How to Lay Tracks & Ballasts

Written by sean kotz
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How to Lay Tracks & Ballasts
Model railroad ballasting simulates the stone bed that supports real tracks. (Fred Froese/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Laying track and securing ballast is one of the most basic aspects of model railroading. It is important both to creating an aesthetically-pleasing layout and to getting a smooth ride on the rails. However, it can be intimidating when you first attempt it. Ballasting can also be messy if you don't work methodically. However, it becomes second nature after you have done it a few times. You'll find that with some simple tools and patience you can get great results, especially if you work in small sections.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Pencil
  • Cork or synthetic road bed
  • Scissors
  • White glue
  • Model railroad track
  • Track nails
  • Rail nippers or razor saw
  • Ballasting stone
  • Small cup
  • Small funnel or paper cone
  • Small brush
  • Water
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Pipette or drinking straw
  • Clean cotton cloth

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    Laying and Ballasting

  1. 1

    Mark the desired position of your rail lines on your layout with a pencil, temporarily tacking down the track to hold the pieces in place.

  2. 2

    Remove the track and cover the track line with strips of cork or synthetic road bed, securing with a few rail nails and white glue. Trim the road bed as necessary with household scissors.

  3. 3

    Position the track in place, trimming the rails and ties with rail nips or a razor saw as necessary.

  4. 4

    Tack down the rails after test fitting all parts and apply a small amount of white glue to the bottom of a few ties to hold it in place and allow to set.

  5. 5

    Pour a few ounces of rail ballast into a small cup.

  6. 6

    Transfer a few teaspoons of the rail ballast to the funnel and slowly tap the sides, allowing the ballast to fill the gaps between the rail ties both inside and outside the rails.

  7. 7

    Brush and shape the ballast with a small, flat-headed brush until the ballast lies even with the ties and the edges are smooth and shaped into a gentle angle.

  8. 8

    Mix a solution of 1 part white glue, 1 part isopropyl alcohol and 4 parts water to use as a securing solution for the ballast. (See Reference 1)

  9. 9

    Draw a few drops of your glue solution into a pipette or drinking straw and drop a few drops of the solution at a time on the ballast, allowing it to soak in. (See Reference 1)

  10. 10

    Repeat this process for each track and let the ballast cure for 24 hours before running trains on the track.

  11. 11

    Wipe down the rails with isopropyl alcohol to clean the rails when the process is complete.

Tips and warnings

  • Work in one section at a time to get the best result.
  • It may be worth your while to use a few pieces of extra track and road bed for practice before you begin.
  • Use smaller amounts of ballast around switches and test the switches before securing the ballast.
  • If your train is derailing or not running, it could be because ballast or glue is laying on the track. Make sure the line is clean before checking the electrical connections.

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