Going Underground – The Secret of Authentic Model Railway Track

track-beddingThis is a simple short tip but an often overlooked and important one if you want authentic model railway layouts.

Next time you’re out and about, take a look at a railway line. Look closely. What do you see?

Here’s a hint: it’s not the track or anything on it I’m talking about.

I’m talking about what lies beneath.

Notice how the land on which the track lays is raised a little above the level of the surrounding ground. Nearly every section of track sits on an artificial bank elevating it slightly above the natural ground.

This isn’t the same as embankments used to keep the track level as terrain undulates below it but a track-bed to keep the train ride smooth for passengers and to support the track as natural ground moves.

Right But Wrong

This tip is to do the same with your layout. Nearly all railway track is raised slightly above normal surface level so when building your layout mount raise the track slightly off the base board.

Not doing will leave your layout looking okay but not quite authentic. Right but wrong.

Luckily, you don’t need to employ diggers or spend millions on researching the best track bed as big rail engineers do*.

Instead you can get away with a cork or foam underlay.

The track bedding I’ve used most in the past is grey ballasted underlay available in N or OO sizes. While I now tend to use a cork layer for my track this underlay is very realistic and is finished with ballast effect so reduced the amount of ballast required later.

It’s also simple to fit. Just apply a PVA glue to your base board and lay the bedding on it (for more on glues see What Are You Trying To Glue).

Extra Tip: I read somewhere in the past that a good technique is to lay your track out on the base board first then trace a line either side of your tracks and lay the foam within the trace marks. This allows you to check the track fits and the power to the tracks all work before gluing down the bedding. I wish I’d known this earlier.

As you can see from the picture above, adding track bedding adds an extra depth and realism to your railway and gives it authentic look. It’s also easy and simple to fit so what are you waiting for? For extra realism however I like to add Railway Scenics ballast over the top of foam.

Finally, take a look at my guide to easy ballasting, part of my collection of tips on railway modelling.

* For a fascinating insight into the engineering and research behind railway track bedding see Railway track geotechnics in New Civil Engineer.

* Picture credit: Ayala Botto via flickr.

> 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.

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