Dan Becker's Model Trains - Laying N Scale Track

transferring the track pattern
Transfering the track pattern
Hello and welcome to part 2 of a series of articles about N scale model train building. This article shows the layout and basing of the N scale track. The previous article discusses how I build a table for my 3 by 6 foot (0.9 by 1.9 m) layout.

I based my track layout design on the Woodland Scenics Scenic Ridge layout. However, I tend to like continuous "roundy round" train operations, so I got rid of thesiding and added an extra loop. Full instructions for Scenic Ridge are available from Woodland Scenics.

The first photo show transferring the track pattern to the table top. As a first step the wooden table top has been covered with thin sheet of styrofoam. The Woodland Scenics kit came with this 1/2" (1 cm) thick sheet. Then I printed out the track design to paper with about a 400 to 500 percent magnification. Hopefully your printer driver has a option like this. Tape the pattern to the table top and puncture holes in the pattern with an awl or a small screwdriver. I then sprayed black paint on the pattern to transfer the puncture dots to the table top.

test fitting the track
Test fitting the track
This photo shows test fitting the track on the table top. I decided to go with Atlas Code 55 track instead of the more common Code 80 track. The code number is a measure of the height of the model track rails. Code 55 is shorter, but closer to proper scale of an actual rail road. Code 80 is taller and less to scale, but it also is less susceptible to dirt and grit problems and in general is friendlier to running trains.

As you see I put a little jog on the back wall of the outer loop. I wanted to make sure that anyone looking into the tunnel would not see where the tunnel headed. It turns out the tunnels are so dark that I really did not need this little detail.

raising the track on risers
Raising the track on risers
This photo shows how the track is given three dimensions by raising it on styrofoam ramps and risers. This step is loads of fun as you simply glue the ramps with white glue and hold it in place with hat pins. Woodland Scenics sells these products, but I have found ordinary Elmer's, PVA glue, and hat pins all perform similarly. Notice the entire track layout is at least 2 inches (5 cm) above the table top. This allows some deep gullies and ravines and gives the layout nice elevations.

The ramps come in 1 and 2 degree slopes so the ascent and descent of the model trains is nice and even. The risers come in a few different heights, but notice that you can stack the risers to get the track really high in the air.

Styrofoam is fun to work with. You can easily cut it with a hot wire tool (which makes a nice neat cut in the foam) or long razor knife (which can cause some foam flakes depending on how sharp your knife is).

profile board and some tunnel walls
Profile board and some tunnel walls
This photo shows the "profile board" installed on the back side of the layout. The idea of the profile is to make a nice abrupt end on the edge of the layout. In case the profile will show a mountain ridge. Make it as high or as jagged as you like.

Also notice some walls for a tunnel have been glued into place. I enjoy the tunnels on this layout, and I think it is one of the fascinating features of model train layouts.You see a train enter the mountain. It disappears. You wonder where it went. Some time later a speeding train emerges from another opening. How did it get there? Was there any trouble along the way? This layout has three tunnels through the mountain. Loads of fun.

Some tunnels
Some tunnels
Here comes my biggest gripe with the Woodland Scenics "Scenic Ridge" kit - the instructions. Big frustration number 1: the Woodland Scenics instructions ask that you disassemble the track keeping only keep the tunnel track in place while you go and work on scenery. I found it a royal pain to reassemble the track at a later time and try to get it all to fit together the same way. Sometimes I had to purchase additional track sections, as one of the sections which fit so nicely now needs a slightly longer or shorter piece. It never seems to go together the same way twice!

My recommendation is to layout the track, glue in the foam bed, and glue down the track all at once. Cover it with masking tape if you are working on some messy scenery, but definitely get it down all at once and fix it into place all at once.

More tunnels
More tunnels
This photo shows the triple tunnels at the other end of the layout. The foam arches will be the backing for the nice plaster stone portal castings that Woodland Scenics makes.

Here comes my big frustration number 2 with this layout. That gray sand you see on the track is called ballast. It simulates the rocks on a real rail road track that allow the water to drain away while providing a nice solid base for the ties and the rails. The Woodland Scenics instructions tell you to pour the sand into place. I had to use a whole lot of it to get the sand to cover the black foam track bed. Then the instructions tell you to use the misting spray bottle (supplied with the kit) fix the ballast into place with some dilute white glue. They call it scenic cement. However, my misting skills must be lacking, because as you can see I blasted the sand all over the place exposing the white and black foam. Perhaps I should have painted the bed so I could use less ballast. Finally, getting that dilute glue all over the rails is no fun to clean up. I spent many many hours cleaning the track and getting the trains to run.

I found a better alternative for the ballast was to use an eye dropper or a nalgene squeezy bottle to squirt the glue into place. The squeezy bottle lets you carefully control the water pressure and the water placement. After laying the dry ballast, I squirt some water and isopropyl alcohol (about 2:1 ratio)into the ballast. The alcohol breaks the water surface tension and allows it to be easily absorbed into the ballast. Once the ballast is wet, I do a second pass with a second squeezy bottle with white glue, water, and just a tiny bit of alcohol. The glue gets sucked down into the wet ballast and forms a rock solid mass when dry.

Other articles in the scale train series include:

Thanks for reading my articles. More train layout photos and articles will be posted in the near future.

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Last modified: Saturday, 13-Nov-2021 09:22:35 MST.