Sunday, January 27, 2013

T Track Technique

Arguably the most important component of a model railroad is the trackage.  It is a major scenic component, but must also be very functional.  T-gauge has major limitations with track, caused both by the operating considerations and the small market.  Eishindo makes the only track system for the scale, so we must work with what they make.  It's a decent track system, in my opinion, but has it's flaws.  Being 1:450 of the real thing, and therefore severely compressed, concessions are made in order to provide reasonably reliable operation and durability.  Some components are grossly oversize.  For example, the railhead itself is about 0.5mm wide--about 8" to scale.   This gives good electrical contact area, and also is not too easy to accidentally bend or break.  Similarly, ties are too thick, and spaced too far apart (about twice what is found in a North American prototype.)  Even so, with proper painting and installation, it can look--as with most things in T-- "good enough".  As I like to say,  "it offers a reasonable representation of the prototype."  This is my mantra in T-gauge!

Since most--or all--of my track will be Eishindo flex-track, I experimented with a few different techniques to get a decent appearing, reasonably fast-and-easy to install system.  After a few experiments, I landed on a system using uncured butyl rubber (AMI Instant Roadbed).  My roll of old AMI roadbed is light gray, 1/8" thick (about 3mm) and comes in a 30-foot roll.  It is a semi-soft material that flexes easily, can be painted, and (importantly) retains shapes pressed into it.  AMI went out of business, but you may find some old rolls at your LHS or, you can buy butyl rubber rolls from auto parts stores where it's sold as air conditioner sealer, or roofing patch.  You will probably need to paint it because most of what I've seen is black, but that's ok.  You can even press T-gauge ballast into it if you wish.  Below is my technique for your consideration:   

First, I cut the rubber lengthwise into strips about 12mm wide using the x-acto knife.  Next, I cut these strips again lengthwise in half, but I bevel the slice about 45 degrees.  Once you peel them apart, This way you end up with two "halves" of the ballast, which (similar to cork roadbed) can be butted up against each other with the beveled edges out representing the slope of the ballast. 

Using your center line as a guide you can then install the ballast on the layout. 

The next step is the track itself.  I use the gray tie flextrack.  The gray flextrack actually looks like old faded ties or concrete ones.  I paint the whole system (rail and ties) roof brown.  You could also use rail brown.  Previously, the track will have been bent to shape, and once dry you just press it into the soft ballast roadbed.  I use my thumb but a small block of wood can be used to try ensure the rail is level.  

The track system at this point looks pretty good, and you may like it just as it is.  (You would still want to spray the whole thing with Dullcote to keep dust from sticking to the balast.)  In my case, it didn't look quite good enough, and I wanted to finish it off a little more to add realism.   This is again pretty fast and easy:  First I give the ballast a wash of light gray.  This blends in some of the flecks of brown in the material.  Next, using a medium grit sanding board, I press the shoulders of the ballast to a more prototypical profile,  I try to eliminate any large bumps which would not exist in the real world.  It also imparts a very fine granular texture.  A prototype photo is always a good thing to consult when doing this.

The final finishing steps are to dust the whole system (using a photo as reference) with a little white or light gray weathering chalk.  This added more white highlights which I wanted.  If you were modeling an area with a flange greaser or engine facility, you can add black, or an area that sees a lot of sanding even more white or tan-- whatever you deem fit.   Then, very importantly, seal the whole thing with a good coat of Dullcote (flat lacquer).  The rail heads will need a good polishing with fine sandpaper.  That's it!



  1. As there is a general consensus which is as much as stated above, that the track is severely over-sized for 1:450th of the actual size, then perhaps it would be best to refer to all things here as "T-Gauge" as opposed to "T Scale."

    T-Gauge it should be as none of these materials are built to "workable tolerances," which generally speaking are plus or minus 5%.

  2. I generally use the terms interchangeably or just say "T" alone, but to be precise you are correct. There was some debate as to whether 1:480 or 1:450 was the scale too (based on track gauge). I've standardized my work on 1:450 and am more concerned with what appears acceptable but still have operational reliability and economy. The current flex track is "good enough", heck we're lucky to have it since I don't like sectional-- but at some point someone will hopefully make track a bit closer to scale.