This is question that comes up frequently, here are my thoughts.
A commonly asked question on the Model Railway Engineer community is whether cork should be used for laying track and if it’s not needed, what benefits does it have?
Laying track on top of cork on a layout is a traditional technique that has been done for longer than I’ve been building layouts (too many years LOL).
And a quick, unscientific poll of the nearly 9,000 or so members of the MRE community found the majority do you use it, with over 60 percent of those answering my question about it saying they still use Cork track beds.
There are two common of arguments as to why it’s used.
It reduces noise
Noise is one of the most commonly sited reasons. Putting spongy cork under your track cushions the track and reduces the vibration that would otherwise travel to the baseboard and be echoed around the layout.
But as I’ve covered here before, tests on noise levels from different track underlays and glues prove that this isn’t the case. The choice of glue is more important if you’re worried about noise.
It makes ballasting look better
The next argument of cork is that that it provides a raised bed for the track and creates a shoulder that helps the ballast look better.
But this isn’t dependent on cork and can be achieved through a number of other materials, Peco foam underlay for example.
It’s also worth noting that depending on the era and location of railway you’re modelling the ballast may not even have a raised shoulder. Many industrial era narrow gauge railways for example don’t have this for example.
In conclusion, then, it’s not necessary to use cork underlay on a layout and the few benefits it is claimed to have are arguable.
Personally, I no longer use it and don’t miss it. What’s your experience?
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