Laying some track – part 2

I’m going to start this second track laying section by suggesting that you add your wiring to the layout and test it as you go along. Before any track was laid on this current project,  I had to think about where I would put any isolating rails (as this is a DC controlled layout) and where power controllers were going to be placed. As this was to be a sectional layout I also had to consider how I was to connect the wires between each of the boards.

In order to aid the operation of trains into the goods yard, I added isolating rails to the ends of the 5 lines in the main area of my layout and additional breaks in the coal depot. I suggest that you can solder these wires to the rails or if you are anxious about soldering you can use the peco wires where the rail joiners are helpfully soldered to wires for you and colour coded to ease identification. I used some of these just to make life easier although I have to say, they aren’t cheap and I used my soldering iron in other places on the layout.

Your choice of controller is also important and needs to be right for your layout and scale. As I was building an O gauge layout, I needed to think about having a controller suitable for O gauge and useable on my layout. I opted for a mountable single track controller with separate transformer made by Gaugemaster.

My layout requires 4 power supply inputs, so to enable this to happen, I used a rotary switch. The power from the controller goes to this and then using the rotary switch, I chose to send it to either the main line into the station, the headshunt, the bothy, or the coal depot. Even during the building phase of my layout, I have found that this makes the operation of my layout, hugely satisfying – and surely that’s what we all want from our layouts.

This is probably the point where I should tell you that I am a very disciplined modeller who gets all his track working and electrics installed and then starts on any scenic work. Well it isn’t! I would suggest that you do this. It is the best approach to take and any other approach may end up with tears or problems. I sometimes deviate, however and I also experience problems because of my desire to do ‘other’ things which may be more exciting than the electrical work which won’t be seen when the layout is completed.  If your trackwork has a few problems while you are laying it, you leave it at your peril. It will not be easy to pull up track once it is surrounded by a mix of PVA and ballast so you should try and get it right at the start.

Ballasting is a chore. However, it has to be done properly however it stands out like a sore thumb. I have seen many layouts spoilt by badly laid ballast or layouts where this has totally been ignored.

nevard crop

George Street N Gauge Layout built by Shaun Harvey
Picture by Chris Nevard © Used with permission

On Princes Street Goods Yard I have used Woodlands Scenic fine ballast. There are many types of ballast available from many retailers and these have been frequently been compared and tested in the railway modelling press.  If you are new to  model railways, you may have read lots of different things about how to fix your ballast to the boards. I have consistently used thinned down PVA with a few drops of washing liquid to reduce the water tension. This is a tried and tested method used by many modellers without problems. What it does need , however, is time, patience and attention to detail.

I use a fine syringe to cover my ballast with glue. If you allow it to move the ballast, you will end up with a mess of ballast of glue following over your track and ballast. This will leave you with a mess to clean up once the glue dries.


I have always tried to keep my ballast looking tidy before any glue is added. This involves adding the ballast to the layout in small amounts, knowing where the ballast is to end and making sure that there was no ballast on the sleepers. This is just a personal preference as today’s track is often laid with a lot more ballast over the concrete sleepers. When you are ready to add your glue, take extra care around your points paying particular attention around the point blades. Keep the glue in this area to a minimum and keep checking that your point blades do not get stuck as the glue dries. Leave your ballast for 2-3 days to dry and don’t fiddle with it. When it is rock hard and dry you can then remove any stray pieces of ballast with a knife blade or small screw driver. A dust-buster type tool or vacuum is good for removing any loose ballast which could end up inside your engines. You will need to clean your track too as your glue may have formed a film over your track work.

It will do you no harm to think about where your layout is set as an old steam depot will not have used high quality ballast. Many depots used old cinders and ash under their tracks which could be made by using fine sand if this is your chosen railway setting. If you want to add some extra realism, go to your nearest station and look at the colour of the track in the station area. Where trains stop or pause, there will be oil and blackened ballast. You should try to recreate this with watered down enamel paint, an airbrush or weathering powders. I have even used crushed up artists pastels to recreate oily ballast spots. There is no substitute for a good look at the real thing or some good reference pictures.