The Big Picture

Model Railway Track PaintingEvery so often it pays to take a step back, review the big picture as your layout progresses and check it’s coming together as a whole. It was on one such recent review that I came to an unfortunate conclusion.

The landscape on my layout looked okay, the buildings are getting there and the trains run smoothly but the railway track — the very element that pulls the story of my layout together — that looked wrong. Very wrong.

As a result instead of a layout where all the parts come together in a cohesive whole to tell a single story, Landreath looked disjointed. A collection of models and a railway.

The source of my dissatisfaction became apparent when I reviewed the prototype pictures.

For a lot of railways the ballast and track is consistent in its colouring and fits the landscape and models around it, as in the picture below of the wonderful Didcot Railway Centre. The rails, sleepers and ballast are all the same colours and fit the surroundings. While there are subtle variations in shade, by and large all the ballast is the same colour, as are the rails and sleepers.

Didcot Railway Centre

And, this is how my model railway looked, well close (I’m allowed to exaggerate a bit).

However… When I examined the photographs from around Par (as below), where my layout is based, the colour of ballast and rails varies considerably reflecting the colouring of the landscape, scenery it passes through and the work going on around it. Ballast goes from Grey to dark Reds to almost Black in places. Rail colours too fluctuate, from normal rail colour to mud and rust colouring mirroring the immediate environment.

Par track colouring
I hadn’t emulated this variation on my layout and it looked wrong — the track work didn’t fit with its surroundings and didn’t hold the layout together. It looked okay but didn’t have that lived in look I wanted.

If I’d thought about this previously, I’d have mixed up different colours of ballast for different regions of track around the layout prior to laying it using my usual ballast laying techniques. Unfortunately, I didn’t do spot this. Stupid!

Rather than pull up the track, remove the ballast and re do it all again, I set about correcting it in situ.

This wasn’t easy or quick but I was convinced that the only way to get the track work correctly looking how I wanted it — fitting the surroundings and its usage — I needed to paint it where it was. Equally, not doing it left Landreath looking like a disconnected collection of models and railway rather than a believable single big picture.

Painting Ballast and Sleepers

For ballast and sleepers, I made up acrylic paint mixtures of the various colours required (Revell Aqua Earth Brown 36187 and Ochre brown 36188), mixed with similar brown colour chalk dust.

Around the engine shed, coal, soot and ash will result in dark blackish deposits so a smokey black composition was made up; around the loading area ore spillage from the wagons required an equally muddy brown and here I used a dark Brown enamel matt (AK Interactive Earth Effects 107) mixed with black chalk powder.

These were dry brushed down the centre of the track and near the rails on the outer edges.

The chalk dust mix and dry brushing technique ensured that the paint only covered the top most visible surface of the ballast, leaving the sides and deeper layer ballast chips in their original Grey colouring so creating an effect of dirt and soot laying where it fell. This gave me the results, seen in the picture at the top of this post, below which I’m happy enough – with for now.

Rail Rust & Weeds

Where track is occasionally used and trains operate at slow speeds, some of the sidings for example, the rails will rust and vegetation grows.

For the rust, I used Revel Aqua 36183 rust rail colour with a tool I’ve made to apply to it to the rails (I’ll cover this another time, for now imagine tweezers holding a paint soaked sponge against rails and dragged behind a loco).

For vegetation, dark green shades of scatter and differing lengths of static grass (2mm and 4mm) were carefully positioned and cotton bud was used to clear this from the sleepers before being sealed in place with hair spray. A static charge was then applied to get the static grass to stand up.

(Apply scatter and static grass after the ballast and rail paint has dried, otherwise the paint will hold the static grass flat and make it difficult to wipe off the sleeper).

The track work now  fits for the surrounding environment and so the big picture of the layout holds together more pleasingly. Job done!

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