Railway Crest


There is much debate on the subject of what to mount your track on. One factor in this is what height you want the track at. For the purposes of this discussion I'm limiting myself to to a 'ground level' trackbed because that's what I've gone for and have experience of. I can understand the attractions of a waist-level raised layout, especially for Gauge 1 and smaller, but it doesn't provide what I was looking for.

At ground level there seem to be four basic options.

  • something hard and immovable
  • something not so hard, but rottable
  • something loose
  • something garden-railway-specific and temporary

In reverse order, the product I'm thinking of here is {name escapes me) which provides a solution that is explicitly based around the track product and not really intending to model anything. It spikes into the lawn and you bolt the track to it. I've no experience of this sort of product so will say no more.

There are those who advocate modelling the real world solution of a loose ballast trackbed with the track laying freely on top of this - on the basis that it's good enough for many tons of 300mm:1ft scale traffic so it should be good enough for lightweight models. It strikes me that there is something wrong with scaling the physics in this way, and that not having the opportunity to scale down wind, rain, or passing cats in the same way as the trains probably makes this quite a high maintenance option. Again, I've not tried it so will shut up now. However, it does ocur to me that combining these first two options might be a go'er.

This brings us to the two obvious candidates. Timber, or a hard building medium (concrete or blocks laid in concrete). The essential arguments are robustness vs speed vs appearance. For a trackbed that doesn't get much higher than a couple of inches above the surrounding ground level I went for pouring a concrete trackbed in situ.

The obvious benefit is that this clearly isn't going to move anywhere fast. The big risk is that this clearly isn't going to move anywhere fast. You need to get it right first time, and, if it does subside at all, you've got problems. However, for the appearance I was wanting this is clearly the best candidate.

Don't underestimate the work involved with concrete. If you have a single 6" wide trackbed, averaging 6" depth, then every 36 yards requires a cubic yard of concrete. A cubic yard of sand is about 1.5 tons, a builders merchants' bag (one of those big beasties) is typically around a ton. Don't forget delivery charges, and you may well want to beg, hire or borrow a mixer because mixing a few tons of wet concrete is hard, slow work.

In hindsight, I'm not convinced I'd do the same again. It's not a clear choice. The appearance of the sections I've completed is excellent, but it took several months. I would certainly reconsider using concrete blocks next time - being quicker to lay but probably more expensive.

The obvious alternative is that of using timber, between suitable supports. All the books say don't do this because it rots, deforms, etc. However, I've seen this done very successfully - even using timber supports. On the third hand, since learning what goes into tanalised timber to make it rot-proof I've been decidedly wary of the stuff.

At a later stage, when adding a branch, I considered the option of a wood-based trackbed but in the end I opted for concrete again for looks and robustness. On the fourth hand (this is getting silly) it would be an awful lot easier to screw track down into wood than concrete. More on this topic on the track-laying page...

The mixer
My friend in orange. Not me - the mixer!

Gap from Redbridge
Another bridge gap, but scarily the final join.

Bricks holding the track down, CDs ensuring expansion gaps. Working on the lift-off bridge.