over my head...literally.

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New Member
Greetings. A little about me (very little); I'm somewhat new to the hobby, that is to say I'm new to actually building a layout, however, I've dreamt about it for years. I'm building an HO layout. The dimensions are approx. 43' x 8". No thats not a typo. The layout sits about 7' of the ground and goes all the way around an 11' x 10 1/2' room and is 8" wide. I have loads of questions for you experts out there, but I'll just start with one at a time. Ok, question #1: Derailments are obviously going to be a major concern, so what are the most important things to do to avoid this as I am laying my track (most likely going to be atlas code 83). Please feel free in commenting. All advice is appreciated. Thank you.


In Training Down Under.
Welcome Shellback90.

This all comes with experience, the more you lay the better you get:D

Smooth roadbed, no kinks in joins (solder flex track together before curving it), track joins are not kinked vertically.

My first track work sucked (to put it bluntly)



Well-Known Member
Hi. As you seem to understand, getting the track right is everything. All the pretty scenery and little people will be wonderful, but a model railroad it will be in visual terms only. So, the first item is to have a meaningful track plan. What sort of layout theme will it be, and what length of locomotive and rolling stock do you anticipate runnning on it over the foreseeable future? Think in terms of upscaling, maybe to larger steamers if you ever get a hankering for one. What track plan will allow you some interesting train moves rather that roundy-round?

Next, are you going to have grades and eased curves? Grades need easements, too. How much room will these take and still allow you the length of rise and fall into/out of grades? You will need a minimum of 3"...absolute...for over-rail clearance above the lower tracks. Don't forget that above that minimum clearance must be something, a bridge, an overpass, whatever, but that adds to your real grade.

The key to it all, once the planning is seriously considered and decided, is to lay roadbed that is as planar as you can get it. If you want a bit of super-elevation on the odd curve, you can shim up the outer tie ends with some cardstock slivers or some layers of masking tape, but what those shims or tape use for a footing is what the entire rail system must have...smooth and level (side-to-side) roadbed. If your tracks can dip or if they kink upward at any joins, particularly on curves, and certainly where you add a turnout, you can anticipate hair-pulling and nasty words, and it won't be from amused onlookers.

Lastly, prove your trackage before you do the final gluing into place with a cheap latex caulk spread butter thin. By proving, I mean run engines backwards and forwards, with and without trains, through all turnouts and around all curves. Cover the entire system before you "nail" it down and begin the scenery or ballasting and weathering of your tracks.

One final tip: don't have any tracks closer than 3" to the edge of your layout...5" would be safer still... but 3", especially with an outer barrier of trees or a berm of earth, maybe some rock faces or cuts, will prevent the inevitable tumbles of expensive items to the floor ...did you say 7'?...below.


New Member
Thanks for the feedback / answers to your questions.

Thank you for the responses. I'll try to answer some of your questions. The theme will be (loosely) a logging layout. The train will be a three truck Shay (and Thomas every once in a while for my kids). As far as upscaling, the corners will be 24" radius, so larger trains can use the track later. I'm planning on using flex track for corners. Unfortunately, roundy round is about the best I can do (although it's a good size roundy round). I am going to include a passing turnout and also an engine house if possible.
As for grades, I am planning at least one incline and decline with about a 4% grade. At the peak of the grade I am planning a curving truss bride over a waterfall. My clearance between track and ceiling is about 11".


I'd suggest tacking a clear plastic edge on the layout, at least until you prove all the track to be flawless. Possibly a fairly low one, just tall enough to catch stray locos before they instantly convert themselves into details for your model scrapyard.


Coal Shoveler
Regarding the guardrail, all you really need is for it to be about the height of a truck. It's goal is to deflect the rolling stock along the edge, not to stop it. Unless you're doing speed racer, the stuff shouldn't flip over the top, unless the roadbed is steep. In that case, you might want to raise the guardrail up a bit.


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