Part 4b: Laying the Roadbed (Draft)

In part 3 of the series “Building the Evans Hollows Industrial“, we looked at keeping the layout at a comfortable height off the floor. This ensures that the layout is comfortable to operate and does not cause you fatigue.

Part 4 will deal with getting the track down and running. In part (4a) we’re setting out and glueing down the roadbed. Let’s get to it.

What I’m using and why

Building the layout on a hollow-core door, and using expanded foam (the blue foam in my case) for the sub-roadbed there is a risk of creating a drum if you don’t provide a means to sonically isolate the motor and wheel sounds from the door skin. I’m using cork for the roadbed, and I’m gluing it to the foam with the track glued on top of that. The glue I’m using is a foam safe mastic and allows the foam to flex while providing a thin isolating membrane that I hope will lower the motor noise. Only time will tell. But the theory is sound.

I bought sheets of 5mm (~3/16″) and 3mm (~1/8″) thickness many years ago when we first came back to Australia. If you have a local supplier this is a much cheaper alternative to the stuff the local hobby shop sells you. I’ve been using the sheets I’ve had now for over 14 years and there’s still plenty to go around for several more layouts.

Let’s get down to how we go from plan to track on the board.

A note on designing and building

Software, no matter how good cannot replace the human eye when it comes to seeing what looks right. In building small layouts there is always a little fiddling required to go from the screen to setting out track on the layout board. What appears fine on a monitor sometimes looks wrong on the layout board. Go with your mind on this point.

I’ve laid 1:1 scale track with the experts from the Victorian Goldfields Railway and often the mark 1, mod 1 eyeball is the best tool available to ensure things are correct and in alignment. This is also true from an artistic point of view. Sometimes it has to look right to work right.

Step 1: Setting out your plan on the board


  1. You’ll want to transfer your layout design using reference points. Rule up a grid on the layout that matches the grid lines on your software’s plan (most software uses 12″squares or the equivalent metric measurement). If you’re not sure how to print out the gridlines, consult the software’s help file. Usually, it is in the print dialogue.
  2. Set out your switches (points for those of us down under) in their final location according to the plan and pin them down with map pins, “T” pins, or whatever you have available.
  3. Layout the flex track to join the switches. Make sure that joints between track and the switches have a smooth transition.  Additionally, make sure that there are smooth transitions from straight to curved sections of flex track. (This will assist in trouble-free operation later on).
  4. You may have to move switches around to smooth rail joints and curves. Do this now. Don’t be afraid to vary from your software plan.
  5. Pin all of the flex track in place.
  6. Now it’s time to pay attention to the head blocks of your switches. Make sure that you have clearance to operate your switches using your method of choice. (I’m using a rod in tube method that will be below grade for the operation of the point throw.)
  7. once you are happy with the position of your track, switches and everything looks OK it is time to mark the layout top using a marker. I prefer a fine sharpie for this. Use whatever you have to hand. Make sure that it is at least semi-permanent and small enough to get into and around the ties.

What I changed during track positioning

Something was missing from a purely visual perspective. What changed it for me was including a curved point and the siding coming from it. That gave an organic look to the layout that was missing before. This is highlighted especially from a lower viewing angle.

Before you move on

Now is time to:

  • Complete a test fit of the car types planned for each spur. This checks the spur length is sufficient for the number and types of cars per your operating plan
  • Work through a mental operating session. I had done this earlier on the computer in the design phase. I find it worthwhile to test it in the real world too as a check on any assumptions I have made.

Satisfied that everything would work for me and be interesting enough to switch for the next few years I lifted all the track and points. (Now is the last chance to double-check all of your track outlines are in place and clearly marked.)

Laying the roadbed

What you’ll need:

  • Cork or other sub-roadbed,
  • a blade or scissors to cut the sub-roadbed, and
  • Foam-safe adhesive.

Please note: Everything described in this section applies to my method alone. Your methods may vary so use common-sense in applying what I describe here.

What is foam-safe adhesive and why do I need it?

If you are using foam as the layout board surface you need to use a foam-safe glue. This ensures that the glue does not eat the foam (melting it).

cork into strips just wide enough to cover from the track centre to the tie edge

glue spread along the  track marking and then strips are laid in place with overlapping joins to ensure that the cork only goes where I want the roadbed to be.

Head blocks must be accounted for as must the locations for the point activating mechanism (rod in tube) at this time – this will be dealt with in the next installment of the series.




Designing Small Operating layouts you can build since 2003

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