Laying and fixing track doesn’t seem difficult. But then you try it. It’s surprising how many problems can be avoided with the benefit of hindsight.
Here’s the technique I’ve developed over the years that’ll hopefully save you time, effort and frustration.
If you’ve ever locked your N or OO railway track in place only to find your trains judder, stop or derail on bends or points you’ll understand the frustration and annoyance of poorly laid track.
Equally, it’s much harder to secure track in place without damaging the sleepers, rails and electrical connections than many novices expect.
Here’s a technique I’ve learnt and now use for stress-free track laying and fixing.
Temporarily Secure and Test
Having sections of track that aren’t aligned or connected correctly will cause all kinds of problems later and aren’t easy to correct once the track is permanently fixed. Juddering locos and even derailing trains can result in misaligned track.
The solution to this is to mark up the track position and first secure it temporarily – I used double-sided tape.
Then test that your trains run smoothly, prove the electrical connections work and your trains navigate joins, points and bends without problem.
If they don’t it’s easy to pull up track, correct problems and retry.
Screw Between Sleepers Before Pinning
After the track is correctly aligned lock it down more permanently. For this track pins are ideal but sections will often move while knocking the pins in so I first further secure it in place with small screws between the sleepers to hold track in place during the pinning.
Many tutorials and guides across the web are for OO or H0 gauge track laying and won’t apply on smaller N gauge tracks. The tips here will however work for N, OO and HO.
The screw should fit between two sleepers but have a head wide enough to overlap the sleepers and so hold them in place.
Place a small piece of cardboard with a V cut into it between the sleepers and screw head so as not to damage the sleepers while tightening the screw.
The picture above shows the track held down with double-sided sticky tape and the screw being inserted with the card sleeper protector in place.
With the track now securely in place take your rolling stock for further trial runs to catch any electrical or join problems that have crept in as the track moved while the screws were inserted.
With the track in place pull out the double-sided tape and use an Archimedes screw (pictured) to make the holes into the sleepers for the pins and gently hammer them in.
Obviously, check the size of the drill is small enough to fit comfortably within a sleeper. (See model railway building tools for other tools that can save you time and effort).
One of the biggest improvements to the smooth running of my trains came with the discovery of Jewellers stamps. Looking back, I can’t believe I used to just take a hammer directly to the pins and the resulting damage to the rail heads that occurred. A punch, like this one – pictured, costs just a few pounds but will save your rails.
Remove The Screws
With the track now firmly held in place with track pins, remove the screws.
This is pretty straightforward forward so I won’t dwell on it. One thing I will say however is to cover the screw hole with tape as this will prevent unsightly holes in the next and final step…
Your track is now laid and is ready for Ballasting.
This is outside of the scope of this post and I’ve covered it before in this comprehensive tutorial on ballasting so I won’t say more.
With your track and ballast in place, you can now take your Trains for a well-deserved excursion safe in the knowledge you won’t have track problems.
> 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.
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.