for access and then extended the edge of this so overhung the base scenery by approximately half an inch. Then, following the previous tip, I covered the whole lot in expandable foam and added the treetop foliage as described previously.
Model tree branch armatures where then glued to the front to give the impression of tree trunks – again as in the earlier tip. These reached down so they touched the existing scenery base when the hilltop was repositioned. In so doing, the join was covered and the scenery didn’t need fixing each time.
You can see the results in the first photo above and I’m quite pleased with how it looks.
It’s still a work in progress – the expanded foam towards the rear is yet to be covered – but it shows how the gap is hidden, that there’s no visible join and the “tree trunks” mask the edging under the expandable foam. You’d certainly never know that the huge hole (seen in the second photo) is hiding underneath this and the whole assembly just lifts out to give access to the track when I need.
With this done it was a simple matter to then lift the hilltop, access the track work and clean the rails and get my trains running again before dropping the “forest” back into place. No one would know I’d been there.
Hopefully, you’ll read this while constructing your layout and you’ll be able to incorporate this into your hills while building them instead of cutting up your existing hills like it did but either way it solves an otherwise frustrating problem. If you have another technique for disguising tunnel access in the middle of a model railway I’d be really interested to know what you do.
>A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.