March 2021

Leprechaun Express

Tracks-03-21 -- Model Railroading Newsletter

March, 2021

Yes, Virginia, there ARE trains in Ireland!

Heuston Train Station and Phoenix Park in Dublin, IrelandHeuston Train Station and Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland

Building Your Model Railroad:
Tips, Techniques and Information
for All Ages and All Gauges

Tracks Newsletter - March, 2021

WELCOME to the March, 2021 issue of Tracks - a monthly newsletter published by Building Your Model Railroad, devoted to providing breaking news and tips to model railroaders of all ages and all gauges in a quick and easy-to-read format. Resources are always credited where appropriate.

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Requests: If there are any particular subjects that you would like to see in the newsletter, please let us know at [email protected]. Even better, if you have a tip or something you would like to add to the newsletter, please send it in!  Use the form in the Comments section of the BYMRR website.

*Videos: One of the most common requests that I get from the survey is to show more videos. I have included more than ever in this issue and will continue to do so as it seems to be appropriate. Incidentally, if you have not already done so, I would highly recommend upgrading to YouTube Premium, mostly so that you can play the videos without having to watch the ads. It's definitely worth it! (and I make no commision on that.)

Back Issues: And don't forget, there is a huge amount of information in the 33 issues of the old newsletter called BYMR-Zine as well as previous issues of Tracks.  Back Issues are available here.

Thank you for subscribing. We have lots of new tips and tricks in this issue to add to your model railroading pleasure. And please tell your friends about us. The more we can spread the word about model railroading, the better.

Photos: We're always looking for new photos for our Gallery pages. If you have photos of your layout that you would like to share with other model railroaders, I'd love to post them on the site. Send them in to [email protected].

Contributions Encouraged:  If you have a tip, picture, video or an article about model railroading that you would like to share in this newsletter, please let me know.  I'm always looking for more information.

Field Trip

One of the best ways to get inspired to create realism for your layout is to take a field trip. We've all been cooped up inside for so long, we forget what nature looks like!

Of course, when you go out of the house these days, you have to be safe by avoiding crowds and wearing a mask (You never know if you're going to run into someone you know.)

Take a drive to a scenic area, preferably where there are trees, hills, rivers, railroad tracks, bridges, old buildings, railroad cars or locos. Choose a place that you would love to just pick up and place on your layout if you could. Take about a hundred pictures or more with your digital camera. Use wide angle and telephoto shots, capture interesting perspectives on buildings and tracks. See what the real weathering looks like on prototype rails, locos and rail cars. Take close ups of weeds, bushes and vegetation around the buildings and the roads or tracks. Take a panorama photo of a natural landscape, cityscape, or a train yard.

If there is a particular building or bridge you want to model, take measurements of it from a distance with the ruler app on your smartphone. You can use this information later to kitbash or scratch-build your own prototypical structure based on your pictures and measurements. 

Once you get back to your train room, I guarantee, you will have new ideas for your layout. Look through the pictures you took on your field trip and pick out a few that you would like to use as reference photos. Then start fixing your layout to resemble the pictures. This will add a new level of realism to your layout that you would not have thought possible before.

Refurbishing an Old Layout - Part 3: Track Upgrade

Model Railroad Track ReplacementModel Railroad Track Replacement, including 3 turnouts and a rerailer, before blending it in with paint and ballast.

This month, I am upgrading my trackwork. I have pinpointed several areas on my layout where derailments are most likely to occur, usually around turnouts. So, I am now in the process of repairing or replacing some of these sections.

Model Railroad Atlas Solenoid Switch burned out.Model Railroad Atlas Solenoid Switch: Burned Out. This is what happens when you put push-button momentary switches unprotected on the front of your fascia.

