Laying Track

What is laying track all about?

Some model railroaders don’t lay their own track. They either buy an existing layout or hire someone to lay the track for them. 

With all the new track on the market it is not as hard as it once was, and more modelers are getting the satisfaction of doing it themselves. 

Why lay your own track?

It gives you both creative and quality control over your own layout. It is also an enjoyable learning experience that will help later on if it becomes necessary to do any trouble shooting of your layout.

When should you lay your track?

Generally most of the planning has been completed and the benchworh has been constructed.. It is a good idea to lay all the track and have it running smoothly before you start with the scenery.

How do you go about laying your track?

Start by planning. This could be as simple as selecting one of the many layouts in the track planning books, or it could take weeks or even months with a track planning template, and pencil & paper. You may even chose a more up to date computer aided design tool such as "pc-rail".

Types of track

There are several types of track on the market, however nickel silver is the most suitable in many respects. It is not as effected by oxidation as brass, and it will not rust like steel. The track that is in most beginning starter sets is usually steel or brass, and is not suitable for a permanent layout.

Minimum radius

Each gauge of track has a minimum radius which will allow locomotives and rolling stock to negotiate the curve without difficulty. Although there may be a tighter radius available, it should only be used in areas where very short locomotives and cars will be used.


Sharp radius

Medium radius

Large radius


9 - 11 in

12 - 14 in

15 in. & up


18 - 23 in.

24 -29 in.

30 in. & up


36 - 47 in

48 - 59 in

60 in. & up

"g" or "#1"

24 in.

30 in.

48 in. & up

Minimum spacing





"g" or "#1"


1 in.

1.8 in.

3.5 in.

6.5 in.

Sharp radius

1.36 in.

2.5 in.

4.83 in.

7.25 in.

Medium radius

1.23 in.

2.25 in.

4.35 in.

7.25 in

Wide radius

1.1 in.

2 in.

3.87 in

7.25 in


Maximum grade

It is difficult for most model railroad locomotives to climb up hills, and even the real railroads have great difficulty.wheels tend to slip, and motors tend to overheat, particularly on long trains. For this reason it would be rare to find a model railroad with more than a 4% grade and a 2% grade would be far more realistic and more trouble free.

A 4% grade would be equal to a four inch rise over one hundred inches of forward movement.

Note: this is a hands on class and at this point we would be working in our shop. Check our calender for our track laying class. In the future i will add more information for those of you who are surfing the web and unable to attend a class in person. So check back often.

Tools required

The tools necessary to lay track will vary depending on type and gauge of track, however the following list would be appropriate in most circumstances:

Pencil & papertrack

Planning template or computer and track planning software

Straight edge

Small tack hammer nail set

Needle nose pliers

Track nails or screws

Small screwdriver

A razor saw (sometimes called a snap saw) or a motor toolan x-acto knife with a # 11 blade

An airbrush or an assortment of paint brushes

Nmra track gauge

Other materials


Rail joiners

Insulated rail joiners

Cork roadbed


Ballast cement

Grimy black paint

Rust color paint

© 2000 HR Trains & Toys, Inc. - Don Morris