If you are thinking about building your own track,
consider this ... Don't. It is easy to under estimate
the investment in materials and labor required
to build and maintain even a small track. If you
can - find and join a local club. Pay your dues, help
with the maintenance and upgrades, and use their
track. You can then put most of your hobby allotted
cash into your trains. And you will have the chance
to make friends with others who have similar interests.
If, on the other hand, you live too far from the nearest
track or they run on a schedule that doesn't work for
you, and you insist on running large scale trains, you
may have no other option. If you want to lay your own
track, please do the math first and do all of it. You
sometimes see ads from guys who bought rail, found out
how big the job really was, and are now selling the rail.
This is the story of building my railroad. New Hampshire,
where I live, has a few private tracks, but no clubs.
The nearest club is in Holliston, Massachusetts, a 2.5
hour drive. They only run on Sunday, making them useless
to us. Joining that club was not an option.
Here is a summary of the materials that were required
for may railroad.
Total line 525'
Spike Nails 7200
Ballast 20,000 lb (10 tons)
Also, I decided to build the entire line on stringers.
So I needed to add these to the list, as well as panel
joiners (short stringers between panels) which are the
same size as my ties. I used 2" drywall screws to
fasten the ties to the stringers and join the panels
To hold the rail to the ties I use galvanized or zinc plated nails,
usually 1.5" x 3d or similar. Many hobbyists think screws are better
because they won't pull out. The nails won't either. In fact, try
replacing a tie or rail. It is difficult to get the nails out. I use
screws around switch gaurdrails and points where I've milled away a
major part of the rail foot. They are great for that.
If you live in an area that is prone to rail theft, consider using
spikes or nails, or a combination of left and right hand screws. Any
thing that slows the theives down means they will get less of it.
Short stringers 132
2" drywall screws 4128
The rail cost is easy to figure. It's the cost (shipped)
per foot times the number of feet required. And always
rail needed 1050'
cost per foot x $1.00
The lumber cost is the number of boards required times
the price per board. The tie size I'm using allows me to
get 14 ties from an 8 foot long "two by four". At the
time I purchased lumber for my ties, pressure treated
lumber was $2.69 for a "two by four".
ties/joiners, (1800+132)/14 = 138
stringers, 132/2 = 66
boards needed 204
cost per board x $2.69
lumber cost $548.76
Then there are other costs
rail joiners 130 x.70 $91
drywall screws $25
spike nails $35
total misc $301
This is "Western" profile aluminum rail in 10 foot lengths.
I chose to paint it with rusty metal primer to look like steel.
Cannonball Limited sells a nice galvanized folded
steel rail joiner. Here's a box of 100.
And this is what 20,000 pounds of 3/8" gravel ballast looks like.
Use larger rock. It will drift less in the rain.
And now for the grand total
Grand total $1900
cost per foot ... $3.62!
And this doesn't include labor which is also monumental.
Material choices are wood, plastic, concrete, and steel.
Like most home tracklayers, I chose wood, mostly for economic
reasons. This will require a massive, insane amount of lumber.
In some of my photos you may notice some ties are green
and some are white. That's because I started out buying
stud grade lumber (cheap, but the bugs love it) and switched
to pressure-treated deck lumber. I was treating the stud
grade ties using a commercial product containing copper
napthanate. Problems with this product were cost, lack of
coverage, lack of penetration, and it tends to wash off in
the rain. So I switched to pressure treated. It also saves
the time required to treat the wood.
The size of the ties was determined by a few factors. Boston and
Maine's general rule of thumb was 3000 ties per mile. That's a 1.76
foot tie spacing or 2.64 inches in 1/8th scale. I used 3.5 inches,
with the width of the tie one-half that dimension. This would take a
lot less ties and allow me to uses "two-by-fours" ripped lengthwise in
half. I chose a tie length of 13 5/8", giving me 14 ties per 8 foot
"two-by-four", or 28 ties per 98 inch long track panel (counting the
gap between panels).
There were many reasons for deciding to use stringers.
I live in an area that is "seasonal wetlands". The soil is very
soft, and frost heaves are a real problem in the winter. I am
not using steel rail, so there is no rigidity benefit added there.
Building the line on stringers is similar to building it on a bridge.
It is literally suspended off the ground.
Read this article....
Building Track Panels
My track panels are 98 inches long including the gap between adjacent
panels. I needed a place to build them that was long enough. So I built
this bench out of some of the lumber destined to become ties or
stringers. On this workbench is a template, printed on my computer
that tells exactly where to place the ties for straight panels, and
panels for 38, 40, and 100 foot radius curves. The actual template
can be viewed here. Notice the stringers underneath
Track panels are built by placing the ties on the desired pattern on the
template, placing stringers over the ties, and driving a drywall screw
through the stringers into the ties.. On this template, straight track
is in black, 40' radius in red, 38' in blue, and 100' in green.
The photo below is a stack of track sections 8 feet
long. These have a 40 foot radius. All track sections are
built on stringers.
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