Adjusting Model Train Track Work

If you are an experienced model railroader you already know that keeping your track clean is only part of the battle for keeping your trains running.  It is essential that you maintain your track to certain tolerances to both gauge and surface for your trains to routinely run smoothly and trouble free.  Because of the current quality of new track components, railroaders can rely on having many years of reliable performance if these components are installed correctly. 

On the other hand, there are numerous outside forces that are constantly at work and subsequently can be a constant source of trouble.  Although regular use can be a source of problems, it is more likely that misuse will be the cause for these unwanted issues.

A component of a model train layout which can be a source for trouble is the support structure below the track.  Most bench works are made from wood and it is also used to create sub roadbeds.   Changes in climate such as humidity and temperature can deteriorate wood, and with these changes comes a natural contraction and expansion of wood.  When this occurs, track work, even if it is carefully adjusted can be thrown out of alignment.  Some track issues are more than noticeable because they are evidenced by buckling or kinks which are obvious to the eye.

Conversely, more frequently, the changes in track alignment are less obvious, and are much more subtle.  The best advice one can follow is to check things out in advance or through a routine maintenance schedule that includes checking track work, rather than waiting until this type of problem presents itself while your trains are running.

This can be accomplished by regularly running a track gauge over the right-of-way which will assist in locating potential problem spots.  Because of this tools accuracy, you’ll be able to locate irregularities, and make the necessary corrections before they become an operational problem. 

It is best to use a three point gauge because it will slide continuously along your tracks, and will quickly find any deviances in your track.  Also, this type of gauge is rail-code specific, which then mandates that you purchase this tool at the correct gauge or gauges.  The one disadvantage of this tool is that they will not work over crossings or turnouts. 

For these you’ll have to use the NMRA gauge.  If you’re working in N scale you’ll want to use a Micro Trains coupler because one side has a track gauge.  This is simply an option for N scale modelers, as the previously mentioned tools will work as well.

When inspecting your track with the three point gauge, you will more than likely encounter spots on your track which are tight.  This really isn’t anything to be worried about unless you lift the gauge off the rail to clear the spot.  If that is the case, use an NMRA gauge to check the spot.  You should adjust the track if the track gauge is to wide or narrow and exceeds the NRA tolerance.

The easiest type of track to adjust is hand laid track.  To adjust, just apply a necessary amount of pressure on the side of the rail, and then drive as many spikes as are necessary into the ties along the defective area until the gauge is correct. 

Where hand laid track is easy to adjust, commercial track is an entirely different situation, and this is because the rails are molded into a hard plastic tie strip.  What you’ll have to do to adjust the gauge on this type of track….is remove the molded on spikes, and whatever plate detail that is present down to the level of the bottom of the rail for the entire length of the irregularity. 

Do this with a no.17 Exacto blade or something similar.  Secure the rail in its proper gauge by using small spikes.  You’ll find that it will be necessary to drill small holes through the ties, since it is impossible to drive the spikes through the tough plastic.  You’ll want to use a three point track gauge to hold the rail to it’s proper gauge and drill your holes about every third or fourth tie right along the base of the rail.  Try to drill the size of the holes as closely to the size of the spikes as you can so they fit snugly.  This is essential if you are using a soft roadbed material such as cork or Homasote.

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