The first thing I did was to mark those areas with a foam pin so I could later remember where they are. Then, one by one, I tried to diagnose and correct the problem. One of the best tools for this is a proper gauge for your scale. These can be purchased from the NMRA website. You may also want to invest in a good set of files. You will also need a magnifying glass, a mirror, and a video camera, all of which can be found in an average smartphone. Use these latter tools to closely observe what is actually happening when your locomotive or railcar passes over the area in question. Taking a video of it, which you can run in slow motion afterwards, can help tremendously. Then use your NMRA scale gauge to check the track width in the area to be sure it's not too wide or too narrow. Rub your finger along the track, especially at the joints, to see if they are uneven. If you find something that you can fix with a file, go ahead and do so. Be careful not to overcorrect the problem, which is easy to do. Keep testing the movement of your railcar over the area until you see that it is able to run smoothly both forwards and backwards. If you can't fix the problem with a file or by just cleaning the track, and if you are sure it's not an electrical problem, like a small area of track that isn't getting power to it, then you will have to replace it. 

Some of the track sections had been soldered together at the joints when I first laid them in the 1990's. So, they had to be desoldered and removed. Or, sometimes I would just cut the track with a rail cutter. I had previously used white glue to fasten the tracks and the ballast to the layout surface, so the tracks had to be loosened from this. I used a flat screwdriver and a small putty knife to try to slide under the track and lift it off the roadbed with variable success. I have found that it is very difficult to salvage any track that you have to remove from the layout this way, so you might as well plan to replace it.

Once I removed the old track, I cleaned up and smoothed out the roadbed, either by replacing it with cork or foam or by just cleaning off the ballast. I connected the new track to the old with either rail joiners or by soldering the rails together. I paid special attention to the rail height at the joint. If one rail is higher than the other, there will be a problem with derailments. The rails have to be flush on top so you can barely feel the joint when you rub your finger across the rail. Once the new track was connected to the old and it was lying flat in position on the roadbed, I tested it with several passes of a locomotive and railcars, both forward and backward to be sure everything ran smoothly. After adding ballast and a generous application of white glue mixed with isopropyl alcohol and water to hold everything down, I was then able to paint and weather the track as I usually do. When doing these last few steps, I took particular attention NOT to get any glue or paint anywhere near the turnout points, since they need to be able to move freely.

After making these track repairs, it has been really nice to see my trains running smoothly and flawlessly over areas that have been trouble spots for a long time. I would encourage others to make these changes as you see them come up rather than waiting until they drive you crazy.


How to Lay Model Railroad Track

Tips on Laying Model Railroad Tracks

Model Railroad Track Repair: I used small pieces of wood to raise the existing Atlas track so the rails would be the same height as the Kato replacement turnout.Model Railroad Track Repair: I used small pieces of wood to raise the existing Atlas track so the rails would be the same height as the Kato replacement turnout. The joint will be secured with solder before adding paint and ballast.
Model Railroad Track RepairModel Railroad Track Repair: This is at the top of an incline, so I need to be sure that the turnout is level and flat and that the incline is finished at least one full car-length before the turnout.

Modeler's Tips

Add these to your notebook of favorite model railroading tips:

  • Turnouts and inclines: You can put a turnout on an incline as long as it is installed at the same percent grade that the other track is above and below it . It is never a good idea to put a turnout immediately at the top or the bottom of an incline. There should be a section of track at least one full car-length that is flat and level both at the top and the bottom of the incline before getting to the turnout.
    Paved Roads:  Draw the road on the layout surface making sure that it’s a little wider than the widths of two automobiles or trucks that will be “using” the road. Then apply a flat layer of Sculptamold to the road surface spreading it as evenly and smoothly as possible between the lines that you’ve drawn. Then apply a layer of spackling compound again smoothing it out as much as possible. Most paved roads are convexly shaped from the middle to the sides so that water will run off them. Your roads should look the same way, but be careful not to overdo this. The convexity should be barely noticeable. Then paint the asphalt with a paint color called “asphalt” (amazingly). Use thin strips of adhesive yellow tape to make the median. For added realism, paint a few black cracks in the asphalt. Once again incorporate the road into your scenery using dirt, small rocks and/or vegetation along the sides of the road. Cover it with a thin diluted coat or spray of matte medium to hold it all in place and to prevent the yellow tape from peeling later. Don't forget little details like vehicles, pedestrians, litter, fences, guardrails near cliffs, stop signs, speed signs, etc. The details are what make the scene realistic more than anything else. (BYMRR-Zine, Oct. 2013)
  • Roadbed: Cork vs. Foam? Have you ever tried to lay cork roadbed on a curve? It's not easy because there is so much buckling in the middle. It helps to soak it in hot water first which makes it much more flexible and pliable. I personally like to use the foam roadbed by Woodland Scenics which is easier to work with on curves. If it does buckle in the middle, you can just use scissors to snip out some wedges on the inside of the curve that will allow it to lay flat until you can glue it down.
  • Sound Effects:  Have you ever been to visit a layout where a specific sound occurs when a train passes a certain point? Like when your train passes a farm, you can hear the chickens and the other farm animals, or when it passes a crowded railway station, you can hear people talking. This adds a tremendous amount of realism and dimension to a layout, not to mention the "Wow" factor going off the charts. One of the best ways to do this is with the Dream Player circuit board, which is now about half the price of the original one. You can order sounds of multiple different scenes and industries. Check out their website at The Scale Magic Dream Player Lite.

