How To Avoid 5 Easy & Common Track Laying Mistakes

Track Laying Mistakes and How To Avoid ThemIn 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.

#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.

A final, personal, note: I spend a LOT of time testing, photographing, writing and often wrecking my own layouts researching techniques for these articles and don’t charge a penny for them. If this article is useful to you or helpful, please add a comment to say so, it gives me encouragement to continue. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.


Did you know, you can get all my latest tips, reviews and guides direct to your inbox? It's completely free. Just subscribe to my newsletter and I'll do the rest. Click here to start. Thanks Andy, creator and founder of MRE.

40 comments
  1. Hi Andy,Your site must be just what I need,I have been collecting 00 stock and loco’s over past year to build a new model railway or extend an older layout in my walkin loft.This has not been used for about twenty years when the kids were in their teens.I am not sure weather to go for Dc or Dcc as half the loco’s are not dcc ready or Dcc fitted.They are mostly smaller Bachmann or Hornby
    .It will be BR 4/5Era,and be a country branch line with Ex GWR and Ex LNER Loco’s somewere in the area of Woodford Halse to Banbury area.
    The existing layout is x 6-6″x 4ft Hornby track with quite a few curved points and flexible track with three stations on two levels,it looks ok but has no underlay and is tacked down.I remember the 56xx always derailed as some points were 1st radius so more modern loco’s will be a problem.Your comments awaited.
    Regards Mike

    • Hi Mike, will be extending / building on your existing layout or starting afresh. If continuing with the old layout, I’d stick with DC as it’ll tricky (although not impossible) to adapt it. If however, you’re building afresh, I’d definitely go DCC. Best wishes, Andy.

  2. Hi Andy. I am returning to railway modelling after an absence of 30 years. I am just about to unpack all the stuff that has been stored and lovingly looked/preserved over the years. I am finding your articles, information, links and tips invaluable. Thank you.

  3. Christopher Gardner makes an interesting point about the size of a baseboard.
    I’m really very lucky that I have an old attic bedroom in my cottage that’s 25 feet by 15 feet. However, many visitors ask me about baseboard sizes for their modern houses, flats and bungalows. My advice is based on my own analysis of what my situation would be if I did not have this large room. I begin by asking that most pertinent question “what will you do with it when you are not actually using it?” Then I suggest something like an end-to-end branch line terminus with the train disappearing into a tunnel of 15-18″. When not in use, the board which I suggest is 1′ 15″ or 18″ X 6′ simply slides under a bed, stands on end in a pantry or broom cupboard and is brought out and supported on a pair of dining chairs or a table, that might itself fold up. If I ever have to go into an old people’s home, I’ll certainly take such a layout with me.

  4. Hi, I’ve had a layout since I was 8 years old, almost 50 years ago. I’m just getting back into building my railway again after 20 years of it being boxed up when I moved house. I’ve enjoyed reading your tips and will continue to do so, so much has changed. My new layout will be DCC so lots of interesting months / years ahead. Thankyou for the time you’ve taken to help us all.

  5. Hi Andy,
    Just uncovered my old TRIX TWIN RAILWAY from the loft for my grandson. I have stripped and serviced the trains and cleaned the track also the contacts, however, one of the trains keeps stopping. It appears to be the forward/reverse switch. When activating the controller it clicks but nothing happened, the little push lever that actuated the cog fails to engage. I have cleaned and lightly lubricated it but it still appears not to work, do you have any ideas ?

    • Hi Roger, Wow I’ve always wanted to get one of these – the dual locomotive running has always intrigued me. Sadly, I’ve never got hold of one and so don’t know much about them but if I was a take a guess, I’d say the problem sounds like an issue with the gears.You could try contacting trix-twin.co.uk, he might be able to point you in the right direction. Andy

  6. Hi Andy just like to say you have some excellent articles many thanks .O which points from Peco do you recommend on a digital layout many thanks .

    • Hi Chris, personally, I’d go Peco Electrofrog but that’s mainly most of my layouts are DCC industrial with largely short wheelbase locos. Otherwise, I’d go Insulfrog. Does that answer your question?

  7. Dear Sir or Madam

    Please can you help me with tips on how to solder Peco colour wires to my Insulfrog crossings {Double/single Slips} Getting no help here in the US-I am into DCC
    Done most of the soldering; the wires to the rails/points..The insulfrog crossings do not have, has no loose silver wires like “Pecos code 75..Have all code 100”
    Cut the track feeding length- wires about 8-1/2 inches for the feeders, and the points length feeders to about 11 inches, will lay the bus wires under the board and hope the feeders will reach
    I was Pecos code 75 crossings will be easy to wires up-then insulfrog!!

    Nigel Woodgate {[email protected]}

  8. Hey Andy, just wanted to thank you for this great tip. It’s been about 20 years since I have had a layout and I am starting my second one. Looking for more of your tips, keep up the good work.

  9. Hi fella, nice site, keep up the good work! In regard to tracklaying, some people I’ve spoken to advise against pinning or gluing pointwork in place, and just fixing the surrounding track. Do you have an opinion on this (ps sorry if this is answered elsewhere)

    • Hi Janet, great question! if you buy the same model yes but different locos should have different sounds. The good onces will also vary the sound that is played so they won’t all be making the same sounds at the same time. Andy

  10. Really enjoyed reading all your tips. As a new modeller myself, a complete novice, they are not only extremely helpful and insightful but well presented and very easy to understand. Thank you!

    Richard

    PS an explanation of wiring electrofrog turnouts for dcc would also be most welcome!

  11. Hi Andy liked your notes on track laying it helps to know someones mistakes before starting your own layout keep up the good work much appreciated Ken

  12. I’m new to your site but have been messing-up, changing the layout, made loads of the errors you’ve mentioned, wish I’d thought about things first and much more for a couple of years now.
    I just wanted to say that the site is excellent, I’m now planning to be a regular visitor. Well set out and lots of good stuff.
    Your time and efforts are very much appreciated. Thanks.

  13. Hi Andy,
    Don’t stop the blog. I have only been a railway modeller fo 18 months and out of all the stuff out there I find yours one of the more simpler to understand and the most constructive. I agree with Emma’s comment though. I find visual learning easier and it would be really helpful if you did some of the more complicated stuff and uploaded it to YouTube.
    Charles

    • Don’t worry Charles, no intention to stop it but it really helps to have feedback! YouTube is an ongoing challenge for me as I’m never happy with my videos and coming up with ideas to add to the excellent ones already there isn’t easy. Hoping to upload more soon. Andy

  14. Hi Andy. Good point(s), well made. I’ve made all the mistakes listed but it’s good to be reminded before I make them all over again on my next layout. Keep them coming and thanks for a great site.

  15. Thank you for all time and effort you put into these articles. Being a complete novice when it comes to the model railway world I have found all of them extremely helpful. Keep up the good work!

  16. Have you considered about making a YouTube Channel, It would help people to visualise what you taking about too. I know my brother would love that.

  17. Last Christmas I bought myself a model railway.It wasn’t a starter pack either, It’s a Hornby Flying Scotsman.My main question is; Which is the best board to buy and how big should it be? I’ve been tempted to buy an 8′ x 4ft plywood board, but is this board strong enough and is it likely to bend over time, leaving me with an unstable layout.
    Your knowledge would be greatly appreciated
    Thanks Chris

    • Hi Chris, the size of the board depends on the size of the layout you want to build; lots of people work in 8x4ft. PLywood is a great material to build on although you should support it underneath with beams along the length and depth and across the mid-section. Andy

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