Creating Highways And Roads For Your Model Train Layout

Written by Elliot Davenport
Date: July 1st, 2013

The aspect of your model railroad which brings it to life and creates the illusion of realism is its scenery. Scenery is the least ready-to-run component of a model railroad, and most likely represents the reason why many model railroaders are hesitant to become involved in scenery creation.

When you arrive at the point in the building of your layout where it is finally time to start adding scenery to your railroad you may as well jump in with both feet. You see, of all the things you create for a model railroad, scenery is the most forgiving.

There are no elements of scenery that can’t be done again if you’re not satisfied with your first effort. Of the various things which you’ll consider adding to your layout, one of the more important of these is the highways and roads which are always present in cities and outlying areas.


Where your trains require tracks to travel on, the vehicles that you add will also need roads, highways, and streets. When you think about it, a model railroad is all about transporting products, people, and goods.


In order for these important things to get to the railroads on which they will eventually travel on they will need roads and highways to reach the railroads which will transport them from one destination to another. With that thought in mind, we should also give the same care and thought to our roads and highways as we do all of the other elements which represent our model train layout scenery.


Building Roads, Highways And Streets

The model railroader has more than one option for accomplishing the project of creating roads and highways, and one that I favor is through the use of sheet styrene. This is a great product to use because you can simulate both asphalt and concrete which are the materials used for highways as well as most roads. Additionally, the surface of this material is smooth but also has flexibility, which means that it can be shaped to the contours of your layout’s scenery.

Another advantage that is a desirable characteristic of sheet styrene is that it is easy to cut and this task can easily be accomplished with a hobby knife. The most suitable size or thickness of styrene to work with for roads, streets, and highways is .040 inches. As an added note, most hobby shops and craft stores sell sheet styrene.

When cutting sheet styrene, it’s best to work with a straight edge which you’ll use as guide to scribe the materials surface. After doing so, then complete your cut with a hobby knife.

After you cut the pieces that you’re going to use for your roads, streets, or highways make sure that you test fit your pieces on the layout’s surface. If you are satisfied with the fit of the pieces you’ve cut, use latex caulk or construction adhesive to secure them to your layout surface. Make sure you lay several beads of adhesive and then smooth it out with a putty knife.

Also, if your placing your road on an area of your layout which has contours you’ll find that securing the road with pins will be helpful until the adhesive has fully dried (drying time for the adhesive is approximately 24 hours).


Painting Roads And Highways

Before you begin painting your roads, you’ll want to sand its surface with a fine grit sandpaper to remove any and all existing irregularities. Painting is best done with an airbrush (you can also use a flat, wide paintbrush) and involves three different steps and they are as follows:

1. Airbrush or hand paint using a wide, flat brush Polly Scale Aged Concrete on the road as a base coat. When you take a close look at concrete which has been around for awhile you’ll notice that the color varies. If your final results vary a little bit that is okay because it will appear more realistic. Apply two coats of paint taking care not to spray or brush the paint on so thickly that you fill any expansion joints which you may have added for a touch of realism.

2. The next step involves applying a wash of black acrylic paint. Thin the paint by about ninety five percent with rubbing alcohol. You do this to make the expansion joints you’ve installed for your roads or highways more distinct and prominent to the observers eye.

3. Finally, set your airbrush (or use a fine paint brush) to a fine setting and slowly build up the tire tracks (which add an additional touch of realism) with your choice of black acrylic paint which should be thinned by at least fifty percent.

Given that there are several different options for creating roads and highways for your layout, one other choice which you may want to consider that works quite well is a product which is made by Walthers.

This company makes a product called Walthers concrete street components (no. 933-3138). This is a modular system and offers sections such as curb, sidewalk and street sections. For making streets you may find that you really don’t have to look any further than what Walthers offers to the model railroader for your city streets.