Streetcars in New Orleans

Street Cars in New Orleans Gear Up for Marti GrasStreet Cars in New Orleans Gear Up for Marti Gras.

There are five main streetcar lines in New Orleans. They all start their journeys from the Downtown area, weave through the French Quarter and travel to almost everywhere throughout the city. Having done this myself a few years ago, I highly recommend taking one or more of these rides. Of course, if you are thinking about modeling a trolley layout, pay particular attention to how and where they operate. 

The dark green Saint Charles Line, the oldest of the four, goes through the business district, passes by the most impressive southern mansions that I have ever seen, navigates through a tunnel of live oaks and showcases the beautiful Audubon Park.

The red Canal Streetcar Line also goes through the Central Business District into the Mid-City area. Stop for a walk in City Park and check out the interesting architecture, the Museum of Art and the fantastic sculpture garden.

The red Riverfront Line goes along the Riverfront and Fresh Market to the Aquarium, the Outlet shops, and, of course, Harrah's Casino.

If you arrive in the city by Amtrak, you will likely want to get on the Loyola/UPT Line to get to your hotel and see some of the city while you're at it. You will enjoy seeing Julia Street where the Warehouse Arts District is located, the Financial District and Tulane Avenue, the home of the Medical District.

The Rampart/St. Claude Line rolls through the St. Louis Cemetery No.1 where the VooDoo Queen is  buried, the Louis Armstrong Park and the St. Claude Arts District where you can get "cultured-up" with lots of wonderful art, music and food.

Mardi Gras parades were cancelled this year unfortunately, but you can still ride the streetcars, if you mask-up and social-distance.

Again, if you are thinking about doing a trolley layout at home, you must take a field trip here first!

Check out these resources on planning and creating trolley layouts..

Building a Trolley Layout

Bill Everett's Model Trolley Layout

More Great Videos:

HO Utah Belt by Eric Brooman - Layout Tour

Denver & Rio Grande Western - Prototype Photos and Videos

Santa Fe / Southern Layout Tour

HO CSX Train Operations

Repairing an Old Locomotive

Building Scenery with Extruded Foam Layers and Sculptamold

How To AirBrush Acrylics


Hobby Central Train Station

Check out our Hobby Central Train Station for all your train supplies -  everything you need to build your own model railroad. (Also available: RC cars, trucks, planes, helicopters, games, puzzles, tools, gifts and much more.

  • FREE SHIPPING on most items.  
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  • FREE model railroad DVD with every order over $50.00.  
  • Also get a one-time 10% discount just because you read this newsletter. Use the secret Coupon Code: TRACKS-0321 at checkout.  
  • Join our Empire Points Program.  Earn 3 points for every $1 you spend. Use the points you've earned to get even greater discounts on future purchases.

Hope you enjoyed this issue of Tracks. Feel free to pass it on to your friends, family and other model railroaders. If you have a great tip or article that you would like to publish on the website, please let me know - The more, the better. Any comments or suggestions are always welcome. You can either go to the Comments/Contact Page and enter your suggestions there or contact me directly at [email protected]

Thank you for your support and for subscribing to the free newsletter for Building Your Model Railroad.

And, as always, thank you for visiting the BYMRR website at We are committed to providing all the newest techniques, tips and articles to help YOU build your own great model railroad!

Take care and be safe.

Greg Warth


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