Laying the Track

You may think that railway track is just two parallel rails placed on a board. Not so. Track is, in fact, the most essential part of a model railway. The smooth running of the trains and the enjoyment from operating them depends totally on the track. It also plays an important role in creating the scene.

We used two methods to lay the track on Hornby Central.

The choice of the track

We chose ‘Peco’ 100 flexible track, as that was the only profile available 40 years ago and, although the sleeper spacing is to HO scale, it is easy to lay and gives long stretches of connection-free running. The additional benefit is that it’s made from nickel silver which does not rust. This was our saviour when our railway was put into storage for twenty years, as it was immediately brought back into use by the judicial application of the Peco track rubber!

Laying the track

Our track was going to be permanent. We chose a soft baseboard known as insulation board, which is now virtually impossible to find, (MDF is an acceptable alternative) so we could easily pin the track to it. Even then we used P.V.A. glue to secure the track on a permanent basis.

  1. We drew out the plan of the track onto the baseboard, making the curves as large as possible, the larger the curve, the better the running. The sharper the curve the more unrealistic it is and the greater the drag on a train going around it. Check that your trains will negotiate your curves before laying permanently.
  2. We checked the distance between the tracks, ensuring trains could pass without touching, especially on the corners.
  3. Extra care was taken to guarantee the curves were smooth and joined up to the straights without a kink.
  4. We temporarily laid the track in place to make sure that it fitted perfectly.
  5. Next, we cut off a couple of the sleepers at the ends of each track length so fish-plates could slide backwards and forwards when the track was permanently placed. We subsequently laid dummy sleepers to fill the gap.

Laying track in the country

  1. We spread glue on the baseboard along the drawn plan of the track and stuck 3mm cork to it, cut to the width of the sleepers. This raised the track and emphasised the depth of the ballast, which we added later.
  2. When the glue was dry we spread P.V.A. onto the cork and placed the track onto it, letting the glue ooze up between the sleepers and rails.
  3. We pinned the track securely in place, ensuring it was flat and no grit had got beneath it. Then we sprinkled ballast between rails and sleepers.
  4. Ballast was sprinkled over half the width of the track again on both sides, covering the cork completely.
  5. Be generous with the coverage of the ballast and press it firmly into the spaces between the sleepers.
  6. When it is dry, vacuum off the excess ballast and save it to use again.
  7. Using a sharp blade at a 60-degree angle, carefully draw the blade down the edge of the outside of the track, until you reach the level of the cork. After removing the surplus, you will be left with an edge to which you can apply P.V.A. adhesive and apply further ballast. Then repeat step 6.

Painting the track

Look carefully at real track. It is clean and shiny on the top due to the train wheels polishing it, but down the sides it is dirty and rusty. Paint both sides of the rail in a rust colour. Also paint the points and crossovers, but avoid areas where an electrical connection is required.

Laying track in the goods yard and engine sheds

  1. Mix and spread modelling plaster onto the baseboard where the track is to be placed.
  2. Lay the track into the wet plaster and push down well, making sure the track is flat, which means there should be no lumps in the plaster mix. Allow the plaster to ooze up between the sleepers and rails.
  3. Pin the track securely. When the plaster dries it will hold the track in place.
  4. Whilst the plaster is still wet, smooth it down to the top of the sleepers.
  5. We embedded rail side furniture into the plaster at this stage, such as wooden walkways, used rails, signal boxes, before the plaster dried.
  6. Only work on small manageable areas at a time.
  7. Clean the wet plaster out from the ends of the rail sections so the fitting of fishplates is not impeded. These small sections can be filled later.
  8. Paint the dried plaster to look like concrete, mud, gravel, soil or grass. Natural dust is by far the best finish. We leave our dust on the surface for years!
  9. Make sure the plaster does not touch the inside edge of the rails where the wheel flanges roll.
  10. Also we made sure the plaster did not impede the point motors and blades. Let the track dry before running a locomotive.


We have described two techniques used on Hornby Central. They can be mixed and matched to adapt to any situation. We hope we have been of help and wish you fun with your modelling.

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Our Track Tricks


Coaching Stock

Trucks and Wagons

Use of People


Explore Hornby Central

How we make the trains run

Remaking History

The Making of Princess Anne

The Making of the Layout

The Making of our Steam Specials