Building a modern era electric track layout? Wondering about that third rail? Here are a few tips to get you started.
My Wandle Valley model railway is a 1980s themed layout. As such many of the trains will be electrical (EMU) variety so the track will need a third rail.
I’ve already realised that fitting a credible looking third rail isn’t going to be just a case of glueing down an extra strip of rail so I’ve been researching techniques ahead of laying the track. (I’m thinking about it now, ahead of laying the track, in case it requires reworking all the track after it’s laid).
This video about the Glebe Road Junction layout is a great start.
Along with this I’ll be using match sticks split down the middle for guard planks and solder covered in latex for the wiring to the third rail and bridging across gaps where the rail breaks as seen here:
Looking at prototype chairs, they’re usually fairly discoloured so the Peco ones will all need painting which isn’t going to be quick but the result should look pretty lifelike.
After this, guard boards and cabling will be needed.
For the guard boards, I’m going to split match sticks down the middle — and maybe again — and paint them. It’s going to take a lot but a job lot of match sticks won’t cost much so that’s doable.
For the wiring — which brings power to the rail and also bridges across gaps in third rail (as seen in the above photo of the third rail at Guildford) — I put a shout out on Twitter for ideas.
Various ideas were suggested but I liked @MarkCordingley1’s suggestion of .2mm black wire the best.
That should just about do it. Then it’ll just be a case of fitting appropriate trackside electrical boxes but it’ll save that for a future post.
Note: This is just for a display only third rail – it won’t actually carry power.
> 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.