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Peter's Model Railroading | Articles | Track | Handlaying
Installing Rail


I cut two pieces of rail to the desired length, if need be, and then use the Tomalco Track gauges to roughly line up the rails to where they are equally spaced on the ties. If you wire your rail, then this will be the time to solder feeder wires to the rail. For those of us who are "Dead Rail", we can skip that step. Note that these step-by-step construction photos show a test track on which I was testing this concept. It worked, however, so this is exactly how I have been attaching my non-flextrack rail ever since. You can see the finished results in the two tracks behind the front one.

I then slide a tie plate under one of the rails. The pre-attached tiny 1"x2" strip of the tie plate sits to the outside of the rail's base. Then place another tie plate under the opposite rail on the same tie. I do that again with another tie some distance away, and put a metal weight on the rails in the space between them. That holds the two rails in position and the gauges will make sure the rail spacing is correct. Again, visually line up the two rails so that they are evenly spaced across the ties.

Using a small applicator (this is a dowel with a sewing needle whose eye has been cut in half; bought at a local train show), I apply super-glue to the joint area between the tie plate and the tie. Capillary action will draw the glue into and under the joint. If the tie plate has shifted somewhat during the alignment, you can use the applicator to gently push it into position as you apply the glue. The super-glue will grab in a matter of one or two seconds, so you must be quick, but gentle. I then do the same step again on the tie plate on the other side of the tie. And, finally, do that again to the tie plates on the other tie.

This is an optional step. The reason being is that I am getting ready to permanently glue the rail to the tie plates. This is OK if the track will be in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room, but if it is not, the rail will need to be able to move around. You could drill a hole in the tie plate and spike the rail, or apply some sort of brass wire to simulate the spike head's functionality of preventing the rail from lifting up, if you want to use this method and have those ambient conditions. I am using super-glue to attach the rail to the tie plate. I do this by applying the glue to the applicator, and then touching the applicator to the joint corner between the tie plate and the rail base. Again, capillary action will draw the glue into the area under the rail base and above the tie plate. I let the weights and gauges sit for several minutes to really allow the super-glue to set, and to prevent any movement of the rail. I apply the glue between the tie plates and the rail base at the other three locations as well.

With the two rails now having a foot-hold onto their positions, I expand the range. On straight track, such as this example, I can space the gauges quite some distance apart. Near each of these gauge I insert another pair of tie plates under the rail at the same tie. From experience I have learned that if you just start installing tie plates at the next tie from the first set that you installed to begin with, it is actually quite easy to get misaligned track. So, the approach I take is what is shown here. This spaced-out method allows me to visually see that the track is going in the general direction that it should, and then I can "lock" that in place with the handful of tie plates. One thing to note here is the metal weights that I use on the rail. Be sure to put just a loose pair of tie plates under the rails at or near the metal weights, otherwise they will slightly bend down the rail causing all sorts of problems later on, including not being able to slip more tie plates under the rails in between already-installed ones.

With these handfuls of tie plates attached to the ties and to the rails, we can remove all weights and gauges, and just start "filling in the blanks". I just repeat the process of slipping a tie plate under the rail, and applying glue. While superglue, as used in this situation, isn't strong enough at any one tie plate location, when you do this for the entire rail, it will not move. Period.

When all of the tie plates are in position, I then go back and attach the tiny 1"x2" strips to the inside edge of the joint between the tie plate and the rail base. I use styrene glue to attach it to the tie plate, and then later come back use superglue at the joint between the strip and the rail base. This completes the construction of a section of straight track. The rail does not come loose. When I later threw away this test track, I had to willfully rip the rails from the base to get it to come loose. I think even an errant shirt sleeve will not rip it off. Once the glue cures, the rail will not move, so it will always remain in gauge.

For curved tracks, it is always best to lay the inside rail first. If you do not, then you may lay the outside rail too tight, and the inside rail will wind up at the edge or even off of the end of the ties. As seen in this photo, I am laying the inside rail first, with the outside rail lagging several inches behind in its construction. Note the long strip of styrene at the far end of the rail. This is so that the weights don't bend the rail down. But, due the curvature of the rail, just placing a single tie plate under that end of the rail turned out to not work, as the rail slips off of it easily, I just put a full strip of the 1"x12" styrene across the track, so that both rails will be held up correctly. And, of course, thanks to "dead rail" track, I can run my engine on the track as I lay it, to verify that everything is working as intended.