model railway track detailing

Woody Bay in 009 by Bob Barnard

Only too often, good models are spoiled by poor track detailing. If you are modelling a track layout that was operated from a signal box, you will need to fit dummy point rodding and signal cables. All the bits are available from Model Signal Engineering. Those who model modern image will need to be installing maybe, point motors, concrete cable channels and lineside boxes. Some of these may have to be fitted prior to ballasting.

The track can now be painted in 'mucky track colour' I mix this up from Tamiya acrylic paint and whack it on with an air brush. I wipe the paint off the rail heads with paper towels before it dries.

If this baseboard has station platforms or loading bays or anything else close up to the track, now is the time to fit it. For heaven's sake make sure that your rolling stock does not foul anything.


Like it or loath it, ballasting your track will transform the look of your layout in a heartbeat. The stuff comes in all sorts of colours and hopefully, you will have a fair idea of what is right on your railway. Some railways were to say the least, somewhat devoid of the commodity such as the Tal-y-llyn railway before preservation. Some lines were ballasted using ash,  others had tracks almost buried in sand while others were quite overgrown.


Some ballast which claims to be for a certain scale can be well oversize. Take care not to make this mistake. You can use very fine sifted sand if this is nearer to prototype or even sifted coal ash or ground coal! Do not forget that sections of track may be recently re-ballasted so the colour and cleanliness will vary. The ballast directly under and shouldering the track may well be of a newer and higher quality than the surrounds, such as is shown in the photo below.

Having chosen your ballasts, you can start to sprinkle it on the track. Very carefully with a small soft brush, remove grains from the tops of sleepers (unless you wish them to be covered) and take care that ballast is not interfering with your point blades. Once you are satisfied, lightly spray the track with an atomiser using water with a dash of washing up liquid. The will pre-wet the ballast and make life a lot easier. You can now introduce the glue. This should be PVA diluted 50% and again mixed with a few drops of washing up liquid. This is carefully dropped onto the track using a large dropper or squeezey. The glue will migrate and bind the whole lot together. If anything gets slightly misplaced when adding glue, you can move it back into place with a damp brush or finger. You must now walk away from the whole affair for 24 hours.

Next day, you can carefully remove any errant grains with a dental pick and check that the point blades still work freely. (at times you will have to really work to clear them) During the steam era, ballast quickly became tainted with oil and sometimes ash. Engine sheds were famous for this. You can adjust the ballast colours with paint washes.

the engine shed yard at County Gate

You can now add vegetation where appropriate, in such places as alongside the platform and even on the track itself provided that it will remain clear of wheels and gears.

You can now add point rodding, signal cables and all the associated cranks and pulleys, dummy point levers, crossings and any other appropriate detail you require Make sure that such parts are correctly painted.

With any luck, you are now beginning to have track that looks rather good. All you have to do now is to clean off the rail tops with a track rubber and scrape the paint off the inside of the rail heads with a scalpel. This is important as this area plays a big role in current collection.

Now check that all your point motors work and test the track with trains all over again. Almost certainly you will have to pick out bits of ballast which foul wheel flanges causing stock to jump. With some time and trouble you will now have realistic and good running track.


If only one or two vehicles derail, it is almost certainly due to the back to back settings of the wheels being incorrect. Mess with track as a last resort and at your peril.