In our eagerness to get trains running, we all often make mistakes when laying track but don’t make these potentially expensive mistakes.
#1 Making it up as you go
When permanently securing your track think through and work out your layout first and then mark the track path on the baseboard. Changing track route — no matter how slight the alteration— after you’ve secured the track to the baseboard isn’t fun.
Some use track planning software — such as AnyRail — and print out their track map and affix this to the baseboard as a guide. If you can’t do this, layout and connect the track and sketch around it with a pencil on the baseboard so you have a clear guide and don’t deviate from this.
#2 Not keeping the rails clean when laying track
Although some people prefer to pin their tracks, quite a few use a glue too.
This is fine but can be messy, be careful not to get glue on the rails.
Take it from me, glued rails will prevent the trains running smoothly.
Use a wooden block to press the track down with — if you’re like me you’ll have glue on your fingers — and have a damp cloth handy to wipe excess glue way. If this is you, and your track is now a mess, it is possible to recover your track with these track cleaning steps.
#3 Work around track in one direction
I’ve done this won’t be doing it again!
In my eagerness, and not wanting to wait, I pinned down both sides of an oval circuit only to then find I couldn’t then get the connecting straight between the two halves in place. Several hours of carefully unpinning later I was ready to start again.
The take away: work your way around the track in one direction, bit by bit.
In the picture above, you can see a classic example of this. To sections of track are secured but fitting the middle element will now be difficult.
#4 Not waiting: adding scenery before track
Another one where eagerness gets the better of us. It’s all too easy to start placing buildings and other scenery on your layout before you’ve got all the track down to make it look better. Don’t. Just don’t!
Track laying and ballasting means working close to your baseboard and any vertical structures are likely to get knocked or damaged in the process. Keep those Ratio and Metcalfe models off the board until the track is laid and ballast applied.
#5 Lock the turnouts/points
If using glue near or under points — I use pins to secure turnouts in place — switch the points several times during and after fitting to free up the delicate springs and moving elements and ensure they haven’t become fixed and stuck.
That’s it for these 5 track laying mistakes to avoid. If you’d like more tips — I recommend any of these books on model railway building.
Subscribe to my free email newsletter for more articles like this, plus the latest model train news, regular and exclusive tips, tutorials and guides. It's free, you can unsubscribe at any point and i promise never to sell your information. Click here to subscribe now.
> 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.